THE SOLDIER AND THE LADY

(1937, Dir. George Nicholls, Jr.)

The Sprocket Vault DVD, $19.99
85min. / B&W / 1.37:1

1870, and Siberia has been invaded by the Tartars. The Tsar sends secret agent Michael Strogoff with secret plans to turn the tide of battle, but those sneaky Tartars have agents of their own and they're on to Strogoff's every move, to the chagrin of the two women who love him (and that doesn't count his mom, who figures into the plot, too).

J'ever watch a movie and think, "This is a wonderful picture! I'll bet it flopped"?

French producer Joseph Ermolieff owned the film rights to Jules Verne's novel Michael Strogoff and had produced both French and German-language versions, which he brought to RKO and an offer: let's make an English language version with French leading man Anon Walbrook and spectacular stock footage and battle scenes from the foreign versions! RKO was impressed by the footage and the price tag, adding Akim Tamiroff as the villain, Elizabeth Allan, Margot Grahame and Fay Bainter as the ladies, and comic relief Eric Blore and Edward Brophy as hapless foreign correspondents, and wove all this together so well that the result is one of RKO's great achievements of the decade - but alas, the American public wasn't all that interested in a no-name cast refighting the battle between Tartars and Russkies. No matter how many times RKO reissued it under different titles, audiences went to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs instead.

Too bad, they missed a swell picture!

Million-dollar Dialog:

Reporter Brophy, after having been roughed up by Russian police: "How do ya like that? The Cleveland Chronicle don't mean a THING in this country!"

More violent (and more exciting) than other adventure films of its time, with the unknown Walbrook turning in a fine performance as the action hero, and a terrific villainous performance by Tamiroff, The Soldier and the Lady is a wonderful movie that's unjustly overlooked (and features a rousing score by Max Steiner) and the new Sprocket Vault DVD is a superb print that does the film justice. The only extras are program notes by Richard M. Roberts.

Highly recommended.