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I saw Man in the Middle with my dad at the old Rio Theater in Downtown
Miami City in 1964. I was just a child, but I still remember the
shocking scene in the beginning of the film where Keenan Wynn's
character walks into a packed army tent and shoots a young soldier to
Filmed in black and white, the film was extremely well-acted and filmed. Robert Mitchem was outstanding as the officer in charge of defending Wynne and trying to determine just why he murdered this young soldier. However, the show is stolen by Keenan Wynn and he gives his greatest screen performance.
Man in the Middle rates a 10 out of 10.
"Man In The Middle" (1964) is arguably Mitchum's best performance
(certainly his most nuanced) and one of those situations where you
can't imagine anyone else in the role. Although the focus is a
"military" court martial in India during the last months of WWII, it is
basically a standard courtroom drama with Mitchum's character playing
the defense counsel. The actual proceeding is very similar to that
shown in "The Caine Mutiny" (1954). With a running length of just 93
minutes and a relatively complex story to tell, Director Guy Hamilton
had to utilize a lot of stereotypes and nonverbal clues from Mitchum to
assemble a coherent film. He is largely successful although it appears
a lot of the romantic side story (between Mitchum and "South Pacific's
France Nuyen) was trimmed before release. That is of little importance
to the theme, what was left works mainly as a way to go out on
Mitchum's closing line "you might not be able to beat them but you
don't have to join them".
Out of combat, recovering from his wound, a limping career Army lieutenant colonel with a law degree and limited legal experience finds himself assigned to defend an American officer (Lt. Winston-played by Keenan Wynn) who has already confessed to the murder of a British Staff Sergeant. In fact, the film opens with the murder so the viewer is never in doubt about the "who done it" issue. All that remains is the punishment phase of the proceeding. Winston's brother-in-law is a congressman who has rejected several other potential defense counsels but has agreed to Mitchum's appointment. The area commander (nicely played by Barry Sullivan) wants the proceeding expedited ASAP with a death sentence, the best way to satisfy the British so everyone can go back to pulling together. He is a friend of Mitchum's family and is confident that Mitchum will take one for the team and do what is best for the war effort.
And at first Mitchum seems quite agreeable to the idea of providing no more than a token defense; pointing out to the two hot shot attorneys on his defense team that in a few months they will be back practicing law as civilians while he has found a home in the Army and does not want this to louse up his career. He has only been given a few days to assemble his case anyway.
But as he reviews the circumstances and interviews a few people he becomes convinced that his client is a psychological basket case who was unable to determine right from wrong at the time of the murder. There is no time for the film to explore the origins of Lt. Winstons's mental condition and no time to give any dimensionality to his character. Nor is it actually of any real relevance to the story Director Guy Hamilton is trying to tell, so Winston is simplistically portrayed as a totally unsympathetic character. Unlike in "A Few Good Men" (1992), it is intended that the viewer conclude that just going through the motions would really be in the best interests of everyone except the defendant.
Mitchum is on the screen 90% of the time and is the only character that undergoes any real change during the course of the film. And Mitchum must underplay the change process because the idea is to show that if the Army had not tried to hinder his efforts, he would never have put so much energy into the defense. It is a great nonverbal performance as Mitchum slowly gets his back up about what is happening and decides that personal integrity trumps career aspirations. Somewhat cliché and with the score more appropriate to an overwrought melodrama, it is a nice illustration of the condensed storytelling process of films.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
This movie shows what a fine and underrated actor Keenan Wynn was. His
performance is sublime.
The story itself is very believable and convincing; adapted from the fine novel The Winston Affair by Howard Fast.
Robert Mitchem gives an excellent performance as does Leslie Howard.
This film addresses many issues of race and responsibility in a much better fashion than most newer films.
Unfortunately the film is not available on video. If you get a chance to see it take the chance! You will not regret it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was a very good film---and I think better than the current
mediocre rating on IMDb. Perhaps a lot of the reason I liked this one
is that I used to be a psychotherapist--and I loved the psychological
angle of this film. Considering that it's a Robert Mitchum film, I am
pretty surprised that it isn't more well-known.
The film begins in WWII with an officer (Keenan Wynn) marching into another soldier's tent and killing him--right in front of many witnesses! This killing seemed pretty mindless and you have no idea what motivated such actions. The scene then switches--Wynn is awaiting trial and Robert Mitchum has been asked to defend the guy in a court martial. However, it's fascinating that Wynn's superiors basically tell him that Wynn is guilty and WILL be executed--and the defense of him in court is merely a formality! And, to make things worse, the murder victim was a Brit--and the Americans don't want to upset their ally. At first, Mitchum is willing enough just to go through the motions--especially when he finds Wynn to be an obnoxious jerk when he tries to meet with him. But, later, he slowly starts to realize that Wynn might be insane--and executed a man with this diminished capacity might be wrong. But, he also knows it might be career suicide to buck the system.
The plot is very interesting and I enjoyed the film--and much of it was because it was so different. One minor problem, though, was the character played by Frances Nuyen. Her character seemed underdeveloped and her actions at the end of the film made little sense. I felt sorry for her, as she just wasn't given a role with any depth--which is bad when her role is so prevalent in the movie. Still, aside from this it's a dandy film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the musical "South Pacific", the character of Lt. Joseph Cable
teaches French plantation owner Emile DeBeque that you've got to be
taught to be prejudice. It doesn't come naturally. "It's got to be
drummed in your dear little ear", he sings. What then makes a white man
so filled with prejudice that he'll shoot another white man in cold
blood just to keep the white race clean? Is that man psychotic or so
filled with what he's been taught that he felt what he was doing was
justified? That's the story here. Set in India during World War II,
this film focuses on the hatred from an American Lieutenant (Keenan
Wynn) who shoots a British NCO in cold blood, later we find out,
because the man was in danger of "destroying the white race by mixing
his blood with that of a black woman".
Attorney Robert Mitchum is assigned to the case, at first he thinks to be a prosecutor, but later he finds out to be the defense. Mitchum knows he is simply a puppet to prevent any issues between the British and American Governments for this murder, and that Wynn is sure to get the death penalty. He decides to do what he can to be more than just a mouthpiece sure to loose, and finds out in interviewing a few witnesses that Wynn showed signs of insanity. That becomes his goal: to save Wynn from hanging (and himself) by declaring that he is insane. The problem? Wynn is so sure of his justification of murder in preserving the race that he refuses to consider being called insane.
Mitchum is excellent as he prepares his case, but it is Wynn who wins the acting honors, at first only interested in rye bread over the wheat toast he's been given at breakfast, then apologizing to Mitchum so he can explain why he did what he did. That makes his character even more scary, because his justification not only of murder but his hatred of non-whites makes him exactly the type of enemy that the Allies were fighting the war for. Frances Nuyen is very pretty as the Chinese/French nurse Mitchum briefly becomes involved in, not quite the delicate doll she appears at first sight to be, but still very feminine and charming. Keep the room around you totally silent when Wynn explodes in the courtroom scene. Barry Sullivan and Trevor Howard also give outstanding performances, and Guy Hamilton's direction is tight, direct and basically flawless. Many movies of the 1960's were made to wake people up to the social issues which came out of World War II, the Korean War, and the upcoming Vietnam War. This is one not worth missing.
There is not a player worth their talent who does not eventually want
to do a role in a courtroom drama. The sad thing is that Robert Mitchum
got his turn in court in Man In The Middle.
Not that it's a bad role or a bad performance that Mitchum turns in. But ultimately you don't really care what happens to the victim here, an insane and racist army lieutenant played by Keenan Wynn who coldbloodedly shot down a British sergeant in the China-Burma-India theater of World War II.
It's the nationalities here, the American Army in the spirit of interallied cooperation just wants to get Wynn quickly convicted and hung in a proficient military manner. General Barry Sullivan has gotten Mitchum to be the defense lawyer with then presumption that because Mitchum is from a military family he will do the right thing by the army's standards.
But an army nurse and an army psychiatrist played by France Nuyen and Sam Wanamaker make him see that Wynn needs the best defense. The army has suppressed a report where Wanamaker has clearly stated that Wynn is certifiable, but the medical corps have deep sixed the report and Wanamaker. Doing that bit of dirty work is Alexander Knox.
What's keeping this thing alive is Wynn's unseen brother-in-law a Congressman. That will usually do it with the military.
The film was partially shot on location in New Delhi and the biggest problem on set according to Robert Mitchum's biographer Lee Server was keeping Trevor Howard away from the booze. Howard is in the film as well as a British psychiatrist and apparently at the time he was heavily drinking and he couldn't hold the liquor as well as Mitch. Not that he didn't stop trying. The biography goes into what must have been a hilarious scene where the director is trying to tell a drunken Howard on the set to change some mismatching socks which even a black and white camera could pick up.
Man In The Middle is well made and the performances sincere by the players. But in the end I really could not care what the army did with Keenan Wynn.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It sounds good. An American officer, Keenan Wynn, shoots a British
sergeant in India during the war and is put on trial for his life.
Everyone seems anxious to hang Wynn, get over this international
incident that is somehow impeding the war effort.
Robert Mitchum is assigned the task of defending Wynn. His superiors urge him to fail, and there may be a promotion in it if Wynn hangs. The problem is that Wynn, though pronounced sane by an inefficient doctor, seems to be nuts. When he's not sitting mute, with his lips clenched, staring unblinkingly ahead, he erupts like a pustule and begins running around spewing racial epithets and accusing others of stealing from him.
It puts Mitchum in a quandary. He can go with the flow, follow the hypothetical imperative, and put up a lazy defense so that Wynn hangs and he, Mitchum, become a full bird colonel. Or he can follow a moral imperative and try to see that justice is done, in which case he himself can look forward to a career in the Army that is a dead end.
Yes, it sounds good. Directed by Guy ("Bond, James Bond") Hamilton, shot more or less on location, with Mitchum, Wynn, Trevor Howard, and other respected actors.
Lamentably, it looks like not much more than a variation on "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial." France Nguyen is thrown in gratuitously in order to prove that Mitchum is heterosexual, I guess. She has little enough other reason to be in the film. Mitchum is his bulky, somewhat swaybacked, usual self but doesn't do anything very exciting or insightful. The script doesn't give him much of a chance. Sam Wanamaker and Trevor Howard are doctors, Wanamaker lending some excitement to the story, but their parts are small. Trevor Howard slurs his lines and seems barely able to get the words out.
The director allows everyone to speak too loudly. Outsized, perfunctory dialog is okay in a courtroom puzzle like "Witness for the Prosecution" but not for one that deals with more subtle issues. The ending is the same as in "The Caine Mutiny," "Buffalo Soldiers," and a million Perry Mason episodes. The whole trial and its preparation turn into wasted time when one of the witnesses, or the defendant himself, breaks down on the stand and begins screaming, jabbering insanely, or sobbing out his guilt.
This is the film Guy Hamilton made just before the blockbuster of his
career "Goldfinger" -which,although very different from "Man in the
middle" ,remains one of the best (who says best?) Bond ever made-.
The problem with "man in the middle " is that there's not enough scenes with Keenan Wynn.We would like to know more about him,about his childhood,his relationship with his colleagues,women ,etc.Only Trevor Howard's final plea -which an ominous music makes disturbing- really tells us about his psyche.Also handicapped by a decorative female character who brings almost nothing to the plot whereas we 're waiting to know more about Winton's motives.Average.
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