(Aka: Le Voyage / Rojo Atardecer / Il Viaggio / Die Reise – Colour – 1959)
Lady Diana Ashmore is in a dilemma. It’s November 1956. She and Henry Flemyng, her wounded Hungarian companion, together with a group of 12 multinational passengers are stranded at the Budapest Ferihegy Repülőtér (Budapest Ferihegy Airport) southeast of Budapest, the capital of Hungary. So begins the movie “The Journey”, an Alby picture released through Metro Goldwyn Mayer and produced and directed by Anatole Litvak.
Based on a screenplay by Hungarian-born playwright George Tabori (Alfred Hitchcock’s “I Confess”) the film is set during the tragic days of the Hungarian uprising which was sparked off from a student demonstration organized in Budapest on October 23, 1956 to protest against the then government and its dependence on Soviet tutelage. The march to the Parliament Square, joined by thousands, turned violent when a group of students entered the Radio Budapest building to broadcast their “points”. To contain the protest, they were subsequently fired upon by the State Security Police (AVH) – the starting point of the firing is disputed.
Everyone saw the uprising through their own circumstances. As the fury and flame of the revolt spread across Hungary, the government fell and subsequently the Soviet forces moved in on the pretext to protect the withdrawing Soviet troops but, in truth, were to quash the revolution which resulted in a great amount of bloodshed and flow of refugees fleeing the country. (Read “That Day in Budapest, October 23, 1956 by Tibor Meray (translated by Charles Lam Markmann) and “Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary, 1956” edited by Jenő Györkei, Miklós Horváth for a detailed account including the aftermath of the Hungarian Uprising.)
As anarchy spread across the country and the civilian population felt menaced by the restrictions, all exit borders were closed by the government and Soviet military power. While the air force jets set vigil overhead, the civilian aircrafts are being cleared from the Ferihegy airfield.
The foreigners were waiting in the airport lounge for the last two days to catch the westbound NKM flight 306 which was deferred repeatedly. Since all civilian flights out of Budapest have been suspended, it was great relief for them when the NKM agreed to provide them safe conduct through bus to the western frontier to Vienna in Austria. It’s only a 250 km drive from Budapest.
Television Journalist Hugh Deverill who knew Lady Diana from his association with her husband Cecil was inquisitive of her presence in a country going through a rocky patch. She tried to satisfy his curiosity by explaining that she’s visiting some friends on vacation. Having worn the mantle of responsibility for the group, Deverill’s mind was a tad clouded at Diana’s superficial quibble that she had met Flemyng while sitting next to him in the bus. As the fourteen passengers were taken from the airport in a bus, Flemyng was very careful to distance Diana away from him and resorted to the back seat of the bus while Diana sat in the front with Deverill. Heading for the direction of Győr past the River Danube, they passed through snow-laden streets littered with rubble and remnants of bloodshed and destruction, of despair and violence – soldiers, tanks, armed cars, anguished men carrying heavy coffins ….
Given that Deverill was still persistent enough to find out the real reason for her presence in Budapest, Diana warily divulged to him that she and Cecil had separated and he is getting married the following month during Christmas. Having once been stopped by the Soviet soldiers to tally their head count with their permit papers with the bus driver, they were permitted to resume their journey but only to be stopped once again, some 3 km to Mosan, by armed freedom fighters in order to screen the travelers to locate their opponents. Before they were allowed to continue with their journey, Eva, a freedom fighter let it be known to them that they are determined to fight for the freedom of their country even if it has to be fought with stones.
Trouble awaited them at on arrival at Mosán (Moson), a hotbed of Soviet military presence, situated by the lake in Győr-Moson-Sopron County where they were diverted to the office of the Soviet Border Commandant in the center of the town. Here they get their first view of a batch of freedom fighters under arrest being loaded onto a military truck to be taken away for detention and possible execution while the townsfolk, saddened to find their men blooded or dead, broke into a poignant song accompanied by the toll of the church bell – an eerie scene similar to the execution scene in “The Five Man Army” (See my review of August 30: StarChoice 10).
The Resident Soviet Commandant, Major Surov, was a man of politeness but firm authority. The travel papers issued to them that morning are no longer valid and they must obtain a special exit permit from the Soviet Headquarters for which their passports are to be forwarded to the HQ in Győr. They can opt for accommodation in a hotel across the Square or can return to Budapest. Of course, they are not under arrest, but they are refrained from making civilian telephone calls, and any written complaints will be acceptable. As the passengers firmly, but politely, wheedled the Major for permission to resume their journey past the Austro-Hungarian border, the eyes of the Major couldn’t fail to notice the poise and class of Lady Diana Ashmore who would, from that moment onwards, start playing on his emotional heart strings. Once the group was led to the hotel, Major Surov would have a change of mind and would lock the entire passports inside the drawer of his desk for a reason strictly secret.
Rather proud of his place, the caretaker of Abbotta hotel, Mr. Csepege accommodates them as best as he could in his “very famous, very small” hotel. The hot dinner will be served at 8 pm and hot water will be available only on Sundays. No sooner the travelers had settled down, there was murmur among them about Flemyng. They have noticed something fishy about him. Later, while Diana was tending to his wound in the privacy of his room, their love for each other was mirrored in a kiss, letting out their anguish of not having seen each other for the past five years.
During dinner that night, the travelers shared the table with Major Surov and his two subservient officers while the orchestra played sweet gypsy music. Ahead of Surov’s arrival, they have heard Mr. Csepege tell Deverill that the Major is a “very good Russian. drinks like a fish, sing like devil, brains like a knife. Only trouble won’t take bribes. Stayed in this country two years….. Men like him so much, they give him horse. Women – they give him something else…”
Having tucked Flemyng into bed, Diana joined the group at the table in time. Even though their conversation was occasionally disrupted by the distant sound of gunfire between the freedom fighters and soldiers, Surov was nonetheless very talkative. He had picked up his efficiency in English during the brief time he served with the Soviet Military Mission in Canada just after the war. He had come all the way from Stalingrad to Budapest to help free this people. Surov had felt happy to find the group well-informed, worldly people, unlike the people that surrounded him in this primitive town, unlike the fairy-tale charms of that Hungarian lass Borbala (Barbara von Nady) who lusted after him. As he kept on with his chatter, the travelers were beginning to figure him out. Having caught her instincts lingering around this exotic, authoritative Russian, Diana realized that, deep down, Major Surov was a sensitive, lonely man, highly charged with energy but trapped in the isolation of this border town, under constant threat from the militancy of the freedom fighters.
Curious of the absence of the mysterious Flemyng hibernating in his room, Surov had already started entertaining doubts about this naturalized British citizen, supposedly born in Vienna on May 24, 1914, who appeared to be very sick. Later on, confronted by Deverill in the solitude of the hotel’s kitchen, Diana cleared his doubt about her relationship with Flemyng. A problem shared will diminish the burden on her shoulder. Yes, it was more personal. Flemyng is not British, but Hungarian. He is Paul Kedes, a biologist who finished his education in America during the war. She had fallen in love with him in England but realizing the oddity of the situation, she had wanted to end their relationship. However while she was out at Nassau with Cecil, Paul had left England for Hungary where he did well for quite sometime until his arrest in December 1952 for some ridiculous spy charges. The evidence to support that allegation was a letter he wrote to a friend in England asking about Lady Ashmore. Having undergone tremendous torture in the prison, he was finally freed ten days ago by some of his old students. The wound sustained by him in a street battle would not be a hindrance to her determination to get him across the border and for that, if necessary, she would steal, lie and kill.
Though Deverill understood Diana’s correlation to her injured Hungarian paramour, the other travelers were alarmed by his presence and were divided in their opinion about disclosing his identity to the Major – yet they refrain from betraying him in spite that a new order had been issued that day against concealing weapons and suspicious persons. Even one of Flemyng’s roommates categorically refused to disclose his identity even though if Paul is discovered, everyone’s life would be in danger.
According to the formalities, forms have to be filled individually by each traveler to avail the exit permit. When Surov appeared skeptical about the absence of Flemyng, with civility and nervousness, Diana advocates filling in the form for Fleming even though it had to be personally filled in by him. When the Major reminded her that she would possibly run into trouble if she makes a mistake, Surov was amused to hear the English woman reply that if the Major would help her to fill out the form, she would feel safer. Having lived the last two years in this lackluster atmosphere, Diana was like a fresh breath of air to the Soviet Major.
While she filled in the form for Flemyng inside the Major’s office, Surov pointed out that Flemyng’s passport does not possess any entry or exit stamps as if he just appeared in Budapest one day out from nowhere. Diana counters with the riposte that Flemyng had lost his passport and had obtained a fresh one. Surely, new passports do not usually have old stamps on them, not in England, at least. At that point, having been distracted by the poignant song accompanying a funeral procession (of a freedom fighter killed last night) in the street below, the Major allows Diana to rejoin with her group. Unfortunately, Major Surov was not ready to allow Flemyng to rest. He decides to pay him a visit.
Diana and Flemyng were naturally taken aback with Surov’s visit to Fleming’s room. But before she opened the door to let Surov in, Flemyng had the presence of mind to swiftly conceal his pistol under his pillow. Diana was a bit troubled at being sent off downstairs to deliver the forms to the sergeant, but once she had gone, Surov got down to the task of questioning Flemyng. Unexpectedly, when Flemyng doubled over from the shooting pain from his wound, Major Surov was helpful in assisting him to get the glass of water. While positioning him against the pillow, Surov’s eyes caught sight of the Russian gun behind the pillow which he instantly slipped into his pocket and moved off as Diana returned to the room. Contented of having unmasked the truth, Surov cleared off from the room. It took only a moment for Diana and Flemyng to realize that their gun had gone missing…… Their fate almost sealed, they have to get out of there right now….
Being producer and director of this movie, Anatole (Tola) Litvak must have carried two heads on his neck when he decided to bring this romantic adventure to the screen, a kind of modernized “Casablanca”, the filming of which began just a year after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, on location at the Austro-Hungarian border thus ensuring an authentic feel of the locale, its people, and the atmosphere during that violent period. Litvak had earned his reputation by being dominant in films in Germany and France before coming over to Hollywood in 1937. A sweet man born in Russia, he had always preferred working in Europe, mainly movies set in Paris featuring popular stars. In truth, while filming author Alfred Hayes’ “The Girl on the Via Flaminia” originally set in Italy, he had changed the locale to Paris due to his preference for the French capital (and also changed the book’s title to “Act of Love” (Un acte d’amour) for the movie).
In the late 1950s, everything about Yul Brynner commanded attention. Not counting the various intriguing versions of Brynner’s mysterious background alleging his origins to Switzerland and Russia which he himself had campaigned for; Brynner’s physique, Eurasian facial features, his panther-like walk, even the number of packets of black Sobranie cigarettes he smoked a day, was reported. He projected an image that was larger than life.
Tola had worked with Yul Brynner in “Anastasia” (1956), a fictional story about a con artist who trains a woman (Ingrid Bergman) to impersonate the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna. The film had struck box-office gold. In 1958, Tola and Sophie, his young wife, were very close with Brynner and they more often discussed matters in Russian, French and English. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Tola and Brynner jointly formed Alby Productions (Anatole Litvak Brynner Yul) that would produce “The Journey” in which Brynner will be cast in a role which is a variation from the virile, masculine and often sinister characters he frequently portrayed. Furthermore, there is the interesting and exciting love angle between Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr that was not much improvised upon in their earlier hit together “The King and I” (1956). In this re-union (a big attraction for the audience) as star-crossed lover, Tola will include “the Kiss!” – so mystically perfect and denied in their earlier film. Indeed, the film is carried forward by the brilliant acting style of Kerr and Brynner who were at one stage, according to rumours, running an affair between them.
After completing “The Sound and the Fury” in autumn 1957, Brynner went to Vienna in early 1958 to perform in “The Journey”. Though he had worn a hairpiece for his part in “The Sound and the Fury”, he glorified baldness. While he was in Vienna, the Newsweek magazine brought out an article titled “Yul Brynner – Golden Egghead” focusing on his trademark baldness which he had sported to great sexual effect in movies such as “The Ten Commandments”, “The King and I” and “The Brother’s Karamazov”. He considered baldness his biggest asset that differentiated him from the other biggest actors of 1958: Jerry Lewis, Rock Hudson, James Stewart, Glenn Ford, William Holden, Marlon Brando and of course, Frank Sinatra. As envisaged by Tola, Brynner with his gallant and indomitable spirit played the role of Major Surov with such piercing honesty, displaying the essential authority and loveable charm of the Soviet Major who believed in the rationalization of the Soviet occupation and, in tandem, coming across so realistic in his portrayal of his sad and solitary existence with quite dignity. The film did not offer any opportunity for Brynner to appear masculine and erotic with his shirt off or to flex his muscles in scenes of combat; yet, he was hurt during the time of shooting for a reason altogether different. An entry in IMDB maintain that Brynner’s hand was cut by a former lover who tracked him to Vienna during filming and this wound was evidently not shown onscreen.
The filming of “The Journey” took place from March to May, though, according to a memoir of actor Eli Wallach, husband of Anne Jackson, Anne would be called back from the U.S.A to Europe by Tola to re-shoot some close-up shots a few months after she gave birth to a beautiful girl, Katherine Beatrice, in mid-July, 1958. Brynner would return to America by summer of 1958 to prepare to act in Anthony Quinn’s directorial debut “The Buccaneer” slated for shooting during the autumn of that year, a movie, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which was supposed to have been directed by Brynner as part of his intention to venture into movies as a director and investor.
The cool and serene natured Scottish-born actress Deborah Kerr (Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer) had been on a slow path to restore her prim image earned by acting in well-bred roles. Interestingly, to enjoy a sexier ingenuity, she had attempted to knock off her well-bred “English Virgin” typecast by agreeing for “the throes of passion on the beach” in director Fred Zinnemann’s “From Here to Eternity” (1953) depicting Karen Holmes’ sexually ravenous affair with Sgt. Milton Warden, played by Burt Lancaster with whom Kerr was reportedly romantically involved at that time.
The previous year Kerr was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress for John Huston’s “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” in which she had worn a nun’s habit for the role of Sister Angela. For the part of the alert and intelligent Lady Diana Ashmore, the cinematic quintessence of the English Rose, Kerr who received credit above Brynner, was dressed up in winter clothes, woolen hat, coiffure hair, adorned with gold wristwatch, pearls around her neck unlike the champagne satin ball gown costumes she wore in “The King and I”.
Curiously, running parallel to the film’s story, she had drifted apart from her husband Anthony Charles Bartley, and was living in Klosters, Switzerland at that time with many illustrious neighbours from music, theatre, literature and films such as David Niven, James Mason, The Burtons, William Holden, Yul Brynner, etc enjoying “On the Rocks”s scenic beauty, climate and tax benefits. It was on the set of “The Journey” that Kerr fell in love with the German-born novelist/scriptwriter Peter Viertel, who did additional work on the script of this film.
The subtle and cagey performance of Kerr, especially during scenes when she fills in the form for Flemyng, the advancement to the final kiss, comes across charmingly well to match the cultivated and at times facetious acting style of Brynner. At the same time, Brynner’s effective portrayal of Surov’s despair at being hated by the Hungarians which will act as a catalyst in channeling his warmth towards the travelers and lead to a built up
of passion for Diana, whose conscience was concurrently lingering around the aura of excitement that exuded from him – his magnetism and piercing eyes, and culminate in the final release of their erotic charge with a kiss which was in some measure resultant of a casual encouragement to Diana by the American Margie Rhinelander gently nudging her to give Major Surov what he wants, are aspects efficiently characterized by Tola, beautifully photographed by British Cinematographer Jack Hildyard (The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)) and edited by Dorothy Spencer.
Jason Robards. Jr’s debut in this movie in the role of Henry Flemyng/Paul Kedes established his onscreen presence though his scenes are at times a bit monotonous. Curiously, according to an autobiography of actress Lauren “Baby” Bacall, the widow of Humphrey Bogart, little did Bogart-look-alike Robards knew that within three years he will be back in Vienna to marry Bacall and would unfortunately meet up with rejection from the Austrian authorities due to short of proper documents to perform the marriage.
Portly British stage/film actor and playwright Robert Morley does justice to the role of Hugh Deverill, the group’s spokesman, prudently buoyant enough to stay out of arguments though, concurrently, he would stall the group’s worry for their safety due to the presence of Diana’s companion.
Theatre talent Anne Jackson’s Margie appeared wiser to the ways of men, and much more pragmatic than Diana Ashmore. But for Jackson, her stay in Vienna for the shooting was very eventful as she was pregnant (like her character) with her third child and had to wear an inflatable belt to hide her growing tummy which the technicians skillfully ensured to maintain the same size throughout the filming. At one stage, to offer her the much needed love and care, her husband Eli Wallach flew in from America with their two children and nanny. The svelte French actress Anouk Aimée (Françoise Sorya Dreyfus) in the role of Eva has less screen time though her photogenic qualities are rightly used in the few scenes she is in. Although Aimée will finally get her chance to present her acting talents in Fellini’s “La dolce vita” (1960), and in Jacques Demy’s “Lola” (Donna di vita – 1961), her greatest success will come with her role in Claude Lelouch’s “Un Homme et une femme” (1966).
Like “Where Eagles Dare” and most war films of the period, the title credits are shown in deep red letters. The art direction by Werner and Isabella Schlichting that convincingly depicted the period details, especially the town square, the interiors of the hotel, the East European market place, the Mátyás Pince tavern, some of which were authentically set up in Wien Film Studios in Vienna, heightened the mood of the film. The little wine-cellar tavern where Surov takes Diana from the market place carries the name of the real Mátyás Pince beer house in Budapest opened in 1904 by Mátyás Borostyánkői.
Notable French Composer Georges Auric (“Roman Holiday”, “Bonjour Tristesse”) who would become the general administrator of the Paris de Opéra and Opéra-Comique from 1962 onwards, has provided the delightful music score with components simple in melody, sometimes slightly archaic. Auric is famous for his compositions that ranged widely from full orchestral pieces to songs, always providing smart, exciting and colourful music with influences of Igor Stravinsky and Erik Satie. Auric would work on the music score for Litvak’s “Goodbye Again” (1961) based on Françoise Sagan’s novel “Aimez-vous Brahms” set in Paris starring Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Perkins.
Even though it’s tad unmerited to moderate the role of a dutiful Soviet Major to go soft and romantic over a passing woman and also extend leniency towards the freedom fighters which will certainly invite the wrath of discipline on him, nevertheless, Litvak’s “The Journey” is well directed, structured and intelligent like most of his movies and with the performance of a sterling cast led by Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, nothing can be short of the film’s success which over the years has proven true.
(This review is dedicated to Barbara von Nady (pic above left) whose final appearance marked this movie and also to the memory of Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. JS) ** (Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)