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Asked to give his assessment of Umberto Nobile's leadership in the
Italia airship disaster of 1927, his friend and colleague, Samoilovich,
offers this sage advice, "Men are judged by their actions and their
actions by their success". What exactly are the qualities needed for
leadership? "The Red Tent" is a wonderful meditation on that question.
At the time Nobile was disgraced, he was accused of abandoning his men,
and made a scapegoat for the disaster by Benito Mussolini's Fascist
government. Forty years after the event his rest is still disturbed by
doubts he has about the leadership he exercised. Could the tragedy have
been averted? Was it his vanity to be the first to cross the pole by
air, that led to the calamity? These and other questions are tackled in
this thoughtful film.
The entire film actually takes place in the General's mind. He calls back various participants to the event, to re-live what happened, and ultimately to pass judgment on him. It is this framing device that makes the film unique, for it examines Nobile's leadership from a divergent points of view, allowing the viewers to make their own judgment as well. It is a theatrical device to be sure, but it works in this film. In time we come to learn that truth often walks on two legs and has a left and right hand. "Yet we must have judgment", says one of the participants, and so they do. These scenes which all take place in Nobile's apartment in Rome with it's warmth and comfort, provide a wonderful contrast to the stark reality of the struggle for survival at the Arctic Pole.
The film is beautifully written and the acting is of a high level throughout. Sean Connery, ridding himself of his Bond image, plays Roald Amundsen, the great Arctic explorer at the end of his days. It is Amundsen who exemplifies the qualities a great leader should have. It is the first and in some ways still the best of Connery's wise old man performances. He is also the one participant Nobile has most conspicuously not brought back. After intruding on the proceedings like some force of nature, he describes how he had reached the wreak of the Italia, only to crash land and be stranded. With nothing to do but wait to freeze to death he finds solace in his final moments of life with a book he has found strewn among the wreckage. The cynical Lundborg scornfully rejects this "final touch" as "theatrical" "But who would I be acting for?" Amundsen asks. "Yourself" Lundborg replies. "But that isn't acting," Connery wisely replies, "That's necessary. The trick is to choose the right part." The film is filled with great lines like this. Claudia Cardinale, as Nurse Valaria, provides the emotional center of the film. She resents the good people of King's Bay capitalizing on the disaster, yet she has no misgivings whatever in playing on Amundsen's sense of guilt to get him to mount a rescue attempt. After all he had introduced her lover, the Meteorologist, Finn Malgrem to Arctic exploration. She is also willing to offer herself to Lundborg if he will risk his life to fly in unsafe weather conditions. It is her bitter confrontation with Nobile after he has been safely brought back to King's Bay while the others were left freezing on the ice, that is the beginning of his sleepless nights. His inability to stop Zampi, his ambitious second in command from leaving the red tent with Mariano and Malgrem in a vain attempt to reach help, would result in the Meteorologist being lost on the ice. "You cracked like the ice." she tells the General. "We shall never meet again I hope. And I hope you never forget." He doesn't.
Peter Finch as Nobile carries the film, and he is in every way up to the task. He manages to convey the intelligence, courage, vanity and despair of this self-doubting individual. He is a man who both admires Amundsen and resents always being compared with him. Hardy Kruger plays the dashing Aviator Lundborg with a nice blend of charm and hard edge cynicism. He is the first to reach the survivors. His motives for rescuing the Nobile over the General's objections that he take the other members of his expedition first, some of whom are badly injured, may have been less than admirable, but it is this act that will ultimately save the others. Lundborg finally persuades the General to go with a combination of threats,(he will leave him and the others behind), reassurance,(six quick trips and it will be over), and finally reason, (the General is badly needed at King's Bay to organize the rescue). The others also agree the General must go. It is only when he is safely back at King's Bay, that he realizes his actions have been badly misconstrued as an act of desertion. By that time weather conditions have changed again and it is impossible to go back and rescue the others by air. "What do they think I've done?" he asks Captain Romagna, the ineffectual rescue coordinator, after reading a cable from Rome placing him under arrest. "They think you have done what you have done, I suppose." Romagna lamely replies. While aboard ship, Nobile radios his friend Samoilovitch to use the icebreaker Krassin to rescue the others. This he does. "Men are judged by their actions and their actions by their success." The General's decision to leave his men led to his being able to radio the Krassin which in turn led to the rescue of his men. "His actions, therefor were correct."
Lastly, Ennio Morricone's lush score captures both the romance of a great endeavor being undertaken and the desolate, ethereal beauty of the Arctic. This film deserves to be seen and heard, and one can only hope that one day it will be restored.
Considering that from 1900 to 1937 dirigibles were part of the world of
aviation, it is odd how few movies deal with them. I suspect it is
because the film of the crash of the Hindenburg seems to summarize to
us the fallacy of using lighter-than-air craft, but many aviation
experts believe that there is still use for zeppelins and similar craft
- that their cargo carrying capacities exceed aeroplanes. However,
other experts deny this.
To date, the following films deal with this chapter of aviation history.
ZEPPELIN (Michael York has to stop the Kaiser's airforce from stealing the Magna Carta with their most modern designed Zeppelin.) THE COURT MARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL (Reference to the crash of the U.S. Navy Zeppelin Shenandoah in 1925, and the death of General Mitchell's (Gary Cooper's) friend, Captain Zachary Landsdowne. Mitchell was aware that the damaged Shenandoah was sent on a stupid political publicity tour in Ohio when it should have been repaired, and it was sent straight into a dangerous thunderstorm pattern.) THE RED TENT HINDENBERG (A film about the destruction of the great Zeppelin, with the emphasis on the theory that an anti-Nazi crewman put a time bomb on board. George C. Scott finds the bomb too late to stop the plot. It incorporates the footage of the Zeppelin's destruction).
THE RED TENT is an excellent film about the 1928 ITALIA disaster. I have referred to this in my review of the movie SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC. Briefly, General Umberto Nobile was an Italian aviation pilot and designer of "semi-rigids", a type of hybrid between a balloon and a zeppelin. A balloon has no shape, but is a bag full of heated air or hydrogen or helium, attached to a small carriage for the passengers (usually from two to five people. A zeppelin has a total framework and keel, which contains separate bags within, each containing hydrogen or helium gas lifting it. Unlike a balloon, which depends on the wind currents to steer the bag, the zeppelin has electric/gasoline motors that propel it in one direction or another. As zeppelins are large they require crews (usually of 24 or more men). The semi-rigid is a keel with half a framework, but the bags are not supporting a metal cover. Rather the bag is like an elongated balloon.
Nobile had great belief in his semi-rigids, but (like the zeppelins) they met with some success, some failure. In 1922 a semi-rigid he designed and sold to the U.S. Government, the ROMA, blew up in Hampton Roads, Virginia, when it touched a high tension wire that was across part of the field. It killed several dozen crewmen. On the other hand, in 1926 Nobile had designed a semi-rigid called the NORGE, which was used (successfully) for a flight over the North Pole.
THE RED TENT does not go into the details of this 1926 flight, which is a pity. If it did, it would explain some of the reasons for the immense public relations disaster the ITALIA proved to be.
To begin with, Nobile is an Italian. He was fully willing to work for the fascist government of Benito Musolini, but his work was only supported by that dictator as long as it's success was useful in advertising his regime's ability to make things better in Italy. However, one of the heroes of Fascist Italy, and one of the brightest men in the government, was the Italian war hero and aviation pioneer General Italo Balbo. Balbo is forgotten today, as he was tarred with being a supporter of the Fascists. What is forgotten is that in the 1920s up to 1935 fascism in Italy had many supporters, including Winston Churchill, who felt it was necessary to give Italy a strong centralized government. Balbo, within the Fascist regime, was a smart man who did his best to modernize the Italian air force and Italy's aviation industry. He also tried to emphasize Italy's ties to the democracies in the west - flying a flotilla of planes across the Atlantic in 1933 to the Chicago World's Fair on a good will tour. His attempts to keep friendly relations with the U.S., England, and France ran afoul of Il Duce, and may have led to the accident that ended Balbo's career (he was killed by "friendly fire" shooting down his plane over Libya in 1940).
Balbo was suspicious of the advantage of "lighter-than-air" aviation. He knew planes were getting larger and faster, and that the claims that long distance travel would only remain the province of zeppelins was a lot of hooey. So when Nobile presented him with his latest semi-rigids, Balbo questioned their real use. To be truthful (although Nobile did some fine work) history was on Balbo's side on this.
Nobile had to maintain his own friendship with Il Duce, and to do this, he needed successful results. Now the NORGE proved (as a machine) to be wonderful. It did fly to the North Pole. But the expedition was not so wonderful. The expedition was planned by the American explorer, Lincoln Ellsworth. He asked his friend, the great polar explorer Roald Amundsen to co-direct the expedition. And then they got Nobile to design the NORGE. The problem was that Nobile was insisting he was a co-leader with Ellsworth and Amundsen on the expedition. It is possible that if Ellsworth and Nobile had been alone there would have been no problem. The problem was Amundsen. He despised Musolini's regime, and considered Nobile nothing more than a talented mechanic and chauffeur. This was hardly fair, for it was an expedition to the Pole by air, and as such it would not have gotten anywhere without Nobile and his machine.
To make matters worse, while the NORGE was waiting in Spitsbergen for the right wind to travel to the Pole, a plane piloted by U.S. Navy Captain Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett arrived. Byrd took off while the NORGE waited, and flew north. Within half a day it returned, and Byrd claimed he reached the Pole! Today we know from writings left by Bennett, and by some papers of Byrd showing his calculations, that he didn't reach the Pole, but in 1926 it was believed he did. This apparent success of heavier-than-air travel over lighter-than-air travel did not help endear Nobile's work with Amundsen.
So, despite the successful flight to the Pole and back (nobody seemed to notice that Byrd's American flag could not be found there), the NORGE voyage was not the great success Nobile needed. Balbo kept carping at the obvious comparison of the semi-rigid and Byrd's trimotor. And Il Duce was upset at the way that Nordic upstart Amundsen had slighted his representative. So Nobile decided he would design a larger semi-rigid and fly to the Pole leading this expedition by himself. Il Duce approved. Balbo just glared and said nothing.
THE RED TENT follows what happens. The voyage was a success again at the start. But an accident caused the ITALIA to crash on the ice, causing one of the gondolas to land on the ice with most of the crew. The out of control semi-rigid bounced back with nine men on board. It and the nine men drifted out of sight and were never seen again. Nobile (fortunately) had the main gondola, with the supplies and the radio. A red colored tent was set up on the ice, and distress signals were sent out. Certainly help would come.
But it didn't come. A very conservative and timid second in command had been left by Nobile in Spitsbergen, and although he got some of the signals he kept from releasing any requests for international assistance. After all, this fool reasoned, Nobile and the survivors should be rescued by Italians. Ordinarily this made sense, but Balbo and Musolini could not find the huge resources needed to assist in the rescue by themselves, particularly as the survivors were hundreds of miles north of Spitsbergen. So valuable time was lost.
Some of the survivors, the Finnish meteorologist Malmsen and two Italian crewmen, talked Nobile into letting them try to cross the ice to Scandanavia to get help. What happened next is not really known. In the film Malmsen dies of exhaustion and starvation but the Italians manage to survive. In reality the possibility exists that Malmsen was killed and eaten by the Italians (his body was never found).
Malmsen's girlfriend (Claudia Cardinale in the movie) goes to get Amundsen's assistance. In realty this was not necessary. Amundsen recalled Nobile with considerable distaste. As mentioned before he disliked the fascist regime, but there is a lingering feeling that he actually was a nordic racist who disliked Italians. He decided to get a plane and rescue Nobile (and proceed to humiliate the uppity "chauffeur" for his temerity at challenging Amundsen in polar ability). But the plane he got, a modern French plane, had an air cooled motor. Amundsen may have known much about planning depots of food, and knowing how much food to leave per member of an expedition, but he was not a mechanic (ironically enough). He and a small crew took off and were never seen again. Years later some wreckage was located, showing (according to Amundsen's fellow polar explorer, Vihiljamar Steffenson)that the plane must have crashed in the gulf stream, and that Amundsen and his crew died trying to use one of the wings as a raft.
A plane, piloted by an Italian, finally did arrive, but it only rescued Nobile. Nobile made the error of going first, presumably planning to return for the others. It turned out he did not have to - a Soviet ice breaker, the KRASSIN, arrived and rescued the remaining survivors (including the two Italians last seen with Malmsen).
Of course, Musolini was furious. There was a huge death toll. There was a humiliating example of possible cannibalism by two Italians. THere was a question of the cowardice of General Nobile in leaving his surviving crew behind. Finally the remaining men, all fascists mind you, were rescued by sailors from Communist Russia!
Balbo gleefully was able to convince his boss to shelve further "lighter-than-air" travel adventures (indeed further "lighter-than-air" transportation design). Nobile was openly disgraced by Il Duce, and left Italy (ironically he ended working for the Soviet Union, where Dirigibles were used for transportation for decades after the west stopped using them).
The movie is well acted by Peter Finch as Nobile, Sean Connery as Amundsen, and Cardinale as Malmsen's girlfriend. It glosses over the odd attitude of Amundsen towards Nobile, and the actual death of Malmsen. Amundsen, as one of the ghosts Finch talks to, says his plane crashed near the wrecked dirigible, and he was the last survivor of both groups. Supposedly, his final hours are spent reading Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. But the film does tackle the issue of command and leadership, and all the figures in the disaster are found to be lacking it. Nobile may not have been the coward Musolini claimed he was, but when asked by Amundsen what he thought of when he boarded the plane that took him away from the Red Tent, he realizes he did abdicate his responsibilities to his men: he only thought of taking a hot bath!
"The Red Tent", as it was called when released in most of the world, is a
fascinating historical epic of Arctic exploration. In the 1920's, Italian
General Nobile sought to be the first to fly over the North Pole in a
dirigible, of all things! Much of the movie focuses on these efforts;
unfortunately, the winds kick up and the air ship is ripped apart.
crewmen end up in various locations on the ice and then procede to battle
the elements and polar bears. The great arctic explorer Raoul Amundsen is
called in as are the Soviets who pick up radio messages of the disaster; an
ice breaker is then dispatched to assist in the rescue. Yes, it is an
involved and realistiuc spectacle.
Peter Finch is very good as Nobile, and so is Connery as Amundsen - and it's an historic well-known fact that the first man to reach the South Pole, Amundsen, vanished in his attempt to save Nobile.
Of note is that the story is recounted in flashback much later in a sort of trial of Nobile in his home in Rome, as characters living and dead appear to confront or defend him. Whether or not Nobile was reckless or had bad luck, or just over reached himself, is for the viewer to determine from putting the stories together.
Somewhat long and overinvolved this is still an engrossing account of an epic Arctic disaster and the heroic rescue attempts that followed. If you see it, GRAB it.
Since viewing this film 35 years ago I have been in awe of it, it is
certainly my all-time favorite and would most likely get my nomination
for best film ever. On this point I probably stand in splendid
isolation (or to quote Finn Malmgren: "emptiness, loneliness, beauty,
and purity"). I mention this in the hope that this will encourage
readers to view the film. If you are seeking a comparison, "Krasnaya
Palatka" ("The Red Tent") is most like the original "Flight of the
Phoenix"; both are superficially action adventure films, with deep
allegorical elements about the dynamics behind the functioning of a
civilized society. "The Red Tent" even gets a little philosophical
along the lines of life as a journey and not a destination.
This is Director Mikheil Kalatozishvili's tribute to Sergei Eisenstein, a disorienting yet organized montage of vast scale juxtaposed with claustrophobic confinement (its worth watching again just to focus on the scene transitions-the editing is brilliant). The scenes inside the dirigible and the red tent (the title character) are carefully cut into spectacular exterior shots of arctic landscapes and the dynamic energy of crowds in the Russian countryside and city.
There is a fusion of European expressionism with Hollywood realism in this film unlike anything I have ever seen before. This is possible because of the storytelling device of having everything unfold in flashbacks by the main character General Nobile (Peter Finch). Nobile was the organizer and commander of Italy's ill-fated attempt to reach the North Pole by dirigible. This generally true (certain historical liberties are taken to simplify things) story is told entirely from his point of view.
Forty years after the expedition Nobile is a disgraced figure living in Rome and burdened by guilt and sleeplessness. You learn that on sleepless nights he conjures up participants in the expedition fiasco (both members and rescuers), letting them judge him for his actions 40 years ago. These sessions have been largely inconclusive but this night he pulls out all stops and convenes a full trial in his living room-with almost all the central figures present. More importantly, for the first time he names the ruthless Lundborg (Hardy Kruger) as his prosecutor-a move that Lundborg assures him will mean that the jury will reach a verdict for the first time. These are not ghosts but rather figments of Nobile's imagination and they behave according to his perception of how they would behave.
This storytelling device allows the film to have its own commentary, making it not just an exciting adventure film with wonderful visuals, but an examination of the concept of leadership (much like "Command Decision", "A Gathering of Eagles", and "They Came to Cordura"). More importantly it becomes an allegorical study about free will and destiny, as careful planning and good judgment are just two factors in any complex operation; subject to luck and unforeseen events.
The many characters are a representative cross section of society; with heroes, opportunists, martinets, dreamers, and average Joes. Ultimately, things happen (both good and bad) not because of the challenge of man versus nature, but because of the placement and misplacement of human resources (i.e. the right or wrong person assigned to a particular role in the expedition and the rescue efforts).
From the events portrayed in the "The Rent Tent" it is difficult to fault Nobile as a leader. He wisely turns back to Kings Bay when the weather gets bad, he is genuinely devastated at the loss of some of his men, and his actions after the crash are all reasonable. He can be blamed for allowing Lundborg to bring him out before his men but under the circumstances it was a sensible decision if not a politically correct one. As Samoilovich, Captain of the Russian Icebreaker Krassin points out, a leader is judged by their actions, and their actions by their results, Nobile's early rescue is the reason the other surviving crewmen are ultimately rescued.
Nobile's fantasy trial eventually dredges from his subconscious the realization of why he choose to leave with Lundborg (1000 reasons to stay-1001 to leave). That such a trivial and self-indulgent reason was the difference maker accounts for his continuing guilt. This realization, along with the belief that Amundsen (his peer) is the only one fit to judge him, allows Nobile to finally forgive himself for being human. They go out with Amundsen's advice to reflect not on their failures but on the things they attempted and the wondrous things they saw. There is no guilt in not achieving an ambitious goal, making the attempt is more important than succeeding.
The music is also great.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
Arctic climes didn't do Sean Connery's initially troubled post-Bond
career any favours, although his top billing in The Red Tent is highly
misleading, since his supporting role is not much more than a cameo.
Instead, forth-billed (after Claudia Cardinale and Hardy Kruger) Peter
Finch takes the lead as General Nobile, whose ill-fated 1928 airship
expedition to the North Pole, intended to boost Fascist Italy's
international prestige, instead ended ingloriously with the survivors
stranded on melting ice packs for weeks while inertia, lack of
initiative and the poor chain of command resulted in buck-passing,
recriminations and destroyed reputations rather than rescue attempts.
The real-life disaster was the inspiration for Frank Capra's Dirigible
(Capra and studio boss Harry Cohn were both huge admirers of Mussolini
in the early days), but this ambitious Russian-Italian co-production is
best remembered, if at all, for either its catastrophic box-office
failure or its unusual framing structure. Although unusual may be an
understatement: in a move more akin to theatre of the 60s rather than
epic cinema, it begins with the ageing Nobile, tormented by another
sleepless night, summoning up the ghosts of those involved in the
disaster and the rescue to put his command on trial.
As a dramatic device, it's too theatrical to entirely work, especially in the clumsy opening reel, but it impinges little on the main drama once the film gets going and ultimately pays dividends, both in the stark poetry and terrible beauty of a scene where Connery's Roald Amundsen recounts his own death and in the final moments which come to some kind of peace with the issues of responsibility, human fallibility and forgiveness. But it's the survival story that works best, with director Mickail K. Kalatozov often eschewing the spectacle (airship and plane crashes, icebreakers and vast landscapes of ice) with a preference for medium shots that keep the film surprisingly intimate (unusually for such an expensive picture, it is also shot in the more confined 1.78:1 ratio rather than Scope).
I can't answer for its historical accuracy beyond Connery's philosophical Amundsen being nothing like the ruthless egomaniac of reality that he had become by this time (indeed, Amundsen's death in this rescue did much to salvage his heroic reputation after the public backlash to his bitter score-settling memoirs). However, far from having to be persuaded to join the rescue attempts, Amundsen had immediately volunteered only for Mussolini to specifically insist he be excluded because of his earlier public disputes with Nobile in the aftermath of their previous expedition, leaving Amundsen to finance his rescue attempt privately. Nor was Amundsen reluctant to return to the Arctic: shortly before the opportunity arose, he said that he wanted to go back and die there "in the fulfilment of a high mission, quickly, without suffering." (The fact that he was undergoing painful radium treatment at the time may have colored his words.) Poetic license aside, it is surprising that the political fallout is not dealt with more overtly - it was a huge national embarrassment that Il Duce's heroes had to be rescued by Russian communists. Indeed, the film is almost totally apolitical, with Il Duce mentioned only once in passing in the opening newsreel footage. However, as a drama it's unsensationally compelling, and Ennio Morricone's score is one of his best.
Paramount's widescreen R1 DVD transfer is pretty good but sadly lacking in any extras.
This Italian-Russian endeavor is a lost treasure and one of the great historical dramas. The movie is really a dream of General Nobile, a survivor and commanding officer of the Italia, a dirigible that met with disaster in a grand Artic exploration during the Mussolini era. It is about the psychology of guilt, accountability, and leadership. Beyond the human psychological profile of the film, it captures the harsh, expansive grandeur of nature better than almost any movie I've seen. The cinematography of the Artic is unlikely to be ever met again with the computer-generated film of today. The Russian ice-breaker ship which rescues the Italian crew survivors requires no special effects and remains a challenge for today's movie producers to emulate. The iceberg film sequences were spectacular. Sean Connery, Claudia Cardinale, Peter Finch and the rest of the cast give very fine acting performances. Ennio Morricone composes one of his greatest scores. As great as a film composer he is, he still is not remembered for one of his most haunting compositions in this film. There is an equally beautiful soundtrack in the Russian version by composer Aleksandr Zatsepin. It is a shame this film was not recognized perhaps in part due to its Soviet influence in a Hollywood-dominated market. It is a bit rough around the edges (meaning editing and directing could be smoother) but in terms of great film-making, it rarely gets better. When you watch it a couple times, you begin to appreciate the raw beauty and human drama of this film.
atching THE RED TENT gave me that rare fulfillment and dramatic
wholesomeness one can only get from a stonecold classic, a CITIZEN KANE
or a ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. Granted it doesn't compare to these
or other heavily praised list toppers and film behemoths, mainly due to
questions of style and cinematic pioneering (or lack thereof as the
case may be), it still deserves more than the meagre 500 votes and 6.6.
rating it has here.
As far as I can tell the story is faithful to the real events that transpired in 1928 during and after General Nobile's first attempted expedition to the North Pole by air. His airship (zeppelin), 'Italia', was forced to abandon its mission due to forbidding weather conditions and return home. On the way back it was shipwrecked on the ice somewhere 100 miles away from its base at Kingsbay island and the handful of survivors that weren't blown away with the keel were forced to carve a meagre, frostbitten existence as they waited for rescue parties. Three years earlier famous polar explorer Roal Amundsen had flown over the Pole using another of Nobile's airships, the 'Norge', and it was the subsequent fight for who deserved the most credit (engineer, explorer or airship pilot) that led to Nobile's fateful expedition with 'Italia'. The amount of bad luck involved in that expedition, the one month the survivors huddled together in the freezing arctic wasteland waiting for rescue, and the mishaps that plagued rescue parties, in both air and sea, is staggering to think. To watch it all unravel in 2 hours makes for a haunting experience.
You don't need to trawl Wikipedia for info on the events before sitting down to watch the movie. The first few minutes consist of very tastefully done 'period' footage of Nobile's expeditions, as the aged general watches newsreels of the events on a TV. After all these years Nobile (Peter Finch) is still plagued by guilt, slowly eroding his soul with questions he can't possibly answer. But the dead can and it's their authority to judge him. And so Nobile invokes them in his living room, figments of his guilt-crazed imagination, the dead imperative personified as nemesis divina. People that died and people that survived are summoned by and in Nobile's mind to absolve or condemn him for his actions. The old general coping with his guilt and from these discussions the bulk of the story unfolds in the form of long flashbacks.
Needless to say that if you have even a remote interest in polar explorations (or any kind of explorations really, as all of them, from the old west to the moon, are but retreads on the same path) and generally survival adventures on harsh environments, this is a must see. Unlike Scott's fateful expedition in the South Pole however, the tragic end here remains internalized, mostly taking place inside Nobile's soul as he finds himself unjustly branded a coward and deserter upon his return. But the stark nature of the windblasted arctic landscape and the men trying beyond all hope to survive in it offers its fair share of physical bleakness.
This Italorussian co-production spared no corners in the budget. This is a lavish production with hundreds of extras, an icebreaker ship tearing through the ice and some truly breathtaking photography shot on location (or some location that passes for the North Pole at least, Siberia must be full of 'em). With an international cast that includes Peter Finch (capturing the anguish and despair at the heart of the protagonist without resorting to the overbearing histrionics that earned him the Oscar in '77 over DeNiro's Travis Bickle), Claudia Cardinale (without doubt the most astonishingly beautiful woman on the planet in the late 60's), Sean Connery (in a small role as Roald Amundsen) and Mario Adorf (familiar face from many Italian b-movies), a rousing score by maestro Ennio Morricone, and sturdy direction by Mikhail Kalatozov (five years after I AM CUBA), this really is a lost classic any way you slice it up and just a great f-cking movie.
As much a poignant character study on guilt and memory (Nobile needs only his own forgiveness in the end and it's his memory that punishes him a thousand times for things out of his control), as it is a stark piece of survival grit, THE RED TENT deserves a larger audience. You be it.
Wow. After a fortnight of seeing movies that were mostly interesting
but a little disappointing (Skyfall, Looper, Sahara, The Cabin in the
Woods) I was fortunate enough to come across The Red Tent.
And what a refreshing change.
A good range of character actors, each allowed enough screen time for us to understand who they are and what they mean.
Real special effects, not CGI. OK, some of the ice breaking scenes may be from stock footage but they clearly show real activity.
And the style of the movie is made interesting by the combination of English speaking actors in an Italian-Russian co-production.
I found myself captivated by the story telling and wanting, now, to find more like it. Unfortunately the IMDb "People who like this also liked" feature doesn't seem to be working here.
Probably more of a guys movie than a general interest movie. The issues raised are something every man will be able to relate to.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Based on true events, The Red Tent gives a fictionalized account of the
ordeal faced by the crew of airship Italia, which in 1928 crashed on
the North Pole; among survivors, general Nobile (Peter Finch), captain
Zappi (Luigi Vannucchi), radio operator Biagi (Mario Adorf) and
scientist Malmgren (Eduard Martsevich). Nobody knows their position;
ice is starting to crash. Meanwhile, explorer Amundsen (Sean Connery),
friend/rival of Nobile, and Malmgren's fiancée (Claudia Cardinale)
react to the tragedy.
Structure is unusual. The story is told in flashbacks as a conflicted Nobile confronts the ghosts of his past (the other protagonists) in a dreamlike trial. It's peculiar but effective, and culminates in a memorable moment where Nobile, pressed by Amundsen, attempts to recall the main motivation behind a key choice.
The most interesting characters are Nobile, portrayed by Finch as a man haunted by his past, and Connery's Amundsen, who has a relatively small but crucial role. Cinematography is solid; Morricone's haunting soundtrack (one his best works, and that's no small feat) conveys the epic, bittersweet mood of the movie.
An English language film starring Peter Finch, Sean Connery, and
Claudia Cardinale, this is nonetheless pure Kalatozov, more imbued with
man's madness than Herzog. General Alberto Nobile (Finch) takes airship
Italia to the North Pole in what appears to be no more than a public
relations effort, with pretensions of scientific endeavour. The film is
reminiscent of an earlier Kalatozov effort Neotpravlennoye pismo / The
Unsent Letter (1960) in terms of there being a love interest, and also
many people looking for explorers in peril and specifically in terms of
the representation of joy (wacky music and speed). Kalatosov and
Mosfilm were no doubt inspired by a real-life story where Uncle Joe's
bestest commies manage to save a bunch of foolhardy imperialists. This
seems to be a favourite theme of superior Soviet drama, and the film
reminded me of the Soviet sci-fi film Nebo zovyot / Call of the Heavens
(1962) in many ways, including Soviet harbour scenes of cheering crowds
and self-sacrificing efforts to save the deluded. The film at least
acknowledges that the first successful expedition to the North Pole was
American, and so some of the revolutionary fervour I'd come to expect
had diminished by this stage in Kalatosov's career. There is however a
glorious purely dogmatic shot of a Russian sailor heaping coal into a
furnace which has coloured him red.
The film is not condescending in that there is a genuine awe and respect for the great polar explorers. Roald Amundsen's spectral presence (played by Sean Connery) is magnetic and haunting.
Another cinematic precursor of this one may be Battle of the River Plate (1956), also starring Peter Finch, a film fascinated with the concept of historical spectacle. The actual crash is a matter of history, indicated at the start of the film and is not a spoiler. The filming of the crash is spectacular and crazy glorious cine-trauma.
Finn Malmgren is one of the most interesting characters, he has a death wish, a love of the emptiness and Arctic loneliness. I think maybe it's something that they all share. Why would anyone venture into this morass of crumbling ice otherwise?
The film is framed by a trial, Nobile trying himself, in his mind, for the disaster, this is very trippy.
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