Posts Tagged ‘Alexander Korda’

Knight Without Armor: For the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside of an enigma.”   Due to the quite different political philosophies of the former Soviet Union and of  Western Europe and the United States, movies made about Russians by Western film studios often focused on the evils of communism and Russians trying to escape it’s grasp.  This blog today is part of Movies, Silently‘s tribute to Russia in Classic Films.  Be sure to visit that fabulous site to read more entries about films from Russia and about Russia.

Russian Banner

In 1933, novelist James Hilton wrote Knight Without Armor, telling such a tale: In 1917, a Russian countess is trying to escape the country as the communists and the anti-communists are battling each other  with much bloodshed.  To her aid arrives a British man, a spy who has infiltrated a radical Russian political group.  He is the Knight, without a suit of armor, and he will do his chivalrous best to aid this lady in her efforts to escape.

Knight without Armor poster 1

British film producer Alexander Korda, head of London Films,  bought the rights to Hilton’s novel in 1936.  Hollywood must have at one time thought of  making a movie version of the novel because one of the best female screenwriters who had ever worked in Hollywood, Francis Marion, had written an adapted screenplay a few years prior to Korda’s interest in the film and he hired  Lajos Biro to write a new screenplay, using Marion’s as source material.  Jacques Feyder was brought on to direct and Miklos Rozsa created the music for the film.  This was the first film Rozsa ever scored music for; some of the music was his own creation and the rest he borrowed from Tchaikovsky.

British actor Robert Donat plays Ainsley J. Fothergill(what a name!)  He is an expert in the Russian language, an ex-pat reporter who is now working as an Russian to English book translator.  Due to an earlier critical article he wrote about Russia and its politics, he is kicked out of the country by the Tsar’s government.  Back in England and feeling depressed, Fothergill is asked to aid his government: become a spy with Secret Service, take on a Russian name and become a member of a radical political group, report back to Britain periodically about this group.  Fothergill accepts immediately and becomes Peter Ouranoff.

German actress (and future American Citizen) Marlene Dietrich plays the beautiful heroine, Countess Alexandra Vladinoff.  She visits England in 1913 to attend the Ascot horse races, returns to Russia and happily marries Count Adraxine.  Life is fine for her and then WWI arrives.  Her husband is made a colonel in the Russian Army and is killed in a battle.  WWI, for Russia, also unleashes a civil war: the Tsar’s supporters-The White Army vs the newly-created Communist Party, The Red Army.  Poor Countess Alexandra is caught in the middle of this civil war.  Her estate is overrun by the Red Army supporters and she is arrested for being an aristocrat.  Fortunately for her, our hero, Peter(aka loyal Britain Fothergill) is assigned to be her personal guard and take her to Petrograd(St. Petersburg) to stand trial.  Once on the train, however, Peter(Fothergill) falls in love with Countess Alexandra, and she falls in love with him.  The decision for both of them to  escape the country is easily made.

Marlene in one of her gorgeous gowns

Marlene in one of her gorgeous gowns

Pre-Countess days, Alexandria at the Ascot

Pre-Countess days, Alexandra at the Ascot

The suspense in this film is the myriad of obstacles that keep popping up to hamper this noble couple’s  efforts to escape.   Will these two lovebirds avoid the evil clutches of two warring political factions?  If they are caught, it could mean the death penalty for both of them.  Peter(Fothergill) is supposedly a Red supporter and if he’s taken captive by the Whites, it spells his doom.  The Countess is supposedly a White supporter and if she’s taken captive by the Reds, it spells her doom!  This Russian political stuff is tricky stuff!

Peter and Alexandria hiding in the woods

Peter and Alexandra hiding in the woods

Showing their hands to try and prove that they're really just peasants

Showing their hands to try and prove that they’re really just peasants

To see this interesting, suspenseful, romance film, Turner Classic Movies will be airing it next week, on March 18th, at noon/Eastern time, 11:00 am Central.  I searched Amazon to see if this movie is available for purchase and I could only discover that the dvds of the movie are from Italy, and I am not sure if they’ve been translated into English.  Fortunately, for those of you who don’t have access to Turner Classic Movies cable channel, a very kind soul has put Knight Without Armor on Youtube!

The other actors and actresses in this film were unfamiliar to me and I haven’t listed them because the main focus of the film is Robert Donat and Marlene Dietrich, and that’s as it should be!  Donat is charming and debonair as the British spy/hero. Two years earlier he helmed  Alfred Hitchcock’s espionage thriller The 39 Steps.  Marlene Dietrich is sublime as the Countess.  She is gorgeous, her costumes are gorgeous, and she takes on the role with care and skill.

KWA title shot

Seek this film out for a look at Russia, it’s political infightings, but mostly for the love story.

 

My Classic Movie Pick: The Thief of Bagdad

Two years ago I saw that The Thief of Bagdad was to air on Turner Classic Movies, so I thought I’d view it as I had never seen that movie before.  When it was over, all I could say was Wow!  In doing more research about this 1940 Technicolor wonder from Great Britain, I wasn’t too surprised to read that both Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola agreed to do  voice commentary about the movie  on the dvd that was released by Criterion Collection in 2008.  The late film critic Roger Ebert was also a huge fan of this film.   As I watched, I also noticed that some of the characters looked like their animated counterparts in Disney’s Aladdin.  I would hazard a guess  that Disney had their animators study this movie prior to beginning their work on Aladdin.
Distributed by London Films, under the guidance of producer Alexander Korda, directed by Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, and Tim Whelan,  The Thief of Bagdad stars Sabu(teen actor from India) as Abu, Conrad Veidt(great German actor) as the villain, Jaffar, John Justin as Prince Ahmad,  June Duprez as the Princess, and Rex Ingram as the Genie of the Lamp.   The Thief of Bagdad movie poster 1

What left me with that wow feeling after viewing this film was:  all of the action and adventure teamed with  great special effects, an intelligent plot for a pure fantasy story, lush technicolor, beautiful scenic designs, Conrad Veidt as Jaffar and Sabu as Abu.  Veidt is wonderfully conniving and creepy as the evil Grand Vizier, Jaffar.  He wants to steal Prince Ahmad’s kingdom for himself, and that also means taking away the Princess, Ahmad’s true love.  Sabu, ( an Indian actor discovered at the age of 13 and who went on to star in British and American films in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s) has fun with the role of a plucky adventurer, only out for his own protection and betterment before he meets Prince Ahmad, and together, they plan to get the kingdom back and save the Princess from Jaffar.  I only had two minor criticisms with the film:  Prince Ahmad and the Princess(we don’t learn her first name, she’s just referred to as her title throughout the entire film!)  John Justin, as Prince Ahmad, does an ok job of it, he just seems a bit stiff at times.  I also hated his pencil-thin mustache! It looked like one a 14 year old boy would try to grow.  At the end of the movie, it had been shaved off and I kept wishing it would have never made an appearance to begin with!  June Duprez is beautiful and it’s easy to see why Ahmad falls in love with her and Jaffar desires her, but she doesn’t have a lot to do in the movie beyond looking beautiful and/or distressed.

The film takes us to ancient Bagdad and Prince Ahmad is bored.   His Grand Vizier, Jaffar, sees this as an opportunity to get Ahmad out of the palace and to just take the kingdom for himself, so he convinces the Prince to put on the clothes of a beggar and to go out and mingle with the commoners, to see what they think of the Prince’s recent rulings.  While the Prince wanders around the city, asking for people’s opinions of the Prince, Jaffar successfully has Prince Ahmad accused of stealing and has him arrested and thrown into the dungeon, to be executed at sunrise.  A young thief, Abu, has also been thrown into the dungeon, but he sneakily steals the guard’s key to the cell and he and Ahmad are able to escape and they make their way to Basra.

Ahmad and Abu getting ready to tour Basra.

Ahmad and Abu getting ready to tour Basra.

Jaffar suggesting Prince Ahmad go out and meet the citizens of Bagdad.

Jaffar suggesting Prince Ahmad go out and meet the citizens of Bagdad.

In Basra, Ahmad  meets the Sultan’s beautiful daughter, the Princess,  as she is strolling in her garden.  It is love at first sight and unfortunately, Jaffar has arrived in Basra to meet the Sultan(Miles Malleson) and arrange his own marriage to the Princess!  Jaffar knows that the Sultan is childish and he presents the Sultan with a mechanical horse that when one sits on it, it will turn into a real flying horse!  After taking the horse out for a spin, the Sultan agrees  that Jaffar can marry his daughter.   The Princess learns of her engagement to Jaffar and runs away.  Ahmad and Abu meet up with Jaffar, who casts a spell on them both: Ahmad is now blind and Abu is now a dog and the spell won’t be broken until Jaffar holds the Princess in his arms.

Jaffar is determined to steal the Princess from Ahmad!

Jaffar is determined to steal the Princess from Ahmad!

It's love at first sight for Ahmad and the Princess!

It’s love at first sight for Ahmad and the Princess!
The Flying Horse that seals Jaffar's marriage deal with the Sultan's daughter.

The Flying Horse that seals Jaffar’s marriage deal with the Sultan’s daughter.

The Princess, meanwhile has been caught to be sold as a slave in a local market and unbeknownst to her, she is bought by Jaffar.  Upon reaching his mansion, she falls into a deep sleep that even Jaffar can’t wake her from.  Ahmad and Abu find her with the help of Halima(Mary Morris), Jaffar’s servant, who is jealous of the Princess and she tricks Ahmad into waking her.  Ahmad and Abu flee when Jaffar appears and later, Halima tricks the Princess into going on Jaffar’s boat by telling her there is a doctor on board who can cure Ahmad’s blindness.  Jaffar is actually on the boat and he tells the Princess about the curse and she reluctantly lets Jaffar hold her in his arms and immediately, Ahmad can see and Abu is not a dog anymore.

Jaffar telling about his curse on Ahmad and how it can be lifted.

Jaffar telling about his curse on Ahmad and how it can be lifted.

The rest of the movie is Ahmad and Abu’s adventures in trying to rescue the Princess and deal with the treacherous Jaffar.  There will be an ancient temple statue with a”seeing eye” ruby gemstone that Abu must retrieve and he will also have to deal with a giant spider!  Abu  will meet a Genie(delightfully played by Rex Ingram), and there will be  a magic carpet, and Jaffar has a murderous statue to present to the Sultan.

Abu on a magic carpet ride.

Abu on a magic carpet ride.

Genie meets Abu, his new master.

Genie meets Abu, his new master.

The Thief of Bagdad is a wonder of a film and enjoyable for the entire family to watch.  As I mentioned earlier in my post, it is available to purchase through Criterion Collection on Amazon.com, Netflix added it to it’s list in 2012, and some kind soul has put the entire movie up on Youtube.  Turner Classic Movies also airs it from time to time.  Seek it out, and say “Open Sesame!” for a great family film to view.

We love happy endings!!

We love happy endings!!

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