Even at the height of the Cold War, there were relatively few Hollywood films about the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe; "The Journey", set during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, is one of the few exceptions. A multinational group of foreign tourists find themselves trapped in Budapest by the outbreak of the revolution. There are no flights out of the country, but the Soviet authorities organise a bus to transport them across the Austrian border. They are detained, however, in a small border town by the local Soviet commander, Major Surov, and forced to stay in a local hotel.
Among the group are an aristocratic Englishwoman, Lady Diana Ashmore, and her friend and travelling companion Henry Fleming. Although Fleming also claims to be English, and is travelling on a British passport, it soon becomes clear that he is an impostor. His real name is Paul Kedes and he is a Hungarian citizen who was imprisoned and tortured by the Communist regime. He was released from jail by the revolutionaries and is attempting to flee the country with the help of Lady Diana, his former lover. Surov is well aware that Fleming is not what he seems, but he hesitates to arrest him.
A number of reviewers have commented on the links between this film and Guy de Maupassant's story "Boule de Suif", although the emphasis is rather different. In de Maupassant's story the main character was a prostitute and the moral dilemma confronting her was whether she should obtain the freedom of herself and her fellow passengers by sleeping with a German officer. (That story was set during the Franco-Prussian War). In "The Journey", the main moral dilemma explored is whether Diana should obtain the freedom of herself and her fellow passengers by betraying Kedes to the authorities (as some of them urge her when they discover the truth about his identity).
Contrary to one reviewer's description of him, Surov is not "mean and nasty". The German officer in "Boule de Suif" is certainly a nasty piece of work; like many Frenchmen post 1871, de Maupassant clearly believed that Germanophobia was an essential element of French patriotism. Surov, however, is a more complex character, basically a decent man despite the nature of the regime he serves. During the Cold War it was unusual for a Red Army officer to be portrayed sympathetically by Hollywood; the West occasionally made films which portrayed Russian characters in a good light, but these were normally set either in pre-revolutionary Russia ("War and Peace") or based on works by anti-Communist writers such as Pasternak ("Dr Zhivago") or Solzhenitsyn ("One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich").
The film reunited Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, who had previously starred together in "The King and I". Both are good here, especially Brynner who brings out the various sides of Surov's character. He can be domineering and frightening, but also cultured and capable of decency. He has always been a dedicated Communist and a loyal supporter of the Soviet system, seeing the Russian forces in Hungary not as occupiers but as liberators who have freed the country from Fascism. He reacts to the Hungarian Revolution with the same baffled incomprehension with which a dedicated and conscientious British colonial official might have reacted to, say, the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya or the EOKA uprising in Cyprus. For the first time he begins to question his loyalties as he realises that for many Hungarians the events of 1945 represented not liberation but merely the exchange of one form of oppression for another.
Kerr's Diana is gracious and feminine as well as strong-minded and determined. The film also features a number of other well-known names- E.G. Marshall, Ann Jackson, Jason Robards, Anouk Aimee-, some of them in only minor roles. One contribution which stood out was from Robert Morley as the pompous, officious Englishman who appoints himself the leader of, and spokesman for, the group of travellers.
My main problem with the film is that it perhaps tried to follow de Maupassant too closely by having Surov fall in love with Diana, thus giving him another reason to detain the travellers for as long as possible. For me the Surov-Diana-Kedes love triangle was an unnecessary diversion from the film's more interesting political themes. I felt that the film might have been more interesting had it tried to explore the causes of the Hungarian Revolution in more detail. I have no problem with a film which portrays an individual Soviet officer in a good light, but I felt that the character of Surov needed to be placed in context. Had all Soviet officials in the country, and their counterparts in the Hungarian Communist Party, been as liberal and decent as he then the Revolution would never have broken out. Hungarian viewers may well feel annoyed that one of the most tragic- and heroic- episodes in their country's history, their fight against an oppressive Stalinist regime, is here reduced to little more than the background to another flirtation between the stars of "The King and I". 6/10
6 out of 10 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.