Comrade X (1940) – full review!

Comrade X (1940) – full review!

Walter Reisch who contributed to the screenplay (and shared an Academy Award nomination in that category) for Ninotchka (1939) earned a Best Writing Original Story Oscar nomination for this similar comedy drama starring Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr (in lieu of Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas). Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer wrote the screenplay for this one which was directed and co-produced by King Vidor.

Gable plays an American journalist McKinley ‘Mac’ Thompson in communist Russia who successfully and secretly gets his stories and photographs through the government censors; he’s referred to as Comrade X and obviously the Russians would like nothing more than to capture and execute him for these traitorous activities. Lamarr plays Golubka aka Theodore Yahupitz a ‘cold’ native and party idealist who’s not only a streetcar conductor but also the daughter of Mac’s friendly though seemingly clueless valet Vanya aka Igor Yahupitz (Felix Bressart). Vanya discovers Mac’s secret camera & true identity and because he wants to protect his daughter from the instability inherent in the system during that time he ‘forces’ him to agree to take Golubka out of the country for her own safety. Bressart and Sig Ruman who plays a German journalist Emil Von Hofer were both in Ninotchka (1939). Oskar Homolka plays Commissar Vasiliev who’s desperately trying to catch Comrade X while at the same time keep from being assassinated by others seeking a power grab. Eve Arden plays Jane Wilson another American journalist who’d had prior relations with Mac. Vladimir Sokoloff plays Michael Bastakoff the underground communist leader that Golubka idolizes. Keye Luke appears uncredited as another journalist in the frustrated World Press corps.

The comedy is not nearly as good as the aforementioned film and is much more screwball in general with fewer of its political jabs finding their target. Though both Gable and Lamarr are both as watchable as usual there’s no real chemistry between them even as he tries to ‘crack’ her cold committed demeanor. Natasha Lytess plays a silly Russian secretary Olga Milanava who gets drunk. Mac pretends to be a communist in order to convince Golubka to leave for the United States with him (e.g. to persuade Americans to join the party); the two even get married! The movie gets even more off track when Mac Vanya and Golubka escaping from Bastakoff who has now successfully replaced (executed) Commissar Vasiliev find themselves in an elaborate overlong and climactic tank chase!

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