Monday, September 29, 2014

Tonight's Movie: A Lady Without Passport (1950) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

MGM'S A LADY WITHOUT PASSPORT (1950) is a story of international intrigue set in pre-Castro Cuba. It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

A murder in New York sends INS agent Pete Karczag (John Hodiak) undercover in Cuba, where he poses as a Hungarian immigrant anxious for papers to enter the United States. Just as Pete hopes, a smuggler named Palinov (George Macready) offers to get Pete into the U.S. -- for a price.

Also anxious to get into the U.S. is Marianne Lorress (Hedy Lamarr), a Buchenwald survivor. (Beautiful Hedy looks somewhat tired in this film, but it fits her character's background.) All bets are off when Palinov learns Pete's true identity.

A LADY WITHOUT PASSPORT was directed by Joseph H. Lewis, and the setting of the final confrontation in a foggy Florida swamp seems to be right out of the climax of his previous film, GUN CRAZY (1950).

Unfortunately this 74-minute film lacks the style and energy of the legendary GUN CRAZY. MGM made many fine noir and crime pictures in this era, and all the elements are there for a good film including a solid cast and director, a distinctive David Raksin score, and even a bit of location shooting in Cuba. (John Hodiak went on location but the effect is marred by the blatant use of a double for Hedy Lamarr.)

A LADY WITHOUT PASSPORT, however, suffers from a tepid, murky plot which never goes much of anywhere, and it doesn't help the film that Hodiak spends much of it with a Hungarian accent.

I usually enjoy Hodiak, Lamarr, and James Craig, who plays Hodiak's boss, but this one just doesn't gel. Even the most exciting sequence, when the INS chases a plane full of illegal immigrants, is diminished by too-obvious miniature work.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is that the overall plotline, focusing on illegal immigration, is so undated. On the other hand, illegal immigrants from all over the world using Havana as a way station before entering the U.S. is a story that could only be of that era!

The supporting cast includes Steven Geray (who I increasingly find really annoying), Bruce Cowling, Nedrick Young, Robert Osterloh, Trevor Bardette, and Charles Wagenheim. The dancer in a Cuban club, Nita Bieber, was also a dancer in that year's very enjoyable MGM musical SUMMER STOCK (1950).

The movie was filmed in black and white by Paul Vogel.

The DVD is a good print, and the trailer is included on the disc.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

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