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Friday, 16 August 2013

Classic Film Review: The Adventures of Michael Strogoff (1937)

The Adventures of Michael Strogoff, also known as The Soldier and the Lady and based on a work by Jules Verne, stars Anton Walbrook as the title character, a Russain courier who has been tasked with getting a message to another Russian base about a Tartar uprising. However, he is being followed by the glamorous traitor, Zangarra (Margot Grahame), reporting to her lover and fellow traitor, Ivan Ogareff (Akim Tamiroff). On his travels, Strogoff encounters a young woman, Nadia (Elizabeth Allan), and is also forced to pretend that he doesn't know his own mother (Fay Bainter).

From reading a little about this film, I've learned it was a mish-mash of fresh footage and material from the original French version. While the footage is integrated nicely, that answers some of the questions I had about different approaches to filming throughout, particularly in the group scenes. However, as well integrated as the two versions were, they still couldn't make this film altogether satisfying.

There seemed to be a distinctive lack of emotion from all the main players, with the exception of Fay Bainter. In an attempt to make Strogoff stoic, Walbrook gives him almost no personality bar a few flashes and the 'rescue' of his mother. It makes him a difficult protagonist to like and follow. Far more complex is Zangarra, who is a slightly more successful character.

Special mention must go to the two characters designed to add a little light relief to the film - Eric Blore and Edward Brophy as the British and American newspapermen trying to report on the war zone. While both are stereotypes, at least they have a little presence, rendering their scenes more memorable than the stoic Strogoff or the stereotypically villanous Ogareff.

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