This is an odd little movie that has basically been forgotten—but it’s actually not too bad. It was directed by William A. Wellman, who had previously directed Wings, the first film to win a Best Picture Oscar in 1927. Wellman had been a fighter pilot, so that WWI fighter-pilot drama was an obvious choice, as he was the only Hollywood director with combat flying experience. Wellman worked well into the 1950s, when he finally retired. In between he directed The Public Enemy, the original A Star is Born, and the absolutely fantastic Western, The Ox-Bow Incident, with Henry Fonda.
Wellman’s The Iron Curtain was one of the first films to deal with the burgeoning division between the West and the Soviet Union, coming out in 1948, not long after the end of WWII. It’s based on articles written by a real Soviet defector in Canada. The person on whom the main character was based was placed under protection in Canada. The studio also optioned two books covering Russian spying— George Moorad’s Behind the Iron Curtain and The Soviet Spies: The Story of Russian Espionage by Richard Hirsch—but did not end up using this material in the script.
The plot is a fairly typical spy thriller. During WWII a Soviet code expert, Igor Gouzenko (Dana Andrews), is sent to work in the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, Canada, and is eventually joined by his wife Anna (Gene Tierney). He begins to have doubts about the Soviet government when his supervisors decide to target an atomic scientist for recruitment, with an eye to building their own atomic bomb. After he sees other colleagues having problems with the government, he decides to take sensitive documents from the embassy and defect with his wife and their new baby.
The Iron Curtain is certainly one of the first “Cold War” films, a genre that gained in intensity in the 50s and 60s and continues to some extent to this day. It is slightly more nuanced than the typical anti-Communist films of that time, with characters who are complex. Amusingly, Soviet sympathisers did attempt to disrupt the shoot at one point.
Andrews was at that time primarily known for work in Westerns and film noirs, with his most famous role as the detective in Laura. He is perfectly fine in his role here as a conflicted Soviet agent. Tierney was of course one of the most famous actresses of film noir, including Whirlpool and Laura. The film was probably partly made to get Tierney on the screen with Andrews again.
The pacing is a bit off at times, but as it’s only 86 minutes in length, it rarely outstays its welcome.
It’s a dual-format release, and unlike many Signal One Entertainment discs, The Iron Curtain has no special features.