Krasnaya palatka (The Red Tent) (1969)

 

 

 

Director:     Mikhail Kalatozov.

Starring:     Sean Connery (Roald Amundsen), Claudia Cardinale (Nurse Valeria), Hardy Krüger (Aviator Lundborg), Peter Finch (Gen. Umberto Nobile), Massimo Girotti (Romagna, Rescue Coordinator), Luigi Vannucchi (Capt. Zappi), Mario Adorf (Biagi, Radio Operator), Eduard Martsevich (Finn Malmgren, Meteorologist), Grigori Gaj (Samoilovich, Captain of Krassin Russian Icebreaker), Nikita Mikhalkov (Chuknovsky, Icebreaker Pilot), Nikolai Ivanov (Kolka, Amateur Radioman), Boris Khmelnitsky (Viglieri), Yuri Solomin (Troiani), Yuri Vizbor (Behounek), Donatas Banionis (Mariano).

failed 1928 Arctic airship expedition of the "Italia" airship

 

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

The spirit of the deceased General Umberto Nobile, arctic explorer, sits in a chair and listens to newsreel footage on his expedition. 

"General Umberto Nobile returned a hero to Italy, to his Roman triumph led by Benito Mussolini.   Nobile's journey over the North Pole with Roald Amundsen had thrilled the world in the year of 1926.  But the laurels won by the handsome hero did not give him rest.  He had seen the north, the vast silent, frozen sea.   Unendurable, uninhabitable.  Yet for more than 2,000 years explorers have been drawn into this mysterious whiteness, where man literally walks on water.  Men with such names as Makarov, Namsen, Amundsen.  At last, in 1909, Robert E. Peary, the great American explorer, made a brilliant dash with dogs. Peary conquered the North Pole.  There was a pause in Arctic exploration.  The restless men turned to the Antarctic.  Roald Amundsen conquered the South Pole, December 14, 1911.  Then came aircraft and the excitement stirred again.  This was Nobile's moment.  Already an internationally known  designer and flyer of airships, he planned the most dangerous of all air expeditions.  To fly to the fury of the North Pole and to land there.  Why?  For reasons of science?  Certainly.  But there was also the explorer's age old reason or vanity:  the desire to be first. . . ."

"The Italian navy provided Nobile with a support ship: the City of Milan under the command of a reliable career officer Captain Romagna.  Captain Romagna took up station at the small mining town of Kingsbay, the jumping off point of the expedition.  In an expedition that was to become so famous for its failure.  The questions must still be asked?  Was it justified?  Should it have been undertaken?   Was Umbderto Nobile a fit leader? . . ." 

"On the 23rd of May at 4 in the afternoon the dirigible Italia left Kingsbay for the North Pole. "  He stops the projector.

Nobile tries to go to sleep but quotes from the newsreel keep going through his head.  Some of the sayings are "an official investigation", "resignation of commission", and "reduction in rank".  He becomes so upset that he bolts upright in bed and then gets out of his bed.  He goes outside onto a patio of an apartment building.  He calls out for aviator Lundborg asking where is he?  Suddenly Lundborg materializes in front of Nobile.  He complains that Nobile must have had one of his rough nights and couldn't sleep because that's when he starts calling the explorers to gather together.  Lundborg also complains that the last time they were all together was only ten days ago. 

Lundborg wants to know if Nobile is going to summon Valeria.  Yes, he is.  Nurse Valeria is a very attractive woman.  She served as a nurse.  And she too has complaints.  She asks Amundsen when he will stop walking the floors at night?  After all, it's been 40 years of this now.  Lundborg starts taking certain liberties with Valeria.  He kisses her and then he kisses her while grabbing her left breast.  For punishment, Valeria bits his tongue a little.  He definitely pulls back from her biting. 

Valeria looks around and loudmouthed Lundborg yells to Nobile that Valeria is looking for Malmgrem, the Immaculate.  Nobile tells Valeria that meteorologist Malmgren is arriving now.  Malmgren materializes.  Valeria goes over to sit on the couch with Malmgren.

Flashback.  The guys on the ward are really flirting with Valeria.  This must be disturbing to her in some ways, but she seems to take it all in stride.  Malmgreen has just arrived and he's not too pleased by the jovial atmosphere of the hospital wing.  She tells him he can wait in the dispensary.  She meets him there a little later.  Malmgren is Swedish.  She asks him if he is the famous Malmgreen on the expedition?  Malmgreen says he's the only Malmgreen on Nobile's expedition.  Valeria seems to like this Malmgren fellow. 

Valeria asks questions of Malmgren about Amundsen and Nobile and he provides the answers.  The two go sledding and have a really good time. 

Back to the present.   Lundborg tells Malmgren that he was a ghost while he was still alive.  He is disgusted at the relationship between Valeria and Malmgren and says he is not needed here so he is leaving.  Nobile tells him that he is very much needed indeed.  He wants Lundborg to be the prosecutor of the court case.  Lundborg warns Nobile that if he's the prosecutor, then he's definitely going to come to conclusions on this case.  Nobile says that's just what he wants Lundborg to do.  Lundborg now calls for a man named Biagi.  Sgt. Biagi materializes.  Then he calls for Captain Zappi.  He materializes.

Flashback.  It was May 23rd of May at 4 pm in 1928 when the ship Italia took off from Spitzbergen.  As the airship climbs upwards, Malmgren waves goodbye to Valeria on the ground.  She waves back.  

The airship flies over ice, water, rocks and mountains.  The captain starts giving commands  for the crew members to follow. 

The airship has gone 250 miles.  Height is 750 feet.  They climb to 1300 feet. Malmgren says the air is getting more unstable toward the Pole, but they should have enough time to be at the Pole before the weather gets worse.

It's now only 44 miles to the Pole.  Nobile tells the men to put on their furs (coats).  The captain orders the ship down to 400 feet.  He tells Captain Zappi to get the anchor lines ready.  Prepare the basket for lowering.  A fellow tells Nobile that the landing will be difficult because the wind is at 35 knots.  As they are getting close to the Pole, celebrating starts with the imbibing of liquors.  They open a side door and drop the landmark out of the plane to plant itself in the snow and ice. 

Nobile asks Malmgren if they should land and he recommends that they head back for Kingsbay.  Captain Zappi warns that they might not get another chance to land, if they leave to head back.  Malmgren says it's risky.  Zappi reminds Malmgren that in the eyes of the world the honor of Italy is at stake.   Nobile decides to head back for Kingsbay. 

The journalists are told that the Italian airship is returning back to Kingsbay.  One of the journalists says that they have been here for four weeks and now they learn that there will be no story.  The winds have increased to 45 miles per hour. A fellow comes to Nobile and says that he must come up to the keels.  The metal frame is icing now.  The ice is building up and they are losing altitude.  The general goes to look at the metal frame within the body of the airship.  Ice is caking up on the metal frames. 

The airship is sinking fast and its twisting and turning erratically.  The ship is about ready to hit the ground.  The air ship does hit the ground leaving many men inside, but the other part of the ship is still in the air going who knows where.  On the ground General Nobile has survived.  Captain Zappi goes over to check him out.  Biagi has been hurt badly.  Malmgren seems okay, but he starts walking away from the airship.  This worries the others.  Malmgren returns saying he's sorry.  He was thinking of walking away and just letting himself freeze to death.  Nobile says that none of them have the right to do that.   

There are eight survivors.  Then they see a ninth man coming in.  They ask him if he has seen the others?  Viglieri says yes he saw them.  They flew away like a kite.  The men start retrieving items that have dropped out of the airship.  Best of all, they find the tent.  They also find the crate with the radio inside it.  Now they are happy because they now can be found and saved.  Biagi is the radio operator.  When he opens the crates he sees that parts of the radio have been destroyed.  Nobile says he knows that Biagi will be able to fix the radio. 

They also find the general's dog still alive, but then they find the dead body of Vincenzo Pomera.  They bury him and have a little ceremony.

Captain Romagna will now have to coordinate the rescue operation.  That's difficult when there is no radio contact.  He sends a message to the Admiralty in Rome.  "Still no contact with Italia airship.  Request instructions." 

Back to the present.  Nobile yells at Romagna:  "Instructions!?"  Romagna answers by asking what could he have done in his situation?  The airship could have been anywhere within two million square kilometers.  Nobile tells Romagna that they waited five days to search for survivors, while the survivors were less than 100 miles from Kingsbay.  "And you were waiting for orders!?"

Flashback.   The men paint the tent red so it could be seen from the air.  The men only have pemmican to eat and there's only a limited amount of it available.  (Pemmican is a food prepared by Native Americans from lean dried strips of meat pounded into paste, mixed with fat and berries, and pressed into small cakes, usually for emergency situation.)  A polar bear roams around the tent. Malmgren takes a pistol and goes to kill the bear.  He succeeds and the guys eat the meat raw.  Nobile tells them to stop that.  If they eat too much they can become ill and die. 

Back at Kingsbay Valeria walks around the area.  The place is so filled with people and their activities that the small town looks like it is having one huge celebration.  Aircraft from the Royal Swedish Air force fly over the town.  The three Swedish planes are the only ones equipped with skies for landing on the ice.  Weather permitting, the few planes they have will be out searching for the survivors.  Valeria comes to listen to the talk of the rescue effort.  When she hears that Amundsen says that it is not likely that any survivors will still be alive after a week, she leaves the building. 

Biagi has told everyone that without a resister, he cannot get the radio to work.  One of the survivors takes a pencil and rubs it on the paper.  He then tears a little strip off the piece of paper and tells Biagi that he thinks this little strip of graphite is a resister.  Biagi improves the strip of graphite and sticks it into the radio.  They pick up music on the radio.  The men are ecstatic.  Nobile stops the celebration and tells Biagi to start transmitting messages. 

Back at Kingsbay, Valeria asks around among the pilots if anyone is going out looking.  They say that only Lundborg is willing to risk flying in this weather.  Valeria runs to Lundborg as he is parking his airplane. 
She asks if he is going back up and he says it depends on what the weather is like and if he gets clearance to fly. 

Less than 100 miles away, the ice starts breaking up.  A survivor is nearly cut-off from the ice block on which the tent is planted.  He yells for everybody to get out of the tent.  Nobile tells the men that now they will have to watch the ice night and day.  Captain Zappi wants to take a small group of the toughest survivors to walk back to Kingsbay.  Nobile asks:  "Do you think you can walk 90 miles across the ice?"  They will have no ropes, no boots and none of the proper equipment.  He says they will stay together. 

They learn via the radio that in soccer Italy has beaten Spain 4 to 1.  Captain Zappi now tells Nobile that their group is leaving.  Malmgren says he is leaving too.  Nobile tells those going that what they are really doing is committing suicide.  They know nothing of survival in the Arctic.  He wants the men to think really hard about leaving before they go. 

A Russian amateur radio enthusiast has set up his radio on top of a building.  He searches the radio waves and picks up an S.O.S. from Nobile.  Now he shouts for all the people to stop and make no noise. Soon everyone is quiet.  The amateur confirms what he has picked up and now shouts that he has contact and for the church bells to be rung. 

The amateur radio enthusiast and many others now ride their horses as fast as they can to get to the place where they can send a message to Moscow.  The message is:  "Urgent.  Have picked up radio signal from Nobile.  His approximate position  . . ."  The news goes out that Nobile and some of his men may still be alive.

The men are ready to go on their walk.  Malmgren asks Nobile to give this shawl to the nurse at Kingsbay named Valeria.  The three men set out together on a very long walk. 

The amateur radio man desperately tries to take a ship ride, but the ship leaves without him. 

The men in the red tent get the news that the Russian icebreaker Krassin should be here in five days.  She is the biggest icebreaker in Europe.  The men are ecstatic, but then Nobile thinks about the three men trying to walk to Kingsbay. 

The ice breaker gets stuck in the ice.  Someone says there's something wrong with the propellers.  Men go out on the ice to see what they can do to help the situation.  The leader Samoilovich is told that the captain has given the order for the search plane to be made ready for take-off.  Smoilovich replies:  "I won't allow you to fly."  Why?  "The plane is the last resort.  I cannot risk it too soon."

A diver goes underwater to fix the propellers.  When he comes up he reports:  "The left propeller is badly twisted.  The rudder is also damaged."

Biagi gets the message that the Krassin is damaged and they are working on her.  But then they will return to their base.  And Biagi says that the radio battery is now dead. 

Valeria shows up on the doorstep of Roald Amundsen.  His aide tells him that she came all the way from Kingsbay.  Valeria says she's a friend of Finn Malmgren.  She asks him to come and help look for the survivors.  The request tortures Amundsen, but he keeps saying no.  The survivor's hopes all rely now on airplanes and he knows nothing about airplanes.   He also says that the Arctic is a terrible place and he's been thinking that man doesn't belong there.  He does not want to go back to the Arctic.  Valeria has to give up on Amundsen. 

Malmgren falls in a hole in the ice and has to be rescued by the two other men.  They pull Malmgren out of the hole and desperately try to warm him up. 

Amundsen readies to take off for Kingsbay. 

The survivors hear an airplane flying overhead.  They rush out to see if they can be seen by the plane, but the plane doesn't see them.  The men are very dejected.

Captain Zappi gets the other two men up and moving again. 

Lundborg tries to seduce Valeria with his charms.  He asks what will she give him if he finds her boyfriend for her?  She tells him if he finds him, they have a deal.  (Presumably, he is asking her to have sex with him.)

Malmgren is completely exhausted.  Mariano tells Zappi that they are not saving Malmgren.  Rather he is killing them.  They turn around and see that Malmgren has removed his heavey jacket and his pants.  He wants to die now.  To this end he asks Zappi to help him dig his grave because he doesn't want the bears to eat his flesh.  He points to a cave like opening.  Zappi widens the opening and Malmgren slips into the little space.  It doesn't take long before Malmgren dies. 

Lundborg flies over the survivors and they go crazy with happiness.  He lands on the ice.  He has brought some food for those who will have to stay a little longer.  Lundborg now asks which man is Malmgren?  Nobile explains that Malmgren was part of a party of three who tried to walk the 90 miles to Kingsbay.  Lundborg tells Nobile that he will take Nobile back to Kingsbay or he will take no one.  Nobile refuses to go.  Lundborg tells him he is taking off in five minutes with or without Nobile.  The Swedish flyer now tells Nobile that Amundsen has been lost searching for Nobile.

Back to the present.  Amundsen says they overshot their target, but found the other wreckage of the top part of the airship.  Their airplane crashed during the landing and his French pilot was killed.  They found that all the survivors were dead.  There was no food available at all and nothing with which to start a fire.  Lundberg laughs at Amundsen's misfortunes.  He says that Amundsen is play-acting, but went too far and gave himself away. 

Flashback.  Lundberg gets back to Kingsbay to a hero's welcome.   Valeria is in the crowd to receive Lundborg.  The crowd is shocked when they realize that Lundborg brought back Gen. Nobile and his small dog.  The crowd gets very quiet when Nobile is picked up by two sailors and carried over to a dog sled and placed in it. 

Nobile is now safe under the care of Captain Romagna and starts setting up rescue attempts.  Romagna gives Nobile a copy of his orders from Rome.  "In view of your extraordinary conduct in abandoning the men . . ."  Nobile is stunned by the first part of the first sentence of his orders.  He never felt he had abandoned his men. 

Nobile is informed that they have contact with the Krassin.  Nobile writes a personal note to Samoilovich pleading with him to continue trying to save the survivors of the airship collapse. 

Back to the present.  Samoilovich tells Nobile that he simply did not know where the survivors were.  And he didn't want to have his ship crushed by the ice.  So he had the ship head for the nearest port.  He adds that he had an airplane and a pilot onboard that wanted to find the survivors.  Samoilovich agreed that if the survivors were not far from them, then they would attempt a rescue.  Otherwise, the survivors would be left where they are. 

Flashback.  Zappi and Mariano hear a plane overhead (the ice breaker's plane).  Men in the plane spot the two survivors.  The pilot lets Samoilovich know what he found from his plane.  He also says he's returning to the ship because of the fog.  Because of the fog the plane cannot find the ship.  And this despite the fact that the sailors had built huge fires burning on the ice near the ice breaker.  The plane has to crash land elsewhere. 

Samoilovich wants to communicate with the pilot, but the pilot just tells one of the flight crew that Samoilovich should continue on towards the Italians.  Samoilovich wants to pick up the Russian flight crew before going on to the Italians.    The pilot tells the flight crew members to tell Samoilovich that they refuse to be picked up before the Italians are picked up. 

The Krassin is moving forward again.  The ice on which the red tent sits now begins to break up and it looks like the tent and the supplies might go into the ocean.  The crack misses the tent, but water flows into the airship wreckage from the waves created by huge pieces of ice breaking off the glaciers and crashing into the ocean.  Nobile stays at Kingsbay.  Valeria follows him one day as he walked around Kingsbay.  Nobile sees her and gives her the shawl given by Malmgren to him to give to Valeria.    She tells the general:  "You cracked like the ice, Gen. Nobile."  She is mad because he let the three men go out on an attempt to walk to Kingsbay.  "You brought them all in and cruelly bring yourself out."

Finally the remaining five survivors see the ice breaker heading straight for them.  The huge piece of ice on which they sat their tent is now only a fragment of what they started with.  Already safely on board were Zappi, Mariano and the Russian flight crew. 

Back to the present.  Lundborg as prosecutor says the charges against Nobile are failure to exercise command, desertion and cowardice. 

Samoilovich says Nobile did the right things.   But Samoilovich in not part of the jury.  The jury of four unanimously find Nobile guilty.  Amundsen discounts the verdict.  Zappi asks why?  He tells Zappi that he was a terrible second in command under Nobile.  Romagna wasted time and opportunities.  And Lundborg forced Nobile to come with him to Kingsbay so he could get Malmgren's girl, Valeria.  Valeria was in love with Malmgren, but Malmgren was only interested in "purity".  And Valeria, like every one here, is filled with bitterness and unfit to judge.

Lundborg now leaves.  And now only Nobile and Amundsen remain behind.  Amundsen wants to know what was the most vivid thing Nobile was thinking about as Lundborg flew Nobile and his dog back to Kingsbay.  Nobile says he was thinking that with six more flights they all would be out.  If the weather doesn't hold, the Krassin would be the most likely way to save the survivors. And he thought that ground parties must be organized in Kingsbay.  He was also thinking of having a hot bath in Kingsbay. 

Amundsen says that his friend Nobile just made a simple mistake at the wrong time. 

Nobile asks Amundsen what he would do if he was Nobile?  Amundsen says:  "Forgive myself and sleep.  Sleep, my friend, that's the proper thing."  He also says Nobile should dream of all the things that the explorers saw and the things that they accomplished. 

 

Good film.  It was tough getting to be an Arctic or Antarcitc hero explorer.  Many men died trying to get to the poles.  This film is also largely a survival film, but it's presented in flashbacks and the story is inherently more interesting.  Some of the other films are so depressing because so many survivors die or they all die.  In The Red Tent a larger percentage of the men are saved.  The commander Nobile is dead, but his spirit calls together all the spirits of the main characters involved in the Arctic disaster.  There is a lot of blame thrown around by the witnesses and Nobile gets even more depressed than he is already.  In the end the explorer Amundsen seems to have the best description of the situation for Nobile.  Peter Finch (as Gen. Umberto Nobile) gave a great acting performance.

Patrick Louis Cooney,  Ph. D. 

 

 

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