B&W, 1948, 86 mins. 48 secs.
Directed by William A. Wellman
Starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, June Havoc, Barry Kroeger, Edna Best
Signal One (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Fox (DVD) (US/Spain R0 NTSC/PAL)

The Iron Curtain

The Iron Curtain

You would think that the fourth of five big screen pairings of stars Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney (also including Where the Sidewalk Ends and, most famously, Laura), would be a major Hollywood classic with a long life on home video, but that wasn’t the fate that befell this early Cold War thriller directed by William “Wild Bill” Wellman, now famous through numerous unearthed classics as the likely king of Pre-Code Hollywood filmmaking. A dry run of sorts for the more drab, realistic spy narratives popularized by John Le CarrĂ©, this film came as something of an icy shock when it was released and has rarely been treated well since (including a couple of negligible DVD releases from poor, outdated material) until its much-needed 2017 Blu-ray debut from UK label Signal One.

Closely based on a recent real-life incident, the film follows the experiences of Soviet cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko, who’s assigned to his country’s Canadian embassy in secret department and officially The Iron Curtainordered to never discuss The Iron Curtainany details of his job with anyone, under any circumstances. His wife, Anna (Tierney), has issues keeping up a convincing front among their Ottawa neighbors and colleagues, especially when it comes to the upbringing and future of their newborn son. Over a lengthy period, Igor finds his solidarity eroded when he realizes the danger of his governments swiping of atomic secrets which he fears could be misused, which causes him to have thoughts of defecting along with his family.

Though definitely not a pro-Communist film, The Iron Curtain takes a reasonably clear-eyed approach to the tensions between East and West that would come to consume the political discourse over the following decade and give birth to the atomic age. Perhaps the most interesting angle is the Canadian co-workers roped into the Soviet scheme to turn over nuclear information, which forms a nice counterpoint to the main story as we see sides constantly shifting in an existential sea of quickly passing loyalty. That theme certainly hasn’t dated at all, which is what keeps the film more interesting than many of its more jingoistic successors designed to give audiences a clear-cut sense of right and wrong as clear as any WIII propaganda short. Andrews and Tierney are considerably less glamorized The Iron Curtainthan usual but no less magnetic, and even though the perverse The Iron Curtainsparkle of their most popular teaming is far, far gone here, it’s also proof that they were highly adaptable actors who could take just about anything thrown at them.

Though completely bare bones, the Signal One releases on Blu-ray and DVD are still a fine way to catch up with this film outside of its scant TV airings and the previous pair of home video releases, a Spanish DVD from a dated broadcast master and a lackluster DVD-R sold via the studio’s American Fox Cinema Archives series. This rendition here looks clean, clear, and very efficient at conveying the film’s dark, almost kitchen sink quality with a humdrum daily environment fertilizing a world-changing act of espionage. The LPCM English mono audio on the Blu-ray sounds excellent, particularly when it comes to the selections of famous Russian music that landed the film in the headlines for a bit with the original composers pressured to publicly protest its usage here.

Reviewed on May 26, 2017.