A Lady Without Passport

A Lady Without Passport (1950) is a romantic thriller concerning the dangerous world of human smuggling in pre-Castro Cuba. American immigration detective Pete Karczag (John Hodiak) infiltrates the Havana-based smuggling ring of the villainous Palinov (George Macready) by posing as a Hungarian refugee seeking to enter America. While undercover, Pete falls in love with another of Palinov’s clients, beautiful Holocaust survivor Marianne Lorress (Hedy Lamarr), and is touched by her simple desire to be reunited with her father in the United States.

When Palinov’s henchman Harry (Nedrick Young) discovers Pete’s true identity and reports back to his boss, the detective is torn between his desire to bring down Palinov and his loyalty to Marianne—not wanting to see her arrested or hurt, he resolves to retire from the force in order to pursue a life in Cuba with her. Before he can proceed with this plan, Palinov—who himself lusts after Marianne—informs her that Pete is with the police and she leaves him, scorned by the betrayal. Harry captures and detains Pete while Palinov joins Marianne and a group of immigrants on a plane bound for America. The detective manages to escape and returns to the States, where he supervises the pursuit of the immigrants. When the American military closes in on the refugee plane, Palinov orders the pilot to crash-land it in the Florida Everglades and attempts to escape through the swamp with Marianne as his captive at gunpoint. Pete arrives on the scene and hunts down Palinov in a fan boat; the detective manages to secure Marianne’s release and the villain escapes in a waiting boat (which, unbeknownst to him, is nearly out of fuel). As Palinov speeds off into the fog, Pete and Marianne optimistically consider their future together.

Running a scant 72 minutes—with padding from a Cuban dance number as well as a protracted climatic aerial chase—the film was clearly a “B” picture. Its assets include Macready’s slimy performance as Palinov, gritty location shooting on the streets of Havana, and David Raksin’s brief but rich score. An angst-filled love theme represents Pete’s relationship with Marianne as well as the latter’s tortured past. Introduced during the main titles, the melody is characterized by a fateful opening octave leap and features a contrastingly romantic and reassuring resolution, as if to acknowledge the impact Pete has on Marianne’s life. A secondary Cuban-flavored theme pertains to Pete’s undercover work. Deceptively casual, this propulsive 6/4 material effectively sets the locale and lends an urgency to the story’s central mission, most notably for simple scenes of Pete walking through Havana as his Hungarian alter ego, Josef Gombos. While the final airplane pursuit is unscored, Raksin contributes unnervingly dissonant material for the ensuing swamp chase before closing the film with a sumptuous rendition of the love theme for the reunited couple.

Only four score cues survive on the film’s master tape (singular): a ¼″ reel derived from 35mm optical tracks. While missing cues for several titles in this collection have been filled in from acetates at the USC Cinematic Arts Library, those acetates start with M-G-M production number 1501 (falling some time during 1950); A Lady Without Passport is number 1478. In addition, the film’s “Main Title” features sound effects and thus was unsuitable for inclusion from the actual film soundtrack itself. This 9:16 suite, however, does showcase Raksin’s major themes for the film.

31. Mr. Gombos Takes a Walk
Early in the film, detective Pete Karczag (John Hodiak) poses as Josef Gombos, a Hungarian refugee seeking a travel visa at the American Embassy in Havana. When he learns it will take him three years to gain entry to the United States, he throws a phony tantrum and attracts the attention of his mark: a French henchman (Steven Geray) of alien-smuggler Palinov (George Macready).
Pete’s Latin-styled undercover material plays as the Frenchman tails the detective on foot through the streets of Havana; a tough, low-end motor rhythm grounds an optimistic ascending melody for strings, woodwinds and muted brass until the Frenchman catches up with Pete and invites him to have a drink. Austere strings and brass build to a suggestion of Marianne’s theme as the villain lights a cigarette for Pete, who sees the name “Palinov” printed on his Gulfstream Café matchbook. Pete’s material resumes as they proceed to the at Palinov’s café.
32. Josef and Marianne
While posing as Gombos, Pete falls in love with Marianne Lorress (Hedy Lamarr), an actual Hungarian refugee whom Palinov is preparing to smuggle into America. After Palinov learns Pete’s true identity, jeopardizing Pete’s assignment, the detective is conflicted when his superior insists that he use Marianne as a means of bringing down Palinov’s smuggling ring.
Yearning material for strings and woodwinds incorporates the love theme as Marianne (still unaware that Pete is an American immigration inspector) explains to him about her desire for a home and freedom: she has waited 10 years for a reunion with her father in America and does not have the means to enter the country legally. She tells Pete that he need only ask and she will set aside her dreams and remain with him in Cuba. He complies and they return to their hotel, where the detective retreats to his room and types up a resignation letter, to a haunting reading of the love theme. The melody’s B-section takes on a demure quality when Marianne appears in his doorway and the two kiss; Marianne returns to her own room where Palinov awaits her, the cue ending with a threatening air of uncertainty.
33. Jungle Part 2
Palinov flies a group of refugees—including an unwilling Marianne—to America. The climax of the film has Pete and the U.S. authorities trailing them through the swamps of the Florida Everglades. Raksin juxtaposes high-register strings with low, murky material as Palinov and his pilot, Archer Delby James (Bruce Cowling), brave the wilderness with Marianne. A calamitous, trilling exclamation sounds when a poisonous snake bites Archer, with mournful writing following as he insists Palinov and Marianne leave him behind. Pete continues to bear down on them in his fan boat, to a struggling rendition of the love theme. Gnarled interlocking strings and winds provide a growing sense of futility as Palinov and Marianne continue through the foggy swamp; they come to a halt when they hear Pete’s boat nearby.
34. End Title
Pete rescues Marianne from Palinov, who speeds off in a waiting boat—which Pete has sabotaged by dumping most of its fuel. The love theme’s B-section sounds warmly as Pete and Marianne walk off together. He informs her of his realization that it is his job to help people in her position and not turn them away; once he confesses his real name to her, the love theme soars majestically through the end titles. —