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With a nod to Ninotchka (1939), Comrade X (1940) casts Hedy Lamarr as a Moscow streetcar driver who is a devout Communist, and Clark Gable as an American reporter who "liberates" her. Pressured into an agreement to help sneak Lamarr out of Russia, Gable pretends to be a Communist himself and assures her that once in America they can fight for the Soviet cause. After marrying her as the only means of securing her passport, he finds himself falling in love. Before they can flee to America, the couple is arrested by the Soviets and sentenced to death only to find their prison stormed by counter-revolutionaries. Meanwhile, Gable has been selling Lamarr on the virtues of the U.S.: "It's pie a la mode, two-pants suits and the home of the brave, Pike's Peak and Coney Island!" An incongruous romance between Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr culminates in a Keystone Kops-type chase in army tanks.
Walter Reisch won an Oscar® nomination for his original story, which reflects American attitudes about untrustworthy Communists that were about to be changed by World War II as Russia became an important ally of the U.S. The movie's solid supporting cast includes Natasha Lytess, later to gain fame as Marilyn Monroe's acting coach.
Comrade X was the second co-starring stint in a row for MGM stars Gable and Lamarr, who had just finished filming Boom Town (1940), with Spencer Tracy and Claudette Colbert. According to Gable biographer Lyn Tornabene, studio head Louis B. Mayer felt that the association with Gable would assure top stardom for Lamarr, who had arrived in Hollywood with a certain notoriety thanks to having appeared nude in Ecstasy (1932). Despite several striking appearances, however, Lamarr never quite lived up to Mayer's hopes.
Among those watching to see if "The King" and "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World" would strike sparks in real life was Carole Lombard, then Gable's wife. During filming of a Gable-Lamarr love scene for Boom Town, Lombard had made a surprise visit to the set, looking her most glamorous in a stylish suit and fur stole. But by the time Gable and Lamarr made Comrade X, Lombard knew she had nothing to worry about: "Lamarr was not fiery enough for Gable, on screen or off, and her feeling that he was a nice man with no sex appeal showed on screen and off. As a co-starring team they were funny, which was fine for the farcical Comrade X."
Producer: Gottfried Reinhardt
Director: King Vidor
Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, Herman J. Mankiewicz, from story by Walter Reisch
Production Design: Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Costume Design: Adrian, Gile Steele
Editing: Harold F. Kress
Original Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Clark Gable (McKinley B. Thompson), Hedy Lamarr (Theodora, aka Golubka), Oskar Homolka (Vasiliev), Felix Bressart (Vanya), Eve Arden (Jane Wilson), Sig Ruman (Emil Von Hofer), Natasha Lytess (Olga), Vladimir Sokoloff (Michael Bastakoff).
BW-91m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe