Journey, The (DVD Review)9 Jul, 2012 By: Mike Clark
Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Stars Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner, Jason Robards Jr., E.G. Marshall.
One of many projects I’ll never get around to is to compile a list of the “other” movie or movies (i.e. relatively obscure ones) that teamed actors who had previously starred together, or would, in a household name. I amaze myself by being oblivious to this situation much of the time — and here we are, for instance, with this February 1959 politically tinged drama, which I first saw on TV in 1963. And only now has the obvious hit me: it’s Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner back together again only three years after The King and I.
In this case, the dynamics are a little different: Kerr is a British “Lady Diana Ashmore” who is divorcing her mucky-muck husband to be with a Hungarian national (Jason Robards in his screen debut) disguised as a Brit trying to escape the 1956 political uprising by traveling to Vienna. Brynner is the occupying Soviet major who detains their bus (all flights out have been canceled out of Budapest) and acts on his suspicions that something is fishy while also wondering whether to act on his attraction to Lady Diana.
Shall we dance, indeed?
The director is Anatole Litvak, who like Martin Ritt and George Seaton, was a major director of high-profile features who didn’t make the cut even to be in the recently late Andrew Sarris’s landmark study of motion picture directors: The American Cinema: Director and Directions 1929-68. This is probably because Litvak’s movies never had anything visual to get under your skin very much, even though I will never forget that overhead shot in The Snake Pit where the mental patients do indeed come to resemble an assemblage of vipers putting out the welcome wagon. He was also good with actors: Olivia de Havilland in the aforementioned; Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry, Wrong Number; Peter O’Toole’s sexual sadist/psychopath in The Night of the Generals, and others. The pleasures here are almost completely due to the professionalism Kerr and Brynner bring to the table — which in one key restaurant scene does not want for vodka shooters (or am I just assuming vodka, given who’s involved?). There’s also some quirkiness in the supporting cast: Robards’ thankless role with a bloody handkerchief (was his character coughing up blood?); young Ronny (later Ron) Howard in his first billed acting role as a rambunctious child passenger; and Anouk Aimee as a Hungarian Freedom Fighter. To paraphrase what Sandra Bernhard once said of Chuck Norris and Hanna Schygulla in The Delta Force: Aimee and Ronny Howard didn’t work together all that much.
Jack Hildyard was the cinematographer — not long after The Bridge on the River Kwai and not long before Suddenly, Last Summer. He’s working in muddy Metrocolor that’s not very well served by on-demand print on which no spiff-up work appears to have been done (Metrocolor was murder on flesh-tones when it inevitably started to fade). This also strikes me, in what is not a criticism but simply an observation, as one of the few “big” MGM movies of the day that was shot in 1.85 instead of CinemaScope, and I think a little extra panoramic “ping” (in the mostly interiors as well as exteriors) might have helped.
As far as bigness goes, this one does give the impression of a picture originally intended for awards and a big year-end push instead of a February release (which, for a frame of reference, came just a little before Some Like It Hot and Rio Bravo). Maybe it’s that United Artists put Kerr’s eventually Oscar-nominated performance in Separate Tables into a December 1958, slot, and MGM was wary of the competition. Tables is indeed the far better picture — but I do appreciate seeing Kerr and Brynner go at it here. I used to write Yul off as a borderline stiff but no longer think so.