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In late 1941, with the Nazi invasion of Russia still advancing, the Red Army leaves bands of guerillas behind in the forests. One such band is joined by beautiful ballet dancer Nina; initially inept, a series of bitter lessons gradually make her a seasoned soldier. The group still form human attachments, despite the shadow of grim death that makes their greatest hope one of selling their lives dearly...Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Pray silence, workers and peasants, for a "cast of new personalities" headed by the debut of "Mr Gregory Peck, distinguished actor on the New York stage".
A suitably solemn intro for the late Mr P, who supplies a characteristically cigar-store-Indianesque turn as the darkly handsome Russian dam-builder turned train-buster, heading a WW2 band of partisans (i.e., terrorists). His stern Soviet soul is melted only by a sultry ballerina who is stranded with the gang. Other members include a comic peasant double act, a learned Oxonian sidekick and a winsome teen brother and sister, one of whom ends on a Nazi noose (the wrong one, given the girl's saccharine performance).
This retrospectively hilarious and morally objectionable whitewashing of the most murderous tyranny in history- the communist USSR- fudges its politics like all the Hollywood "enemy of my enemy is my friend" wartime propaganda pieces. "Socialism" as the Peck character's creed is never mentioned. Inspiration for the partisans' efforts is made out to be no more than a worthy resentment of trespassers on their home ground, whether it's a dictatorship or not. (By the same logic Hollywood should now be shooting films justifying Iraqi guerilla resistance to the Americo-British occupation, but don't hold your breath.) The unpalatable truth that many in the western Soviet Union welcomed and collaborated with the Germans has to be evaded. In this flick, solidarity is absolute.
Apart from this hollowness at the core, the film is a decent string of shoot-em-ups in a convincingly icy studio landscape. The stage actors in the cast were and remained unfamiliar, making the thing seem a mite more authentic than, say, "For Whom the Bell Tolls". But Ms Toumanova, the producer's girlfriend at the time, conceives emotional acting as gazing into the remote distance with her lips slightly parted: the influence of Garbo was disastrous! And it would take Selznick and King Vidor to extract a full-blooded performance from Peck, in "Duel in the Sun". It's curious, incidentally, that Casey Robinson, writer and producer of this paean to Stalin, never got serious heat from the House Un-American Activities Committee after the war. Did he cut a deal?
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