Sunday, January 21, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Red Danube (1949) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Walter Pidgeon heads a fine cast in THE RED DANUBE (1949), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

I feel THE RED DANUBE, set in Rome and Vienna, fits into the "European postwar film noir" subgenre also occupied by films such as BERLIN EXPRESS (1948) or THE DEVIL MAKES THREE (1952).

I doubt the filmmakers left the MGM lot, but the movie captures a bleak, unsettled time in war-ravaged Europe as the Allies tried to sort out lingering issues. The plot was inspired by Operation Keelhaul, part of the Yalta agreement, when Allied soldiers were forced to repatriate Soviet citizens found in their zones. These Russians very often had no desire to return to the Soviet Union, and some were executed as unfaithful Communists.

A pair of British officers, Col. Nicobar (Pidgeon) and his aide Major McPhimister (Peter Lawford), find themselves having to turn over a young Russian ballerina (Janet Leigh), found in the British zone of Vienna, to the Soviets. This is particularly painful for McPhimister, as he has quickly fallen in love with the girl.

She later escapes and the British soldiers throw the book away and attempt to hide her with the help of a nun (Ethel Barrymore)...but a Russian colonel (Louis Calhern) is on her trail and won't give up.

The cast also includes a bright and chipper Angela Lansbury as a WREN who works with Pidgeon and Lawford. Lansbury and Leigh were about 23 and 21, respectively, when the movie was filmed. The cast also includes Alan Napier, Robert Coote, Melville Cooper, Francis L. Sullivan, and Janine Perreau.

THE RED DANUBE is a somewhat interesting and even educational film about a brief time in postwar history, although it runs too long at 119 minutes. A tighter script and editing might have resulted in a better film if it were about 15 minutes shorter; I grew impatient for the wrap-up in the final half hour.

That said, the movie does have its rewards, including Pidgeon's atheist military man, bitter at losing a son and an arm, having deep religious discussions with the Mother Superior. That doesn't seem like something likely to be found in a modern film. That said, reducing or eliminating that angle also might have resulted in a better-paced movie.

The film was shot in black and white by Charles Rosher (SCARAMOUCHE). Most of the film has a stark, drab look, but Rosher periodically inserts loving tight closeups of the glowing young Leigh and Lawford, who bring some beauty and romance to what is for the most part a rather tough film.

This was one of a half dozen releases Leigh was in in 1949, including LITTLE WOMEN (1949), which also starred Lawford; Leigh and Lawford also later worked together on a minor romantic comedy, JUST THIS ONCE (1952).

The screenplay by Gina Kaus and Arthur Wimperis was based on the novel VESPERS IN VIENNA by Bruce Marshall. Producer Carey Wilson also did uncredited work on the script.

The movie was directed by George Sidney. Miklos Rozsa composed the score.

The Warner Archive DVD is a remastered print which looks very good, even downright outstanding at certain points. The only extra is the trailer.

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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I'd watch that for the cast alone! Great review Laura.

10:31 AM  
Blogger John G. said...

I like this movie. BTW, Janet Leigh plays another Russian character in John Wayne's JET PILOT. If I were a perverted middle-aged man, I'd say that Leigh's shower scene in that movie is better than PSYCHO. But I'm not, so I won't. ;-)

5:09 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's a really good cast! Thanks much, Raquel.

Glad to know you like it as well, John. JET PILOT is one of a number of John Wayne films I haven't seen which are on my list to catch up with.

Best wishes,

6:15 PM  

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