Monday, August 1, 2011

Heap of Sand

The Hill (1965) - Lumet
It's a military prison in North Africa for deserters, thieves, troublemakers and weaklings of the British army. The place is tightly run by square jawed R.S.M. Wilson (Harry Andrews) who truly believes that good old discipline will make a soldier out of any man. The man-made sand hill in the middle of the camp is shown in a spectacular crane shot that opens the film. It's the crowning jewel of Wilson's legacy. Under his command, the prisoners would march up and down the hill under the unforgiving African sun until they pass out.

Enter a new batch of prisoners - Roberts (Sean Connery), King (Ossie Davis), Bartlett (Roy Kinnear), McGrath (Jack Watson) and Stevens (Alfred Lynch). After few scuffles, the new cellmates bond but are worried about weakling Stevens. It's the sadistic Staff Sergeant Williams (Ian Hendry) who's after Stevens and the gang. After grueling run on the hill wearing a gas mask, Stevens cracks and dies, sending out ripples through out the camp.

With Ray Rigby adapting from his own play, The Hill crackles with sharp dialog delivered by amazing actors including young, just-off-doing-Goldfinger Sean Connery playing a man who refused to fight in a suicide mission. The character actor Andrews is also great as a man drunken with power, Hendry is nurse Ratched worthy and Michael Redgrave as the sympathetic medical officer brings in humanism. But the star of the film is definitely Ossie Davis, who plays a whiskey drinking Jamaican man and steals every scene he is in. Oh god, he is a national treasure here, ready to be discovered by Nicolas Cage. One of my all time favorite performances by anyone.

The film is not bogged down by sentimentality or a big message. The mere notion of Military invokes 'leave you brain behind'/'no-common sense required' in my mind. Lumet doesn't have to try hard to make things anti-military. It's out there in the form of giant sand heap for all to see. He just shows that it doesn't have to be super serious or highly dramatic to make a point and he does it marvelously.

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