The screenplay of "Assignment in Paris" is choppy in places, and the scenes seem hurried at times. But, the plot for this Columbia film is a very good one. And, it's unusual among movies made during and about the Cold War. Unusual, because it is about the press and its coverage of Iron Curtain nations in that time. This film shows how communist countries tried to control the press. And, how they regularly lied to the world about their affairs, their oppression of the people, and their denial of human rights. Many records, books and films of Soviet rule have become available since the fall of the Iron Curtin in 1990.
The acting in this film is good all around. Dana Andrews is Jimmy Race, a former American paratrooper from World War II. Mara Torén is Jeanne Moray who was a member of the French underground in the war. Both are reporters and working for the Trib in the present time. George Sanders is Nicholas Strang, editor chief of the European edition of the paper. All the supporting cast are good. The street scenes of Budapest and Paris are good and offer a glaring contrast. The IMDb listing has shooting locations in those capitols. The latter has the usual scene of cars driving by the Eifel Tower. I particularly noted the Budapest street scene with nary a soul in sight and just one vehicle on the street. When I visited East Berlin in 1964, it was like that – very few people on the streets. Friends who visited or were from other Iron Curtain countries told me it was the same in those places.
The setting for this film moves between Paris and Budapest. While the time, the Cold War and the places were very real, the particular plot is fictitious. Some of the characters are real (Josip Tito) and others are not (Prime Minister Ordy). Tito ruled Yugoslavia from 1944 to 1980. A secret event that is at the heart of this story involves three countries – Hungary, Yugoslavia and Russia. It's interesting to note that Hungary was a member of the Axis nations in World War II, but Yugoslavia was an Allied nation.
This film premiered in the U.S. on Sept. 4, 1952, and across Western Europe in 1953. But just four years after its release, the real Hungarian Revolution of 1956 took place. The uprising lasted from Oct. 23 to Nov. 10, 1956; and by the end of October, the communist government had collapsed and local popular groups were taking office. Then the Soviet Union invaded with tanks and armed forces on Nov. 4 to quash the rebellion. At the end, more than 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed. More than 200,000 Hungarian refugees fled the country. By Jan. 1957, a new Soviet-run government was installed. Mention of the event was suppressed for more than 30 years. Only after the fall of the Iron Curtain and end of the Cold War in 1991, could Hungarians begin to talk about the revolt. After the Soviet invasion, many people fled communist parties in nations around the globe.
I served in the U.S. Army in Germany during the Cold War and before Vietnam. I met and befriended an American soldier who had been in the Hungarian revolt. Laszlo Simon had been a student in November 1956, and he told me he was throwing Molotov cocktails on Russian tanks in Budapest. He was among those who fled the country. He got to an American embassy in Western Europe and joined the U.S. Army. Laszlo became a U.S. citizen. He was transferred to the States and I lost track of him after that.
One other thing of note in this film is the American newspaper in the story. The New York Herald Tribune published its Paris or European edition for some four decades in the mid-20th century. It was the most prominent English newspaper published abroad. Americans, Britons, Canadians and others who spoke English relied on the Herald Tribune for news. The "Trib" won numerous Pulitzer Prizes and was considered the best written and best reported English paper of its day. And, it was the best read paper in America as well as in Continental Europe and Asia.
"Assignment Paris" makes a fine addition to any film collection. The film is peppered with witty lines here and there. Sandy (played by Audrey Totter), says to a bartender (played by Jay Adler, uncredited), "Please, Henry. A good bartender lets a customer cry in his own beer." Ambassador Borvitch (played by Donald Randolph) says, "Geography can be a state of mind." The prime minister in his broadcast gives the usual Soviet denunciation of "the war-mongering capitalistic nations."
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