Monday, May 30, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Comrade X (1940) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr star in MGM's anti-Communist comedy COMRADE X (1940), available from the Warner Archive.

The movie was released in the Archive's early days, but has since had the original blue cover replaced with more attractive art.

The Archive has recently called attention to this and a number of other previously released titles which tie in with the new Archive documentary release, CINEMA'S EXILES: FROM HITLER TO HOLLYWOOD (2009), about filmmakers who emigrated from Europe to Hollywood in the '30s. The Vienna-born Lamarr was one of many who did so, along with cast member Felix Bressart, a Jew who was forced to leave Germany.

I thought it would be a good time to revisit the film, particularly in conjunction with viewing the Archive's brand-new release SONG OF RUSSIA (1944).

COMRADE X is a film I return to from time to time, most recently back in 2006 when I posted a very brief review; I love the cast, which also includes Eve Arden, yet whenever I see it, it must be admitted the movie is never quite as good as I hope it will be. Still, it's amusing and interesting, a fun reunion for BOOM TOWN (1940) costars Gable and Lamarr.

When it comes to MGM's approach to Soviet Russia, what a difference a few years make! While SONG OF RUSSIA is an extremely positive depiction of our ally in WWII, just four years earlier the studio absolutely skewered the Soviet Union in COMRADE X. Nor was it the first time the studio had done so, with NINOTCHKA (1939) having been released the previous year.

Everything about the Soviet Union is ripe for critical jokes in COMRADE X, whether it's the economy, censorship, citizens trapped inside the country's borders, or political executions. There's also a serious sequence where execution gunfire is heard.

Felix Bressart, who seems to have been in most of the movies I've watched this weekend, plays Vanya, who begs -- blackmails, actually -- American reporter McKinley Thompson (Gable) to rescue his daughter, the oddly named Theodore (Lamarr).

Theodore is a streetcar conductor who has bought into Communism hook, line and sinker, but her father wants to save her from it. In order to obtain Theodore's cooperation, Thompson convinces her she can spread the message of Communism if she leaves the country. Conveniently, Thompson needs to leave as well, as he's in danger himself due to smuggling out uncensored news stories.

And by the way, as part of the plan he's also going to have to marry her! She may be a stranger and a Communist, but since she looks like Hedy Lamarr, Gable's reporter doesn't protest overly much; in fact he's quickly sold on the idea of a future with his new wife.

Lamarr's deadpan performance may mirror Garbo's NINOTCHKA too closely, but while she takes a while to get going, she becomes more droll and animated about halfway through the movie and ultimately has some pretty funny moments.

Gable is Gable, and that's a good thing, cocky, daring and funny, just what one would hope of an enterprising American journalist in the Soviet Union. He also proves to be something of a romantic, pledging to keep his lovely new wife from being killed -- and admiring her very handy tank-driving skills.

The supporting cast includes Oskar Homolka, Sig Ruman, Natasha Lytess, Edgar Barrier, and Vladimir Sokoloff. Keye Luke appears in the opening sequence.

COMRADE X was directed by King Vidor from a screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer. It was filmed in black and white by Joseph Ruttenberg.

The Archive DVD is a good print. There are no extras.

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 from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger barrylane said...

Whatever its shortcomings as entertainment, and without Clark Gable I would never have even taken a cursory look, Comrade X touches all the social and political bases not only denied in Song of Russia, but by members of our press. It is not in any way, propaganda. Worthwhile in this context, and not so bad in any other.

6:08 PM  

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