During a time of political unrest, counterrevolutionism, and war, several English tourists are stranded in Hungary, trying to leave the country to go back to their homes, but because of a civil war at the time, they are unable to leave. They are bused from the Budapest airport to some little town on the border and pretty much held captive by Russian Major Surov, who seems to have taken a fancy to one of the tourists - who happens to be 'hiding' a wounded member of the Hungarian resistance who is trying to escape the country.
Major Surov is a lonely, harsh, bossy man who is loyal to his country; yet he has a soft and charming side with a slight hint of party animal thrown in for good measure. Torn between his duty and his feelings, he is faced with the ultimate decision. Does he allow a suspected counterrevolutionary to escape or shall he throw him in prison?
This film starts off on a very serious note, yet is riddled with charm and humor that makes this a most enjoyable film while ending on the same serious note that it started on.
Particularly delightful was the party scene when Major Surov decided to have a party with his 'guests' and get them all drunk. In one scene the women are drinking as the Major belts out a Russian drinking song, and in the next all the drunken guests are square dancing.
Now, I haven't seen a movie starring Yul Brynner yet where his character, no matter how evil, didn't ooze with some kind of charm and humor - and this movie is certainly no exception.
I never did decide whether Major Surov was evil or not - I just plain couldn't tell, and I think that's part of what made this movie so interesting and enjoyable. Brynner seemed to have that affect on many of his roles, I think it was part of the creative talent that made him such a good performer. He always managed to bring out something loveable and human in any character he portrayed.
My favorite scene in the entire movie was definitely the party scene - but I had a few other favorites, too. Like when Major Surov joins his 'guests' for dinner and shooting erupts outside, frightening them all. "No cause for alarm." he says rather nonchalantly, "There's a war going on out there."
Shortly thereafter he attempts to engage one of the tourists, Hugh Deverill (played by Robert Morely) in an argument with a futile attempt to goad. "You are very diplomatic, aren't you? You don't want to get into an argument. It is so comfortable staying out of arguments. But what if I forced you into one? What if I was one of the tough ones with no sense of humor and no English?"
Deverill's response invites a bit of comic relief:
Hugh Deverill: "I must say you have a remarkable command of the language. Where did you pick it up?"
Major Surov: "Canada."
Part of what makes this scene so comical is an earlier scene which serves to introduce the nature of Major Surov's character throughout the rest of the film. The tourists have all been taken into his office, and Mr. Deverill steps forward and asks one of the other tourists, in the presence of the Major, to ask the Major whether he speaks English.
Major Surov doesn't even bat an eye at this as the tourist complies. The Major answers in Russian, and the translating tourist tells Deverill that the Major wants to know whether he speaks Russian. Deverill answers politely in the negative to which the Major replies, "Well, in that case we'd better speak English."
Another delight in this film is the adorable little Ronny Howard as Billy Rhinelander. What a cute little boy! He's all grown up now, but this was actually Howard's first real movie role - and he was all of 4 years old at the time. Being the mother that I am, I melted as I watched his scenes - what a little sweetie - and such an adorable little voice, too! I wanted to pick the little guy up and hug him just for being so cute!
This is a must-see for anyone who enjoys the classics.
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