Action Adventure movies


JOLT. Millennium, 2021. Kate Beckinsale, Bobby Cannavale, Laverne Cox, Stanley Tucci. Jai Courtney, David Bradley. Director: Tanya Wexler. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

   There is about half a good movie in this recent action-comedy thriller. The second half? Pure dreck. And not good dreck at that.

   Kate Beckinsale (last seen by me in The Widow, reviewed here )  plays Lindy Lewis (no relation), a woman who since she was a young girl has been afflicted with intermittent explosive disorder, which I have discovered is a real thing. Anyone having the problem is plagued by bouts of anger, rage and utter hostility toward others, expressed by outbreaks of uncontrollable violence.

   Lindy’s case is far worse than others. She barely has a life, cannot hold a job, and when it comes down to it, simply cannot get along with others. Finally, now grownup, she has found a doctor to help control the symptoms. It’s only in the experimental stages, but by wearing an intricate wire harness, Lindy can push a button and give herself a jolt of electricity to subdue her violent urges.

   Problem is, as soon as she finally meets the man of her dreams, he’s found murdered, even before they have their third date. The police are of no help. Solution: find the man responsible, and provide her own punishment.

   This first half of the movie is fun and even a little romantic and and funny. Enjoyable, even. Problem is, moviewise, from this point on, it seems that working intensively with her problem over the years, Lindy has developed what the comic books call superpowers, and there’s no way that anyone that gets in her way can stop her. Lots of action, violence, bad language and fighting ensue. All of which are boring. Even the villains of the piece are boring. Eh. Who cares? Not I, said this viewer.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID FRIEND:

   

WILD WILD WEST. Warner Brothers, 1999. Will Smith (James West), Kevin Kline (Artemus Gordon), Kenneth Branagh (Dr. Arliss Loveless), Salma Hayek, M. Emmet Walsh, Ted Levine. Loosely adapted from The Wild Wild West, a 1960s television series created by Michael Garrison. Director: Barry Sonnenfeld.

   Soon after the American Civil War, impulsive Army Captain Jim West (Will Smith) sets out to find his parents’ killer: the bitterly ruthless ex-Confederate General ‘Bloodbath’ McGrath (Ted Levine). The trail leads to a West Virginia brothel where the blundering intervention of undercover U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) and an accidental nitroglycerin explosion causes McGrath to escape.

   The two Americans may be on the same side, but they dislike each other on sight, so neither are pleased when President Ulysses S. Grant orders them to join forces and continue the hunt for McGrath, who has kidnapped several of the country’s best scientists in a plot which could destabilise the government.

   Aboard Gordon’s gadget-laden train ‘The Wanderer’, the fiercely competitive pair follow a bloody clue to the New Orleans home of Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), a legless ex-Confederate officer and ingenious engineer in a steam-powered wheelchair and decorous goatee beard. Imprisoned there is singer Rita Escobar (Salma Hayek), who claims her father is one of the captured scientists. It seems that mysterious new weapons are being manufactured, one of which they discover to be an armoured vehicle – what we would now recognize as a tank – that has the power to kill dozens of soldiers in a single sweep.

   Yet something even bigger abounds in an eighty-foot mechanical spider stocked with two nitroglycerin cannons. Loveless uses this war-machine to kidnap the President before threatening to destroy the United States if they aren’t divided among other nations and himself. The ensuing struggle on the cliffs of Spider Canyon ends with West – and the fate of the country itself – at risk of falling into a yawning abyss…

   In the ’90s, making films of ’60s TV shows was a major trend. Baby boomers were buying tickets to see at the cinema what they had seen in their living rooms as kids. And so, after Batman, we got a cycle of remakes, mostly bad (Lost In Space, My Favourite Martian, The Saint) but some good (Mission Impossible, The Fugitive). Wild Wild West was yet another, based on the quirky action-adventure series made to weather the western genre’s declining popularity by having it capitalise on the James Bond craze – what you might call ‘spies-in-saddle’.

   This film version must have sounded great at the time. People who had enjoyed Will Smith and middle-aged straight man Tommy Lee Jones being government agents in sci-fi comedy adventure Men In Black would surely watch Will Smith and middle-aged straight man Kevin Kline being government agents in western comedy adventure Men In Chaps. Smith even chose it over The Matrix, believing it could result in another of his “big Willy weekends”.

   Instead, Wild Wild West was a disaster. The script was re-written, scenes were reshot, and the budget ballooned until it became one of the most expensive films of all time. On release, it lost money and “won” five Razzies, including Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay and Worst Director. Smith has repeatedly joked about its failure. It might now be bundled alongside those two other self-afflicting franchise films of the late ’90s, Batman and Robin and The Avengers.

   And yet, whereas I think such clunkers could be enjoyed as weird camp classics that just don’t care – the cinematic equivalent of streakers on a sports field – Wild Wild West is just bad.

   The pace is off from the start: Smith’s first fight, though shot continuously, is placed either side of a languid scene with Kline in drag, immediately killing any excitement. From there, the humour is ribald, with two different sequences showing scantily-clad prostitutes, and at one point both main characters suggestively fondle a pair of fake breasts. It’s a strange attempt at a running joke with a crude pay-off, much later, in which Smith’s character beats his hands against a woman’s bosom.

   The sexism becomes downright tasteless when Salma Hayek’s character unwittingly wears a buttock-exposing night-gown, much to the stunned pleasure of our heroes, who go on to mutter much innuendo built around the word “ass”. Apart from that, in fact, Hayek is barely in the movie at all. She tries to join them by slipping onto their train, yet Smith’s character doesn’t believe she can handle herself and insists she get off again. The actress herself felt underused in what is little more than an extended cameo. You know they only put a woman in it so they could splash her over the posters.

   Elsewhere, Ted Levine – playing yet another southerner – is dependable as always, though he gets dispatched halfway through with little consequence. Branagh is fun, and director Barry Sonnenfeld regularly has him wheel close to the camera to humorous effect. Thinking, though, of how Ken justified all this to his high-brow theatre friends in London is more entertaining than anything managed on set.

   The balance, throughout, between Smith and Kline is not quite set and neither appear to be the foil. (Maybe they’re not meant to be equal? Note how the title drops the definite article of the original version, subtly giving Smith the eponymous character – did Kline not notice?).

   Characterisation, too, is a bit ropey: at times, Kline gives us an amiably absent-minded scientist, proud of his gadgets and easily distracted by them, yet at others he seems cynical and condescending to his partner. And the decision to have him play the President too is just baffling. It made sense in Fierce Creatures when he was a father and son, but here it’s contrived, convenient and not at all cute.

   Meanwhile, Smith’s loud, smart-guy persona seems a little anachronistic in the Old West – and though some of the race jokes work in his favour, others are just clumsy and misconceived, especially a sequence in which he must appease a lynch mob, and another that sees him doing a harem dance (even the director hated it).

   Perhaps most importantly, the stakes in this thing are too fuzzily defined: why, for example, must Loveless be caught before the transcontinental railroad is inaugurated? And which is the super-weapon – tank or tarantula?

   A boisterous, preposterous romp, Wild Wild West does show occasional flashes of inspiration: the opening, in which a terrified man is decapitated by a flying buzz-saw, is vividly Avengers-esque, and there’s playful humour in all manner of steampunk gadgets. Yet the film never enjoys its western trappings as thoroughly and warm-heartedly as, say, Maverick or Back to the Future Part III, and neither does it do anything with the world of spying. This is an espionage-western which isn’t interested in either genres, focusing instead on infantile comedy, tired buddy-cop tropes and empty, if eccentric, spectacle.

   Had it been a light-hearted mystery-adventure with a sense of proportion, it could have been terrific. As a comedy, however, it’s a wild, wild mess.

Rating: **

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

THE WORLD IN HIS ARMS. Universal, 1952. Gregory Peck, Ann Blyth, Anthony Quinn, John McIntire, Hans Conried, and Sig Ruman. Screenplay by Borden Chase and Horace McCoy, from the novel by Rex Beach. Directed by Raoul Walsh.

   Rollicking.

   Greg plays a two-fisted seal hunter known as The Boston Man, just arrived in San Francisco (1850) with the richest haul of pelts ever, full of ambitious plans to buy Alaska from the Russians and stop their rapacious seal-slaughter. He also engages in friendly rivalry with a scoundrel called The Portugee (Anthony Quinn, playing the part like Chico Marx) and more serious pursuit of Ann Blyth, a Russian Princess passing as a commoner for the sake of the plot.

   Screenwriter Borden Chase once said the secret of his success was to write in a part for John McIntire, a character deliberately added, whose dialogue will provide background, explication and foreshadowing, and relieve the leading man of a lot of burdensome talk. In this case the part is played by McIntire himself as a sort of soloist in a Greek Chorus, and done quite smoothly.

   And in this case Chase also wrote in a part for Bill Radovich, an ex-linebacker built like a tow truck and entrusted with the role of Ogeechuk, Greg’s Inuit pal, whose function it is to break down doors and throw folks around—it seems The World in His Arms was originally written for John Wayne, who could do all the door-breaking and folk-throwing himself, but with Greg it just didn’t work. Hence Ogeechuk.

   This film could have coasted along on sheer charm, but someone felt constrained to fill in some kind of story. Something about Greg being disappointed in love, fighting with Anthony Quinn, getting blown out of the water and captured by Russians, but the whole thing is so hopelessly interlarded with fights and chases, it’s hard to care about the story, much less follow it.

   One thing does stick in my mind, though. I saw this movie on local TV back in the 1960s, and I distinctly remember a scene where Greg and his boys go about clubbing baby seals to death while John McIntire explains that what looks like gleeful Pinniped Slaughter (Clunk!) is actually a responsible culling (Boink!) of excess population (Whack!) necessary to protect the species (Smack!)

   Which is as may be, but when The World in His Arms showed up on my streaming service, those few minutes were conspicuously absent.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

DARK STREETS OF CAIRO. Universal, 1940. Sigrid Gurie, Ralph Byrd, Eddie Quillan, Katherine DeMille, Rod La Rocque, George Zucco, Yolande Donlan, Lloyd Corrigan and Henry Brandon. Written by Alex Gottlieb. Directed by László Kardos.

   An afterthought to The Mummy’s Hand (also 1940) with the same sets, music and extras. George Zucco even wears the same shiny fez! But the players somehow manage to carry it off.

   Alex Gottlieb’s script is nothing special, and the characters are strictly from boilerplate: Stuffy old archeologist (Wright Kramer) his brash young assistant (Ralph Byrd) and the assistant’s wing man (Eddie Quillan) icy aristocratic lady (Sigrid Gurie) just waiting to be melted, dance hall girl (Yolande Donlan) with a heart of gold and a jealous boyfriend (Henry Brandon) etc. etc.

   The actors are so accustomed to parts like these by now they slip into character gracefully and even with a certain amount of authority. Rod La Rocque makes an effective Police Inspector, up against suave master criminal George Zucco, and their wit-matching scenes have that kick that comes when two veteran actors strike sparks together.

   The plot also has a few unusual wrinkles. Stuffy old Kramer has unearthed the priceless jewels that usually turn up in movies like this, and Zucco wants them. In fact, he has already arranged a sale to wealthy collector Baron Stephens (Lloyd Corrigan – and come on now: “Baron Stephens?” Really?) with a cover story that Kramer is selling them under the table, and he’s even got some fakes to switch with the real jewels, when henchman Henry Brandon bungles the theft by killing Kramer — which tips off Baron Stephens that it’s kinda shady under that there table. But when Corrigan backs out of the deal, Zucco abducts him, with an eye to framing him for Kramer’s murder. So it’s up to Byrd and Gurie — who turns out to be Corrigan ‘s daughter — to find and rescue him.

   That’s a lot of plot to squeeze into less than an hour, but director Kardos steps on the gas and runs through it with speed that defies illogic in the plot.

   I’m not here to tell you Dark Streets of Cairo is an undiscovered classic. Bu it’s a little better than it needed to be, and fans of fast-paced B-movies won’t regret watching this one.

   

   There’s a new Jack Reacher in town. Physically, he’s got Tom Cruise beat, hands down:

RED NOTICE. Netflix, 2021. Dwayne Johnson (John Hartley), Ryan Reynolds (Nolan Booth), Gal Gadot (The Bishop), Ritu Arya, Chris Diamantopoulos. Screenwriter/director: Rawson Marshall Thurber.

   A “red notice” is a global alert issued by Interpol to hunt and capture the world’s most notorious criminals. In this regard, an FBI profiler (Dwayne Johnson) is called upon to nab the world’s most wanted art thief (Ryan Reynolds), but as chance will have it, they become reluctant partners in crime, but with the goal of obtaining Cleopatra’s bejeweled “third egg” ahead of a master thief (Gal Gadot), who seems to be able to outwit them both at every turn.

   Following constantly (and mostly futilely) in the of all three wake is Inspector Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya).

   It should be noted that this is a comedy as well as a slickly-made action thriller.

   It should also be noted that this film follows solidly in the footsteps of movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, without supplying anywhere near the thrilling experience that  that earlier movie did when I saw it the first time. Or even the second or third time. This one’s OK on its own terms the first time, but watch it again? I have no interest.

   Gal Gadot is a pleasure to watch, but I think “The Rock” is getting up there too far in years to keep making adventure movies such as this. And while Ryan is a motormouth when it comes to wisecracking and joking around, one wonders when if ever he also might grow up a little.

   While the movie is fun to see — and it really is a lot better than the trailer above — a lot more money was spent in producing it than the folks behind the syndicated TV series Relic Hunter had at their disposal,for example, and I’m not so sure the results are all that much better. If you’re already subscribed to Netflix, it won’t cost you anything to see this one, but if you’re on the fence as to deciding whether to sign up or not, I’d have to tell you that this one’s not the deal-breaker you’ve been waiting for.

   Unless , that is, you’re a Gal Gadot fan. Why else would I have watched this one?

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   
THE IRON MISTRESS.  Warner Brothers, 1952. With Alan Ladd, Virginia Mayo, Joseph Calleia, Phyllis Kirk, Douglas Dick, Anthony Caruso, Nedrick Young, and Jay Novello. Screenplay by James R Webb, from the novel by Paul I Wellman. Directed by Gordon Douglas.

   A bit flabby, but it has its moments.

   The flabbiness is due mainly to lapses in James Webb’s script, which takes entirely too much time rolling out the action, cruising along the Upper Crust of New Orleans society, drawing rather labored parallels between the effete rich and backwoodsy Bowie, until one wonders if this is going to be a comedy of manners. Eventually though some action just can’t be avoided and here….

   Well here is Director Gordon Douglas, one of the most proficient action men in the game, with rip-snorters like TONY ROME, THE FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST, KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE, and RIO CONCHOS on his resumé, and he makes the most of every fist-swinging, gun-smoking, sword-sticking moment in the picture.

   Producer Henry Blanke (Whose credits include THE MALTESE FALCON and TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE) also took care to populate the cast with worthy opponents for Ladd’s Jim Bowie to come up against. Joseph Calliea, Jay Novello, Nedrick Young, and Anthony Caruso all comport themselves with creditable nastiness, and we get a fair share of excitement from scenes like:

   ● A Duel that turns into a massacre when the seconds start firing on the opposing principals;

   ● A knife fight with the Ladd and Anthony Carusos’ left arms strapped together;

   ● A woodland ambush that becomes a prolonged stalk-and-kill;

   ● And best of all, a duel in a darkened room with Bowe’s knife against Nedrick Young’s saber, choreographed by the great Fred Cavens.

   Nedrick young, by the way, is best remembered as the gunman in black who faces off against Sterling Hayden and a harpoon in TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN.

   Moments like this pack real excitement, and on the balance, IRON MISTRESS is well worth your time. But keep a finger on the fast-forward button.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

OUT OF SINGAPORE. Goldsmith Productions, 1932. Noah Beery Sr, Dorothy Burgess, Mary Carroll Murray, George Walsh, Montagu Love, Leon Wong, and Jimmy Aubrey. Written by John Francis Nattleford and Frederic Chapin. Directed by Charles Hutchison.

THE LAST ALARM. Monogram, 1940.  J Farrell MacDonald, Warren Hull, Polly Ann Young, Mary Gordon, and George Pembroke. Written by Al Martin. Directed by William “One-Shot” Beaudine, as William West. (The latter added later.)

   My life was blighted at the tender age of Fourteen.

   Or if not actually blighted, at least noticeably warped when I read William K Everson’s The Bad Guys (Citadel, 1964) and was seduced by his loving descriptions of films I had little if any chance of seeing. I mean, for a kid in his mid-teens, living in a one-TV household in a three-station town, the opportunities were a bit slim, all in all, and if something interesting did make it onto the local channels, it was usually late on a School Night.

   And so I grew up feeling Life had cheated me, thinking “If only I had been around when these films, so knowingly praised and lovingly analyzed, were made…. Or if I were just a few years older, living the free and independent life of an adult….”

   Of course I had no way of knowing then that before I reached middle-age, the world would expand: Satellite TV, then VHS, then DVDs and streaming, brought all this to me in the wisdom of my advancing years. And finally I have the chance to see what the Old Sage of the Cinema was talking about, all those years ago.

   Well it ain’t much. Everson himself admitted Out of Singapore was “one of the cheapest of poverty row quickies” but even that doesn’t begin to describe the static camerawork, cardboard characters, perfunctory screenplay, and jagged editing.

   Or the rudimentary plot: Captain Carroll of the Marigold, desperate for a First Mate, signs on Woolf Barstow (Noah Beery Sr) a seaman who holds the Indian Ocean Division record for losing the most ships at sea, all full of dubious and heavily-insured “cargo.”

   Also on board is a skullduggerous Bos’n, Scar Murray (Montagu Love) The two rascals take to each other immediately, and I have to say their scenes together are a delight, chortling over their plans to do away with the Captain, sink the Marigold with all hands, and make off with the skipper’s nubile daughter (Mary Carol Murray) “A few weeks on a desert island will bring her around!”

   Of course if things went according to scheme, Out of Singapore would be a much different movie. In this case, the flies in the ointment are a doughty Second Mate (George Walsh, rather ineffectual and obviously no match for either of the nasties.) and a fiery Latina temptress (Dorothy Burgess) whom Beery is ditching for Ms Murray — and who will not go gentle into the tropical night.

   Well we’ve all had relationships like that, haven’t we? In this case, it leads to a rather predictable comeuppance for Beery and Love. A pity that, because they were the liveliest part of the whole enterprise.

   The Last Alarm is a quieter affair altogether, despite reams of fiery stock footage to pad out the plot of aging an Fire Department Captain (J Farrell MacDonald) put out to pasture just as a serial arsonist begins terrorizing the city — cue stock footage of massive conflagrations, none of which seem terribly exciting because they’re all done in grainy long-shot. From time to time we cut to cynical reporters, the Chief demanding action from the Arson Squad, and old MacDonald grumbling about being old and useless. Big whoop, as the kids say.

   (Do the kids still say that? “Big whoop?”)

   But about this time George Pembroke comes into his own as the Mad Fire-Bug, and the scenes of him peering through his thick spectacles, cackling over his latest atrocity, or going all googly-eyed when someone lights a pipe are the stuff of real old-school, full-blooded villainy, and a pleasure to behold.

   So what we’ve got here is two bad movies that I kind of enjoyed. I can’t recommend either of them to any serious film buff, but those of us who recall the works of Willian K Everson, will feel a pleasant twinge of nostalgic fun.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

CAPTAIN BLACKJACK. Alsa Films, UK. 1950, as Black Jack; Classic Pictures, US, 1952.  George Sanders, Herbert Marshall, Patricia Roc, Agnes Moorehead and Marcel Dalio. Written by Julien Duvivier, Robert Gaillard, Michael & Rolland Pertwee, and Charles Spaak. Directed by Julien Duvivier.

   A mess. It sparkles at times, with a great cast, fine locations, and haunting visuals, but it’s still a mess.

   George Sanders made one other film in 1950, All About Eve, and he complained that the producers of Captain Blackjack didn’t know how to make a movie. Certainly, they should have sprung for better film stock and decent sound recording, but their biggest mistake was hiring George Sanders.

   For purposes of the story here, Sanders is a successful smuggler operating out of Mallorca and Tangiers, on the verge of that pre-doomed enterprise, The One Big Score that will enable him to quit the business. When Captain Marcel Dalio seeks his help with the Chalcis, a slowly sinking ship full of refugees, George sails to the rescue, offers a free ride to the beautiful Patricia Roc — who refuses — then takes the six wealthiest passengers and advises Dalio to ground the ship on a nearby island before it sinks with the rest.

   Back in Mallorca, Sanders meets up with an old Doctor-buddy (Herbert Marshall) finds Dalio in town, unencumbered by the Chalcis, and spots Roc working for wealthy and eccentric dowager Agnes Moorehead. And then….

   And then everybody just kind of goofs off for an hour or so of running time. It eventually transpires that Dalio, horny and murderous, conked Roc on the cupola, tossed her in a lifeboat, then locked the other passengers below decks and sank the Chalcis before shooting his first mate and making off for Tangier with Roc.

   It also develops that the Authorities have been tipped off about an anticipated cargo of drugs, and lie in wait for whoever picks it up. Other smugglers have also tumbled to it, and are plotting to take it for themselves. Sanders, however, has been redeemed by his love for Roc, and determines to destroy the filthy stuff before it can bring more misery into the world — or get him locked up in a Spanish hoosegow.

   There are more twists yet to come, Moorhead and Marshall are in fine form, and Marcel Dalio’s greedy killer role will surprise those who remember him as the croupier in Casablanca or the hotelier of Hawks’ To Have and Have Not.

   Director Duvivier evokes some fine, even memorable visuals here: the opening shot of the dying refugee ship limping to shore, Patricia Roc silhouetted against a jagged coast, and our hero stalking a dying man through an eerie cave filled with baroque stalactites and stalagmites. But it’s all for naught, because the leading man seems indifferent to it all.

   At one point Sanders walked off the set, claiming his pay was in arrears, and this may have contributed to the general sense of malaise he projects throughout the film. He never was the most electrifying of thespians, but here he seems near comatose. Even when strangling Agnes Moorehead or drowning poor Dalio, he barely registers a heartbeat.

   And it’s George Sanders after all who’s at the heart of this thing. If we’re to get involved at all, we must believe he’s really anxious about his scheme, really falls in love with Roc, really reforms, and all the rest of it. But he never seems to care.

So why should we?

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

CHRISTOPHER LANDON – Ice Cold in Alex. Heinemann, UK, hardcover, 1957. Sloane, US, hardcover, 1957. Also published as Hot Sands of Hell (Zenith ZB-43, US, paperback, 1960).

ICE COLD IN ALEX. ABPC, UK, 1958; released in the US as Desert Attack. John Mills, Sylvia Sims, Anthony Quayle, Harry Andrews, Diane Clare, Richard Leach, Liam Redmond, Walter Gotell. Screenplay: T. J. Morrison, based on the novel by Christopher Landon. Directed by J. Lee Thompson.

   They served it ice cold in Alex …

   
   “It” is beer, they serve it ice cold in Alexandria, Egypt at the canteen, and for Captain George Anson who is stationed in Tobruk on the eve of its fall to the advancing forces of General Erwin Rommel, beer has become a beacon of hope amid the routine and routine fear of the pounding being taken as Rommel advances and there is less and less chance of survival…

   He knew that the fear had come to stay now — not coming and then draining away, as it had for the last two days.

   Anson has been drinking more heavily with the fear and now the fear is constant as is the dream of that ice cold drink in Alex. That’s why it seems like a dream when his commander sends him, and Sgt-Major Tom Pugh on a special assignment to escort two nurses across the desert avoiding the Germans to the relative safety of Alexandria.

   He can almost taste the beer. “Four Rheingolds come before any bloody war.”

   
   The two nurses are Sister Diana and Sister Denise, the latter who has nearly lost her nerve under the German bombardment. Anson has missed the convoy, but it they leave now they can rendezvous with another for escort. At least that is the plan.

   Like many classics the set-up is a simple one. It’s the complications that follow that make the tale. Complications about the German patrol that lets them go if they will take on the South African civilian Zimmerman with them, like the impossible terrain they are forced to take to avoid more Germans, like mine fields, breakdowns, missed rendezvous, unexpected romance, salt marshes, death, thirst, fear, pain, and just maybe a German spy in their midst and perhaps that he might be their only hope to survive…

   Were they very clever … or complete stupid fools? His mind dodged back to every incident … how they reacted … how his own varying moods of contempt and wariness had pulled him this way and that like a straw in the wind.

   
   Christopher Landon is better known in the UK than here, and mostly for this book, though he wrote several other well-received thrillers. Perhaps it was just his fate to come along during the Golden Age of the British thriller at the same time as Hammond Innes, Victor Canning, Alistair MacLean, Gavin Lyall, Desmond Bagley, and Elleston Trevor (whom Landon most closely resembles). Somehow Landon slipped a little between the cracks, at least with American audiences.

   It could be some of his books are a bit bleaker than the other writers on that list , that he wanders into Graham Greene country of moral ambiguity and redemption rather than high adventure, or maybe he was just too grounded to compete with the higher flying competition.

   Whatever the reason this book was a masterpiece, and it was snapped up for a film.

   Some films are better than the book.

   This one took a fine book and turned it into a legendary war film, one of the best of its era, one of the best of any era.

   John Mills, the everyman (at least every Englishman) of his acting generation, was Anson. Sylvia Sims was Diana Norton, Harry Andrews (who else) Mechanist Sgt-Major Pugh, and Anthony Quayle, the mysterious man who joins them on their adventure across the Sahara.

   J. Lee Thompson of Cape Fear and The Guns of Navarone directed with the same set of skills demonstrated in those other films.

   The plot, most of the incidents from the book are the same are but boiled down to a little over two hours, bleakly photographed in black and white, nerve-wracking foot by foot of the journey, their fear, thirst, and distrust writ tautly across the screen, and the nerves ratcheted up right down to the final minutes and the satisfying humanity reaffirming anti climax.

   Like Flight of the Phoenix, another adventure film about unlikely survival in the desert this one holds you right down to the end.

   Ice Cold In Alex is an anti-war film, it is about humanity among a small group of diverse people in danger. Films like Lost Patrol, Sahara, and Bridge on the River Kwai come to mind. This one stands beside them.

   Mills, Quayle, and Andrews steal the show, and Andrews very nearly steals it from the other two. Acting styles may be a bit different than today, some might find there are too many speeches designed to explain things, the considerable acting skills a bit more on the nose than modern audiences are used to.

   That really doesn’t matter much. This is a superb film, a classic, one of the best war films from an era when some of the finest war films ever made were being turned out. It features three of the finest actors the British film industry had to offer, and it still has something to say about men in war and where survival outweighs politics.

   

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