THE ADVENTURES OF TARTU, a neat piece of WW2 propaganda escapism from 1943, is a rewarding find for those who think they’ve logged most similar vintage items. A hit in England, in the States it competed with a flood of Axis-fighting pictures, a gross of $1,000,000 perching it 144th in a teeming fray.
A bomb disposal officer, British ‘Captain Terence Stevenson’ (Robert Donat), fluent in Romanian and German, is asked to perform a spy mission, posing as ‘Jan Tartu’, from the fascistist Romanian Iron Guard. This leads him into occupied Czechoslovakia territory to infiltrate and blow up a factory making poison gas. He forms a relationship with enticing ‘Maruschuka Lenova’ (Valerie Hobson), but trust is at a premium.
Donat is splendid, his deception parade allowing him free rein to play cool-headed hero behind the mask of a comically accented fool and foil; a delightful performance. Hobson is deft and alluring, and Glynis Johns, 19, is fine as a brave young Czech patriot. The various narrow escapes and final shootout aren’t high on the likelihood scale (especially those crack pistol shots nailing Nazis at 100 yards) but they do their make-believe duty with the required panache to serve morale needs of the intended audience.
With Walter Rilla and Phyllis Morris. The well-turned screenplay was the work of John Lee Mahin, Howard Emmett Rogers and Miles Malleson, from a story by John C. Higgins. Directed by Harold S. Bucquet. 111 minutes. *
* Born in England, transplanted to the States, Harold S. Bucquet directed six of the 15 popular ‘Dr.Kildare‘ dramas, a series that ran 1938-47. Following ‘Tartu‘, he did Dragon Seed, with Katherine Hepburn and Walter Huston, made up as Chinese fighting the Japanese, and the comedy Without Love, with Hepburn again, and Spencer Tracy. Bucquet died young, 54, in 1946.