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Archive for February 2017

— Out of Sight Out of Mind

soldier and the lady one sheet.png

Through the years I’ve unearthed and released a number of pictures originally distributed by major studios.

One top-of-the bill picture I’ve held off offering on DVD until now is “The Soldier and the Lady,” produced and released by RKO Radio Pictures in 1937.

It’s a good movie…a staple on the late, late show in the 1950s and early 60s, but only sporadically seen since. Too bad, because it’s a fast paced and thoroughly enjoyable adventure picture from producer Pandro S. Berman, complete with a rousing music score, and a whipping sequence that somehow passed the censors. What’s not to like?

I call movies like this “out–of–sight–out–of-mind” pictures. Translation: People don’t know ‘em, don’t buy ‘em, I make no money on ‘em, but go ahead and release ‘em anyway.

Film historian, Richard M Roberts, and frequent KPF and Sprocket Vault collaborator contributed this:

THE SOLDIER AND THE LADY

Based on the story Michael Strogoff by Jules Verne, this epic action adventure follows a courageous courier of Tsar Alexander II as he struggles to deliver vital information to Russian troops fighting a losing battle against invading Tartar hordes in Siberia. It’s a straight ahead action film, adventurous, swiftly paced and blood-thirstily satisfying. The lady in the title has practically nothing to do with it.

Michael Strogoff: the Tsar’s Courier is a famous novel written by Jules Verne in 1876 that tells the story of its title character who is sent to the far east of Russia to warn the governor of Irkutsk about the trainer Ivan Ogareff, who incites rebellion and plans to destroy Irkutsk. This serial-like adventures of Strogoff and his friends battling a Tartar rebellion has captivated Verne fans for decades despite it being one of the author’s few non-science fiction works.

That said, one of the eternal movie history questions may indeed be just how many versions of Michael Strogoff do we really need? More than ten at casual count, and apparently a number of those were produced or coproduced by one Joseph N. Ermolieff, a White Russian who was one of the major film producers under the Tsar, and a political exile himself who escaped to France when came the revolution and spent the next several decades as an ex-patriot film producer over many continents. He apparently owned the rights to Verne’s novel and every decade or so managed to crank out or be involved in the cranking out of at least one new version of the peace, including a lavish three-hour French silent masterpiece directed by Victor Tourjansky and starring Ivan Mouskoujine. Then in 1935, Ermolieff produced a new French-German co-production directed by Richard Eichberg and starring Anton Wahlbrook that utilizes some footage from the 1926 version. As if this was not enough, what does Ermolieff go and do but take this 1935 version and Wahlbrook to America the following year and sell RKO on yet another remake of Strogoff re-using Wahlbrook (or Walbrook as he Anglicized the spelling) and utilizing as much footage from the Eichberg Version as one could possibly match-up with the new American cast. So RKO releases this new version, retitled The Soldier and the Lady (Fair enough, Eichberg’s Version had been titled the Tsar’s Courier) and, surprise, surprise, it’s a grand and glorious flop.

Now hold on, we didn’t say it was a deserved flop, for as patch-job French – German – American co-productions matching up footage of Anton Wahlbrook and sometimes even Ivan Mouskoujine to Anton Walbrook go, it’s pretty amazingly seamless, and Walbrook in his first English – speaking role is a very dashing Strogoff. The American cast has a lot going for it, number one being Akim Tamiroff in top-villainous mode as Ivan Ogareff, and Elizabeth Allan looking reasonably radiant as Nadia. Perhaps some are a bit put-off by comic relief Eric Blore and Edward Brophy as the reporters covering the rebellion, but this author likes both performers and finds them the occasional breath of fresh air amongst all of Walbrook’s masochistic abuse. Okay, when you get down to Ward bond as a tartar things are getting a bit silly but all in all, this Michael Strogoff moves along at an easy-to-take 85 minutes, give you much of the spectacle of the earlier European version, and gives one and incredible lesson in editing and matching old footage.

And it didn’t stop Mr. Ermolieff from making yet more versions of the darn book, next up with a 1944 Mexican version, Miguel Strogoff, I kid you not, and Curt Jurgens went through the tortuous motions again in 1960. Now of course public domain, Jules Verne’s books all seems to be one of those European co-productions they can always get off the ground though remakes seem to have dropped off since the 70s when both a feature and television version appeared. Seems to this one, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a bit more fun, but Michael Strogoff still beats it in the remake department.

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