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Film / Knight Without Armour

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Knight Without Armour (1937) is a British historical drama film set during the Red October Revolution, based on the James Hilton novel of the same name. It was produced by Alexander Korda, directed by Jacques Feyder, and stars Marlene Dietrich and Robert Donat. The music score was composed by Miklós Rózsa.

A. J. Fothergill (Donat) is a spy for the English government, sent to keep an eye on the brewing Red Revolution. Implicated in a conspiracy to kill Countess Alexandra’s (Dietrich) father, he’s sent to Siberia for the duration of World War One, but when the Communist Revolution comes, A. J. is a hero and is made a Commissar in the new government.

The newly captured Countess Alexandra is to be executed, and A.J. is to take her to Petrograd for this grim end; however, A.J. has plans to save the Countess, and they both try to survive as civil war unfolds around them.


This was an all-out historical epic with a $1 million budget, but it failed to be a box office success. It was also cited by critics at the time as one of several films that made Dietrich "box office poison."

This film shows the following tropes:

  • All for Nothing: AJ and Alexandra find out that the White Army has wiped out the Reds, so Alexandra gives herself up to the White Army where they eventually recognize her as the Duchess. But the Red Army soon bombs there way back, and Alexandra is in as much danger as before.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Alexandra herself wasn’t evil per se, maybe just ignorant to the plight of her servants. The communists, however, aren’t quite so forgiving and ransack her home and almost kill her on the spot if it wasn’t for a commissar’s interference.
  • Bathtub Scene: Once with the White Army, Alexandra asks for a bath and there’s lots time dedicated to her bath.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: Alexandra is sick and being sent away with the American Red Cross while AJ desperately runs after the train.
  • Blue Blood: Alexandra and her set.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: A commissar at a train depot recognizes the Countess, but instead of turning her in, he saves her and AJ's life because he’s so entranced by her beauty. It’s also implied that the revolution has cost him his sanity, but he does help them escape.
  • The Gulag: AJ is accidently framed for the assassination attempt, so he’s sent to the Czarist camps. He's then sent to remote camp where the sun is gone for 6 months out of the year. This drives AJ almost insane until all the revolutionaries are set free.
  • Impersonation Gambit: AJ dons the identity of a presumably murdered Russian and wears an unconvincing beard.
  • Love at First Sight: AJ admits that he fell in love with Alexandra when he first saw her.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Alexandra goes skinny-dipping in one scene. Sexy shoulders are seen.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilised: Things get ugly for any blue bloods in Mother Russia.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: The film takes pains to show that both the Communist party and Royalist were two sides of the same coin: they used the same murderous tactics, they killed innocents, and they were ultimately bad for Russia.
  • Place Worse Than Death: Siberia isn’t all that bad: it’s the undetermined place after that’s the real trial for AJ.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Amidst civil war, between death and despair, someone is able to find a sparkly, backless dress for Marlene Dietrich to wear.
  • Wakeup Makeup: It seems as if the Russian Revolution was unable to take away Alexandra’s makeup stash because in every scene her makeup is impeccable. Whether she’s running away from commisars, or hiding under leaves from the Reds, she’s perfectly dolled up.
  • Widow's Weeds: Alexandra’s colonel husband is killed in WWI.