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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
"The Hill" is the first of five films Sean Connery made with Sidney Lumet, and is one of the best, largely because it focuses on ensemble acting, and because each of the actors are up to the task.
The film is set in a North African prison camp during World War II, where a group of five inmates (Connery, Ossie Davis, Roy Kinnear, Alfred Lynch and Jack Watson) have just been assigned. The Sergeant-Major who runs things at the camp (Harry Andrews) has a novel theory about rehabilitation -- break down the wills of the inmates by repeatedly running them up and down a sandy hill built in the middle of the compound, then rebuild them as model soldiers. Despite the martinet-type attitude, Connery and each of his fellow inmates begins to rebel against Andrews and his new, sadistic assistant (Ian Hendry), culminating in the death of one of the inmates and the consequent attempt to cover up the incident.
In black-and-white, Lumet has done a remarkable job of giving the location the feel of hell-on-earth, and his noted ability to work with actors is visible here. Connery is excellent in the second-best performance of his career (the best was his 1973 performance in "The Offence", also with Lumet directing) as a career soldier whose not all that certain that the Army's outdated discipline is worth anything. Equally good performances are turned in by Davis as a West Indian soldier who takes the racist barbs of his jailers and rebels in his own, unique way; Watson as a brutish inmate who begins to develop a conscience; Ian Bannen as a sympathetic guard; Lynch as a sensitive man not meant for the army or jail; Andrews; and Michael Redgrave as the ineffectual doctor who finds courage at the crucial moment.
Probably the best performance, however, is turned in by Hendry as the deeply insecure, sadistic loose cannon of a guard who truly sets events in motion. At once, his performance is villanous, but with an edge of immaturity that makes it almost difficult to hate him -- until the end when the other characters really begin to appreciate just how dangerous he is.
Unfortunately, this film was ignored by the Oscars -- a tragedy especially from some actors who have/had generally been ignored by the Academy and other awards groups (i.e., Connery, Hendry, Andrews, Davis). It did, however, win an award at the Cannes Film Festival for Ray Rigby's superb screenplay.
You may need to listen close to pick up some of the dialogue, but by all means, see it if you get the chance.
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