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Knight Without Armour (1937)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Knight Without Armour (1937)
DirectorJacques Feyder
Production Co.London Film Productions
A Production byAlexander Korda
ScreenplayLajos Biró
From a novel byJames Hilton
PhotographyHarry Stradling

Cast: Marlene Dietrich (Alexandra Vladinoff); Robert Donat (Ainsley J. Fothergill); Irene Vanbrugh (Duchess of Zorin); Herbert Lomas (General Gregor Vladinoff); John Clements (Poushkoff)

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A young Englishman becomes involved in the Russian Revolution and falls in love with a Russian Countess.

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Continuing his success in attracting the finest of foreign talent, Alexander Korda brought the distinguished Belgian director Jacques Feyder to Britain for this typically epic London Films romance, adapted from James Hilton's novel and set against the chaos of revolutionary Russia.

Knight Without Armour, released in 1937, starred Robert Donat, already a star in this country thanks to his charismatic performances in Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935) and another Korda production, The Ghost Goes West (d. René Clair, 1936). But the real casting coup was the appearance of Marlene Dietrich, at the height of her fame, as feisty aristocrat Alexandra Vladinoff, in her first ever British role (for a fee of $250,000 plus 10 per cent of the gross profits - see Dietrich's original contract).

The film remains enjoyable today thanks to Feyder's elegant and stylish direction and to the chemistry of the leads. Donat shows no sign of being overawed at playing alongside one of Hollywood's biggest stars, and delivers a performance of real charm; Dietrich is, naturally, dazzling, and manages to combine arrogance and vulnerability.

Unsurprisingly, the film shies away from an explicitly political line on the upheaval of the period, but Feyder effectively conveys the chaos of revolutionary Russia, dealing with the many crowd scenes and the more intimate scenes between the lovers with similar sure-handedness. The film makes an interesting comparison with David Lean's similarly ambitious Dr Zhivago (1965), another Russian epic love story set amid the turmoil of revolution.

Thanks to Dietrich's salary and to Korda's usual profligacy, the film failed to recoup its costs, despite winning critical approval. According to one account, when Korda was unable to pay Miss Dietrich the full amount owed, Dietrich agreed to forego the balance if Korda hired her mentor Josef von Sternberg to direct his legendary abandoned project I, Claudius.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Taking the palace (3:56)
2. Train station (3:52)
3. A moment of luxury (2:25)
4. Escape (2:58)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Rise of Catherine the Great, The (1934)
Biró, Lajos (1883-1948)
Donat, Robert (1905-1958)
Korda, Alexander (1893-1956)
Malleson, Miles (1888-1969)
Alexander Korda and London Films