VCI Home Video // 1951 // 99 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // November 15th, 2010
"Did you ever stop to think this is the only place in the world where there's still any cooperation between the Western powers and Russia?"
Four in a Jeep (Die Vier em Jeep to Swiss viewers) is accompanied by one of those now-kitschy military shorts warning about "fraternization" between occupying American soldiers and the Germans after World War II. It's directed by Frank Capra and written by Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), but delivered with an angry sneer as it tells soldiers to distrust German civilians. Since peace eventually emerged, rather than the atmosphere of mutual terror that such a movie would foster, I doubt anyone took it seriously, even then.
It's an ironic choice for an extra, because the three soldiers who are the protagonists of Four in a Jeep certainly would have scoffed at its message.
In postwar Vienna, American soldier Sgt. William Long (Ralph Meeker, The Dirty Dozen) decides to help beautiful Austrian woman Franzi (Viveca Lindfors, These are the Damned), whose husband has escaped a Russian prison camp. He enlists the aid of his British and French partners in an international patrol. Their main obstacle is Voroshenko (Yossi Yadin, Lies My Father Told Me), the Russian in their Jeep.
The plot, in which an American abroad gets noble toward a beautiful woman he's fallen for, will remind viewers of Casablanca, while the setting evokes The Third Man. Relocating the Casablanca basics in occupied Vienna creates a cat-and-mouse game between the Russian who follows orders and his three colleagues who believe in romance and chivalry. Ralph Meeker isn't quite Bogart, but his machinations are fun when he gets his French and British counterparts (Michael Medwin and Albert Dinan) involved, particularly when the French soldier's wife (Paulette Dubost, The Last Metro) helps Legionnaires searching for the Austrian escapee in order to stall them.
Even if the plot's familiar, the US-Swiss Four in a Jeep does something brilliantly: re-creating the atmosphere of a place where the air is filled with a variety of languages. It's not quite Jacques Tati's Playtime, but the tone is set early on when the American tells a story about communication with a soldier who doesn't speak English in a flashback; they pantomime and eventually share song and booze. Moreover, the often-heavily accented English is played more for realism than the comic effect that's common in movies set in foreign locales. The various languages other than English are mostly subtitled (I think these are the original 1951 subtitles), but the occasional untranslated bit hits the theme home. The result is an atmospheric picture that puts the viewer in the place of an American soldier.
The movie's shot on location, which adds to the atmospheric quality, even with process shots of the men in the Jeep. At times, the dark print can add to that atmosphere, but it also makes night scenes hard to read.
My main gripe would be with the picture and sound quality. It's watchable, but the movie grain, specs, and low sound volume can be a distraction at times. My guess is that there just wasn't a better print, but it's a good movie that deserves better.
The DVD case hints that Four in a Jeep is a historic picture, but it would be nice to get some information on its production and reception.
The plot's standard, but Four in a Jeep's scenes of postwar Vienna make it worth a look.
IMDb refers to an edited 80-minute version, not this 99-minute cut. Even if the print isn't great, I'd thank VCI for trying.
Not guilty, although the print quality is disappointing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English, French, German, Russian, Austrian)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1951
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film