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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I truly enjoyed this film. The themes of individual responsibility in an evil world, and the problem of faith in God, are handled sensitively and well. Although it is unclear at the beginning, the main characters are the Colonel played by Walter Pidgeon and the Reverend Mother played by Ethel Barrymore. The romance between Peter Lawford's adjutant and Janet Leigh's sylph-like Russian refugee ballerina is, in a sense, just an excuse plot to build the movie around, although that storyline is satisfying as well, mainly due to these two talented actors. Also noteworthy is Angela Lansbury cast against type (at least, compared to her debut in Gaslight) as a highly sympathetic, yet somewhat salty woman officer.
I found others' comments on the relationship to McCarthyism and/or anti-Communism in general to be interesting. I do believe this movie showed the evils of the Soviet system, which to me, is fine. I have no idea if it fed McCarthyism, since I wasn't alive during that period. However, to me, it seems to be more about anti-totalitarianism of all stripes, rather than merely anti-Communism. In particular, the scene of the refugees in boxcars seems to be a direct reference to the Holocaust.
That The Red Danube was nominated for best art direction speaks, as well, to the technical beauty of this black & white film. This film reminded me of The Third Man, in its location, art direction, and storyline. (Orson Welles always said that "Black & white is the actor's friend" -- how true, in both these movies!) Although this film is inferior to The Third Man overall, in terms of its acting, atmosphere, and skill of the director, it is still worthy of viewing. Whereas The Third Man focuses on the moral dilemma of dealing with the evil in one individual (in a corrupt society), this film deals more generally with the morality of living in a corrupt society. In other words, The Third Man asks: "Why do men turn evil in an evil society?" (which, when you think about it, may not be such a profound question; although the further question of "What can be done about it?" is also explored), whereas The Red Danube asks: "How can men stay good in an evil society?" (which is really a much more useful question). So, although there's no denying that The Third Man is the better movie overall, I would highly recommend The Red Danube due to its high production values, the collection of wonderful actors in its ensemble cast, and a very engaging, philosophical script.
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