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The Red Danube

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Title: The Red Danube  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Academy Award for Best Production Design, Walter Pidgeon, Louis Calhern, Janet Leigh, Miklós Rózsa, Alan Napier, George Sidney, Cedric Gibbons, Edwin B. Willis, Francis L. Sullivan
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

The Red Danube

The Red Danube
File:Red danube.jpg
Film poster
Directed by George Sidney
Produced by Carey Wilson
Written by Bruce Marshall
Gina Kaus
Arthur Wimperis
Starring Walter Pidgeon
Ethel Barrymore
Peter Lawford
Angela Lansbury
Janet Leigh
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography Charles Rosher
Editing by James E. Newcom
Distributed by MGM
Release date(s)
Running time 119 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Red Danube is a 1949 American drama film directed by George Sidney and starring Walter Pidgeon.[1] The film was based on the 1947 novel Vespers in Vienna by Bruce Marshall.


Shortly after World War II, British Col. Michael "Hooky" Nicobar (Walter Pidgeon) is staying in Rome with his aides Audrey Quail (Angela Lansbury), Major John "Twingo" McPhimister (Peter Lawford) and Private David Moonlight (Melville Cooper), when he is suddenly transferred to Vienna. Hooky is assigned to assist Brigadier C.M.V. Catlock (Robert Coote) in monitoring possible activities against the Allied nations and repatriating Soviet citizens living in the British zone of Vienna. He and his aides are billeted at a convent, led by the friendly Mother Superior (Ethel Barrymore). At this convent, Twingo is drawn to a ballerina known as Maria Buhlen (Janet Leigh). He falls for her instantly and tries to meet her, but she is reluctant to, until they are officially introduced to each other by Mother Superior.

Twingo and Maria start going out, until Soviet Colonel Piniev (Louis Calhern) reports to Hooky, announcing he is searching for a Russian ballerina named Olga Alexandrova, aka Maria Buhlen. Piniev assures Hooky that he means no harm to Olga, and that it is his order to bring her back to the Soviet Union. Later that night, Maria and the Mother Superior reveal that Maria is Olga, the daughter of Soviet dissidents. Shortly later, the Soviets search the entire convent, looking for Olga. Hooky does not reveal that he is aware of Olga's presence, not wanting to put the Mother Superior's image in danger. However, after the Russians leave without having found Olga, Hooky announces that he will give her into the hands of the Soviets the next day. When he overviews Twingo trying to help Olga escape, which Olga declines because she does not want to be the cause of endangering Hooky and Twingo's friendship, Hooky gives her into the hands of the Soviets the same night.

Over the next few days, Hooky is heavily criticized for his actions by Twingo and Mother Superior. He and Twingo continue their repatriation duties as they announce to the Soviet Professor Serge Bruloff (Konstantin Shayne) that he is about to be deported, to which Bruloff reacts by shooting himself. Hooky claims that there is no connection between Olga's reluctance to be deported to the Soviet Union and Serge's suicide, until the third person on his list, Helena Nagard (Tamara Shayne), Serge's wife, responds by bursting into tears. Hooky starts to doubt the policy of the Soviets and as he witnesses Olga being deported to a harsh detainment camp, he swears to raise awareness of the way these displaced people are being treated.

One day, after telling Mother Superior how he has lost faith since the death of his son, Hooky finds out the Soviets are taking authority in the British zone in their own hands by displacing Soviet citizens themselves. Hooky, enraged, rushes to the train station, where he witnesses the poor conditions they are in. Mother Superior, who accompanied him, notices the presence of Olga among the people in the train. Later, Hooky announces he will take over all the people in the train, prohibiting them from being transferred to Moscow. Sometime later, Hooky finds out Olga has escaped from the Soviets and brings her to safety with Twingo, who is now her lover.

When Hooky and Mother Superior receive a visit from Piniev, who is looking for Olga, they refuse to co-operate and are therefore let go from their assignment. The following period, Hooky helps Mother Superior fly to Rome to visit the Pope. Afterward, Hooky is ordered to turn in Olga to the Soviets. He refuses and is officially fired from his job. Meanwhile, Twingo and Olga plan on moving to Scotland, when she is suddenly captured by Hooky's replacement, Colonel Omicron, who intends to turn her in to Piniev. Realizing her fate, she attempts to commit suicide by jumping out of a window; she dies that evening of her injuries. Shortly after, Hooky is assigned to an operation called "Humanizing Army". The repatriation is ended, and Hooky is put in charge of administering the new policy.



Shortly after the release of the novel Vespers in Vienna, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer showed interest in a film adaption and production was set to start in June 1947.[2] In January 1947, it was announced Irene Dunne, Spencer Tracy and Robert Taylor were set to star.[3] In October 1947, some of the background footage was shot on location in Rome and Vienna.[2] The film was shelved, however, and the original director Victor Saville was eventually replaced by George Sidney.[2] Furthermore, the three principal actors withdrew and were replaced by Walter Pidgeon, Ethel Barrymore and Peter Lawford. Agnes Moorehead briefly replaced Barrymore in March 1949.[4]

On October 14, 1948, it was announced Audrey Totter was slated to co-star as Audrey Quail.[5] She was replaced by Angela Lansbury in early 1949.

For the scenes of the war camps, 1,500 starved-looking extras were sought. The crew admitted they were looking for real war refugees but found that most of them were already looking too healthy. One crew member called it "the biggest casting problem since The Good Earth (1937)".[6]


Although MGM assigned an all-star cast to The Red Danube, including a big budget, the film was a commercial failure.[7] It was criticized for being a propaganda film, "designed to make you hate Russia and recognize the Vatican as the true champion of freedom".[8]

It was nominated an Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters, Edwin B. Willis, Hugh Hunt).


Further reading

External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • TCM Movie Database
  • AllRovi

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