THE BEAST OF BUDAPEST (1958; Cinefear Video).
The Hungarian Uprising of 1956 made headlines when what began as a student demonstration against eleven years of Soviet occupation quickly grew to 200,000 people, with the State Security Police firing on peaceful protestors and riots spreading across the country. Overwhelming Russian forces ultimately invaded Budapest, crushing the resistance and killing thousands. Tragic? Yes, but that didn't stop Allied Artists from rushing this b&w quickie into production, with its titillating blend of newsreel footage, fictional heroics, odious villains, and Cold War era, anti-Communist contempt... The film begins on October 23, only hours before the actual protests commenced, with a Professor (ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE's John Hoyt) refusing to cave in to government pressure about his anti-Soviet teachings, even as his adult son Charles (Michael Mills) dates Marissa, the Russia-adoring daughter of a Hungarian General. Will this silly li'l rally cause tension between our two young lovers? More importantly, will the detestable Colonel Otto Zagon (Gerald Milton) haul in the Professor (who's considered a "hopelessly diseased" intellectual "determined to infect others") and gun down this kindly old dude in cold blood? All of the Russian characters are intrinsically evil and Zagon may as well be twirling a handlebar moustache as he murders, manipulates, calls in a Soviet garrison when protesters converge on the city's radio station, strangles his bottle-blonde girlfriend (voluptuous Greta Thyssen, Miss Denmark 1951), and flees like a coward. Even propaganda-swallowing Marissa eventually changes her tune, albeit only after she's imprisoned and raped. The supporting cast includes Joe Turkel (THE SHINING"s "Lloyd the Bartender") and 24-year-old Robert Blake as students who join Charles' rebels once the bullets start to fly, plus John Banner (HOGAN'S HEROES' bumbling Sgt. Schultz) as a principled physician... The notion of ordinary students turning into over-night "fascist counter-revolutionaries" seems just as hokey as it did in '80s dreck like RED DAWN, but at least this earnest effort exploits actual events instead of some Reagan-era masturbatory fantasy. Director Harmon C. Jones (DON'T WORRY, WE'LL THINK OF A TITLE) cleverly beefs up his backlot production values by incorporating incredible documentary footage (e.g. massive protests filling the streets, rioting, Soviet tanks' intervention), while scriptwriter John McGreevey (DEATH IN SMALL DOSES) takes the easy route by emphasizing simplistic schmaltz, heavyhanded speeches and hammy characters -- complete with an improbably happy ending, no less! -- instead of simply trusting in the inherent power of Hungarians selflessly dying in the name of freedom.
© 2012 by Steven Puchalski.