THE WHITE TOWER. RKO, 1950. Glenn Ford, Alida Valli, Lloyd Bridges, Claude Rains, Oscar Homolka, Sir Cedric Hardwicke. Screenplay by Paul Jarrico, from the novel by James Ramsay Ullman. Art Direction by Ralph Berger. Directed by Ted Tetzlaff.

   A sparkling gem of a film, easy to watch and dazzling to behold.

   The story is of a disparate group of mountaineers who set out to climb a mountain known as the White Tower, each for his or her own reasons. Jarrico’s screenplay sketches them out capably, and in the hands of top-notch players (check out that cast) they come to life with subtle nuance. I particularly liked the way the characters each reacted differently to Lloyd Bridges as the able and indispensible member of the team who turns out to be an unreconstructed Nazi and a complete jerk besides.

   TOWER wastes a bit too much time getting them all started up the mountain, but the rich Technicolor imagery of the beautiful Alpine countryside — gorgeouser than which there is nothing — makes the time pass pleasantly And once they start the climb…

   Let me digress a bit: Director Ted Tetzlaff knew how to milk a story, as witness THE WINDOW (1949) but he was primarily a cinematographer, with impressive films like NOTORIOUS and THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE to his credit. His cinematographer here was Ray Rennahan, who could look back with pride on DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, BLOOD AND SAND and DUEL IN THE SUN. And the sets (more on that later) were designed by Ralph Berger, who was responsible for the catchy visual backgrounds of WHITE ZOMBIE, THE LOST CITY, ON DANGEROUS GROUND and the first FLASH GORDON serial.

   Well, when three visual stylists like this get together, you can expect something special and they do not disappoint. The actual climbing is done in long shot by stunt doubles, but the way Tetzlaff and Rennahan capture the action, one never stops to think about that — at least this one didn’t; I was too busy gasping at the sight of them dangling from ledges and clawing at crevices to think about stunt doubles.

   When we see the stars in close-up on the mountain, it’s mostly in studio “exteriors” and it’s here where set-maker Berger really shines. I guess I knew on some level that Glenn Ford and Lloyd Bridges weren’t really hunkering down in a wind-lashed tent or clinging for their lives to fragile toe-holds in the snow, but that never occurred to me as I watched them doing it — the illusion is that good.

   WHITE TOWER ends as it started, with a bit too much Movie after the Story is over, but again there’s plenty of pretty pitchers to look at as you scrape the last husks of popcorn from your bag, and I can’t think of a better way to fill up the time.