The Steel Fist


1h 13m 1952
The Steel Fist

Film Details

Also Known As
Escape to Freedom
Release Date
Jan 6, 1952
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
William F. Broidy Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Monogram Distributing Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 13m

Synopsis

In an unidentified Central European country "somewhere behind the Iron Curtain," a group of students stage a riot to protest the Soviet occupying government's forced labor program. Student Erik Kardin leads the protest, and when the police hunt for him, turns for help to his uncle, Prof. Kardin. Unknown to Erik, Kardin is the secret leader of an underground rebel society, and immediately deduces that the state will pursue the boy mercilessly, in order to set an example to the rest of the country. Kardin sets in motion a plan to smuggle Erik to the country's border, where underground workers can help him escape. To this end, he instructs Erik to rendezvous at a railroad kiosk that evening, and send a signal by dropping a magazine. Erik flees, unaware that soon after, police capture his uncle, who commits suicide rather than give up inside information. At the railroad station, Erik sees his name already published in the local newspapers. After he drops the magazine, a charwoman whispers to him to board the next train to Trebek and pretend to have a bad tooth. Erik does so, but unfortunately sits next to a nosy woman who questions him loudly about his destination and lack of luggage. After she leaves, the underground agent on the train informs Erik that the woman's suspicions have placed him in danger, and instructs him to stay on the train until the border town of Buchenlein, which is close to the military post but thinly guarded. Erik obediently stays on the train until the last stop, although he grows fearful when border guard Capt. Giorg Nicholoff and a local girl, Marlina, sit behind him. When Marlina guesses that Erik is a student and Giorg insists he is a laborer, they order Erik over to settle their dispute. To protect his identity, Erik claims to be a machinist and befriends the pair, but leaves them as soon as the train reaches Buchenlein. There, he is clandestinely instructed by the conductor to head to the local church, whistling "Blue Danube." On the road, Erik is shocked to discover that his next contact is Marlina, who brings him to the home she shares with her brother Franz. They explain to Erik that fugitives stay with them until dark, when they can cross the border in secret. The two risk their lives each day pretending to be collaborators with officers like Giorg, in order to gain information to help the resistance. Erik, realizing that if he is found and his true identity discovered it will endanger these kind people, asks to leave immediately, but is informed that he will only cause more trouble by trying to flee alone. Soon, they hear that the police are conducting a country-wide search for the missing student, and have blocked all roads and borders. Later, Giorg, who is in love with Marlina, visits to warn them to stay inside. The trio tries to sleep, but in the middle of the night, Erik overhears Marlina and Franz discuss the danger of their situation. Hoping to spare his new friends, Erik sneaks out the roof window, but is immediately caught by a local guard. With no other choice, Erik kills the guard, which forces Franz to carry the body into the woods to hide it. Marlina is furious with Erik, but he reveals that he is the wanted student, and suggests that they all flee the country together. Franz returns and, still unaware of Erik's true identity, punches him, them calms himself. Franz declares that Marlina will lead Erik over the mountain the next day, while the guards attend a festival. Before going back to sleep, Erik, who is falling in love with Marlina, asks if he can write once he reaches safety, and she consents. The next day, Giorg visits to ask Marlina to marry him, leaving in confusion after she tries to discourage him. Giorg uses information gleaned from spies to unravel the underground chain of communication, arresting in turn the charwoman, train passenger and conductor who helped Erik. Giorg is on the road to the church whistling "Blue Danube," unaware that he is about to trap his beloved Marlina, when she spots him and runs back home. Giorg loses her trail but, now aware that an underground agent is in Buchenlein, organizes a house-to-house search. He plans to murder hostages one by one until the traitor is caught, but Marlina convinces him to be compassionate. When Franz approaches Giorg, he sees a photo of Erik and realizes that his guest is the famous student. By joining the guards searching the surrounding hills, Franz is able to lead the police away from the escape route, allowing Marlina and Erik to race across to the border. During the treacherous climb, Marlina explains that Franz will not run away with them, because he must be a part of the movement to save his country. As they round the top of the mountain, Franz's band of guards closes in from the other side, forcing Franz to kill two of them. Marlina asks Franz's permission to run away with Erik, and although Franz agrees, when the couple reaches the bottom of the hill, they spot Giorg there and are trapped. Realizing that the only way to save Erik is to distract Giorg, thus ruining her own chance for escape, Marlina strides out in the open. With just enough time for Erik to promise to wait for Marlina across the border, he makes his way to safety.

Film Details

Also Known As
Escape to Freedom
Release Date
Jan 6, 1952
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
William F. Broidy Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Monogram Distributing Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 13m

Articles

The Steel Fist (1952)


With the end of World War II, the film industry needed a new enemy. The Soviet Union gave it to them with their occupation of Eastern European countries starting in 1945 and the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49. With revelations of Soviet spying in the U.S., Hollywood started producing ”Red Scare” films, releasing more than 50 between 1947and 1954. These pictures, some from major studios but a great many from low-budget operations, dramatized the Communist threat at home, as in I Married a Communist /The Woman on Pier 13 (1949), and overseas.

The 1952 Monogram film The Steel Fist is an example of the latter type. The Red Scare films offered Hollywood what amounted to free publicity thanks to the frequent headlines about the Cold War and the alleged Communist infiltration of the State Department, the American education system and Hollywood. The films also let them recycle many old World War II plots, with the locales changed and Communists replacing Nazis as the villains.

The Steel Fist is just that kind of re-tread. Roddy McDowall stars as a student in an unnamed Central European country who leads a protest against the Soviet Union, which has set up a puppet government in his homeland. With the police hot on his trail, he hooks up with resistance fighters who send him on a perilous journey to the border and freedom. With each move, however, the Soviet police force closes in, taking out resistance workers who’ve been helping him along the way. The situation becomes more complicated when he falls in love with the resistance fighter (Kristine Miller) assigned to sneak him through the mountains and out of the country. His rival is a Soviet officer (Rand Brooks, who had played Scarlett O’Hara’s first husband in Gone With the Wind, 1939) who has no idea Miller is working with the resistance.

One of the most popular child actors of the 1940s, the London-born McDowall had started acting in Great Britain with a small role in I See Ice! (1938). After his mother brought him to the U.S. at the start of World War II, he broke into Hollywood films as the cabin boy who helps Walter Pidgeon escape from the Nazis in Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt (1941). The same year, John Ford cast him in the role that would make him a star, as Huw, the son of a Welsh coal-mining family in How Green Was My Valley (1941). He also appeared in a string of popular animal films like My Friend Flicka and Lassie Come Home (both 1943). Although he never went through the awkward phase that ended some child stars’ careers, he still had trouble landing decent roles as he grew older. In 1948, he signed with Poverty Row studio Monogram, where he continued making animal films like Rocky (1948) and Black Midnight (1949). The Steel Fist would mark the end of his association with the studio. From there he moved to New York and focused on work in the theatre and television. He would not return to feature films until 1960, when he took co-starring roles in The Subterraneans and Midnight Lace.

At least he went out with a sympathetic director. Wesley Barry, who also co-produced, had started out as a child star in silent films. The Los Angeles native was spotted when he was just seven and put into the Kalem short “The Phoney Cannibal” (1915). It wasn’t until 1919, however, that he started the move to stardom after director Marshall Neilan decided to stop covering up his freckles in Her Kingdom of Dreams (1919). Within a year he was starring in films like Go and Get It and Dinty (both 1920). By the time sound arrived, Barry had moved into supporting roles. Eventually, he would switch to the production end, working as an assistant director from the late 1940s and moving into directing with this film, which also marked his move into full producing after work as a production manager and associate producer. Eventually he would return to assistant directing on TV series like Lassie and The Mod Squad.

Barry and his co-producer, William F. Broidy, had just successfully packaged The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, an early  TV hit starring Guy Madison and Andy Devine. The Steel Fist went into production under the more obvious title Escape to Freedom. The film’s written prologue and epilogue explain the new title, with the closing title reading: “The burning desire for freedom will continue to melt steel fists wherever they appear.” Posters screamed “It rocks the screen with suspense!” and the title at least made for another, even better, tagline: “No Woman can stand the shame and the pain of The Steel Fist.”

Producer: Wesley Barry, William F. Broidy
Director: Wesley Barry
Screenplay: C.C. Kivari
Based on the story “Flight Into Freedom” by Phyllis Parker
Cinematography: William A. Sickner
Score: Edward J. Kay
Cast: Roddy McDowall (Eric Kardin), Kristine Miller (Marlina), Harry Lauter (Franz), Rand Brooks (Capt. Giorg Nicholoff), Byron Foulger (Prof. Kardin), Kate Drain Lawson (Mrs. Krechow)

The Steel Fist (1952)

The Steel Fist (1952)

With the end of World War II, the film industry needed a new enemy. The Soviet Union gave it to them with their occupation of Eastern European countries starting in 1945 and the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49. With revelations of Soviet spying in the U.S., Hollywood started producing ”Red Scare” films, releasing more than 50 between 1947and 1954. These pictures, some from major studios but a great many from low-budget operations, dramatized the Communist threat at home, as in I Married a Communist /The Woman on Pier 13 (1949), and overseas.The 1952 Monogram film The Steel Fist is an example of the latter type. The Red Scare films offered Hollywood what amounted to free publicity thanks to the frequent headlines about the Cold War and the alleged Communist infiltration of the State Department, the American education system and Hollywood. The films also let them recycle many old World War II plots, with the locales changed and Communists replacing Nazis as the villains.The Steel Fist is just that kind of re-tread. Roddy McDowall stars as a student in an unnamed Central European country who leads a protest against the Soviet Union, which has set up a puppet government in his homeland. With the police hot on his trail, he hooks up with resistance fighters who send him on a perilous journey to the border and freedom. With each move, however, the Soviet police force closes in, taking out resistance workers who’ve been helping him along the way. The situation becomes more complicated when he falls in love with the resistance fighter (Kristine Miller) assigned to sneak him through the mountains and out of the country. His rival is a Soviet officer (Rand Brooks, who had played Scarlett O’Hara’s first husband in Gone With the Wind, 1939) who has no idea Miller is working with the resistance.One of the most popular child actors of the 1940s, the London-born McDowall had started acting in Great Britain with a small role in I See Ice! (1938). After his mother brought him to the U.S. at the start of World War II, he broke into Hollywood films as the cabin boy who helps Walter Pidgeon escape from the Nazis in Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt (1941). The same year, John Ford cast him in the role that would make him a star, as Huw, the son of a Welsh coal-mining family in How Green Was My Valley (1941). He also appeared in a string of popular animal films like My Friend Flicka and Lassie Come Home (both 1943). Although he never went through the awkward phase that ended some child stars’ careers, he still had trouble landing decent roles as he grew older. In 1948, he signed with Poverty Row studio Monogram, where he continued making animal films like Rocky (1948) and Black Midnight (1949). The Steel Fist would mark the end of his association with the studio. From there he moved to New York and focused on work in the theatre and television. He would not return to feature films until 1960, when he took co-starring roles in The Subterraneans and Midnight Lace.At least he went out with a sympathetic director. Wesley Barry, who also co-produced, had started out as a child star in silent films. The Los Angeles native was spotted when he was just seven and put into the Kalem short “The Phoney Cannibal” (1915). It wasn’t until 1919, however, that he started the move to stardom after director Marshall Neilan decided to stop covering up his freckles in Her Kingdom of Dreams (1919). Within a year he was starring in films like Go and Get It and Dinty (both 1920). By the time sound arrived, Barry had moved into supporting roles. Eventually, he would switch to the production end, working as an assistant director from the late 1940s and moving into directing with this film, which also marked his move into full producing after work as a production manager and associate producer. Eventually he would return to assistant directing on TV series like Lassie and The Mod Squad.Barry and his co-producer, William F. Broidy, had just successfully packaged The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, an early  TV hit starring Guy Madison and Andy Devine. The Steel Fist went into production under the more obvious title Escape to Freedom. The film’s written prologue and epilogue explain the new title, with the closing title reading: “The burning desire for freedom will continue to melt steel fists wherever they appear.” Posters screamed “It rocks the screen with suspense!” and the title at least made for another, even better, tagline: “No Woman can stand the shame and the pain of The Steel Fist.”Producer: Wesley Barry, William F. BroidyDirector: Wesley BarryScreenplay: C.C. KivariBased on the story “Flight Into Freedom” by Phyllis ParkerCinematography: William A. SicknerScore: Edward J. KayCast: Roddy McDowall (Eric Kardin), Kristine Miller (Marlina), Harry Lauter (Franz), Rand Brooks (Capt. Giorg Nicholoff), Byron Foulger (Prof. Kardin), Kate Drain Lawson (Mrs. Krechow)

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working title for this film was Escape to Freedom. The film begins with a written and spoken foreword explaining that when tyrants rule with a "steel fist," resistance goes underground, but never stops fighting for freedom. A closing title reads: "The burning desire for freedom will continue to melt steel fists wherever they appear." The Steel Fist marked the feature film directing debut of Wesley Barry, a former assistant director.