Journey, The (1959): Litvak’s Political Melodrama, Starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr (Border Cinema)

Anatole Litvak directed The Journey, a political melodrama about a group of Westerners trying to flee Hungary after the Soviet Union invasion and the Hungarian Revolution.

Our Grade: C+ (** 1/2 out of *****)

The Journey
Poster of the movie The Journey.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner were paired again after their successfully teaming on the 1956 smash hit musical, The King and I, for which Brynner won his Best Actor Oscar.

The movie begins with a prologue: “The action of this story takes place between Budapest, the capital of Hungary, and the Austro-Hungarian border, where the film was actually photographed. The time is November, 1956, during the tragic days of the Hungarian uprising.”

In 1956 a group of passengers stranded during the Hungarian uprising at Budapest airport are taken in a bus towards the frontier with neutral Austria, from which they intend driving to Vienna.

Flemyng, a sick man who claims to be English, is known to an aristocratic Englishwoman, Lady Ashmore, sitting in the front seat.

The journey is difficult with diversions and roadblocks, some operated by Soviet troops, others by Hungarian insurgents. At a small lakeside town at the Austrian border, the passengers are removed from the bus by Major Surov, the local Russian commander.

After questioning them and impounding their passports, Surov orders them to remain in the town’s only hotel. He suspects the ailing Flemyng’s passport is not genuine and he is smitten with Lady Ashmore.

It turns out that Flemyng is a Hungarian insurgent whom Lady Ashmore, his lover, is smuggling to safety. Surov deduces both facts but does not act, hoping that Lady Ashmore will offer herself to him.

Speaking good English, which Surov claims to have learned in Canada, he argues that the Russians are human too, and questions the imposition of Marxism by military force.

However, with Flemyng getting weaker untreated gunshot wound, Lady Ashmore bribes a fisherman to take the two of them to Austria, but Surov captures them. After getting Flemyng treatment by an army doctor, Surov sends Lady Ashmore back to the hotel. The other passengers are furious that Lady Ashmore jeopardised their release with her selfish behaviour.

Hungarian snipers have kept the Russian garrison on edge and a shot wounds Surov’s beloved horse. Unable to euthanize the horse himself, revealing, the ultimately compassionate Surov orders a sergeant to kill the animal.

Lady Ashmore returns dutifully, prompting Surov to question if she returned willingly. When she truthfully says no, Surov releases Lady Ashmore.

Surov let the passengers leave, driving to a quiet spot where they can walk into Austria. As the party crosses the border, Surov turns up with the weakened Flemyng.

In the end, Surov pays with his life, watching the group disappear, he is killed by the Hungarians.

Released by MGM, The Journey was not popular at the box office, despite its all-star cast.

The movie is better known today for its actors. Jason Robards, an established theater actor, makes an impressive screen debut, and ultimately would become a twice winner of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

Ron Howard had appeared in an unbilled part in the 1956 film “Frontier Woman,” but The Journey marked his first credited role, billed as Ronny Howard.  The actor gave a memorable performance in The Music Man, which was also shot in 1958.

Deborah Kerr as Diana Ashmore
Yul Brynner as Major Surov
Jason Robards as Henry Flemyng / Paul Kedes
Robert Morley as Hugh Deverill
E. G. Marshall as Harold Rhinelander
Anne Jackson as Margie Rhinelander
Ron Howard as Billy Rhinelander (as Ronny Howard)
Flip Mark as Flip Rhinelander
Kurt Kasznar as Csepege
David Kossoff as Simon Avron
Gérard Oury as Teklel Hafouli
Marie Daëms as Françoise Hafouli
Anouk Aimée as Eva
Maria Urban as Gisela von Rachlitz
Siegfried Schürenberg as Von Rachlitz
Charles Regnier as Capt. Ornikidze
Iván Petrovich as Szabó Bácsi
Senta Berger as Serving Girl


Produced, directed by Anatole Litvak
Written by George Tabori
Music by Georges Auric
Cinematography Jack Hildyard
Edited by Dorothy Spencer

Production company: Alby Pictures

Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date: February 19, 1959

Running time: 122 minutes


I had chance to refresh my memory (and notes) when TCM showed the movie on October 7, 2020.