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Saturday, June 16, 2012

THE JOURNEY -- DVD review by porfle

Political intrigue and forbidden romance are among the ingredients in Anatole Litvak's 1959 potboiler THE JOURNEY, which pits a brash, blustery Yul Brynner against a coolly refined yet passionate Deborah Kerr in this DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.

A disparate group of travelers trying to fly out of Budapest during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 are taken by bus to an inn near the Austrian border, detained by the Russians until Major Surov (Brunner) receives clearance from his superiors.  Lady Diana Ashmore (Kerr) is aiding an injured political fugitive named Fleming (Jason Robards, Jr. in his screen debut), with whom she is in love and hopes to escape, but their plans are thrown into disarray when Surov develops a romantic obsession with Lady Ashmore.  

Slow-paced and, at 126 minutes, perhaps a tad overlong, THE JOURNEY is carried mainly by Brynner's robust performance and Kerr's refined appeal, along with several interesting supporting players.  Robert Morley is properly British as television journalist Hugh Deverill, who fancies himself the group's spokesman. 

E.G. Marshall and Anne Jackson are a typical middle-class American couple trying to get back home with their two children, played by Flip Mark and a miniscule Ron Howard.  Kurt Kasznar (TV's "Land of the Giants") is likable as the sympathetic innkeeper, Csepege, who helps coordinate Diana and Mr. Fleming's eventual escape attempt into Austria.

The interiors tend to be stagey but some fine location footage breathes life into the film.  A couple of dinner scenes with Surov playing host to the group are rife with rising tension as the Russian officer prods the nervous assemblage for information about the mysterious Mr. Fleming while also enjoying their company. 

A career soldier, Surov's inner clash between his humanity and devotion to duty makes for a volatile combination, his "simple human hunger for a talk, a debate, an argument" with his unwilling guests compounded by his sudden infatuation with Diana. 

As her lies about Mr. Fleming grow more transparent, his unpredicatable nature becomes a threat to both her and the entire group.  Also haunting him is the accusatory face of a young freedom fighter, Eva (Anouk Aimée), who represents the hatred of the Hungarians toward him and his fellow Russian soldiers. 

With Diana and Fleming's attempted escape comes a change in Surov's demeanor that's as marked as that of Brynner's Pharoah after the Exodus.  Here, the film finally heats up as Surov's devotion to duty takes on renewed vigor as a response to his earlier weakness.  This provokes irrational hostility toward Diana from her fellow travelers, some of whom even suggest that she not only hand over Fleming to the major but also give in to his obvious desire for her in order to take the heat off of them.

The film is a fairly absorbing example of old-fashioned storytelling but it's Brynner who keeps it watchable.  Intrigued by Diana's courage and beauty, delighted with the cat-and-mouse game he plays with the travelers, his Major Surov also becomes a tragic figure who feels stifled by his long marriage to the military and yearns to "cheat on the bitch" by doing something entirely human for once. 

Surov's grief over the death of a beloved horse makes his character even more sympathetic, while Litvak and screenwriter George Tabori wisely choose to make the other Russian characters a realistic group of war-weary soldiers who are tired of fighting.  Interestingly, all of their scenes are spoken in Russian with no subtitles or translations, yet the intent is clear enough that none are needed.

The DVD from the Warner Archive Collection is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound.  There are no subtitles.  The sole extra is a trailer.  The print used is generally good save for some rough patches here and there. 

THE JOURNEY's political conflict is embodied by Yul Brynner's emotive theatrics and Deborah Kerr's understated, internalized acting style, while the film itself unfolds its story at a stately pace until the somewhat abrupt and jarring ending.  Not quite a memorable viewing experience, it's still worth a watch for its authentic locations and interesting cast.

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