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Before Winter Comes (1968)

Directed by
J. Lee Thompson

Post WW2 glimpse of life in an Austrian displaced persons camp

Writing credits
Frederick L. Keefe (story)
Andrew Sinclair

This starts out as a rather tongue-in-cheek rendering of life in a camp for displaced persons after the war in 1945 somewhere near the Austrian border. There are many humorous incidents but eventually the film's message does get serious later on.

I'm amazed at the abundance of illustrious actors making up the cast -- David Niven as Major Burnside; Topol as the effusive interpreter; John Hurt playing the youthful but intense Lieutenant Pilkington; and Anthony Quayle as Brigadier Bewley.

There are moments of deep friction in the camp between British and Russian troops on various zoning matters including the fate of the interpreter who happens to be Russian.

Although there is a fair amount of drama and mature content throughout, I have the impression that this film has been an easy interlude for all these great, serious actors. Anna Karina as Maria the local girl is a lovely addition to the cast.

The scenery is fabulous of course, being filmed on location in Austria. It is somewhat of an offbeat script, however it does hold one's attention through to the end. This movie is one I missed out on all these years so am glad to have had to opportunity to finally see it. For me such good actors can't help but create an absorbing drama.

It's 1945 in Austria, and Niven is in charge of displaced persons. Topol, Niven's multilingual interpreter, turns out to be a Russian deserter and not the Slav he claims to be. When the time comes for Topol to be turned over to the Soviets, Hurt (in his third screen role--following WILD AND WILLING and A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS) tries to prevent Niven from giving the intrepreter back to the Commies. Despite its noble attempt at delivering a message, BEFORE WINTER COMES has holes in its plot that are so so big that viewers might think a reel has been removed from the film. Karina is luminous as always, but doesn't have much to do. Topol does a smashing job, but he would never attain the fame that his work here seemed to promise.

Cast overview:
David Niven .... Maj. Giles Burnside
Topol .... Janovic
Anna Karina .... Maria
John Hurt .... Lieutenant Francis Pilkington
Anthony Quayle .... Brigadier Bewley
Ori Levy .... Kamenev
John Collin .... Sergeant Woody
George Innes .... Bill
Hugh Futcher .... Joe
Tony Selby .... Ted
Colin Spaull .... Alf
Christopher Sandford .... Johnny
Larry Dann .... Al
Karel Stepanek .... Count Keraassy
Mark Malicz .... Komenski

Runtime: USA:103 min
Country: UK
Language: English
Color: Color (Technicolor)
Sound Mix: Mono
Certification: Finland:K-16 / Sweden:11 / USA:M (original rating) /
USA:PG