Our Rating: ★★★½☆
L Factor: Gender Bender
Short Take: A British spy and a Russian countess escape during the Russian Revolution. With Marlene Dietrich.
Alternate Titles:
Year: 1937
Duration: 100 min
Language: UK/English
MPAA: Not Rated
Director: Jacques Feyder
Writer: James Hilton, Frances Marion
Starring: Marlene Dietrich, Robert Donat
Watch It Now
Buy It Now
Rent It
Buy the dvd from at Amazon.com

+Alt Tags+Knight Without Armor is one of Marlene Dietrich’s lesser known films. She plays a Russian countess fleeing from the 1917 Russian Revolution, portraying a very vulnerable character who is unlike the Dietrich you will see in her popular films. The cross dressing element is not the beautiful actress in her tux or a suit and tie, but a much more understated escape device.

This British production starts as Englishman A.J. Fothergill (Robert Donat) becomes a spy amongst Russian revolutionaries. His comrades attempt an assassination, and the spy now known as Peter Ouranoff is sent to a Siberian prison. When the Bolsheviks come to power in Russia, the group is released.

During the Russian Revolution, Peter is assigned to transport Countess Alexandra Vladinoff (Dietrich) to Petrograd, where she will likely be killed. Instead, he helps her escape the country amidst the fighting and chaos. At one point, they both dress in Red Army uniforms to break out of prison after she has been recaptured. Very unrealistically for this to actually work, she looks all too much like the Countess, since Dietrich still has her very long eyelashes and makeup on! So the gender bending element in this film is very short and kind of odd.

The two flee into the forest after this, and then elude more officials on trains and barges until they make it to the border. Along the way they fall in love, and it is quite a romantic film. In the beginning, Dietrich wears the elegant clothing of a countess, but spends most of her time in peasant’s clothes (still with the beautiful makeup).

The film is an interesting portrayal of the Russian Revolution and kept our attention until it ran a little long with still more escapes. It is also a bit difficult to identify the White Army versus the Red Army (and perhaps that is part of the point). The film is based on the book “Without Armor” by James Hilton. (AB)