Review by Ty McLemore
Josef Von Sternberg
John Wayne, Janet Leigh, Paul Fix
Howard Hughes, Jules Furthman
At the height of the Cold War in the late 1950s, a beautiful Russian pilot named Anna Marladovna (Janet Leigh) defects to the United States by landing her plane at a military air base in Alaska. Colonel Jim Shannon, (John Wayne) the commander of the base, is assigned to escort her to Washington for further instructions. Ultimately, he is given free reign in accompanying her to various parts of the country to gain valuable military intelligence.
The two eventually fall in love, but complications arise when Jim learns that Anna is to be deported in a few days. They elope to Arizona for a brief wedding with the hope of delaying her departure. Upon their return, Jim learns from his superiors that Anna is in actuality a spy and was ordered to gather information on specific military planes and their maneuverability. Heartbroken, he agrees to escort her back to her homeland under the guise of a STILL married couple to see what strategic intelligence HE can now gather.
The two engage in a psychological cat-and-mouse dance in an effort to outmaneuver one other. Jim is allowed to fly newly developed Soviet aircraft in the hope that he will unwittingly reveal U.S. military tactics. Anna truly loves Jim, realizes that he feels the same and learns that he will be killed once he is no longer useful. She devises a plan to rescue him during a test flight and the two escape by jet to the safety of Vienna.
Who Would Like It
Anyone who is a fan of The Duke or Howard Hughes. This is my FAVORITE John Wayne movie in that he is out of his normal element as a cowboy. Wayne and Leigh’s acting is top notch in this heavy and emotional tale that at the time mirrored how many Russians and Americans viewed one other – with both fear and intrigue. In fact, the film was not released until 1957 – seven years after its completion because of the political climate between the two superpowers.
In addition, the air acrobatics in this movie are breathtaking and renowned test pilot Chuck Yeager was enlisted to perform many of them. Howard Hughes ultimately spent $9 million on this epic film – which some have dubbed a grand, supersonic ballet in the sky.
Finally, Anna’s perky, sweet, yet sexy and determined personality may have driven thousands of American men to contemplate defecting to the other side.
Who Might Not Like It
Non-John Wayne fans or those bored by military types of movies.
In one scene, Jim and Anna fly two F-86 Sabres to Palm Springs for a much needed weekend of leisure. Along the way, they practice aerial maneuvers – including a game of “hopscotch” where they roll over one another in a mind-blowing scene that must be seen to be believed.
In another, Jim and Anna take their final flight home as she will be deported the next morning. The two converse over the radio in a gut-wrenching, dreadful and fatalistic tone as they attempt to say goodbye to one another. This scene nearly brings me to tears as one can feel the weight of their grief and pain.