Thursday, May 2, 2013

Comrade X

TCM is putting the spotlight on director King Vidor tonight. Apparently Duel in the Sun (8:00 PM) and Ruby Gentry (10:30 PM), both of which I've blogged about before, must both be out of print, since TCM doesn't list either of them being available for purchase from the TCM shop. The Warner Archive, however, puts out Comrade X, so that one should always be avaiable. It's airing overnight at 4:00 AM (or very early tomorrow morning if you want to look at it that way).

Clark Gable plays the titular Comrade X. His real name is McKinley Thompson, who is an American journalist covering the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was of course a nasty dictatorship, spying on reporters and only feeding them propaganda so that they'd print positive things about the country for the papers back home; or, being unwilling to do that, at least they wouldn't be able to print the whole truth. Thompson, however, is getting the truth out, much to the consternation of the Soviet authorities. All they know is that one of the reporters is getting these stories out; they don't know which one, since all the stories are being signed "Comrade X". There is one person who does figure out Thompson's secret however: Vanya (Felix Bressart), the valet in the hotel where all of the foreign reporters are staying.

Vanya could expose Comrade X, but he's got a better idea: Stalin hasn't quite purged everybody yet, and with the conflict between Stalinists and Trotskyists still going on (at least if you believe the movie), it can be dangerous even for the Communists. In reality, quite a few of the people who surrounded Lenin and helped win the revolution and following civil war two decades earlier did fall afoul of Stalin, and were prominently purged in the show trials that began around 1935, but most of the show trials had concluded by the time the movie was made. But back to the movie, Vanya would like Thompson to smuggle his daughter, street-car driver Theodore (Hedy Lamarr), out of the country. The catch, though, is that the daughter is a committed Communist. Why would she want to leave the communist paradise?

Thompson comes up with the idea that she could preach the gospel of communism in the United States, an idea which seems ludicrous even for 1940, when the American communists would have been close to theie maximum influence with all those powerful New Deal levers to pull. But it's about the only way Thompson could possibly convince Theodore to leave the USSR. The only way she could leave, though, is as his husband, so it's off to the civil registry office to get married. Meanwhile, Comrade X's camera is discovered, hidden in Vanya's room, which means trouble for all three of them. This all eventually leads to the climax, which involves Thompson and Theodore commandeering a tank and driving it straight for the border with Romania, which was not yet a Communist satellite state since this is 1940.

Comrade X was made not long after Ninotchka was a huge success for MGM, so there are a lot of things in it that are reminiscent of the earlier movie. On the whole, though, it doesn't glitter the way Ninotchka does. It's still worth watching, though, because of a lot of enjoyable performances from the supporting actors. In addition to Bressart, there's Sig Ruman as a German reporter; Eve Arden as a fellow American reporter; and Oscar Homolka, playing a Soviet commissar. Gable is OK doing much the same role he played six years earlier in It Happened One Night, while Hedy Lamarr is lovely to look at.

I'm not certain if I'd want to pay Warner Archive prices for a movie like Comrade X that's OK but not quite great. If it were on one of those four-movie box sets, though, it would be a great bargain, as it's more than entertaining enough.

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