The Red Tent – Sean Connery and the Red Tent of Nobile | Polarjournal
Sean Connery portrayed the polar hero Roald Amundsen in the second leading role in the drama “The Red Tent”. In the film, Nobile is haunted by Amundsen in a dream and brought to trial as a reflection of his conscience. Photo: IMD

On Saturday, news of the death of actor Sir Sean Connery shocked the world. The Scottish actor was best known as James Bond and as Dr. Henry Jones, the father of the whip-whielding archaeologist Indiana Jones. But during his long career in film and theater, Sean Connery had also made lesser-known films. This includes the film “The Red Tent”. There, he slipped into the role of the greatest polar hero of the 20th century, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen.

Sean Connery passed away today. The cyberspace is erupting with posts, comments and memories of his James Bond. His girls, cars, spy gadgets and licence to kill. But for me, Connery will forever be Roald Amundsen from “The Red Tent” (1968). Not a blockbuster in his long career, but the role of the retired explorer, dying for his notorious antagonist Nobile and then coming as the General’s own conscience to judge all mistakes of his life, is the best in this underrated polar movie.

“- What would you do?

– Forgive myself … and sleep. Sleep, my friend. That is the proper thing. And dream.”

In addition to Sean Connery as Amundsen, many well-known actors starred in the movie including Claudia Cardinale (left) and Peter Finch, who also played the leading role as Umberto Nobile (right).
The film is about the dramatic events surrounding the crash of the airship Italia in 1928. Nobile had wanted to land at the North Pole by airship starting from Svalbard. Although the pole was reached, the Italia crashed on the return journey and several members on board died. The ensuing rescue mission became an international race, which eventually was won the young Soviet Union thanks to the icebreaker Krassin. Images: Wikipedia

In many ways, “The Red Tent” is a remarkable movie. The project was a product of Soviet-Italian cooperation during the Cold War and brought together alongside Sean Connery also other Western celebrities such as Claudia Cardinale and Peter Finch with some famous names in the Russian film industry. For the foreign stars, this commission was a unique chance to look beyond the Iron Curtain, while for Sean Connery personally – an opportunity to have a respite from the endless “Bondiana”

The only workstation in Franz Josef Land – the geophysical observatory “Druzhnaya” on the island of Heiss. Photo by Dmitrii “Mitya” Kiselev, July 2016

In the USSR, the foreign staff of “The Red Tent” traveled Moscow, Leningrad and Tallinn. Unfortunately, the most remote shooting location, the Arctic archipelago of Franz Josef Land, was largely closed for foreigners: only occasional French scientists worked at its only operating research base under the joint program of geophysical research. Of Western actors, involved in “The Red Tent”, only Italian actor Luigi Vannucchi, allegedly related to the Italian Communist Party, was allowed to join the exotic Arctic trip. Sean Connery himself never had the opportunity to visit the place due to the restrictions of the Soviet authorities.

Another scene from “The Red Tent”. The airship “Italia” (in fact a model) flys over the Soviet polar ship “Ob”, then “playing” the Italian expedition vessel “Citta di Milano”.

In 1968, the floating base of the movie team was the legendary Soviet polar ship Ob. For more than 20 years, this ice-reinforced ship built in the Netherlands was one of the symbols of the Soviet Antarctic Research Program, just as the icebreaker Krassin was a symbol of the conquest of the Arctic in the early 1930s. In 1968, the ship under Captain Oleg Vodenko hosted an impressive star gang, which included the polar aviation veteran Valentin Akkuratov, famous Soviet film actors Nikita Mikhalkov and Yury Solomin, as well as the poet, singer and sportsman Yury Vizbor, who played Czech geophysicist Dr. František Běhounek.

Passengers of the Soviet cruise ship “Vorovsky” while meeting the film crew of “The Red Tent”. Heiss Island, Franz Josef Land, September 1968. Photographer unknown, collection of Dmitrii “Mitya” Kiselev

While anchored off the research base at Heiss Island in the central part of Franz Josef Land, the icebreaker had an unexpected encounter with the Soviet liner “Vatslav Vorovsky”, then making the first long Arctic cruise with Soviet-only passengers on board. To their greatest delight, the filmmakers visited the “Vorovsky” and took part in a big social gathering. After that, Captain Oleg Vodenko asked his colleague Leonid Petrov of the “Vorovsky” to stay away from the island for a day and a half. The reason for this was simple: the “men of art”, who were supposed to concentrate on their work process, paid too much attention to the well-stocked bar on board the passenger ship.

The former scientific station in Tikhaya Bukhta (Calm Bay). Hooker Island, Franz Josef Land, August 2015. Photo by Dmitrii “Mitya” Kiselev.

The liner made an excursion to Tikhaya Bukhta instead, where at that time all the passengers were able to land and explore the old base – then abandoned observation facility, operated in 1929-1960. The “movie ship”, in turn, had also visited Tikhaya for practical reasons. The deserted location was found to be a perfect place for filming… Kings Bay! The deserted location was found to be a perfect place for filming… Kings Bay! The team set there the scene of the air ship’s departure for the North Pole: a 20-meter long acting model of Italia, operated by the film crew, could be sheltered inside the station’s old aviation hangar, built by legendary Ivan Papanin in 1932

A scene from “The Red Tent” (1969)” airship “Italia” departs from Kings Bay. In fact, this Svalbard mining community was played by the Tikhaya Bukhta polar station at Franz Josef Land. Sean Connery had never been there due to the restrictions, built up by the Soviet authorities.

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