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Vienna, 1956. After Soviet tanks crush the Hungarian uprising, soldier-of-fortune Mike Reynolds is hired to help a threatened Hungarian scientist (Prof. Jansci) escape from Budapest. He and Julia, the professor's daughter, cross the border posing as journalists, but they encounter a problem. The staunch freedom fighter doesn't want to go. Written by
Mike Rogers <MICHAELPEM@aol.com>
1. First major film score for John Williams --at the time of writing, not even IMDb have this work on their listing of his filmography!-- yet it remains one of his strongest, most flavorful early scores. Whoever arranged and orchestrated this work with its grinding bass cello riffs and stabbing violins, they've managed to infuse an air of dark intrigue. This is then complemented with a broad melodic french horn main theme that begins immediately under the Universal International Trade Mark, sweeping you into the darkly beguiling situations that follow. If not arranged by Williams, then this could have been in the hands of Joseph Gershenson, whose name was featured as music supervisor on almost all American U.I. films during the 50-60s. Williams' composer credit is under his early calling of 'Johnny' Williams.
2. First film Produced and part directed (uncredited) by Richard Widmark
3. First film with a screenplay by Widmark's wife Jean Hazlewood.
4. First appearances in an American film for stunningly beautiful Viennese born Senta Berger, and Sonja Zieman.
5. Appears to be the first film adapted from an Alistair MacLean novel.
This film has been unfairly passed over, it was strikingly photographed on location in marvelous B/W by veteran Cinematographer Max Green...who also created the moody look to classics like; "Hatters Castle" in '42 and "Thunder Rock" also '42. Green also shot the first great noir film made by American director Jules Dasin (following Dasin's black listing in the late 40s by the House of Un-American Activities) it was the hugely atmospheric: "Night and the City" that was produced in Britain in 1950.
Award winning German actress Sonja Zieman gives a forceful performance as Julia, daughter of the professor seeking to defect to the west. The supporting cast are all first rate.
While from a story by Alistair MacLean it's not just given a simple action treatment, so this may account for other comments made by those looking for action thrills. While it does offer a couple of fanciful escape scenarios it's generally a deliberately paced, complex story involving the planned defection of pro-west refugees from Communist Hungary. As with many 60s espionage movies you may have to work hard to figure who's who and what motivates them to act in certain ways! Some of this confusion possibly came from Widmark sacking director Karlson in the last weeks of production. Perhaps this is best viewed by serious followers of the on-going after effects of WW11.
Those who enjoyed the similar 'Quiller Memorandum'('66) should also be entertained by this one. Rarely screened, and it seems quality DVDs may be difficult to find. 'The Secret Ways' remains an interesting drama for those who enjoy well made, off- beat espionage movies from the 60s. KenR.
Note: Up-Dated information: I have just purchased a DVD of this movie from Germany. It has the Universal 'studio' seal on the cover and on the disc itself. While the transfer image is quite clean it remains a little on the dark side suggesting it may have been taken from a good 35mm Composite print rather than a negative. This is better than some I've seen. It was under Cinema Classics so look for it, I ordered on-line from: DITH shop Germany.
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