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At the RKO Keith

By Larry Hartmann

Once upon a time, in a far away land, there lived a dear little emperor and his cosy family. They were all murdered. But a rumor soon spread: one of the dear little daughters hadn't died. Her name, they whisper, is Anastasia.

At the moment there is actually an empoverished aristocratic female wasting away in Paris. About half of the few surviving Russian royalists accept her as their princess, the daughter of Czar Nicholas II, but most of the world either ignores her existence or attacks her as an obvious hoax. The royal problem or mystery of Anastasia is romantic and intriguing. The movie about her, however, is not.

Under the surprisingly unimaginative direction of Anatole Litvak the film plays a sad game of Hollywood tag with a Romanoff myth. Ingrid Bergman, the poor heroine, is taken in tow by a group of schemers (led by Yul Brynner) who want her to be recognized as Anastasia only in order to get their hands on her unclaimed inheritance. They plough all the proper aristocratic graces and memories into the haunted girl, and finally present her to the dowager empress (Helen Hayes). The pupil now and then surprises her tutors with fragments of memories that could come only from the real Anastasia, so that the film clearly believes in Santa Claus. Unfortunately Santa Claus runs away with Yul Brynner. She renounces imminent royal recognition for love in a moderately tear-jerking, immoderately unconvincing manner.

Much but not all of the film's lameness is counteracted by Ingrid Bergman's excellent, haunting portrayal of the princess. From a superb portrait of the starved, hollow-faced, forlorn girl she grows with great refinement into the true princess. As her mentor, unfortunately, Yul Brynner demonstrates exactly the same monotonous cold tyranny that made him so successful in The King and I. Helen Hayes, never bad, has nearly always been better than she is as the iron dowager who shuts out the world. Her stern voice and manner fit the part, but her face, a bit rosy, rounded, and American, rarely becomes the countenance of an empress.

Ingrid Bergman makes us want to belive in Anastasia. No one else in the film helps.

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