1965

Tea Party (1965, Charles Jarrott)

Tea Party opens with Vivien Merchant getting a job at a toilet bowl company. The second or third shot of Party is a toilet on display. Strikingly weird without the context; director Jarrott and editor Raoul Sobel are enthusiastic about the visual possibilities without really being any good at them. It’s the medium; Tea Party is a mid-sixties television play, shot on video; there’s only so much anyone’s going to be able to do with it, visually. And Jarrott and Sobel try. Jarrott’s better at the… visual montage than at the shot composition, which brings us back to Merchant and the beginning of Party.

She’s going to be secretary to the self-made, king of the British bidet Leo McKern. Best toilets and such in the country. The interview goes well until McKern starts asking about Merchant’s old job and she reluctantly tells him about her handsy old boss. McKern drags it out of her, then condemns such behavior. It’s weird because Jarrott’s male gaze is overt in the scene. Merchant’s legs get distracting because you’re trying to see past them after a while. Jarrott’s got to make it real clear; after this awkward start, Party’s frankness will become one of its assets. The frankness also helps inform the performances. Tea Party, at its best, is a symbiotic success—the writing, the acting, the production (if not the direction itself). But at the beginning it’s weird.

Especially since McKern is getting married the next day to Jennifer Wright, who’s way too young and pretty for portly blowhard McKern. But damn if McKern hasn’t convinced himself he’s Wright’s dream guy; him begging her for validation on their wedding night is rending, alternately making him sympathetic for asking bit her not for lying to him. It means you can’t trust Wright and not just because of her creepy brother (Charles Gray) who only showed up before the wedding and has inserted himself in their lives. McKern seems perturbed by it, so hires Gray, but then Wright just goes to work for Gray. So some possible sympathy for McKern; especially since he’s got these little shit twin sons, Peter Bartlett and Robert Bartlett, who are weird but because McKern’s got to be a weird dad. But also the twin thing.

Only once Wright starts working for Gray, McKern starts getting wild for Merchant. Like… sniffing her office chair level. It’s a gross turn and really informs how the narrative distance should be taken. It’s just the medium… Pinter and Jarrott are keeping you away for a reason.

It takes Merchant a while to realize what’s up, but then she starts playing along. We get no insight into her as a character because… Pinter writes her like a cartoon. She prances around the office, swishing at McKern. Is it intentional or passive? Is it just the sixties secretary or is Merchant doing it with agency? Pinter goes on to raise a few questions, seemingly without any intention of answering them because answering them would give the supporting characters too much depth. It’s all about McKern and his descent into jealous horniness. It makes him see spots. For a moment it seems like fellow old (and optometrist) John Le Mesurier is going to have a real talk with McKern, which seems like it’d be great, but Pinter goes another way and whatever he comes up with isn’t great. It’s fine, but not great.

Like the ending, when they bring it all together for—well, for a Tea Party. It’s a pragmatic conclusion but relies entirely on Jarrott’s direction instead of anyone’s acting. He and editor Sobel try a lot with Tea Party, but very rarely actually succeed. They’re not up for the task at the finish.

Quite strong performances from McKern, Merchant, Gray. Le Mesurier’s good. Wright gets an incomplete but because of the script. You keep expecting the Bartlett brothers to stand at the end of a hall, holding hands, telling McKern to come play with them. They’re Party’s greatest potential. Their perspective on the whole thing would’ve given a lot more possibilities.

Instead, it’s a tad blah. Especially when you consider it copped out on its more interesting implications.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Charles Jarrott; written by Harold Pinter; edited by Raoul Sobel; production designer, Eileen Diss; produced by Sydney Newman; aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Starring Leo McKern (Disson), Vivien Merchant (Wendy), Charles Gray (Willy), Jennifer Wright (Diana), Peter Bartlett (Tom), Robert Bartlett (John), and John Le Mesurier (Disley).


Chimes at Midnight (1965, Orson Welles)

Chimes at Midnight opens with Orson Welles and Alan Webb, both aged men in the Medieval Ages, bumbling (probably at least somewhat drunkenly) in for the night; they sit at a fire and gently reminisce about their youth. The scene gives a first look at screenwriter, director, star Welles in all his giantic grandeur as Shakespeare’s Falstaff (either the film’s title is Falstaff or Chimes at Midnight; the film itself isn’t sure, opening with Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight); I’m not sure what preference Welles had). There are a lot of corpulence jokes at Welles’s expense, which is just one of the many rather interesting things going on in the film. And Webb’s distinct too, even though he’s not coming back for a while.

Ralph Richardson narrates the film (after that scene), but adding another layer to it is the source of his narration. He’s narrating from a 1577 history book (so 170 years after the events in the film), but Welles’s script is adapted from Shakespeare’s Henry series, which is even later than that history book. But Welles adds yet another layer to it by playing the history straight but doing it people’s history. Yes, there’s great material stuff for the royals, but it’s really all about the plebs. Those great scenes for the guys playing the kings, princes, and knights, they end up just priming the emphasis on the reality of the age. As a filmmaker, Welles is exceptionally giving to his actors and very confident in their performances. Sure, Welles gives himself the juiciest part—one where he gets to put a target on himself for all sorts of comparisons, not to mention Welles is, amongst other things, a writer and Falstaff is a Brobdingnagian bullshit artist. But a bad one. Like, a lot of the first half of Chimes is watching people get the better of Welles, except while not getting the shit end onscreen, he’s not just making this exceptional film experience, he’s also giving his cast a lot of great material. They’re all potential Judases, basically, and at least one of them already knows he’s a Judas.

No spoilers.

After the titles, Richardson takes over explaining things. John Gielgud is a new king, one who had to fight for the throne. While he worries about maintaining rule, his son, the Prince of Wales (Keith Baxter), is off drinking and whoring, as well as committing occasional robberies, egged on by his best friend, Welles. While Welles, Baxter, and Tony Beckley (Beckley’s the noble friend who low-key hates Welles because Baxter likes Welles more than him) are sometimes literally screwing around, Gielgud’s got to deal with Norman Rodway and Fernando Rey starting a rebellion. It quickly turns into Rodway’s subplot, which is great because Rodway’s fantastic. He’s got this amazing scene with his wife, Marina Vlady. Like, adorable and cute and sexy and from out of nowhere. Just a neat detail in their character relationship. It also goes to establish that people’s history reality; Chimes is going to show private moments of historic, fictionalized characters, but certainly showing them more… potentially bawdy than in the original fictionalization. It gets really good. There are occasional scenes where Welles weaves this amazing narrative flow and then the way he shoots it, cuts it, moving the film through the dialogue… it’s gorgeous.

It’s also often just for laughs.

Welles, Baxter, Beckley? It’s slapstick. Sure, it’s handled with a firm grasp on the film’s reality, but it’s slapstick. There are gags. Welles is very ambitious with his adaptation, he’s exceptionally assured (especially with the filmmaking devices he uses to compensate for the low budget) but never overconfident. There are plenty of things could go wrong—like Baxter, who’s got the film’s most difficult character arc. But it all works. Baxter makes a shift when he needs to make a shift—the first half of the film is about Gielgud’s fight with Rodway and how it’s going to affect actual heir Baxter. The second half is set a few years later, after Baxter has gotten a little more serious and had less Welles in his life. They’re going to get back together though, only Welles is no longer the same fun loving guy he was before. Sure, he’s still constantly drunk, but he’s mopey about his age—hanging out with fellow old fogey Webb—even though young and relative hottie Jeanne Moreau really does seem to adore Welles.

In between these two very different films—it never feels awkwardly assembled either; Welles and company make it feel like a totally natural transition. Anyway, splitting the two time periods is the battle scene. It’s a phenomenal sequence; runs around nine minutes. There’s comedy (Welles is played as a complete joke during the battle, but he’s got a funny sequence before it when he’s “recruiting”), there’s terrible medieval bloodshed, there’s chivalry, there’s tragedy. Welles figures out how to do it “authentic” without a lot of money. It’s a breathtaking battle scene. Chimes has lots of moments, lots of different kinds of them, but this battle sequence is wild.

Great editing from Elena Jaumandreu, Frederick Muller, and Peter Parasheles. Really good black and white photography from Edmond Richard; gorgeous production design from Mariano Erdoiza; Angelo Francesco Lavagnino’s music… is perfect for the film. It’s actually one of the film’s bigger risks, but it works out. But just as music… I’ll bet you could write a book about the film’s post-production. Because it’s exceptionally well-assembled. Chimes at Midnight works out. Every bet Welles makes with the film works out.

The biggest bet is Baxter, who’s great. It’s his story, Welles, Gielgud, Beckley, whoever… they’re just all along for the ride. He’s the rightful heir. Who else’s story could it be?

Gielgud’s amazing, Moreau’s good, Rodway, Vlady; Margaret Rutherford’s awesome as Welles’s suffering landlord.

And Welles is great. Really great. He doesn’t give himself a lot of big moments—he gives himself the comedy instead—but when he gets a big moment, wow, does he nail it.

Chimes at Midnight is peerless.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Orson Welles; screenplay by Welles, based on plays by William Shakespeare and a book by Raphael Holinshed; director of photography, Edmond Richard; edited by Elena Jaumandreu, Frederick Muller, and Peter Parasheles; music by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino; production designer, Mariano Erdoiza; produced by Ángel Escolano, Emiliano Piedra, and Harry Saltzman; released by Brepi Films.

Starring Orson Welles (Falstaff), Keith Baxter (Prince Hal), Norman Rodway (Henry Percy), John Gielgud (Henry IV), Tony Beckley (Ned Poins), Alan Webb (Shallow), Margaret Rutherford (Mistress Quickly), Marina Vlady (Kate Percy), Fernando Rey (Worcester), and Jeanne Moreau (Doll Tearsheet); narrated by Ralph Richardson.


The Sound of Music (1965, Robert Wise)

So much of The Sound of Music is exquisite, the film’s got enough momentum to get over the rough spots. The film has three and a half distinct sections. There’s the first, introducing Julie Andrews to the audience, then introducing Christopher Plummer and family to the Andrews and the audience, which then becomes about Andrews and the kids. The second part has Plummer returning after an absence, with Eleanor Parker and Richard Haydn along with him to give him something to do. Then there’s the strange part following the intermission, which probably played better theatrically when one really did get up and leave the film for a period. When it returns–and Plummer and Andrews’s romance takes off (at the expense of almost everything else)–the film is different.

Then the final part, with the Nazis out to capture Plummer, is entirely different. Unfortunately, director Wise is most ambitious in the setup of the film. He knows if he gets all the establishing stuff right–with Andrews, with Plummer and the kids–everything else will work out. The final part of the film with the family on the run is strong, but it’s action. Wise is doing this action thriller. It works because his direction is good, Ted D. McCord’s photography is glorious throughout, ditto William Reynolds’s editing, and there are some amazing sets. And some good humor in Ernest Lehman’s screenplay to lighten things appropriately.

This dramatic conclusion overshadows how briskly the film has changed itself. Andrews and Plummer are wonderful arguing and flirting, but their romance itself is tepid. Both of them get better scenes regarding it with Parker than they do with one another. And Wise doesn’t take the time to progress that part of the narrative organically when it comes to the kids, who are actual characters in the first hour of the film only to become likable accessories in the last hour.

The Sound of Music has a lot of things Wise has to get right in the first hour and he gets them, lots of things he has to establish so he can lean upon them later. It’s fine, but it’s never as good later on, whether with returning characters or song encores. The handling of the songs in the first hour and a half are glorious. Once intermission hits, Wise is in a rush and the film suffers. There’s so many great stagings in the first part–down to using an adorable puppet show to get in another song–the remainder, with far fewer group songs and instead questionable duets, can’t measure up.

Still, Wise has got all the right pieces. Plummer and Andrews, even when they don’t have much to do, are great doing it. There’s also Ben Wright’s odious villain, who Wise and Lehman had been foreshadowing (but not enough). The Sound of Music gets through the choppy waters to succeed. It just could’ve been better.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Ernest Lehman, based on the stage musical book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and ideas by George Hurdalek; director of photography, Ted D. McCord; edited by William Reynolds; music by Irwin Kostal; production designer, Boris Leven; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Julie Andrews (Maria), Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp), Richard Haydn (Max Detweiler), Peggy Wood (Mother Abbess), Anna Lee (Sister Margaretta), Portia Nelson (Sister Berthe), Ben Wright (Herr Zeller), Daniel Truhitte (Rolfe), Norma Varden (Frau Schmidt), Marni Nixon (Sister Sophia), Gilchrist Stuart (Franz), Evadne Baker (Sister Bernice), Doris Lloyd (Baroness Ebberfeld), Charmian Carr (Liesl), Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich), Heather Menzies-Urich (Louisa), Duane Chase (Kurt), Angela Cartwright (Brigitta), Debbie Turner (Marta), Kym Karath (Gretl) and Eleanor Parker (The Baroness).


Doctor Zhivago (1965, David Lean)

When Doctor Zhivago got to its intermission, I assumed director Lean would keep things moving as fast in the second half as he did in the first. These expectations were all high melodrama. Instead, the post-intermission section of Zhivago feels utterly detached from the first, even though there are a lot of returning faces. But there’s not much connection with the characters as they’ve grown in the film. I don’t know if it’s from the source novel or just Robert Bolt’s screenplay; Alec Guinness–in a glorified cameo doing the questionably useful narration–disappears too.

So the second half (or last third more appropriately) of Zhivago is the film’s problem. It has problems before, like Julie Christie being too old for her part (even though she’s far more interesting than anything else going on) or Geraldine Chaplin not having a character to play. Of course, Omar Sharif’s barely got a character and he’s Doctor Zhivago. Lean and Bolt keep everything as removed as possible.

There’s some great supporting work from Rod Steiger and Ralph Richardson, particularly Steiger.

Technically, the film’s grandiose but not particularly grand. Maybe it’s Norman Savage’s editing, but Zhivago never feels as sweeping as it should. It feels very slapped together. Lots of extraneous scenes. The post-intermission parts–featuring Sharif wandering around frozen Russia–miss all sorts of opportunities for good scenes.

Another big problem is Zhivago’s amazing poetry. Lean never lets the audience experience it at all.

It’s too big, too narratively unfocused.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Lean; screenplay by Robert Bolt, based on the novel by Boris Pasternak; director of photography, Freddie Young; edited by Norman Savage; music by Maurice Jarre; production designer, John Box; produced by Carlo Ponti; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Omar Sharif (Yuri), Julie Christie (Lara), Rod Steiger (Komarovsky), Alec Guinness (Yevgraf), Tom Courtenay (Pasha), Geraldine Chaplin (Tonya), Ralph Richardson (Alexander), Siobhan McKenna (Anna), Jeffrey Rockland (Sasha), Lucy Westmore (Katya), Klaus Kinski (Kostoyed) and Rita Tushingham (The Girl).


Repulsion (1965, Roman Polanski)

At around the seventy minute mark, Repulsion finally gives Catherine Deneuve some personality. Sure, she’s gone completely insane at this point, but she sings a little lullaby to herself. And Deneuve is in at least sixty-five of those seventy minutes without any personality (she loses it again soon after). She is the subject of the film, not the protagonist.

The titular Repulsion refers to Deneuve’s repulsion towards sex. She’s this beautiful young woman who doesn’t appreciate the lecherous men of London–and director Polanski’s very clear about it, all the men in London are lecherous. Even Deneuve’s affable though clearly obsessive suitor, played by John Fraser. Even Fraser’s male friends, who exude piggishness towards women while leaving the door open for male company. That last bit is implied, just like when Deneuve freaks out when a girlfriend stops talking about hanging out with her and instead talks to her about men. There’s some brief, but hateful speech about lesbians.

And, even though the hateful opinions come from the piggish guys, it’s not like the script (from Polanski, Gérard Brach and David Stone) is against it. If Deneuve’s been driven insane by her virginity–and unrealized lust for male attention–then all the men in the film get a pass.

Including when Fraser becomes a dangerously unhinged stalker and when Patrick Wymark tries to rape Deneuve. They’re victims of her insane actions.

It’s a creepy movie; it’s calculated and insincere for its entire running time, which I guess is something.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roman Polanski; written by Polanski, Gérard Brach and David Stone; director of photography, Gilbert Taylor; edited by Alastair McIntyre; music by Chico Hamilton; produced by Gene Gutowski; released by Compton Films.

Starring Catherine Deneuve (Carol), Ian Hendry (Michael), John Fraser (Colin), Yvonne Furneaux (Helen), Patrick Wymark (Landlord), Renee Houston (Miss Balch) and Valerie Taylor (Madame Denise).


Die, Monster, Die! (1965, Daniel Haller)

For the first three quarters of Die, Monster, Die!, the biggest mystery in the film is how wheelchair-bound Boris Karloff gets around so well. The lifts become visible in the last act.

Karloff’s British upper crust whose family name has fallen on hard times thanks to an embarrassing father. Satanic ritual embarrassing, not hounding the ladies embarrassing. He’s also stupid. Karloff has a really hard time with that part of the role. He’s not convincingly dumb… or dangerous for that matter.

Still, he does better than Nick Adams. Adams is the young American courting Karloff’s daughter. Adams’s hair is Monster‘s second great mystery. Why aren’t there any scenes of him pomading it? Especially since he has an indoor style and an outdoor one.

When Monster is good–and Adams’s investigation of the creepy goings-on often aren’t bad–Adams is serviceable. Sadly he’s never convincing as Suzan Farmer’s suitor. He comes off like a protective younger bother (I forgot to mention, Adams looks like he’s twelve).

Farmer is quite good, even if Jerry Sohl’s script seems to give her good material by accident. As her ailing mother, Freda Jackson is excellent.

Director Haller does a great job fifty percent of the time. He’ll fully utilize the wide screen one shot, then do something lame the next. It’s frustrating, especially since he’s got fine photography from Paul Beeson. Alfred Cox’s editing, however, is a disaster.

While the multiple (weak) endings hurt the picture, there’s definitely some good stuff to it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Daniel Haller; screenplay by Jerry Sohl, based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft; director of photography, Paul Beeson; edited by Alfred Cox; music by Don Banks; produced by Pat Green; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Boris Karloff (Nahum Witley), Nick Adams (Stephen Reinhart), Freda Jackson (Letitia Witley), Suzan Farmer (Susan Witley), Terence de Marney (Merwyn) and Patrick Magee (Dr. Henderson).


A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965, Bill Melendez)

Two things stick out in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. First, Charlie Brown is a bit of a drag. Charles M. Schulz, writing the script, initially sets up Charlie Brown as the Scrooge of “Christmas”. While that condition changes a little–eventually, Charlie Brown is the victim of the rest of the Peanuts gang–it’s a disconcerting opening.

Schulz is trying to make a statement about commercialism and Christmas, but it never connects.

The other thing about “Christmas” is Melendez’s direction. It’s often terrible, which is surprising. The beginning is reasonably sublime, set to Vince Guaraldi’s lovely score, but then the action moves inside and Melendez loses touch. He has these terrible close-ups.

There are some nice touches–Linus on the run from Sally, Lucy and Schroeder contending with Snoopy–but “Christmas” is undercooked.

Schulz works towards a point, but doesn’t find one, and Melendez similarly flounders.

It’s rather disappointing.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Robert T. Gillis; music by Vince Guaraldi; released by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Peter Robbins (Charlie Brown), Christopher Shea (Linus Van Pelt), Tracy Stratford (Lucy Van Pelt), Kathy Steinberg (Sally Brown), Chris Doran (Schroeder / Shermy), Geoffrey Ornstein (Pig-Pen), Sally Dryer (Violet), Ann Altieri (Freida), Karen Mendelson (Patty) and Bill Melendez (Snoopy).


Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965, Honda Ishirô)

So… Godzilla dances in Invasion of Astro-Monster. He also boxes a little. Unfortunately, the boxing part does little to liven up the last half, which is incredibly tiring. The dancing comes earlier—though not by much, but enough to “help.”

Godzilla doesn’t appear in the film until the middle mark. Instead, the film’s about astronauts Nick Adams and Takarada Akira discovering a civilization of aliens living on a previously undiscovered moon of Jupiter.

Adams and Takarada are both pretty bad, but Takarada is worse. Adams is visibly awful, but he’s trying. Takarada doesn’t try. Not even when he gets to be a scientist for a bit (being an astronauts means you’re qualified for anything).

There’s also the romance subplot. Takarada won’t let his sister marry her boyfriend. Sawai Keiko is fine as the sister, as is Kubo Akira as her boyfriend. He gets slightly better scenes than her; unfortunately, both of them finish the movie as Adams’s sidekicks.

The rest of the acting is lukewarm. Tazaki Jun is pretty good. Tsuchiya Yoshio is terrible as the villain, but it’s probably not his fault. I think his costume inspired Devo; it’s unbelievably silly looking.

But Honda’s direction (in Panavision) occasionally shows he’s fully capable of doing something amazing. His space shots in Astro-Monster, though brief, are phenomenally well composed. Even the later framing is also strong.

Ifukube Akira’s music is excellent; some of the miniature work is quite good.

But it’s an uphill battle—the script sinks the film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Sekizawa Shinichi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Fujii Ryohei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nick Adams (Astronaut Glenn), Takarada Akira (Astronaut Fuji), Tazaki Jun (Dr. Sakurai), Kubo Akira (Teri Tetsuo), Mizuno Kumi (Miss Namikawa), Sawai Keiko (Fuji Haruno), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Controller of Planet X), Sasaki Takamaru (Chairman of Earth Committee), Shimizu Gen (Minister of Defense) and Tabu Kenzo (Commander from Planet X).


Thunderball (1965, Terence Young)

Thunderball is real boring. The problem is two-fold. First, the opening is heavy. After the pre-title bit (which is goofy with the jetpack), it’s a pseudo-Hitchcock, with Connery off in a spa. He sees strange things going on and gradually romances his masseuse. Intercut with these scenes are the bad guys preparing to do their bad things. Terence Young’s a fantastic director–even when Thunderball is sleep-inducing–so all of these scenes, especially the ones in the spa, look great. They’re just not going anywhere.

When the movie finally starts–the spa adventures almost feels like a short story glued on to a three-act narrative–it’s mostly Connery romancing again. This time it’s Claudine Auger, who’s not very good. Luciana Paluzzi is far better as the bad girl. Adolfo Celi’s eye-patched villain is weak as well. The Bond regulars sparsely show up and Desmond Llewelyn’s scene is practically in the second half and is, of course, excellent, so it makes up for a lot.

But the other, far more damning problem, is the conclusion. It features a too silly for Bond closer and a missing scientist (the movie forgets about him). But those aspects aren’t really too influential. The end fails because, after making the viewer sit through a fifteen minute water ballet slash fight scene, all Young’s got for a conclusion is a speeding boat. Except the boat’s only speeding through sped up film. Thunderball uses the technique, which looks terrible, quite a few times… but the entire ending is running double-speed and it’s atrocious.

Then the end comes and ruins what would otherwise have been a boring but competent Bond outing.

Connery’s got some great one-liners in here, but most of them come at ludicrous plot points. For example, he’s got some witty line after he harpoons a bad guy to a tree. Auger’s not at all surprised (or horrified), which seems unlikely, since her character is supposed to be naive innocent.

One real interesting thing Thunderball does–and gets an incomplete on–is give Bond a team to work with. They’re only in a few scenes, but it’s interesting to see him work with other people. They should have been in a lot more.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Terence Young; screenplay by Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins, based on a screenplay by Jack Whittingham and a story by Kevin McClory, Whittingham and Ian Fleming; director of photography, Ted Moore; edited by Peter R. Hunt; music by John Barry; production designer, Ken Adam; produced by McClory, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; released by United Artists.

Starring Sean Connery (James Bond), Claudine Auger (Domino), Adolfo Celi (Emilio Largo), Luciana Paluzzi (Fiona Volpe), Rik Van Nutter (Felix Leiter), Guy Doleman (Count Lippe), Molly Peters (Patricia Fearing), Martine Beswick (Paula Caplan), Bernard Lee (M), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Roland Culver (Foreign Secretary), Earl Cameron (Pinder) and Paul Stassino (Major Francois Derval).


The Hill (1965, Sidney Lumet)

The Hill is quite a few things–Sidney Lumet doing another stage adaptation, almost in real time, a la Twelve Angry Men, a prison drama, a race drama, a military drama, and an example of a decent Sean Connery performance (not a particularly good one, but a decent one). It’s incredibly contrived–desert British prison camp in World War II, new prison officer comes along the same day Connery arrives along with four other men, who aren’t split up. The guards heckle Ossie Davis for being black, get in to with Connery because he struck a superior officer, and tease the soldier who wants to go home to his wife. The other two new prisoners are just there to hang around. Over the present action of the film, a day and a half, one prisoner dies and the entire power structure gets threatened by all these elements brought conveniently together for a hundred and twenty minutes.

A good deal of the film is deceptively good, until it becomes clear the present action is going to take place in that practical real time. Lumet’s direction is fantastic as well. Starting the film, I thought how it’d be funny if it were Connery cast against leading man-type… unfortunately, it is and the film quickly descends into a common (relatively) innocent prisoner against sadistic prison guard, without doing anything more interesting than setting it in the British army.

All of the performances are quite good (except Michael Redgrave, who spends his screen-time looking confused)–Harry Andrews in particular–but when the film goes off track, fitting so many consequential events into such a short period, it’s impossible for it to recover. The screenwriter (who adapted his own play) doesn’t just have a dumb plot, he has incredibly careless dialogue–one of the men says goodbye to Connery and says something about suggesting they’d known each other for a long time… instead of thirty-eight hours or so.

Ossie Davis is the best in the film; he gets the most interesting action after a while–once the script turns Andrews into a caricature, after almost promising he was going to remain a character throughout–and many of Davis’s scenes are a joy to watch. Because Connery is visibly against type, intentionally against type, he doesn’t really have a character to work with. He needs to remain mysterious, to draw attention to himself for not being a leading man. The result is his performance not being as good as it could have been. He has some real potential in a few scenes, but again, the script’s more concerned with being a momentous condemnation of the British military mindset.

By the end, almost everything interesting has been drained from The Hill. Characters are presented, at the beginning, as being this sort of person or that and then later flipped around to get the film to the necessary conclusion. They don’t change, they aren’t revealed to have been deceiving everyone. They just flip. It’s the filmmakers are deceiving the audience, packaging their film as a social message as opposed to a narrative.

I do appreciate the film is without any musical score, but it’s not a surprise (I noticed at one point there should be one and there wasn’t), as Lumet doesn’t do anything wrong the entire time. Except, of course, not getting a decent rewrite on the script.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Ray Rigby, based on a play by Rigby and R.S. Allen; director of photography, Oswald Morris; edited by Thelma Connell; produced by Kenneth Hyman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Sean Connery (Joe Roberts), Harry Andrews (R.S.M. Bert Wilson), Ian Bannen (Harris), Alfred Lynch (George Stevens), Ossie Davis (Jacko King), Roy Kinnear (Monty Bartlett), Jack Watson (Jock McGrath), Ian Hendry (Williams) and Michael Redgrave (M.O.).


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