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Hedy Lamarr exacted a revenge of sorts on her old boss, Louis B. Mayer, when she returned to the studio he headed, MGM, at a salary of $90,000 to star in A Lady Without Passport (1950). Mayer had signed Lamarr to a contract in 1938 with plans to turn her into a superstar -- but lost interest after some of her films suffered from lackluster box-office results. He allowed her contract to expire in 1947.
After three more box-office flops away from MGM, Lamarr suddenly enjoyed a re-emergence of her career when Cecil B. DeMille cast her as the Biblical temptress in Paramount's Samson and Delilah (1949), which proved to be the highest-grossing film of its year. Mayer, eager to capitalize on his former protge's renewed popularity, first toyed with the idea of casting Lamarr in Quo Vadis (1951) as Poppaea, a role eventually played by Patricia Laffan.
Instead, Mayer offered A Lady Without Passport, in which Lamarr plays Marianne Lorress, an Eastern European concentration-camp survivor who waits with other refugees in Havana, Cuba, for the American Immigration Department to provide a visa so she can enter the United States. (The film's original title was "Visa.") John Hodiak costars as Peter Karczag, a U.S. Immigration official who has gone undercover, posing as a wealthy Hungarian refugee in order to trap a suave smuggler of human lives called Palinov (George Macready).
With no money and no work permit, Marianne turns in desperation to Palinov to get her to America, which he is happy to do provided the gorgeous refugee gives herself to him in return. Karczag, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Marianne, who in turn rejects him when she discovers he is using her to get at Palinov. Matters reach crisis point when Marianne joins Palinov on a flight carrying illegal aliens that crash-lands in the Florida Everglades.
A Lady Without Passport is a rare big-budget entry in the filmography of its director, Joseph H. Lewis, who more often worked on "B" movies to which he often brought dynamic rhythms and a knack for handling actors. For such melodramas as Gun Crazy (1949) and The Big Combo (1955), he eventually won auteur status among European critics. Lewis' striking visual style is in evidence in A Lady Without Passport -- especially in the Everglades sequence, which is observed from above by a Navy pilot whose plane is circling the site of the crash as the survivors flee into the dense landscape. Another signature Lewis touch: a background teeming with interesting character types.
Despite its flair, A Lady Without Passport did little for Lamarr's career. The general consensus was that she seemed too well-fed and glamorous to be convincing as a concentration-camp survivor; as one wag put it, she looked more like a refugee from MGM's makeup department. She never made another MGM movie, and, although she later appeared in the Bob Hope comedy My Favorite Spy (1951) and a few other films, she never again enjoyed Samson and Delilah-scale success.
Producer: Samuel Marx
Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Screenplay: Howard Dimsdale, Cyril Hume (adaptation), from short story by Lawrence Taylor
Cinematography: Paul C. Vogel
Art Direction: Edward C. Carfagno, Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: David Raksin
Editing: Fredrick Y. Smith
Cast: Hedy Lamarr (Marianne Lorress), John Hodiak (Peter Karczag, aka Josef Gombush), James Craig (Chief Frank Westlake, INS), George Macready (Palinov), Steven Geray (Frenchman, Palinov's Tout), Bruce Cowling (Archer Delby James, Pilot).
BW-74m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe