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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Black Tent" was made several years before "Lawrence Of Arabia."
Had it been made ten years later, it would have been accused of
plagiarism. Instead it can be said in some respects to anticipate
"Lawrence of Arabia".
After The Second World War, the heir to an extensive British country estate complete with enormous house and agricultural land travels to Libya to learn what happened to his brother. With one Arab to guide him, he journeys by camel across the vast deserts to talk with a tribal chief - as also happened in "Lawrence". After various delays, he is given his brother's diary and learns the truth. During the war, his brother had become detached from his regiment and had been the sole Briton amongst Arabs - as was the case in "Lawrence Of Arabia" He had led Arab fighters in ambushes on enemy patrols - as also happened in "Lawrence Of Arabia". The brother had married the daughter of the tribal chief, and eventually had been killed in action against German soldiers. Again like "Lawrence Of Arabia" the cinematography - here in VistaVision and Technicolor - shows the vastness of the desert and makes it strangely beautiful.
Unlike "Lawrence Of Arabia" "The Black Tent" had a journeyman director, and was made with little attention to detail or realism. All the Arabs speak English fluently and with Received Pronunciation! Even more ludicrously, the younger brother travels across the desert by camel wearing a suit and tie and city shoes! He does not even break into a sweat! More seriously, there is no tension in the movie. The action sequences are unimaginatively staged, and scenes where suspense should be agonising - such as when Germans enter the Arab camp and discover the British soldier's gun or when German soldiers visit an ancient ruin and take photographs of themselves within a few yards of the fugitive British soldier - are entirely free of tension.
"The Black Tent" is mildly entertaining and is certainly visually splendid, but it could and should have been much better.
Even as a fan of Donald Sinden, this is only an OK offering. The most enjoyable part has to be the amazing locations, set in Libya. The original story was obviously a long novel that was a real struggle to compress into a script
"The Black Tent" begins with a man in Britain being told that his
brother, the heir to the family fortune, MIGHT still be alive in North
Africa--over a decade after he was assumed to have died fighting in
WWII. However, when he tracks down the Bedoins who sheltered and healed
him during the war, they deny having any other knowledge of him. After
he leaves, however, he finds his brother's diary--someone had stuck it
in his belongings in order to let him know the truth. Most of what
follows is a flashback--flashbacks where you learn that the brother was
like a son to the Chief and that he even eventually married the man's
daughter! But the story goes beyond that--he even organized the locals
into a small guerrilla army which attacked Axis troops! What happened
next? See the film.
By far the best thing about this movie is the location shooting. The amazing ruins at Sabratha, Libya serve as a backdrop as is the nearby desert. However beautiful this is, however, the story itself isn't that captivating. Now it isn't because the idea is bad--it's not. But he execution seemed very plodding and flat. The writing could have been better and the actors a bit more charismatic. Still, a watchable adventure tale that is reasonably watchable.
This film can be summed up as follows: sumptuous photography; turgid
plot; wooden acting.
The mystery is how they could string it out for two hours. The story is that there isn't a story - it's just a travelogue across the Libyan desert. Michael Craig, who was hot property in British cinema back then, is a blacked-up Arab sheik and has no lines that I can remember. Blink and you miss him. I just couldn't work out what Anthony Steele would see in the love interest. Donald Sinden looks as though he has the mood of someone who has got out of bed the wrong side every morning of the shoot.
The only thing that must have stopped this from bombing at the box office was the novelty for the cinema-going public in grey, smog-ridden 1950s Britain of seeing 'real', 'desert' sand in colour, something they could have done on the sea front at Clacton or Bournemouth.
But I'm just being facetious!
Brian Desmond Hurst directs, Anthony Steel and André Morell star, Bryan Forbes and Robin Maugham write, William Alwyn scores the music and Desmond Dickinson photographs in VistaVision Technicolor.
It looks lovely, the Libya locations amazing, yet it's a dull and uneventful movie. Story concerns Capt. David Holland (Steel), who during WWII in the North African campaign gets injured and winds up being nursed by some Bedouin natives. He promptly becomes part of the crowd, falls in love with the Sheik's daughter and instigates a repel the Nazis front with the natives. But what happened next? Holland's brother, Col. Sir Charles (Donald Sinden), travels to Libya to find out.
What he finds is obviously what we find out, that there's an inter racial romance at the heart of the story, some mistrust, loyalties born, a small scale battle and a double edged sword of a finale. It's all very contrived and mismatched, while some of the acting comes dangerously close to being parody supreme. Not good really and the tech guys deserve a better movie, and so do we. Oh well, if nothing else it obviously inspired Lawrence of Arabia. Hee hee hee. 5/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Comparisons have been made between this film and Lawrence of Arabia; a rather unfair comparison in my view. Lawrence of Arabia is based on the actual life and exploits of T. E. Lawrence, set in the First World War. This is a war film in the mould of Tobruk, set in WWII, where it does fall down is in the long drawn out romance scenes which are something of a distraction. The script rather reflects the attitudes of the time, and you do have to suspend disbelief a few times, especially as Donald Sinden's character crosses the desert by camel dressed in city clothes, yet remains immaculate throughout. The nomads all speak perfect English, they can even rustle up a German interpreter when needed, yet have remained entirely unaffected by the outside world. There really isn't much plot to speak of, yet the cinematography lends the story some distinction. Average and inoffensive.
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