Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Demi-Paradise

(Adventure for Two, 1943)

One of those morale builders of this era. Remember, the Soviets were our allies until after the war. Here we see Lawrence Olivier as a Russian engineer traveling to England to get a new ship’s propeller he has designed made by British shipbuilders. This is just months before the war begins.

You’ll be reminded of Ninotchka, except that Greta Garbo was the humorless one. Here, it is Ivan Kouznetsoff who misses the passionate people he knew back home. (His full name includes a patronymic and a hyphenate, which he always uses, and it doesn’t seem to be listed at the IMDb. A running joke is that I don’t think that any of the English, ever, get his name right.) He just doesn’t get the English. He finds them dour, insular, unfriendly. He can’t understand their, to him, lackadaisical attitude toward life, nor their passion for their history, which he finds dull. He doesn’t understand their core toughness. He embarrasses himself with angry outbursts and is sent home. (Not a lot is said about communism; this film was made to make the Brits like their Soviet allies.)

So he is amazed when he returns after about a year of war to find the British people surviving, even thriving in some ways, when everything he heard on the radio from Germany contended it was just days or weeks before the Brits would have to surrender, or be destroyed in an invasion. They sit calmly sipping tea while listening to German bombers fly overhead. Germany declares war on Russia, and it’s suddenly a lovefest with the Russian people. (The soundtrack even plays “The Internationale!”)

He goes back to work on his revolutionary propeller, and it keeps failing. The woman who had fallen in love with him encourages him to keep plugging at it, in the British way. Then we get one of those priceless “Eureka!” scenes so beloved of that time in films. Sitting in a train station, drinking cups of British tea, he stirs it with a spoon … and comes up with the prop solution! So simple! So obvious! Why didn’t I think of it? Borjemoi! You gotta love it.

It all looks a little wistful from the perspective of 2013. All that love, all that comradeship. Olivier delivers a rousing speech at the end, extolling the great things that Russia and England can achieve. Hail to us! Here’s to eternal friendship! Russia and England love freedom! Freedom, in Stalin’s USSR? Where the knock on the door in the middle of the night by Lavrenti Beria’s NKVD meant no one would ever see you alive again? Millions of people slaughtered or sent to Siberia? Somehow, the writers and producers had to have swallowed hard and totally forgotten about the purges. Oh, well. In only three years the Cold War would begin.