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‘Never Let Me Go’ From 1953: Escaping Cold War Communism

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By: Tiffany Brannan

The Cold War is generally associated with the 1960s or the late 50s. However, some movies from years earlier prove that Americans began to suspect Russia’s interest in democracy and peace as soon as World War II ended. As the Allies tried to rebuild Europe after the damage the Nazis had done, they quickly realized that the Soviets had just as little regard for human life and personal freedom.

One such movie is “Never Let Me Go” from 1953. Starring Clark Gable and Gene Tierney, this MGM movie is about an American officer and a Russian ballerina. This story shows how many Americans were realizing after World War II that the Russians leaders weren’t to be trusted. It illustrates the oppression of Russian citizens and foreigners who visited their country by focusing on two fictional couples who live through this horrible situation.

Besides the two leads, there are no big-name movie stars in this film. Those familiar with classic films will recognize many of the supporting cast members as successful character actors. This movie is remarkably short for how dramatic and intense it is, clocking in at 94 minutes. Judging by how much happens, one would guess that the film is at least two hours long! During the comparatively short runtime, “Never Let Me Go” manages to paint a dramatic story which is more inspiring than ever today.

A Cold War Story

American reporter Philip Sutherland (Gable) has been stationed in Moscow for a few years by the end of World War II. His best friend is a British radio announcer named Steve Quillan (Kenneth More). Both men must be careful not to be too honest about what’s really happening in Russia, since Joseph Stalin and his Soviet comrades only believe in freedom of the press as long as it makes them look good to the rest of the world. After the war has ended, Philip goes to the celebratory performance of “Swan Lake,” where he hopes to talk to the beautiful Russian ballerina Marya Larmakina (Tierney). His attentions to her have been unrequited so far, but he is persistent.

When Philip goes backstage, he is delighted to discovered that she has learned English during the last year so that she would be able to express her feelings for him in his language. They pledge their love for each other and plan to marry. The American ambassador (Robert Henderson) warns them that they won’t be able to get Marya an exit visa when she wants to leave with Philip, but the couple has faith that they’ll find a way. After their wedding, Philip and Marya honeymoon in the coastal town of Tallinn. There, they meet Svetlana (Valentina Alexandrovna), Marya’s friend who taught her English, who is spending a holiday there with her British husband, Christopher Denny (Richard Haydn).

The two couples go to a cottage together, where the men discuss the difficulty of obtaining visas for their Russian wives. However, the evening is interrupted when NKVD officials arrive to question Denny about his use of a camera that afternoon. Although he assures them that he was merely photographing his wife, not spying, they take him for questioning. As Marya predicts, Denny is sent back to England, and the Sutherlands take care of Svetlana as she gives birth to their son. Before long, Philip receives word that he is being transferred back to the United States, since the Russian government is displeased with a recent article he wrote about their policies. However, he refuses to leave without his wife. Will the two couples ever be able to live happily together in freedom?

The War Turns Cold

“Never Let Me Go” is one of a few films made shortly after World War II with a surprisingly early Cold War theme. “The Red Danube” from 1949 is another movie which shows how quickly the Allies realized that the U.S.S.R. was up to no good. These anti-Soviet messages are quite different from the pro-Russia themes in a few movies made during World War II, most notably “Mission to Moscow” (1943), “North Star” (1943), and “Song of Russia” (1944). Although these films were made as positive publicity for an American ally during World War II, the House on Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) later viewed them as communist propaganda. There had been a strategic reason for the War Department to pressure Hollywood into making such films, however. Earlier movies like “Ninotchka” from 1939 reveal that many Americans understood the nature of the Soviet Party before we joined forces with them to defeat the Nazis.

Once the smoke of World War II had cleared, the Soviets showed their true colors. The incidents in this movie show why it’s dangerous to cozy up to someone who holds diametrically opposed opinions to your own. As the two couples discover, the Soviets make grand statements and promises, but they rarely fulfill them. Like all communist governments, they are only interested in furthering the agenda of the party, not preserving the welfare of their people.

Parts of this story are frighteningly reminiscent of things which have been happening in the United States recently. The officials claim to be working in the best interest of their country’s citizens, but they clearly have another purpose. It’s especially disturbing after living through the pandemic to see how the main characters are plagued by suspicion and fear of the government, as they begin to wonder whether they can trust anything the officials say. As they realize they are forbidden to leave the country, they want nothing more than to live their lives in peace and freedom. Any attempts of the press to reveal the truth about conditions in the country result in severe censuring, censorship, and, ultimately, expulsion. It takes incredible courage, ingenuity, and love for these couples to persevere in the face of great odds in their fight for happiness together. No obstacle is large enough to make them give up on their marriages.

Great Art

The acting in this film is amazing. Clark Gable gives a very powerful yet tender performance as Philip Sutherland, a reporter who plans as daring an escape after the war. He gets many opportunities to speak Russian in this part, which he does with impressive confidence. Gene Tierney also speaks Russian, and she must sustain an accent even when speaking English, which she does remarkably well. Marya is a brave character who shows how a woman can be a courageous fighter as well as a feminine lady. The third most prominent character, Denny, is played by Richard Haydn, a British actor best known for playing the comical fish whisperer Edwin Carp on the radio, voicing The Caterpillar in Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland,” and playing Uncle Max in “The Sound of Music.” He plays a remarkably serious role in this film, quite a departure from his usual humorous characters; in fact, he is very sincere as Denny, playing an unusually prominent role.

A delightful artistic touch is the actual ballet dancing included in this movie. Several of Marya’s performances are shown, first when she is in the corps de ballet and later when she is the prima ballerina. For six weeks, Gene Tierney trained intensely for two hours a day with British danseur Anton Dolin so that she would look convincing as a ballerina. Obviously, this crash course was not enough to make her a proficient ballerina, so professional Russian ballerina Nathalie Krassovska was used in the long shots, partnered by Dolin. However, Gene achieved enough technique to convincingly walk and briefly stand in pointe shoes, and her balletic arm positions were lovely. Most notably, there are two beautiful performances of excerpts from “Swan Lake” by Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky. These scenes are not merely artistic diversions but powerful parallels to the conflict in the story, as the beautiful swan queen and her prince try to escape the control of the evil sorcerer.

“Never Let Me Go” is an intense movie about fighting outside of an official war, full of intrigue and peril. It is also a moving love story about two men who have waited many years for true love, so they won’t give up their wives. Philip and Denny could easily succumb to the Soviet pressure and decide to look for easier marriages in England or the United States, but they were serious when they took their vows. They risk their freedom and their lives to rescue their brides from Russia.


Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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