Before Winter Comes

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Before Winter Comes
Before the winter comes (movie).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Written by Andrew Sinclair
Based onstory The Interpreter by Frederick L. Keefe
Produced by Robert Emmett Ginna
Starring David Niven
Anna Karina
Cinematography Gilbert Taylor
Edited by Willy Kemplen
Music by Ron Grainer
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
January 1969 (London)
24 March 1969 (New York) [1]
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Before Winter Comes is a 1969 British comedy-drama war film directed by J. Lee Thompson from a screenplay by Andrew Sinclair. [2]



Before Winter Comes takes place in the immediate aftermath of World War II. British Major Giles Burnside (David Niven) is assigned to an refugee camp in occupied Austria; his mission is to send the groups of displaced civilians to either the Russian zone or the American zone. Burnside is a by-the-book officer but he runs into trouble with the translation of the many different languages. However, one of the refugees, Janovic (Topol), can speak many languages and is willing to help. Janovic quickly conveys Burnside's orders and helps the camp run smoothly. Janovic runs into romance with a lovely innkeeper, Maria (Anna Karina), until he discovers her affair with Burnside. Meanwhile, Janovic is found to be a Red Army deserter, who should be returned to the Soviet authorities to be executed. Burnside offers to help him escape, but Janovic cannot decide whether to trust him.

During a down moment Major Burnside tells a story to Pilkington about a brave Major who tried to defuse a bomb on a bridge by walking into enemy fire. He describes it as a chance to win a medal for bravery. As he finishes, the story switches to a general who reveals that Burnside was the major in question and his "brave" mistake led to the death of some 200 men and his posting to the camp.

Janovic makes a vain attempt at escaping to Switzerland but is captured by Americans and returned to Burnside. As Burnside organises his release to Linz and freedom, he is contacted by the British army who inform him that Jovanovic is to be sent to Freistadt (and his death) to prevent any conflict with the Russians. Burnside reluctantly sends Janovic to Freistadt but conceals it by labelling the truck as Linz. At the last moment, Lieutenant Pilkington arrives and threatens to stop the truck but is ordered not to intervene. Pilkington races after Jovanovic but is too late.

The film ends with Burnside being assigned to Indonesia and another camp, denied the chance to rejoin his unit. Pilkington visits Maria and breaks down angrily at Burnside. Burnside is commended by his sergeant for being a fine officer while the film ends with Janovic in a truck surrounded by Russian soldiers, his fate unknown. [3]



The film was based on a short story The Interpreter which had appeared in The New Yorker. Screenwriter Andrew Sinclair says David Niven insisted on a title change as he did not play the interpreter. [4]

J. Lee Thompson said he made the film to return to more intimate dramas of earlier in his career such as Woman in a Dressing Gown. [5] [6]

Niven's fee was $250,000. [7] It was an early screen role for Topol, who had become famous playing Fiddler on the Roof on stage in London. J. Lee Thompson called Topol "the Frank Sinatra of Israel, rugged, handsome, a Clark Gable type or a European version of Burt Lancaster." [8]

Filming took place south of Salzburg. John Hurt recalled "Niven was very helpful" during the shoot "because Chaim (Topol) was being difficult and tricksy." [9]


The film opened at the Sutton Theatre in New York City on 24 March 1969 and grossed $17,846 in its first week. [1]

See also

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  1. 1 2 "More Than Sex and Easter Stir". Variety . 2 April 1969. p. 11.
  2. Anyone can make an explosion Malcolm, Derek. The Guardian (1959-2003); London (UK) [London (UK)]03 Feb 1969: 8.
  3. "Before Winter Comes - details". Archived from the original on 24 February 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2009.
  4. Morley, Sheridan (1985). The Other Side of the Moon. Harper & Row. p. 246.
  5. 'Chairman' Shot in Crossfire Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times 6 Feb 1969: h13.
  6. Anyone can make an explosion Malcolm, Derek. The Guardian 3 Feb 1969: 8.
  7. Multi-Million $$$ Look to 'Zabriskie' Haber, Joyce. Los Angeles Times 3 Apr 1969: f12.
  8. Topol, the New Screen Lover Date: Friday, Feb. 7, 1969 page 10 Publication: Daily Mail
  9. Lord, Graham (2004). Niv : the authorized biography of David Niven. T. Dunne Books. p. 245.