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Shortly after the end of World War II, British Colonel Michael 'Hooky' Nicobar is assigned to a unit in the British Zone of Vienna. His duty is to aid the Soviet authorities to repatriate citizens of the Soviet Union, many of whom prefer not to return to their home country. Billeted in the convent run by Mother Auxilia, Nicobar, and his military aides Major John 'Twingo' McPhimister and Audrey Quail, become involved in the plight of a young ballerina who is trying to avoid being returned to Moscow. Nicobar's sense of duty is tested as he sees first hand the plight of the people he is helping return to the Soviet Union; his lack of religious faith is also shaken by his contact with the Mother Superior. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <email@example.com>
"The Red Danube" is a strong 1949 film about post-war Europe, starring Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford, Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh, and Ethel Barrymore.
There are several levels to this film. One is the agreement among the Allies to repatriate people to their native countries after the war. This film deals with the British sector, led by Pidgeon and his team, who are charged with aiding in the repatriation. Another level is the spiritual aspect - the Pidgeon character, "Hooky" Nicobar, has begun to doubt the existence of any entity that could allow such horror to happen in the world, including his own personal tragedy. And there's the love story between Maria (Janet Leigh), a Soviet ballerina, and Major 'Twingo' McPhimister.
When displaced Russians would rather commit suicide than return to Russia, Hooky begins to doubt what Colonel Piniev (Louis Calhern) is telling him about what awaits these people back in the homeland. But he has to follow orders, so in spite of protests, he turns over ballerina Maria to the Soviets.
MGM made a film later on, "Never Let Me Go" about a ballerina trying to get out of Russia; here a ballerina tries to keep from going back. This film has much more depth than "Never Let Me Go," and is more gritty, showing the old and weak DPs, unusable for slave labor, that the Russians foist upon the British sector toward the end of the film.
The spiritual angle in this film is interesting - has God failed man, the nun (Ethel Barrymore) asks, or has man failed God? Is "following orders" when you know you're sending people to certain death sufficient? "The Red Danube" is well acted. Discovered by Norma Shearer, Janet Leigh had only been in films two years when she made this, but she had already racked up some experience. She's fresh-faced, sympathetic, and sweet as Maria Buhlen. Peter Lawford doesn't have much to do; Angela Lansbury is delightful as part of the team, and Walter Pidgeon does an excellent job as the troubled colonel. As the Mother Superior where Audrey Quail, the colonel, and Twingo are billeted, Ethel Barrymore gives a superb performance as a woman of implacable faith who tries to help Hooky with his crisis and aid Maria.
I thought this was a very good film, thought-provoking, with good direction by George Sidney.
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