Comrade X (1940)
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Comrade X is a pseudonym for some journalist who is sending uncensored stories out about the real Soviet Union. It happens to be Clark Gable and the whole Soviet secret police apparatus is after him.
But a valet at a hotel where the foreign correspondents stay played by Felix Bressart comes upon his secret. He offers a deal to Gable, he won't turn him in if Gable convinces Bressart's daughter Hedy Lamarr to leave the Soviet Union with him and come to America.
Easier said than done because Lamarr is as committed a Communist as Greta Garbo was in Ninotchka. So like Melvyn Douglas in Ninotchka, Gable's got his work cut out for him.
Comrade X's humor is a little more broad than Ninotchka's was. It even got a few good knocks in on Nazi Germany with Sig Ruman playing a German correspondent. The humor about the Soviets concerns what a dangerous thing it was to rise in the ranks of the party. Remember this was also the time of Stalin purging all kinds of people out of the party. Something that didn't stop until Hitler broke the non-aggression pact in 1941.
And Hedy Lamarr is sure no Garbo, but she acquits herself nicely in the role of the fuzzy headed idealist.
Gable, Lamarr, and Bressart get caught up in the internal politics of the Soviet Union and have to flee the country. What happens to them is the balance of the film and it is hilarious.
One of the best films done by both of the stars. Grand comedy.
NINOTCHKA had Felix Bressart and Sig Ruman in the cast as two of the members of the trade mission. Comments on this thread point out that in the 1930s "accents" were fairly interchangeable in Hollywood, so that the Swedish Garbo (and later the Austrian Lamarr) became Russian. So did German Ruman and German - Jewish Bressart (who would also play a Hungarian in THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER).
Unlike NINOTCHKA, COMRADE X is set inside that nightmare land, Stalinist Russia. Somebody is sending out unofficial (but thoroughly correct) news stories showing the crimes being committed in Russian by the government against the people (i.e. the purges), as well as the idiotic projects and waste mismanagement illustrative of how poorly the government is as effective government. This is being resented by the Presidium, who is represented by Oscar Homlolka (Commissar Vasiliev). Please note that Homolka's make-up makes him look a tremendous bit like one Joseph Stalin. At a public funeral covered by the press court, someone tries to shoot Vasiliev (who does all he can to hide the assassination plot). Mac Thompson (Clark Gable), the American reporter, manages to snap a photo of an odd site - a bearded man who a moment before the shooting opened up the lid of the coffin and popped out. This bearded gentlemen turns out to be one Michael Bastakoff (Vladimir Sokoloff), a rival of Vasiliev for power. He is made to look a tremendous bit like one Leon Trotsky.
Get the message from Hollywood here? Vasiliev's agents have been trying to pin down the news leaks, and has narrowed it to two figures: Thompson, and one Emil Von Hofer (Sig Ruman) who is the news representative from Nazi Germany. Ruman manages to demonstrate it ain't him, so (despite Gable's breezy denials) Vasiliev believes it is the American.
Gable has a close friend in Moscow, one Ygor Yahupitz (Felix Bressart) who is his sometimes valet. Ygor's daughter is Galubcha (Hedy Lamarr) who is a streetcar operator. Ygor wants Gable to try to smuggle Galubcha out of the Soviet Union into the U.S. And the film shows (among other things, including overcoming Galubcha's fierce belief in the Communist ideal) Gable eventually saving both the girl and her father.
The comedy is quite amusing, even if it lacks the style and grace of the Lubitsch touch of the first film. But it certainly comments on the atmosphere within Russia in a way that NINOTCHKA failed to do so. The centering of the comedy in Moscow, the suggestiveness of a Stalin - Trotsky rivalry clone, and the heavy control over information is certainly more realistic than Douglas' being elegant and eloquent about the beauties of Paris.
One more thing to keep in mind is a scandal which is on target with this film, and which (in 1940) finally began to raise eyebrows. In the early 1930s the New York Times had a reporter named Walter Duranty in Moscow. He turned out to be a fantastically well informed reporter in the Soviet Union, and came out with interviews and articles that were tremendously informative. In fact, he would win the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Moscow. But as time passed, Duranty's methods and sources were heavily questioned. He also tended to take an official line about the Purge Trials (i.e., that Bukhanin, Radek, Zinoviev, Tuchochevsky, and the other hundreds and thousands of victims were all actual traitors against the Stalinist regime). After the signing of the non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939, the Times became very suspicious of Duranty, and replaced him. The quality of the articles became very much more even handed. Duranty was later revealed to be a Stalinist agent. Interestingly enough, the Pulitzer Committee has repeatedly rejected requests to take back their award from Duranty's heirs as his work was pure propaganda. So the issue about the control over the news from Russia was very, very real.
Everyone is very good in this film, and Lamarr's staggering beauty and Gable's macho man are pluses. The supporting cast is great - Homolka is a government official who says his predecessor "met with an unfortunate accident" - as many of them do throughout the film.
I have to agree with one of the posters here - the scene with the tanks is absolutely priceless, particularly when you realize that films didn't have the mechanisms for "special effects" as they do today.
Lots of fun at the expense of good old Mother Russia.
Funny movie - the "Kaputski Cemetery"? Excellent!!!!
I did go back and research the special effects for this film. They were done by none other than A. Arnold Gillespie who won four Academy Awards out of thirteen nominations. Besides "Comrade X", he worked on such little films like "The Wizard of Oz" and "Ben-Hur". As for "Comrade X" a true case of an industry giant being handed what had to be a small assignment considering his considerable talents. The studio system works!
The nonsensical plot concerns Gable as an American newspaper correspondent trying to help his pro-Communist Russian bride (Lamarr) and her father (a goofy Felix Bressart) out of the nightmarish Soviet Union. The film has a comedic tank chase scene with excellent special effects that still hold up well today. Also credible is the fine supporting cast in the film, which includes Sig Ruman as a bumbling Nazi German newspaper correspondent, Eve Arden as Gable's wisecracking partner, and Oskar Homolka as an intimidating Soviet commissar who's a dead ringer for Joseph Stalin. One minor element I liked was that the purging of Soviet officersalthough ignored by the outside world at the timewas surprisingly accurate here. As usual with the MGM films of the period, the production design is lush.
However, it is Hedy Lamarr who saves the film for me. She is perfectly cast as a staunch but charming Communist who speaks in an amusing monotonous Russian accent, despite the fact that she doesn't appear until the first 25 minutes of the film. Hedy's singing voice isn't bad either, especially while singing a Soviet tune with her fellow Communists in one scene. Not only is she perfectly cast but absolutely gorgeous here: in one scene, she stunningly appears in a revealing, slim white nightgown and says to Clark, "I feel a little confused, but I'm glad you like it." No doubt she was regarded as the most beautiful woman in films at the timeshe's impossibly lovely in that certain outfit, as well as in a Soviet uniform.
My favorite funny moments include a brief scene in which Hedy appears in the bulky "parachute" of a Russian nightgown and gives a silly stare at Clark, an exciting car chase through the streets of Moscow near the end of the film, and a hilarious feud between Clark and Hedy in their rundown hotel room. During the feud, Hedy picks up a chair, threatens to hit Clark with it, and spits on his foot. When Clark convinces her to be reasonable, Hedy throws down the chair and exclaims, "All right! I lost my head! I'm behaving like a child!" Hedy approaches a telephone and begins to contact the secret police. Clark then secretly yanks the telephone cable out of its socket while Hedy is speaking to the operator in Russian. Hedy then notices the torn cable, throws the telephone at Clark, and swears loudly and rapidly in Russian while trying to beat him with her fists. It's a very amusing, chaotic scene.
Good fun if you're into Soviet history or a fan of Gable or Lamarr, but nowhere near as memorable or as funny as my personal favorite comedy, PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (1985). At least this film was better than the other Soviet-themed film, REDS (1981).
It's not as sophisticated and witty as the Garbo film, but Hedy plays a dedicated Soviet woman who thinks that an American that she is attracted to (CLARK GABLE) shares the same philosophy. FELIX BRESSART is her scatterbrained father, EVE ARDEN is an American newspaper woman and SIG RUMAN is a loyal Nazi foreign correspondent in Russia who is just as confused as everyone else as to the identity of "Comrade X".
It's a good role for Hedy, playing her role very much the way Cyd Charisse played the Russian gal in "Silk Stockings", and with a comic flair that she seldom exhibited in any of her MGM films, even the so-called comedies. Gable is more or less himself as the cynical newspaper man who ends up taking his bride (Lamarr) to America after they've had a few escapades that have the Soviet authorities chasing them all over the hillsides in tanks--the film's most amusing moments.
One of the funniest performances comes from NATASHA LYTESS, as Olga, a secretary who tells Gable she's a spy. Her drunken antics are a highlight (she can't see a thing without her glasses). Lytess was Marilyn Monroe's acting coach for several years, the superstar being dependent on her for her every move during her early films at Fox.
The settings for the two films are quite different, but the intended political ridicule is the same. And, they go about it in different ways. "Ninotchka" is a masterpiece of dialog, with running puns, metaphors and other witticisms. It has great acting as well in the expressions of its characters. "Comrade X" does not slay us with dialog, but instead mixes dialog with numerous situations. And those lend themselves very well to slapstick, screwball and goofy antics.
One reviewer panned the big tank scene as silly. Of course it is. But, silly and goofy help make some comedies great. And the tank chase in this movie builds to a fitting climax for this film. It must surely be able to lay claim to being the greatest tank chase every filmed.
The stars in "Comrade X" are all great. Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr play perfectly off each other as McKinley Thompson and Theodore. Did you catch her explanation for why she had a male name? Eve Arden does a hilarious job as American correspondent Jane Wilson, and Felix Bressart is very good as Vanya, Theodore's father. Other supporting actors are equally good. Sig Ruman is even better than his usual character of the insulted German, Emil Von Hofer. And, Vladimir Sokoloff is very funny as the demure communist, Michael Bastakoff, who was caught in the act of "committing a traffic accident." But Oskar Homolka stands out for his role as Vasiliev. His every line seemed to be delivered with a twinkle of humor in his eye.
I think the entire cast must have had a ball making this film. The movie was released in the U.S. on Dec. 13, 1940, and in England on April 28, 1941. The Brits may well have appreciated as much the jabs at Nazi Germany in here. One of my favorite scenes is in the Kremlin Press Room. Jane Wilson (Eve Arden) says, "Probably the government has decided that from now on all foreign correspondents must be blindfolded and led around by seeing-eye-dogs. 'Anything to keep the truth out of print' is their motto." A nervous Von Hofer (Sig Ruman) says: "Please, Miss Wilson, do not speak for me. I am not complaining against the Russian government." Wilson responds, "My dear, Von Hofer, a German journalist is not in a position to complain against the absence of truth anywhere."
Some other funny exchanges include this pick up from the above. A British journalist says, "Right you are Miss Wilson." Von Hofer says to him, "Excuse me!?" The Brit responds, "With pleasure, old boy." And Wilson concludes: "A fine world press we are. We can't even send out a weather report without having it censored."
Vasiliev (Homolka) announces to the press room: "The former head of the press department was the victim last night of a traffic accident. I'm speaking at his grave at the Kapulski Cemetery at 3 o'clock." Thompson (Gable) says to Vanya (Bressart): "So the deal is, I get an obstinate lady motorman out of a country she doesn't want to leave?" Later, he is talking with Theodore (Lamarr), and she says: "I read in Pravda, 10 million people starved to death last winter in the United States, and there was nobody to bury them." Thompson says, "They don't bury people in the United States. They burn them." Theodore: "A nation of thieves." Thompson: "Yes! Ever hear of the Brooklyn Dodgers?" Theodore: "No!" Thompson: "They get murdered every day." Theodore: "Well then, what for?" Thompson: "For making some little errors." Theodore: "There must be a revolution soon in America."
A newsman says to Vasiliev: "As God is my judge." Vasiliev says, "There is no God." The newsman: "Well, then whoever is in his place." Another person says to Vasiliev: "I can bring you witnesses that I never saw her before." Vasiliev to Thompson, "You have me at a disadvantage. I'll lay my cards under the table." Thompson, "As they say in my country, you can count me out." When they are thrown into prison, Thompson asks, "What are they singing?" Vanya says, "Same thing they always sing in prison – we are free." He yawns and says, "Oh, I'd like to get some sleep before I die." Bastakoff to Thompson: "My predecessor was the victim last night of a traffic accident." Thompson: "Is he expected to recover?" Bastakoff: "No, he caught pneumonia."
Thompson, to Theodore: "What is love – an accident?" Theodore: "Gorsky says love is the failure of the mind to understand nature." Still later, the two are talking, and Gable describes the difficulty taking people away from hot dogs, boogie woogie, etc. Theodore says, "The problem of taking the masses away from boogie woogie is a difficult one." Later, when they have crossed a border river into Rumania in a tank, the Rumanian home guard flees in front of the tank. Thompson says, "You know, it's going to be tough to surrender to these people. You've got to catch them first."
"Comrade X" is another great laugh fest that's guaranteed to entertain. It's a must for any serious film library.
With a luscious Hedy LaMar and Clark Gable, the cast here features a lot of good supporting actors as well. The writing for the script features some solid writers but I think the script was written on an assembly line for pay as this crew wrote many better films. King Vidor is always a solid Director and he proves so here.
Considering this is 1940, the actor who looks like Joe Stalin is quite a startling figure. Hedy's wardrobe appears to have come from some of MGM's better clothes. While MGM put money into this, the propaganda and comedy mix is at times uneven.
Still, for the cast it is a worthwhile effort, and the tank sequence is much more advanced than many of the war films that are yet to be made.
She was not a great actress, but she had a face that rivaled Helen of Troy. Paired here with Clark Gable in a satire of the Communist government in Russia, it was an enjoyable movie.
Walter Reisch, who got an Oscar for the original Titanic, got a nomination for this story. His story was ably turned into a fine script by Ben Hecht (Notorious, Underworld, The Scoundrel, with assistance by Herman J. Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane) and Charles Lederer (the original Ocean's Eleven).
Directed by five-time Oscar nominee King Vidor (War and Peace, The Crowd), it was a fine introduction to Lamarr.
Gable plays an American journalist, McKinley 'Mac' Thompson, in communist Russia who successfully, and secretly, gets his stories and photographs through the government censors. He's referred to as Comrade X, and obviously the Russians would like nothing more than to capture and execute him for these traitorous activities. Lamarr plays Golubka, aka Theodore Yahupitz, a 'cold' native and party idealist who's not only a streetcar conductor, but also the daughter of Mac's friendly, though seemingly clueless valet Vanya, aka Igor Yahupitz (Felix Bressart).
Vanya discovers Mac's secret camera and true identity and, because he wants to protect his daughter from the instability inherent in the system during that time, he 'forces' him to agree to take Golubka out of the country for her own safety. Bressart and Sig Ruman, who plays a German journalist Emil Von Hofer, were both in Ninotchka (1939). Oskar Homolka plays Commissar Vasiliev, who's desperately trying to catch Comrade X while at the same time keep from being assassinated by others seeking a power grab. Eve Arden plays Jane Wilson, another American journalist, who'd had prior relations with Mac. Vladimir Sokoloff plays Michael Bastakoff, the underground communist leader that Golubka idolizes. Keye Luke appears uncredited as another journalist in the frustrated World Press corps.
The comedy is not nearly as good as the aforementioned film and is much more screwball, in general, with fewer of its political jabs finding their target. Though both Gable and Lamarr are both as watchable as usual, there's no real chemistry between them even as he tries to 'crack' her cold committed demeanor.
Natasha Lytess plays a silly Russian secretary, Olga Milanava, who gets drunk. Mac pretends to be a communist in order to convince Golubka to leave for the United States with him (e.g. to persuade Americans to join the party); the two even get married!
The movie gets even more off track when Mac, Vanya and Golubka, escaping from Bastakoff who has now successfully replaced (executed) Commissar Vasiliev, find themselves in an elaborate, overlong and climactic, tank chase!
I should probably rate this film a 4/10, because that's honestly about what it deserves. But it was so ludicrous, so breathtaking in its absurdity, it made for oddly compelling viewing. Kudos to King Vidor for allowing this film to be bad, because it would have been horrible if he'd tried to make it good, given the raw materials he had to work with.
All is going well until a lowly hotel worker, Felix Bressart, announces to Clark that he knows he is Comrad X and will report him to the government unless he agrees to smuggle out his daughter (played by Hedy Lamarr). The problem is that Hedy is a dyed-in-the-wool Communist and supporter of Soviet expansion! So, Clark lies to her and tells her he wants to take her to America so she can convince everyone that the Soviet system is best! She soon realizes he's lying, but after her mentor, Bastakoff, tells her to marry him, she does (after only knowing him a few hours).
The party Commissar Vasiliev (Oskar Homolka) in charge of the foreign press calls Clark in to his office just before Clark can escape to America. he has found Clark's hidden camera and thinks he might be Comrad X, so he has Clark, Hedy and Felix imprisoned. Soon, a hundred of so of Bastakoff's supporters are jailed with them and are soon executed. With only the three of them left, Clark decides to sell the Commissar information--that Bastakoff was behind an assassination attempt on Valiliev. But, when Clark is taken to see the commissar, he finds it is now Bastakoff! Vasiliev has met with an "accident" and Clark knows the same will happen to him and his new family unless they escape. So, he makes a deal with Bastakoff to give him an incriminating photo, but quickly dodges all of the Russian secret police, police and army with his wife and father-in-law! In the end, they sneak into a tank that's aboard a train headed for maneuvers. It turns out the tank is the general's tank and all the other tanks follow them--across the border into Romania! The Romanians run in terror thinking they've been invaded, but all is right in the end.
If you think all this stuff is pretty familiar, think back one year to another MGM film, NINOTCHKA. In this film, Garbo plays almost the same role Hedy plays and the movies are extremely similar in tone. I would have to say that COMRAD X is more silly fun, but NINOTCHKA is definitely a much better film. See them both if you'd like--I did.
This starts stiffly, with some clichés quickly pasted forward to get the plot to fit the news at the time. It's set in Moscow, and WWII is under way. The Germans are evil but more to the point, the Soviets are not to be trusted. Eve Arden, in her usual delivery, is the saving grace, but it still feels forced.
Thankfully Clark Gable shows up. If he isn't always his best when he's trying to be a comic actor (he's really funny when he's a straight actor with funny lines), he still brings the screen to life. In fact, as the movie continues an absurd (and not very well written) satire of the Soviet Union, Gable holds it in check by his nonchalance and usual earthy delivery.
Of course, the Americans in Russia are the only sensible people there. It doesn't feel like a propaganda film, but the point of view is so limited (and one-sided) there isn't much balance. But it's a comedy, and director King Vidor is known for competance if not comic brilliance.
Hedy Lamarr makes a stiff Russian with a terrible accent. (She was Austrian by birth.) The chemistry between Lamarr and Gable is comfortable but the writing holds it back. And there is the biggest mystery here—Ben Hecht was one of the writers, and he's normally a bright spot.
So this has some good credentials but stumbles along, mostly because of obvious jokes that haven't worn well over the decades.
This is certainly no Ninotchka, even with its anti-Communist theme. The film is just awful.
It would have been funnier had they managed to make more fun of the Nazis in it. I realize that the film came out in 1940 and since we weren't at war with the beasts as yet, the film board probably wanted to cool things down.
The ending becomes a ridiculous tank chase and becomes very silly after a while.
The Commies come and go and knock each other off as if it's nothing. Even though it was so true, it was done film wise in such a boring way. The idea that the poet philosopher was a true phony who went on to kill his supporters was not adequately explained.
A year after "Gone With the Wind" and Clark Gable had a bomb with this film!
I was stunned by how disappointing BAD this movie turned out to be.
The central problem is the script, which is sub par - especially for an MGM production with their A List Actors. The script is preposterous from beginning to end. It makes little to no sense. And by the time the end comes, you are grateful it was such a short film.
The high point of the movie is a "Military Ballet' in the last few minutes of the film.
Clark Gable is normally one of my all time favorite actors. He is very disappointing in this movie. There is a reason Gable did not do comedies. While he can toss off a witty line with the best of them, he lacks the timing to successfully pull off the comedic demands of this role.
Hedy Lamarr is horribly miscast as Russian Trolley Car driver. She does little more in this movie than "glow" in her close ups, and spout lines about how superficial beauty is. She totally lacks the sparkle which is present in her other films. La Marr appears to be heavily medicated in most of her scenes.
Is this a bad movie" Yes indeed. It is probably one of the worst movies Gable ever made. But, you should still watch it.
Just before we got into World War II, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had signed a non- aggression pact. Mac Thompson (Clark Gable) is a foreign correspondent who has been sneaking out uncensored news out of Soviet Russia. The secret police are suspicious of him, but it's the hotel's valet, Igor Yahupitz (Felix Bressart) who knows that it's Mac. He tells Mac that if he can smuggle his daughter, Theodore (Hedy Lamarr) out of the Soviet Union, into America, he won't tell anybody.
The fly in the ointment is that Theodore is a loyal Communist and, just like in Ninotchka (1939), Mac has got to convince her to leave her beloved country and go with him, all while trying to stay away from the Commissars. Of course all of the upper ranking Soviet officers are worried about being killed off in Stalin's Purge.
King Vidor directed this fast-paced anti-communist comedy with a screenplay written by Ben Hecht. Jane Wilson (smart-mouthed Eve Arden) is one of my favorite characters, also the Nazi correspondent Emil Von Hofer (Sig Ruman) is an easy target of ridicule.
Clark Gable is a gem in this one (as he is in most of his films). Hedy Lamarr is the same as a staunch Commie streetcar driver. I can't tell you how many commie stereotyped bits in this film their are but they're almost all funny. I mean ridiculousness abound. After the first few minutes you know not to take this film seriously.
It goes to show that Hollywood and the U.S. were anti-communist way before the HUAC hearings. Just watch this one and laugh. I know I did.