What’s that movie with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr? The one where they come from different cultures and you can cut the sexual tension between them with a scimitar? Oh yes, The King and I. No, just a minute, that’s not a romance, even though people seem to think it is. Wait, here it is: The Journey.
Kerr is Lady Ashmore, once again a proper English lady undulating with sex appeal. In the 1950s, she was Hollywood’s go-to gal for infidelity and other extra-marital adventures because she was classy enough to get away with what would make a mid-American woman look like a slut. Brynner is a Russian major stationed at the Hungarian side of the Austrian border during the abortive Hungarian rebellion of 1956, as Soviet tanks roll in to crush resistance. These were recent events when this film was shot in Austria, so this is an up-to-the-minute Cold War film, yet not a formulaic one.
If this were a simple formula, the gruff, frightening major would be a monster, as would all his men. Instead, writer George Tabori and producer/director Anatole Litvak give considerable weight to the major’s point of view. A patriot who’s proud of having liberated Hungary from the Nazis, he’s angry and confused that now these good people are shooting at his men. It’s as if the ungrateful swine don’t want them around. He sees in Lady Ashmore a symbol—nay, the actuality—of what he detests and cannot have, and part of him wants it. She’s helping a wounded escaped prisoner (Jason Robards in his film debut) whom she loves. Can they get across the border? And at what price?
This is more of a soap opera and a brooding thriller than any serious statement, but it has gravity from its location filming, its slow-boiling plot, and its tensely balanced cast of foreigners, all eager to cross the border, who weigh the pros and cons of throwing the lady and her lover under the bus. The movie remains tantalizingly ambiguous about whether the blustery American paterfamilias (E.G. Marshall) gives away their escape plan (or is it the Hungarian serving girl?) while Georges Auric’s music swells and practically blares with cimbalom and Hungarian motifs.
Robert Morley stands around clucking as a British journalist. Ready for her close-up, young French star Anouk Aimée narrows her eyes and carries a rifle as a proud resistance fighter; talk about radical chic. Look closely or you’ll miss one of the most famous people in the picture; that’s little Ronny Howard as the carrot-topped kid who wants to play war. This absorbing entertainment has worn well and is now available on demand from Warner Archive.