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WWII, in a British disciplinary camp located in the Libyan desert. Prisoners are persecuted by Staff Sergeant Williams, who made them climb again and again, under the heavy sun, an artificial hill built right in the middle of the camp. Harris is a more human and compassionate guard, but the chief, S.M. Wilson, refuses to disown his subordinate Williams. One day, five new prisoners arrive. Each of them will deal in a different way with the authority and Williams' ferocity. Written by
Life in a British Military prison somewhere in the Lybian desert, at a time when national service (conscription) in the UK was still in force up until the mid 60s.
A superb film from Lumet that involves all sorts of political, social & personal issues. Clearly the most defined is one of Social Class between the officers & the grunts on the ground. Although Lumet doesn't make this distinction blatently obvious he makes up for it with subtle hints that are made known between Connery & Andrews in particular.
Of course another issue is one of national identity. Britain was no longer the superpower it was by the 60s and her empire was being lost through independence. Meaning that the British forces, and the army in particular, was losing its place in the world of Service & honour to the Throne.
Andrews represents a man of tradition, honour, breeding & standing. He is the unofficial overlord of the camp where he tries hard to reinforce those rules not only to the prisoners but also to his fellow officers.
While Connery represents the other side of the coin: a working class man with principles, but also a more objective man who can see the world has changed and that Britain is out of touch and is sickened by what he sees inside Andrews' camp.
But again, Lumet doesn't insult our intelligence by marking these distinctions with over the top violence. It is all cleverly interwoven throughout the film with a quality ending.
Connery has never been better, with the exception of perhaps The Untouchables and The Name of the Rose.
Andrews just takes the plaudits as the Sergeant caught in a timewarp, seeing his own little "empire" of Rules & Regulations crumble around him, and his efforts to maintain order at any cost.
In addition there is remarkable support from Ian Bannen, another Sergeant but younger and more human than his superior. Bannen is excellent as he tries to help the prisoners from Andrews' sadism but he too is soon found wanting.
Finally, there's Ossie Davis, who is a black prisoner proud to fight for his Queen & Country, and yet gets treated far worse by Andrews' & co simply because he is black.
Although Davis gives a very good performance, I'm always concerned that quite a few of his movie roles represent the racial aspect and how he deals with it. But nevertheless, he is excellent here.
A good film then, on a par with Full Metal Jacket. Tough, sweaty, loud, gripping!
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