Monday, 22 July 2013

No.113 : The Hill

The Hill at the IMDb

Sean Connery made this 1965, black and white drama immediately after he finished ‘Goldfinger’ presumably to show that there was more to him than Martinis and one liners. Well it worked - he can do shouting too!

Connery is one of five men who arrive in a British  North African army penal camp during World War 2. The four others are privates convicted for petty crimes whereas Connery is an officer charged with disobeying orders.

The camp is run by a team of sadistic guards who glory in running their charges into the ground. Their favourite torture device is the titular hill which, although quite small, breaks all who are set up and down it. Connery as a seemingly cowardly officer gets singled out for special treatment and this doesn’t sit well with his cellmates who are roped in too. These include Sandy out of ‘The Wild Geese’ Roy Kinnear and a spirited black chap who gets all kinds of racial abuse that seems outrageous by today’s standards.

The men are passed fit by an ineffectual medical officer and put in the grim hands of the evil Sgt Stevens. He reports to the blinkered RSM Wilson who in turn reports to the oblivious commandant. The brutal drills soon cause the men to faint and despite Connery’s knowledge of the regulations they get no respite. Only slightly fey officer Ian Bannen offers some support but the bullying climate keeps him in check.

After one brutal drill on the hill one of the cellmates collapse and dies. Can the men find justice or will the metaphorical hill of threats and lies be too much for them to surmount?

Two hours of sweaty men shouting at each other may not be everyone’s cup of tea but this is an excellent film with a lot to say about discipline, the law and class. The injustices are plain to see but these are guilty men and there’s a war on. Where should our sympathies lie? Director Sidney Lumet answers this from the off with the guards onto a hiding as soon as Sean shows up with his book of rules. His character was well drawn with the truth of his imprisonment slowly drawn out of him.

When the man dies a near mutiny ensues but this is swiftly quelled with some selective punishment and the lure of some cheese. Sean isn’t so easily bought and gets a strong kicking for his troubles. Can he convince the weak medical officer and the simpering Bannen to stand up for what is just? To convince them we get a near half hour scene of the men yelling at each other as battle lines are drawn and alliances are forged and quickly recanted when the tide turns.

The cast is uniformly (!) excellent and the drama is well realised against a massive set with dozens of extras. It would work well as a theatre production and the director wisely chooses to use a lot of close ups and jerky camera movements to give an unsettling sense of isolation and disconnection.

There are some uncomfortable scenes especially when the black actor, Ossie Davis, has to endure abuse and spend much of the film in his oversized pants, but I’m sure what was portrayed was mild compared to the real life environment.

Overall this was a fast paced two hours with the focus on character and dialogue. Top notch acting and directing saved it from being a cheap melodrama and it’s certainly one that’ll live long in the memory.

THE Tag Line : Climb this Hill!   76%

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