Jules Verne Tale THE SOLDIER AND THE LADY (1937) — Sprocket Vault DVD Review

Kit Parker’s rarity label brings multinational frankenproduction of “Michael Strogoff” to home video

The name “Jules Verne” immediately jumped out to me when I eyeballed this new DVD release from The Sprocket Vault. I wasn’t aware of this film, which has lapsed into obscurity, but as a huge fan of Verne and Victorian-era literature I had to investigate.

Verne is most famous for his science fiction works like Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but The Soldier and the Lady is based on one of his more grounded and now lesser known adventures: the wartime story of Russian soldier Michael Strogoff, tasked with delivering an urgent message, on a course that will take him through his own hometown.

Fans of remix and revisionism culture take note: As the disc’s on-screen notes indicate, it’s RKO’s US version of a film that had a long and strange history. The film’s rights owner produced a French silent, a French-German remake, and this US revision, each incorporating footage from the prior versions and existing under a number of different titles.

Adolf Wohlbrück played the title role in the German version, but his name was changed to the friendlier Anton Walbrook for the US revision. History would prove this a more fortuitous move than mere localization, as the outbreak of WWII a couple years later would forever cloud that name for anyone who had the misfortune to bear it.

Our hero Strogoff sets out on his quest, encountering several colorful personalities both as allies and foes: a beautiful woman who becomes his traveling companion and love interest, a bumbling comedic duo of American and British journalists, and an almost cartoonishly menacing, moustache-twirling commander of the enemy forces.

This presentation of the tale feels a bit episodic and meandering — for example, there’s an early sequence in which Michael fights a bear that adds nothing to the story. The patchwork elements of new and old productions being spliced together also gives a sense of modularity. Some B plots, like that of the goofy journalists, are tangential to but rarely intersect with the A plots, existing as if in a different movie (mainly because they are). But while it takes awhile to get going, the story finally starts to get really interesting when Strogoff is exuberantly recognized at a crowded inn by his mother, who is unaware that he is traveling on a secret mission under an alias.

I enjoyed watching the film, but not especially so. Walbrook lacks charisma in the role and the film’s other characters are underwritten. The film’s episodic format, cobbled narrative, and wild tonal shifts all feel rather old-fashioned. The eventful third act does have some neat surprises and emotional heft (I’d wager this part of the novel is very good), but overall it’s just not in the same league as other, more imaginative and beloved Jules Verne adventure films.

The Package

Rarity DVD distributor The Sprocket Vault has released The Soldier And The Lady to DVD. I have no idea if better sources exist, but my observation is that the picture quality is quite soft, as can be seen in the screenshots. I think a measure of leniency is appropriate though, given its age, obscurity, and most particularly its assemblage nature culled from different productions.

Special Features and Extras

Intro (0:22)
A brief text intro lists the film’s alternate titles.

Notes (3:00)
Scrolling text provides insight into the history of the film, which is actually pretty fascinating.

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have slight compression inherent to file formats. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.


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