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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Icy Boxoffice For A Cold War


The Red Danube (1949) Is Ill-Timed Dream Merchandise


Occasional benefit to pic personnel was feeling they were doing something important rather than spit-out of product most associated with H'wood. The Red Danube took serious stock of Vienna and post-war allied breakdown without stepping foot there, other than second units dispatched to sites lately ripped by combat. MGM had resource to mirror most credibly any foreign place, so why dispatch full crew and principals where total control of resources could be had at home? The Red Danube's trailer conveys heft going in, each of stars addressing the camera to say how meaningful this project is to them. Here was dramatization of hottest news on eve of a coldest war the US would fight. Louis Calhern even interrupts his golf game to tab The Red Danube as a must-see. Production manpower is demonstrated by means that would have been unattainable had Metro gone offshore, press boasting of 750 trucks plus 1500 extras for highlight of displaced Russians carted off to parts unknown, this a bigger exodus, said Metro, than departing troops in well-remembered The Big Parade of two decades before. The Lion could stage big in ways rivals could not, wherever the setting, The Red Danube a swap of spectacle for authenticity. MGM had made such devil's bargain before, would do so again, even as its public more and more demanded the real thing.






The Red Danube was proof that romance could be derived off a Cold War, our naïveté about what really went on over there a buffer we could candy-coat with same formulae applied to past wars. How many of an audience, at least of mass audience Metro sought, cared to know truth of Soviets sealing borders and putting their people on boxcars to oblivion? There are uneasy sections in The Red Danube despite its gloss. We're told that innocents by hundreds are being shipped off daily and won't be seen again. To personalize it by making one of them fresh-faced Janet Leigh is Danube's potent point against Red oppressors. The Red Danube is perhaps least known of the postwar Euro lot because, of course, it is the least authentic. Others of the cycle were shot at least in part over there and could claim semi-doc status. MGM's sole nod to reality was second unit footage, good in itself, but used as wallpaper, or better put, a process screen, for players back in Culver to emote against. The Red Danube does capture well the frustration of professional soldiers trying to cope with new kinds of war, Walter Pidgeon a standout of these. Had The Red Danube been less polished, grittier in line with emerging trends, there might have been acclaim for its trying to give needed account of a Europe in troubled transition. Question was how much we wanted of that. The war being won was all most needed to know, and messy clean-up afterward, let alone one that put Allies to disadvantage, was no fun watching now. For whatever reason, The Red Danube earned less in worldwide rentals ($1.8 million) than its negative cost of $1.9 million. Metro would be as luckless with anti-Red themes even where big stars were employed, Conspirator with Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor another that was snake-bit.

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