Brady's Escape

Director: Pál Gábor
John Savage, Kelly Reno, Ildikó Bánsági

If you have been reading the reviews on this web site for quite some time now, no doubt you have come up with some conclusions about me. Hopefully one of those things is that I certainly know my movies. But I am sure that the one conclusion that is on top of your list is that I am king, confident and knowledgeable in every way you can think of. Though I can understand why you might be thinking that, I have to confess that I am not perfect. There are certain areas of life I have found to be quite pressing, such as when I took algebra in high school. How I managed to (barely) pass that subject after failing so many exams in the class I will never know. Then there are areas of life that while I have never actually experienced, I know for a fact that I would be hopeless at. One such area that thankfully I have never experienced is participating in combat. Think of any specific detail about warfare, I know I would be so absolutely hopeless that I would put myself and my brothers in arms in serious danger. Even basic training would be an impossible challenge for me, remembering how repeatedly humiliated I was in physical education class when I was young. And it would just get worse for me after basic training class was over. I have to admit that I don't usually work well under pressure, so trying to fulfil my military role while bullets are flying around me would be a challenge more intense than any I have encountered up to this point of my life. Of course, the thought that I could be killed or horribly mutilated by the enemy in many unexpected ways wouldn't exactly fill me with confidence once shoved into whatever battlefield I would be assigned.

Getting killed or mangled in combat is certainly one of the biggest reasons that I greatly hope that I would never be sent to fight a war, but there is one other war scenario that I think might be even worse for me. Getting killed would (hopefully) be instantaneous, and mangled would in many cases have me sent quickly to medical staff that could treat me... but there is no easy way out for the problem of being stuck alone behind enemy lines. Whatever situation leads to that particular problem, I don't at all like the idea of being on my own where help is nowhere to be found. When this situation is brought up in popular media, more often than not it's to do with World War II. True, there were many Allied soldiers who got stuck behind enemy lines in Europe and managed to find their way home. In fact, there were enough that Allied commanders came up with The Flying Boot patch, awarded to flyers who found themselves in enemy territory and yet managed to find their way home. (Kind of a cheap way to award courage and resourcefulness, if you ask me, but I digress.) Maybe I would have a chance if I was in European Axis territory in World War II - I am Caucasian, like those in the German army, so I wouldn't immediately set off any warning bells, at least if I managed to ditch my uniform and get civilian clothing. And it could be worse - there is always the problem that I could be stuck in Axis territory in Asia. I don't look the least bit Asian, so there would be the problem of trying to escape when I don't look anything like the local population. I'm sure there were some Allied soldiers in that situation who did manage to escape, which makes me wonder why popular media looking at World War II escapes focuses more on escapes in Europe than those that happened in Asia.

Since I have a secret fear of being stuck behind enemy lines in a war situation, you can be sure that when I have had an opportunity to watch a movie about escaping from such a situation, I have taken it. Most of these movies have dealt with World War II escapes, as you've probably Brady's Escapeguessed. All have been very informative, some also being very entertaining like The Great Escape and The One That Got Away. Recently I came across another such movie, one that intrigued me more than usual when I found a copy. That movie was Brady's Escape. There were several interesting things about it. One was that the movie was a U.S.-Hungarian co-production, done while The Cold War was still raging on. And the director chosen to helm it - Pál Gábor - was Hungarian, not an American director as you might have assumed for a movie with heavy American backing such as this. The idea of a Hungarian-helmed action-packed movie intrigued me. The cast also interested me - not only was John Savage (The Deer Hunter) in it, but also the child actor from the two Black Stallion movies, who didn't have much of an acting career outside of those movies. Here's the plot description: It's the year 1944, with the Second World War still raging. A man by the name of J.W. Brady (Savage) is a pilot with the American Air Force. During one mission, while flying over the country of Hungary, his airplane is shot down by Nazi forces occupying the country. Brady survives the plane crash, but finds himself stuck in an unfamiliar land where the enemy is almost everywhere. But he's not alone for long. He soon comes across a number of csikos - Hungarian cowboys who control a number of horse herds in the area. They see Brady as an ally, sheltering him from the Nazi occupiers, and soon Brady is good friends with them, in particular with a young Hungarian boy named Miki (Reno). But during all this, the Nazi S.S. are relentlessly trying to find Brady, and soon both Brady and the csikos know that Brady will have to risk everything and flee the area, somehow making his way back to Allied occupied territory.

As you can see from that plot description, Brady's Escape had a premise that could lead to all sorts of scenes with action and suspense, one reason I was looking forward to watching it. But as I indicated earlier, the Hungarian angle intrigued me as well. Prior to watching this movie, about all I knew about Hungary was that it produced Tony Curtis' parents, a post-war revolution, as well as the weird animated movies Hugo The Hippo and Cat City. I was hungry to learn more about Hungary, a country and culture I had little prior knowledge of. But in the end, I was sorely disappointed by the small amount of education the movie provides. Oh, you do get to learn a few things. We get to see the native dress the csikos wear, the homes that they inhabit in the countryside, and a few brief moments showing how they tend to their herds of horses. But that's about it when it comes to learning about various aspects of Hungary. Most of the movie takes place in the wilderness, far away from many things that might give the audience insight into Hungarian culture. And even when the Hungarian characters are up front and center, we don't get to learn that much about them or their feelings about various things. There's an intriguing moment early in the movie when the csikos, upon finding Brady, let the audience know through their conversation that Hungary is allied to Germany, and that they seem to resent the Americans and British bombing their towns. But they ultimately decide to help Brady because Hungary is being occupied by the Germans, and these conflicting views are quickly forgotten about and are never brought up again. Apart from there being no movie if they didn't decide to help Brady, there has to be more than that to explain why they decide to risk life and limb to help Brady. Exploring their minds about war issues could have been really interesting, but the movie simply doesn't do this.

It probably comes as no surprise that the Hungarian characters in Brady's Escape are also weakly written when it comes to making them individuals. For example, there is a Hungarian woman named Klara (played by Ildikó Bánsági) who tutors the Hungarian language to Brady in order to aid his eventual escape. As you may expect, the two eventually reveal a passion towards each other, which is out of the blue since neither Klara nor Brady showed any kind of growing attachment to each other previously. This may have been realized by the filmmakers, because the passion is subsequently forgotten about and never brought up again. In fact, none of the other characters in the movie have that strong of an individual nature. Wortmann (played by Ferenc Bács), the local German commander hunting down Brady, has just one line of dialogue that explains his determination to find and kill Brady (his family in Germany was killed by a bombing). The character of Brady is also surprisingly weak. He likes to tell Miki stories and songs from America, but we never really get to know what's going on in his head. For someone stuck far behind enemy lines and in risk of being captured and killed, he surprisingly doesn't ask that many questions or struggle that much in learning how to survive. Needless to say, Miki is also weakly written, never once explaining in detail why he is risking his life to make sure that Brady escapes the clutches of the Nazis. In case you are wondering about Kelly Reno's performance as Miki, well, he simply isn't that good. To his credit, he does try to give his speech a Hungarian accent, but it often comes across like he hasn't fully swallowed a bite of food he took from the craft table behind the camera.

In fact, probably due to the weakly written characters in the screenplay, none of the other performances in the movie manage to stand out. For one thing, it extremely hard to get involved in the plight of the character of Brady when John Savage performs in a manner that suggests his character is taking his plight in a remarkably calm and unconcerned reaction. It doesn't help that the recording of the various actors' dialogue is often muffled to a point that you can't understand what they are saying. As it turns out, there's much more to blame for the movie's failure than just the script and the actors. Much of the blame falls on the movie's director, Pál Gábor. I know that he must have been hampered by both the strict communist control on the movie, as well as with what sure looks like a low budget. And under the circumstances, he manages all the same to occasionally stage an effective moment; a shoot-out sequence and a later massacre are two scenes that come across as surprisingly realistic and stay in the mind long after the movie is over. But for the most part, scene after scene unfolds in an incredibly boring fashion. There is no feeling of tension for much of the movie; Brady for the most part never seems to be in any real danger. It also takes more than half of the movie before Brady gets off his tail and starts fleeing to Yugoslavia, and even when that halfway point is passed, there's not much more of a spark to what unfolds on the screen. What even makes the movie more boring is how it looks visually. The dead grass, the leafless tress, the fog in the air all combine in a scheme to make sure that the audience gets no eye candy whatsoever. The movie is so dreary in its look and its telling that most people in the audience will either drift off to sleep in short order, or come up with their own plan to escape from sitting through the remainder of the running time.

(Posted August 2, 2016)

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See also: The Inglorious Bastards, The Mercenary, Salt In The Wound