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Film / Colonel Redl

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Colonel Redl is a 1985 film from Hungary, directed by Istvan Szabo.

It is loosely based on John Osborne play A Patriot for Me, which in turn was loosely based on the life of a real guy, Alfred Redl, Austro-Hungarian spy chief in the years leading up to World War I. Despite growing up in the household of a poor farmer, Alfred, born in 1864, wins his way into military school on sheer academic merit. He forms a friendship with Kristof Kubinyi, his classmate for years, despite the fact that Kristof is a nobleman and Alfred has no money.

Alfred's dedication and patriotic fervor wins him promotions and, eventually, a job as chief of army counterintelligence and a place in the circle of the heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. However, Colonel Redl has a secret: he is a homosexual. Eventually, his enemies use this secret against him.

Klaus Maria Brandauer stars as Redl. Hans Christian Blech plays von Roden, a sort of mentor to Redl in the officer corps.


  • The Beard: Redl marries a woman named Clarissa in hopes of squelching rumors about his sexuality. It doesn't work.
  • Call-Back: In the first scene, schoolboy Redl writes an adoring poem in praise of the emperor. In the end, after the Austro-Hungarian monarchy has judicially murdered him, his poem is read out at an auction selling off his possessions.
  • Call-Forward: Franz Ferdinand says that the Austrians will arrange for a war on the pretense of avenging some assassination. He doesn't know that the assassination will be of him.
  • Dances and Balls:
    • At one fancy ball an Austrian officer falls down drunk, demonstrating the general unfitness of the officer corps.
    • At another, a masked ball later in the film, people are talking openly about how secret military plans are hidden away in office safes, or that the Habsburg monarchy is doomed.
  • Driven to Suicide: At the archduke's behest, Redl goes to arrest a Ukrainian officer for treason, but the officer shoots himself when Redl and his men show up. This is where things go wrong for Redl, because after his failure to nab the Ukrainian, he himself becomes Franz Ferdinand's victim.
  • Duel to the Death: Alfred gets wrapped up in a duel where he is second to one of the combatants. When this results in one of the duelists getting killed, Alfred's CO says that it could have hurt Alfred's career badly. But the CO likes Redl so he makes sure Redl suffers no consequences.
  • Gayngst-Induced Suicide: Redl is both gay and compromised as a spy, so he's told to kill himself by his superiors.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Relatively early in the film Redl and Kubinyi visit a brothel and each get a fancy high-class hooker. Alfred is more interested in watching his friend than having sex with his own high class call girl.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: In Real Life, Redl was in fact a spy, and a very damaging one who turned over Austrian military plans to the Russians and even betrayed the agents that he himself was sending into Russia. Most historical accounts claim that Redl spied for Russia after being blackmailed for homosexuality, though a few accounts suggest he merely did it for the money. By contrast, Szabo's Redl is essentially scapegoated by officials in the Austro-Hungarian government to distract from a coup d'état plotted by Archduke Franz Ferdinand - who conversely gets a major Historical Villain Upgrade as a bloodthirsty warmonger.
  • Honey Pot: Redl's enemies send a handsome young Italian officer to seduce Redl, so Redl can be courtmartialed for homosexuality.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Redl lies to Kubinyi's father, telling him that the Redl family was once noble but lost everything. In fact Alfred is of peasant stock and his father was a farmer.
  • In Name Only: The movie has very little to do with the John Osborne play it's ostensibly based on; the duel sequence and its aftermath are the only ones that closely mirror A Patriot for Me, which overall provides a much less sympathetic (if equally fictionalized) portrait of Redl. Word of God says that the producers bought the rights to Patriot to avoid a rival film about Redl going into production at the same time.
  • Invisible President: The emperor, Franz Joseph, is shown from behind and wrapped up in fog as Redl's carriage passes. Redl is very excited over getting to see the emperor.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: The story ends with Redl, arrested for espionage, being given a pistol and told to shoot himself. He does.
  • Let the Past Burn: Near the end, when Redl hasn't been arrested yet but when he knows it's coming, he burns a photo of his closest friends, the Kubinyi siblings.
  • Military School: Alfred's work in primary school gets him admitted to one of these; his mother is delighted. Military school is where he meets and makes friends with Kubinyi.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The opening scenes show Redl as a schoolboy, and then a somewhat older schoolboy making friends with Kubinyi, before Klaus Maria Brandauer takes over at the point where Redl is graduating from military school and going on active duty.
  • Snow Means Love:
    • Redl and his boyishly handsome Italian boyfriend go horseback riding in snowy woods, then cuddle under a tree. It's a brief moment of happiness for Alfred before his downfall.
    • This is subverted later in a second scene in the snowy woods, where Redl pulls out a gun and reveals that he knows the Italian is a Honey Pot.
  • The Starscream: Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who is plotting to overthrow his father and take control of the monarchy.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: An opening disclaimer says that the story is not based on documents and in fact "actions of the characters are entirely fabricated." The historical Alfred Redl was a spy in the early 1900s, blackmailed by the Russians into leaking military secrets to them. In the film, though, Redl is an honest officer who discovers his superiors (up to and including Archduke Franz Ferdinand) plotting to start World War I—and when he tries to stop them, the Archduke frames him for treason.