Archive for November 9, 2022

C’est la guerre

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2022 by dcairns

Having missed out on getting his ass shot off on Omaha Beach because he had to direct THE SEVENTH VICTIM (a positive result all round), Mark Robson then traversed the globe, expiating his absenteeism by celebrating every war available to him — Korea in THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI, WWII in VON RYAN’S EXPRESS, and in LOST COMMAND he follows some French paratroopers from Indo-China to Algiers, Admittedly, none of Robson’s war movies are wholeheartedly gung ho, perhaps gung hey or gung huh? at most. But they never quite commit themselves to a definite anti-war view either.

The result is choppy. His source novel by ex-army, ex-journalist Jean Lartéguy doesn’t supply him with a clear central character or a clear line of action, we jump forward in time and from place to place, and a story that could have been about an honorable soldier’s slow corruption by political pressures is muddied and diluted by mixing it with other stories, and by presumably commercial fears about character sympathy and overt political statements.

Shot in Spain — Al Mulock, the first face we see in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, appears — the film also suffers from not having any real Arabs. We get George Segal in shoe polish instead, and the brown shine never seems to get far enough down his neck to suggest an all-over tan. Claudia Cardinale, appearing briefly, IS actually Tunisian, but sounds Italian. We can ignore that, though, if we can get past Anthony Quinn as a Basque peasant with an American accent, surrounded by French characters played by actual French people. It’ll be fine.

Stealing most of the glory from Quinn is Alain Delon, as the film’s conscience, which may seem ironic now in the light of his later politics. Delon sounds like Charles Boyer when he speaks English, and should have been a major Hollywood star, but his attempts at it were mainly this and a Ralph Nelson film. And in TEXAS ACROSS THE RIVER he supports Dean Martin. None of these were the right vehicles, and American cinema was turning inwards — exotic locales and cosmopolitan characters were no longer the staples. The New Hollywood, in essence a more realist cinema, naturally (it seemed) focussed on what was happening locally. And the collapsing studios couldn’t force a new star on the public by power of publicity and consistent casting — the result ever since has been that when an outsider does make a breakthrough impression in a Hollywood film, they have a hell of a time following up on it with an equally effective role.

The film’s messiness is evident immediately, as we begin in a battle and Robson ruins his big action scene by pasting enormous credits over it, which stick around over the edits, sloppily, forcing us to read them twice.

The film is notable for its cast — Maurice Ronet makes a strong impression — you won’t see Quinn getting yelled at by Burt Kwouk anywhere else — AQ has an age-appropriate fling with Michele Morgan — we pause to inspect the ruins of Jean Servais, moving his lips to someone else’s line readings.

General Melies, complete with moon rocket.

Politically, it’s mostly interested in being fair to the oppressed colonial peoples while blowing them up in exciting ways — Delon says it’s understandable that “the coolies” want a change — the illegal searches and use of torture are touched upon in “the battle of Algiers” sequence — but it’s all soft-pedaled. Comparing it to Pontecorvo’s hard-hitting, unmealymouthed movie of that name, is not only instructive but positively shaming. We can attribute most of the abuse to “a few bad apples” — in fact, viewers could reasonably conclude that Maurice Ronet and his blackjack were responsible for the whole dirty business, solo.

LOST COMMAND stars Zorba; Jeff Costello; Quiller; Joséphine de Beauharnais; Philippe Greenleaf; Jill McBain; King Brob; Tony le Stéphanois; Insp. Edouard Grandpierre; Cato Fong; One-Armed Bounty Hunter; and Cuchillio.