Moscow Nights

Moscow Nights set in the First World War

Moscow Nights was released as I Stand Condemned in the United States. It is a 1935 British drama film directed by Anthony Asquith, based on the book by Pierre Benoit. The movie stars Laurence Olivier, Penelope Dudly-Ward and Harry Baur. The screenplay is about a wounded officer who falls in love with his nurse.

This early Asquith film is set in Imperial Russia during World War 1. Olivier is a Russian officer (Ignatoff) who is recuperating in a military hospital, where he is looked after by a nurse Natasha. She is already engaged to be married to Brioukow, a rich merchant of peasant stock, played by Harry Baur. Laurence Olivier has a heavy Russian accent, as in the Demi-Paradise, a film also by Asquith. Harry Baur was a great French actor who starred in many films before World War 11, but was killed by the Gestapo in 1943. In Moscow Nights he does seem to overact a little, and it is not helped by the fact that he is dressed up to look a little like Rasputin, although he is not wicked in this movie. There is even an unadvertised cameo appearance by Anthony Quayle in his debut.

A Love Drama with a Hint of Espionage

Moscow Nights is a sentimental war drama with a subplot of espionage. Captain Ivan Ignatoff is carried into the hospital in a delirious condition from his wounds, and when he comes round again and sees the beautiful nurse bending over him, he falls instantly in love. She feels the same way about him. Brioukow is jealous of the wounded officer, although Natasha has not betrayed him in any way. Brioukow has paid off the mortgage on her parents’ home, so she feels she cannot just leave him and take up with the Captain.

After Ignatoff’s recovery, Brioukow forces Ignatoff into his debt as a way of humiliating him. Ignatoff has a new friend, Madame Sabline, who offers to pay off his gambling debt and prevent his ruin. Moscow Nights is not of the same standard of the better French films, and at times becomes a little tedious. The story becomes the tale of the young officer who had gambled beyond his ability to pay, and was suspected of selling military secrets to the enemy. Ultimately he has to stake his life at a court martial upon the testimony of a man who was his enemy and wanted him to face a firing squad and leave life in dishonour as a spy.

Casino Games Offered At That Time

Casinos in Europe during World War 1 offered most of the table games that are popular today. There was blackjack, or Twenty one, that was a favourite in casinos in Europe around that time. Blackjack is an easy game to play, and one of the few that gives the impression of requiring some skill to play, as opposed to relying on pure luck.

Faro was also a favourite at that time. Faro is played with one deck of cards, any number of players, and is a fast game with easy to learn rules. Faro is the earliest form of baccarat, which is very popular in casinos today.

Poker has always been popular in casinos, and there are records of very early games of poker. Captain Ignatoff in Moscow Nights must have been presented with a wide variety of games to play, which could have led to his debts.