Monday, July 08, 2024


In a small London nightclub, we see Theodore Bikel (pictured at right) strumming a guitar and singing a Spanish folk tune. An onlooker declares him to be "the real thing," but another patron notes that he's actually Hungarian. The rest of the film is a flashback telling us how Bikel got to England. A security officer for the Communist government in Hungary, Bikel was a good party man but when his immediate boss was purged, the disillusioned Bikel feared that he might be next, so he managed to escape to Vienna, leaving his wife behind. He is approached on the street by possibly shady people offering to help him, but finally makes contact with John Bentley, a British officer who recognizes him from the war years (in a scene that plays out a bit like a gay pickup). Bikel is seeking political asylum; at first, Bentley waffles on giving it to him, then gives him an assignment to prove his worth: go back to Budapest and help a scientist named Okofsky escape. Bikel takes on the job, intending also to bring his wife back, despite being threatened by a blackmailer. Though I didn’t especially like this movie, I celebrate the fact that Turner Classic Movies still shows oddities like this that would otherwise be lost to time. Its length (just under an hour) and its production values mark it as a B-movie second feature, but the term B-movie is almost too good for this. Grade Z, however, would mark this as a super cheap exploitation film and it's not that. It needs a new label, something to indicate its seriousness in tone but also its almost amateurish production. See CARNIVAL OF SOULS or BLAST OF SILENCE for films similar in feel and look but more successful as finished productions. The two main actors, Bikel and Bentley, do their best with what little they have, and it's not their fault that seemingly the entire movie has been post-dubbed, so the dialogue has an unnaturally harsh tone to it, like it was recorded sloppily in a small studio. Ultimately, this movie feels more like a rough draft for a movie than a finished film with fleshed-out characters and a coherent narrative. At times it put me in mind, at least visually, of one of those Coronet educational films of the 50s and 60s that Rifftrax frequently mocks. It's difficult to recommend this except as a historical oddity, taking place just months before the 1956 attempt at a Hungarian revolution, though fans of the underrated Theodore Bikel will want to see it—he may not be at his best, but he's the best thing in it. And again, thank you TCM for your commitment to not just classics but to lesser-known films and to strange one-offs like this. First released in England as FLIGHT FROM VIENNA. [TCM]

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