fascinating but awkward Cold War melodrama, with familiar exploitation names
The backstory of this film is perhaps more interesting than the film itself--director Robert Dertano of Gun Girls and Girl Gang fame, teamed with exploitation photographer William C. Thompson, teamed with Tor Johnson (in one scene only), teamed with producer Stephen Apostolof (aka A. C. Stephen)whose own story as a refugee from communist Bulgaria this film tells. In its waning days (from 1955 on), Republic Pictures distributed some off-beat films in order to pad out its release schedule, as the studio no longer produced much of its own product. While Republic films were usually low-budget, they always had a slick, professional, assembly-line quality. However,This film has the murky, minimalist, semi-professional look of Dertano's earlier exploitation classics, and the first third of it is chock-full of stock footage and newsreel clips of riots and foreign cities. The difference is that instead of being set in drug dens and abortion doctors' offices, this film tries in its no-budget way to suggest foreign settings, which gives it an odd, otherworldly feeling, like the interiors in a 1930s z-grade jungle film. Also, the first two-thirds of the film feature a first-person narration from a Bulgarian communist official's point-of-view, a sort of "We'll bury you" kind of snide, threatening narration, although this is dropped after a certain point. I'm not sure about star Jacques Scott's accent, but otherwise he does a convincing job as an ambitious but naive freedom-loving refugee. The rest of the cast, some of whom will be familiar from exploitation films, are semi-amateur. Apostolof/Stephen is credited with production of the film, and with the "industry professionals" he relied on being Thompson and Dertano, it's no wonder the film has such a seedy look and semi-amateur feel. The melodramatic turn of the plot in the last half of the film really takes the film away from any anti-communist, freedom-loving message and turns it into low-grade melodrama. A fascinating curio that is of historic significance, but JOURNEY TO FREEDOM is not really that entertaining and, ironically, will probably appeal most to fans of Dertano's other films such as WRESTLING RACKET GIRLS or GUN GIRLS. It's a shame that they didn't think to cast Timothy Farrell in this film--what a great communist boss he would have made, or a sleazy party operative! Apostolof's next film was eight years later, ORGY OF THE DEAD. Both films have a few things in common--an idea that is more interesting than the actual product, a number of recognizable exploitation names, and a film that has a good "angle" to market but is actually somewhat boring to watch.
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