‘Never Let Me Go’ (1953)

[24 January 2014]

By Michael Barrett

Now available on demand from Warner Archive is a relatively obscure effort from Delmer Daves, an excellent writer, director and producer known for intelligent characters and stories. However, Never Let Me Go feels less like a “real” Daves movie, who neither wrote nor produced it, than a work of producer Clarence Brown, whose romantic sensibility dominates a starry-eyed love story against a background of Cold War politics. Even so, this film demonstrates the Daves who, as Andrew Sarris observed, handles all his material with conviction.

A well-seasoned Clark Gable plays Sutherland, an American journalist stationed in Russia. He narrates the story of how he falls for a Bolshoi ballerina named Maria, played by a dark-lipsticked, pencil-browed Gene Tierney, who perpetually gazes up with wet eyes under a wash of key lights. These unabashed moments are when the movie is at its strongest and most unreal. It’s her lot to love wholeheartedly and suffer stolidly as the Russian government deports Sutherland while keeping her behind. In a gesture that might have pleased Sergei Eisenstein, the Soviet bureaucrats are typecast with the kind of bloated, scowling actors whom he used as capitalist fatcats.

Once this problem is established, Maria’s mostly out of the picture until the exciting finale. Most of the story focuses on Sutherland concocting a plan to smuggle her out on a fishing boat that sails around Finland for the Estonian port of Tallinn. The propaganda aspects are credible and relatively restrained in comparison with many Cold War dramas, and the marital problems aren’t far-fetched, but the adventure plot, derived from a novel by Roger Bax (aka Andrew Garve), feels very fairy-tale, especially when we’re asked to believe that Gable speaks Russian well enough to pass for native.

This is one of MGM’s British-made films of the postwar era. Location filming in Cornwall keeps it looking handsome as photographer Robert Krasker (Oscar winner for The Third Man) shifts from a deep-focus documentary lyricism in English scenes (everything free and clear) to noirish night action in Tallinn, complete with car chase and midnight ocean. Such British players as Bernard Miles, Richard Haydn, and Kenneth More decorate the tale. Future folksinger Theodore Bikel plays a Russian, and the striking dancer Belita (Invitation to the Dance ) is under-used as a rival ballerina.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/177869-never-let-me-go/