The House of Mystery is featured at my “Where’s That Been?” column at ClassicFlix). Film historian Richard M. Roberts humorously asks in the program notes he contributed to a new DVD release of Soldier from The Sprocket Vault: “[J]ust how many versions of Michael Strogoff do we really need?”
According to Richard, the 1937 RKO version was co-produced by Joseph N. Ermolieff—once a major film producer under the Tsar who fled to France during the 1917 revolution. Now in political exile, Ermolieff spent the next several decades as an ex-patriot film producer…and in 1935, supervised a French-German co-production that utilized footage from the 1926 film. With the star of that 1935 Strogoff, Anton Wahlbrook, Ermolieff sold RKO on a remake that “borrowed” footage from both the 1926 and 1935 films and allowed Walbrook (his new Anglicized screen name) to reprise his role, billed in the posters as “Hollywood’s new star.”
To lighten the mood of Soldier and the Lady, longtime TDOY favorites Eric Blore and Ed Brophy are on hand as a pair of inept war correspondents. In one scene, Brophy is clipping Blore in a game of “odds-and-evens” when the driver of their carriage suggests a new activity: he’ll take their money, and the two men can take a hike. “I say, but that's most frightfully one sided,” complains Blore in that delightfully plummy manner of his. Other familiar character faces in Soldier include Paul Guilfoyle, Oscar Apfel, Ward Bond (get this—as a Tartar guard), Bob Kortman, Frank Lackteen, Doris Lloyd, Richard Loo, Francis McDonald, and Dewey Robinson…but they’re all outshone by Fay Bainter, who plays Michael’s mother Martha. At the beginning of his mission, Strogoff is ordered not to contact Martha (even though he will pass through the town in which she resides) so as not to jeopardize his assignment. Sadly, the two of them meet at an inn where Michael is arranging for a horse…and tears well up in her eyes at the sight of seeing her son. He must, of course, deny knowing her; if you don’t find tears in your own orbs during this scene…you are a cyborg, my friend—pure and simple.