Red Danube, The (1949)

George Sidney’s agitprop melodrama reflected the climate at the time, specifically the political relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

The tale is set shortly after the end of World War II, mostly in Rome and Vienna. Walter Pidgeon gives an authoritative performance as British Colonel Michael ‘Hooky’ Nicobar, a one-armed man, who’s assigned to a unit in the British Zone of Vienna. Nicobar’s duty is to help the Soviet government repatriate citizens of the Soviet Union, though many of whom do not wish to return to their country; they feel it’s not their home anymore.

The best scenes involve the interaction between the Colonel in the convent where he stays with Mother Auxilia (wonderfully played by the great dramatic actress Ethel Barrymore).

Nicobar, his military aides Major John ‘Twingo’ McPhimister (Peter Lawford, at his most appealing, sporting a thin mustache), and Audrey Quail (Angela Lansbury) become involved in the plight of a young ballerina (played by the very young Janet Leigh), who is trying to avoid being deported to Moscow.

Nicobar’s sense of duty is tested when he observes first hand the plight of the people he is helping return to the Soviet Union. His lack of faith is shaken by his contact with the Mother Superior, whose commitment to Christian humanist values reawakens his inner conscience.

The plot is preposterous, and the love story unconvincing. The film is sheer propaganda, replete with speeches about Western democracy and individual rights. He says at one point: “One of our duties is to liberate people from tyranny.” The movie ends on an upbeat note with singing of “Row Row Row Your Boat Gently Down the Street.”

Strangely, MGM considered the movie to be a prestige, important feature, thus allocating it larger-than-the usual budget and production values. For example, for the scenes of the war camps, 1,500 extras were used. The crew admitted they were looking for real war refugees but found that most of them were already looking too healthy.

Despite the high-caliber cast, the movie was a commercial failure due to its verbose nature and simplistic propaganda, aimed at making Americans hate Russia and recognize the Vatican as the true champion of freedom”.

What elevates the film is the good acting from all concerned, especially Barrymore, but also the supporting cast, which includes Angela Lansbury, Louis Calhern, and Melville Cooper.

George Sidney is better known for his lavish musical movies at MGM, such as “Anchros Aweigh,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Show Boat,” and others.

 

Oscar Nominations: 1

Art Direction-Set Decoration (b/w): Cedric Gibbons and Hans peters; Edwin B. Willis and Hugh Hunt

 

Oscar Awards: None

 

Oscar Context:

The winner of the b/w Art Direction Oscar was Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard.

 

Cast

Col. Michael “Hooky” Nicobar (Walter Pidgeon)

Mother Superior (“Reverend Mother Auxilia”) (Ethel Barrymore)

Major John “Twingo” McPhimister (Peter Lawford)

Angela Lansbury Audrey Quail

Janet Leigh-Olga Alexandrova/Maria Buhlen

Louis Calhern-Col. Piniev

Francis L. Sullivan Col. Humphrey “Blinker” Omicron

Melville Cooper-Pvt. David Moonlight

Robert Coote – Brig. C.M.V. Catlock

Alan Napier – The General