Knight Without Armour

Knight Without Armour (styled as Knight Without Armor in some releases) is a 1937 British historical drama film starring Marlene Dietrich and Robert Donat. It was directed by Jacques Feyder and produced by Alexander Korda from a screenplay by Lajos Bíró adapted by Frances Marion from the 1933 novel of the same name by James Hilton. The music score was by Miklós Rózsa, his first for a motion picture, using additional music by Tchaikovsky. Rozsa also used the fragment of Russian Sailors' Dance by Gliere in the film.

Knight Without Armour
U.S. film poster as reproduced on bookcover
Directed byJacques Feyder
Produced byAlexander Korda
Screenplay byLajos Bíró
Frances Marion
Arthur Wimperis (additional dialogue)
Based onKnight Without Armour
by James Hilton
StarringMarlene Dietrich
Robert Donat
Music byMiklós Rózsa
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
CinematographyHarry Stradling Sr.
Edited byFrancis D. Lyon
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • 1 June 1937 (1937-06-01)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom


Englishman A. J. Fothergill (Robert Donat) is recruited by Colonel Forrester (Laurence Hanray) to spy on Russia for the British government because he can speak the language fluently. As "Peter Ouranoff", he infiltrates a revolutionary group led by Axelstein (Basil Gill). The radicals try to blow up General Gregor Vladinoff (Herbert Lomas), the father of Alexandra (Marlene Dietrich). When the attempt fails, the would-be assassin is shot, but manages to reach Peter's apartment, where he dies. For his inadvertent involvement, Peter is sent to Siberia.

World War I makes Alexandra a widow and brings the Bolsheviks to power, freeing Peter and Axelstein. When the Russian Civil War breaks out, Alexandra is arrested for being an aristocrat, and Peter is assigned by now-Commissar Axelstein to take her to Petrograd to stand trial. However, Peter instead takes her to the safety of the White Army. Their relief is short-lived; the Red Army defeats the White the next day, and Alexandra is taken captive once more. Peter steals a commission as a commissar of prisons from a drunk and uses the document to free her. The two, now deeply in love, flee into the forest. Later, they catch a train.

At a railway station, the countess is recognised by one Communist official, but an emotionally overwrought Commissar Poushkoff (John Clements) is entranced by Alexandra's beauty. Insisting that her identity be verified, he arranges to take her and Fothergill to Samara. On the train, they become good friends. He allows the couple to escape at a stop, committing suicide to provide a diversion.

The lovers board a barge travelling down the Volga River. Alexandra becomes seriously ill. When Peter goes for a doctor, he is arrested by the Whites for not having papers. Meanwhile, a Red Cross doctor finds Alexandra and takes her for treatment. About to be executed, Peter makes a break for it and catches the Red Cross train transporting Alexandra out of Russia.



According to Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies, Donat suffered a severe, week-long bout of his chronic asthma during production, causing Alexander Korda to consider replacing him. Dietrich persuaded him to wait until Donat recovered.

In September 1936, two LNER Class J15 locomotives (numbers 7541 and 7835) were withdrawn by the LNER and sold to London Film Productions for use in this film. The locomotives were moved to Denham studios, where they underwent cosmetic modification to look more Russian. They were later sold to the War Department and worked on the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway as WD221 and WD212. During their war service, both were involved in incidents and returned to Stratford in 1944 and were subsequently scrapped.[2]


The Variety review was somewhat unfavourable: "A labored effort to keep this picture neutral on the subject of the Russian Revolution finally completely overshadows the simple love story intertwining Marlene Dietrich and Robert Donat. ... Performances on the whole are good, though Dietrich restricts herself to just looking glamorous in any setting or costume."[3]

Dietrich had been promised $250,000 plus 10% of the gross profits for her efforts.[4] Korda's usual extravagance resulted in a budget of $350,000, much of it spent on authentic sets and costumes, and the film did not make a profit.[1] Korda was unable to pay Dietrich fully,[1][5] but she agreed to forego the rest if Korda hired Josef von Sternberg to direct I, Claudius.[4]


  1. "Knight Without Armour (1937)". American Film Institute.
  2. Walker, Peter (July 2017). "Classic Camera". Great Eastern Journal. 171: 2.
  3. "Knight Without Armour". Variety. 21 December 1936.
  4. "Knight Without Armour (1937)". BFI Screenonline.
  5. "Knight Withouot Armour (1937): Notes". Turner Classic Movies.

Further reading

  • Street, Sarah (2005). "Sets of the imagination: Lazare Meerson, set design and performance in Knight Without Armour (1937)". Journal of British Cinema and Television. Edinburgh University Press. 2 (1): 18–35. doi:10.3366/jbctv.2005.2.1.18.
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