The Red Danube (1949)




Director:     George Sidney.

Starring:     Walter Pidgeon (Col. Michael S. 'Hooky' Nicobar),  Ethel Barrymore (Mother Superior, 'Mother Auxilia'),  Peter Lawford (Major John 'Twingo' McPhimister),  Angela Lansbury (Audrey Quail),  Janet Leigh (Olga Alexandrova / Maria Buhlen),  Louis Calhern (Colonel Piniev),  Francis L. Sullivan (Colonel Humphrey 'Blinker' Omicron),  Melville Cooper (Private David Moonlight),  Robert Coote (Brigadier C.M.V. Catlock),  Alan Napier (The General),  Roman Toporow (2nd Lt. Maxim Omansky),  Kasia Orzazewski (Sister Kasmira),  Tamara Shayne (Helena Nagard),  Konstantin Shayne (Professor Serge Bruloff),  Janine Perreau (Mickey Mouse).

the West was sending refugees back to the brutal Soviet Union where they were put in harsh camps; many refugees committed suicide rather than be sent back



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Rome after World War II.  Headquarters of the British 84th Army Group.  Sarah, the daughter of Col. Michael Nicobar, has written a letter to her father from England.  The Colonel will soon be back with his daughter.  Audrey Quail, an army secretary, takes the letter for the Colonel.  The telephone rings and Audrey tells the person that Major McPhimister is in with Col. Nicobar at the moment.  It's the Countess of Chrisanti calling for McPhimister, aka Twingo.  Twingo comes out of the Colonel's office and Audrey turns the phone over to him.  He tells the Countess that he will meet her at the gondola in ten minutes. 

A general arrives to see Col. Nicobar, who is expecting to be going home soon.  The general informs him that he's not going home.  Brigadier Catlock needs Nicobar with him in Vienna, Austria.  Catlock says Nicobar has brains and he needs those brains in Vienna.  Nicobar will be dealing with subversive activities. 

Nicobar explains to Audrey that he will need her in Vienna, if she can pull herself away from Twingo.  Audrey says she'll go. 

Audrey goes and finds Twingo to tell him that Nicobar is leaving for Vienna soon and she's going with him.  She then asks Twingo why didn't they click?  Twingo says he doesn't understand it himself, but now here comes the Countess. He tells Audrey that the Countess is just a simple diversion for him. 

Twingo comes to see Nicobar to tell him that he's coming to Vienna with him. 

Vienna after World War II.  Catlock talks to Nicobar explaining that Vienna is divided into zones: British, American, French, R ussian and International.  Nicobar says the general told him his job would be to cooperate with the Russians.  Catlock says his job will be to ferret out subversive activities and turn over Soviet citizens residing in Vienna for repatriation to Russia.  Catlock starts laughing loudly when he is about to tell Nicobar about where he will be billeted.  It will be in a convent.  The Colonel in the Cloisters.  Nicobar thinks it's very not funny. 

The Colonel, with Twingo and Audrey, go to see their quarters.  They meet the Mother Superior, known as Mother Auxilia.  She shows the three newcomers where they will be staying. 

Twingo sees a pretty girl in the chapel.  He later asks the Mother Superior about the woman.  The nun says:  "The young lady does not wish her identity to be known."  The sergeant working with Nicobar traces the unknown lady's footprints in the snow and finds out where she's staying.  He gives her address to Audrey and Audrey gives it to Twingo.  Twingo almost immediately goes looking for the place. 

Twingo wanders into a ballet rehearsal.  There he sees the young lady.  He sees a sergeant watching the performance, and asks him what this is all about?  This is the Old Vienna Opera Company.  Their building was bombed out, so they have to practice is different makeshift places. 

After the rehearsal, Twingo and the unknown dancer stare at each other for awhile, then the woman goes over to the ballet bar to stretch her legs.  Twingo asks the ballet friend of the sergeant what's the lady's name.  It is Maria Buhlen.  The sergeant says that the girl keeps to herself.  The ballet friend goes over to Maria and asks her about meeting the Major, but Maria just shakes her head no. 

Twingo is exasperated by Maria.  He goes to the rehearsals night after night and she won't even look at him.  Surprise, surprise.  Here comes the Mother Superior to introduce Maria to both Col. Nicobar and the Major.  This gives the Major a chance to take Maria out for dinner.  He refers to her as an Austrian girl, but she says she's not an Austrian girl.  Then what kind of girl is she?  Maria says she doesn't want to talk about it.  He gets a laugh out of her with his nickname of Twingo.  She says he has a very funny name. 

After dinner, Maria shows the Major her apartment.  There she tells him that if they are going to become friends, they must proceed slowly.  He says he will take her tomorrow to her ballet practice.  Twingo leaves the apartment.  When Twingo is gone a man comes out of the shadows.  He goes over to look at the name of the residents and he looks intently at the name of Maria Buhlen.

Catlock tells Nicobar that the Russians particularly want to find this woman Olga Alexandrova.  Nicobar is frustrated because Twingo is always taking Maria out to eat in the evenings.  He tells Audrey that he needs Twingo to search for this girl Olga Alexandrova.

Twingo goes to Maria's apartment and finds the door wide open and the room ransacked.  He can't find her, so he goes to see the Mother Superior.  There he finds Maria. And now Maria tells him the truth.  Her family of Germans lived in a colony known as the Volga Germans.  When the war came Stalin did not trust the Volga Germans and deported the whole colony to Siberia. Her parents died there in Siberia.  She got out of Russia and now lives here in Vienna illegally.  Today she saw a Russian car complete with Russian soldiers and she knew immediately that she could never go back to her apartment.  While they talk, a Russian truck filled with soldiers comes to the front of the convent. 

Mother Superior tells the Colonel that Maria Buhlen has come to the convent to ask for sanctuary.  And now the Russians have come to get her.  So the two of them go down to talk with Colonel Piniev of the Russian army.  Piniev says they have reasons to believe that Olga Alexandrova is hiding in this convent.  He says he and his men will search the convent.  Maria is hiding amidst the nuns in the chapel saying their prayers.  Piniev goes in and checks over the faces, but does not recognize Maria sitting with the others. 

Piniev gives up the search, but he tells Nicobar that Stalin wants Maria back in Russia because she is a very great ballerina.  If she returns to Russia, she'll have nothing to fear.  Nicobar says well, that's just splendid. 

Nicobar now tells the trio that he's sorry, but he must turn her over to the Russians.  He was already under orders to find and turn over one Olga Alexandrova to the Russians.  Mother Superior and Twingo almost beg Nicobar to overlook just this one Maria Buhlen.  Nicobar still says he must turn her over.  Maria speaks up to say that one cannot trust the Soviets and millions of Russians know this all too well.  Nicobar now puts Twingo in command of making sure that Maria is at his place at 0900 hours.

Twingo goes out to talk with Maria in the garden.  And now the Russians show up at the convent again.  They hide Maria in Audrey's room.  The Russian Colonel returns saying that he had a count of 25 nuns, but the men who were once billeted here once say that there were only 24 nuns.  Nicobar agrees to turn over Maria to the Russian Colonel.  She comes down on her own to go with the Colonel.  She is taken away.

Mother Superior tells Nicobar that he is cruel.  "One either has an instinct for justice, or one has not.  One is touched by human suffering, or one is not."  Nicobar gets angry at Mother Superior and tells her good night. 

Nicobar and Twingo go out searching for Russian illegals.  They go to the apartment of Professor Serge Bruloff.  They tell him that he is to report to a Russian convoy tomorrow to be taken back to Moscow.  One can tell that the man is upset.  He asks a favor.  Would Nicobarhe tell his wife what has happened to him?  She works as a floor scrubber in one of the British Officers' buildings, but they must not tell anyone that she is his wife.  He says he needs a moment to pack.  He goes into his bedroom and shoots himself in the right temple.  The two British officers are shocked.  Nicobar tells Twingo that it still may go better for Maria.  Twingo doesn't think so, but only says with bitterness, who's next on your list?

Next on the list is the wife of the Professor.  They have to tell her what happened to her husband.  And they have to tell the woman that she herself is on the list and will be sent back to Russia.  She sits down and then really starts to sob and wail. 

People watch as a truck convoy filled with Russian illegals files out of the fenced in compound holding the illegals.  Twingo sees the professor's wife in one of the trucks.  Then he sees Maria in one of the trucks.  She sees him and yells out to him, but there's nothing Twingo can do.  Twingo is boiling with anger at Nicobar.

Nicobar recites off a letter to the War Office with Audrey taking the words down.  The subject is the forced repatriation of political dissidents.  "A world tragedy is being enacted in Austria which amounts to full-scale murder, and His Majesty's government is an accessory before the fact.  There are thousands of displaced persons in the British zone of Vienna, Austria who do not desire to return to their own countries because of political conditions they literally choose a miserable life in DP camps in preference to returning home.  We actually help the Russians to perpetrate harrowing cruelties upon thousands of innocent people whose only crime is that they dislike communism."   

It's Christmas.  Both Mother Superior and Col. Nicobar ask for each other's forgiveness for what each said to the other.  Both ask for and receive forgiveness.  Nicobar gets a telephone call with the news that the Russians are sending a trainload of refugees to the Aspang railway station and he has to go out there and check for subversive activities.  Mother Superior wants to go with him. 

Nicobar and Mother Superior see a scene from out of the Final Solution book.  It looks like a cattle car with poor humans crammed into it.  He goes from cattle car to cattle car, each scene one out of a nightmare.  Mother Superior finds Maria in one of the cattlecars, but says nothing to anyone else.  Nicobar discovers that these are the people who can be of no use as slave laborers, so they are dropping them off in the British zone so the British can take care of them. 

Back in the car Mother Superior tells Nicobar that Maria is on this train.  She escaped from the Russian truck convoy when it was going through Hungary.  Mother Superior wants to send Maria to her friend in southern Austria where no one will be looking for her. 

Nicobar has Twingo come to his office.  He meets Twingo in the hall and tells him to wait in his office.  Twingo opens the door and there stands Maria.  They hug and kiss each other. 

The group takes Maria down to southern Austria.  Mother Superior will arrange it so Twingo can stay some days with Maria and be picked up on Monday.   

The group sans Maria and Twingo return to the convent.  The Russian Colonel is waiting there.  He says Maria escaped while returning to Moscow.  Mother Superior says she's glad that Maria escaped.  The Russian Colonel wants to know if Maria is in the convent again. 

Nicobar and Piniev start an angry debate over whose country is the worst.  The Russian colonel leaves.  Then Mother Superior leaves. 

The top general speaks with Nicobar about his letter about British cooperation with Russian crimes against humanity.  He says the United Nations is taking up the subject matter now.  And the Americans too are pushing against forcible repatriation.  Nicobar is being sent to the UN commission on the matter as a representative of the Austrian sector. 

Mother Superior is going to hitch a flight with Nicobar headed to Rome.  He tells her she will not be let on the airplane, but when they get to the plane, Nicobar bullies his way onto the plane along with the Mother Superior.   On the plane, Nicobar discovers that he's now  a general.   He explains that he took the wrong jacket when he was in with the General. 

Nicobar attends the meeting of the military people to draw up a report on the problem of the displaced persons.  When it is over, Nicobar sees Mother Superior.  His Holiness has arranged for her to be flown back to Austria tonight.  She also tells the doubter Nicobar that God did not fail mankind  --  mankind failed God. 

Nicobar returns to Austria.  The Russian Colonel again demands the return of Maria.   Now Catlock demands that Nicobar return Maria over to the Russians.  Nicobar says he declines to recognize that order.  Catlock says the Colonel will lose his army pension.  He asks that Catlock wait for the UN decision on displaced persons.  So Catlock tells Nicobar to hand over his duties to another officer.

Maria and Twingo are still together.  They are very happy together.  Twingo will come back to her next Sunday.  The Colonel taking Nicobar's position now grabs Maria.  He brings Maria back to Vienna.  And now the Russians come to take Maria away. Maria throws herself out of a window, but still lives.  She lies in bed with Mother Superior, Twingo, Nicobar and Audrey by her side.  She dies.  Twingo cries. 

Nicobar now has to report to Catlock for disposition for his case as per the War Office Order.  But now Nicobar gets promoted to Brigadier by the General in the presence of Catlock. He will be sent back to England to be in charge of reforming some out of outdated practices of the army.  Catlock expresses regret for what happened to Maria.  And now the displaced persons will not be forced to return to countries they don't want to go back to.  Nicobar asks if he can take Twingo with him.  Permission granted.  But they won't let Audrey go with him. 

Audrey gets herself kicked out of her job because she flirts with the new Colonel in front of his very jealous and domineering wife and the woman demands that Audrey be transferred immediately.  So at the last minute she is driven out to the airport to go with the Brigadier and Twingo.  They are so happy to see her coming with them.  The whole team and their driver all head back to London. 



Good movie about the problem of repatriating refugees to the Russians when the refugees will be executed or sent to Siberia to die. There is a big tug-of-war between obeying orders or obeying one's conscience as regards the refugees.  Colonel Nicobar follow orders while Mother Superior and the Colonel's aide Twingo want to follow their consciences and not return certain refugees to Russia when they are are sure to be executed or sent to Siberia.  Nicobar underestimates the evil of Stalin, but his conscience is torn when he meets some of the refugees up close and personal. Will Nicobar be drummed out of the army and lose his pension?  Good question.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.  



Historical Background:


Repatriation is the process of returning a person back to one's place of origin or citizenship, especially returning refugees or soldiers to their place of origin following a war.  Refoulement was the forced return of a person to a country where he faces persecution.

Following the end of World War II in Europe, the Allies follow a process of refoulement where they sent refugees and soldiers back to the Soviet Union even though many of the people did not want to go back.  In the Soviet Union, the refugees seen as traitors for surrendering were often killed or sent to Siberian concentration camps.

On 11 February 1945, at the conclusion of the Yalta Conference, the United States and United Kingdom signed a Repatriation Agreement with the USSR.  When the war ended in May 1945, millions of former Soviet citizens were forcefully repatriated (against their will) into the USSR.

The interpretation of the Yalta Agreement resulted in the forcible repatriation of all Soviets regardless of their wishes. British and U.S. civilian authorities ordered their military forces in Europe to deport to the Soviet Union millions of former residents of the USSR (some of whom collaborated with the Germans), including numerous persons who had left Russia and established different citizenship many years before. The forced repatriation operations took place from 1945-1947.




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