Directed by Bernhard Wicki
Written by Werner Jörg Lüddecke, Daniel Taradash
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg, Barney Rosenzweig
Starring Marlon Brando, Yul Brynner, Martin Benrath, Janet Margolin, Hans Christian Blech, Wally Cox, Max Haufler, Rainer Penkert, Trevor Howard
Most sabotage at sea scuttles a ship, but when a pacifistic, sybaritic German deserter (Brando) luxuriating in an Anglo-Indian exclave is conscripted on pain of delivery to the Gestapo by an unsympathetic British colonel (Howard), his assignment in the guise of an SS officer is to disable before its interception by enemy warships a German freighter's detonation charges to preserve its lading: 7,000 tons of rubber coveted by the Allies to counter their deficiency. Security of the cargo and his life is further threatened by the vigilance of this vessel's viciously ambitious first officer (Benrath) and captain (Brynner), whose blemished record and enmity for the SS conflict with his dutiful disposition. For its first forty minutes, this original scenario's worked well to some arresting suspense, but its first-rate cast and Wicki's deft direction can't overcome a pokey pace and cornball dialogue that sink its potential. For fans of Brando and Brynner, it's required viewing; the former's faux German accent squares satisfactorily with those authentically voiced by castmates Benrath, Blech and Penkert, and the latter doesn't bother to affect one, but they're both for their appeal and unfailing virtuosity perfectly prepossessing. As a captured nurse's aide endangered as much by her ethnicity as sexual vulnerability, only Margolin visibly struggles with her clunky lines, but interprets her part's resignation and hysteria to a shattering sally, this movie's most memorable moment. Aside from Brando's smooth, skulking sabotage and clever cajolery, a ruse by which the craft's painted and rigged in mimicry of British and Swedish merchant ships to evade Allied detection is of interest, but Wally Cox's arrival from some other flick as an degenerate doctor and a photographic inconsistency by which beautifully dusky interiors clash with an unsightly paucity of contrast on deck constantly remind viewers that this production's strengths are consistently counterbalanced by its faults. Lüddecke's story is therefore fitting, for illustrating how war dehumanizes both its victims and perpetrators...in the most melodramatic manner.
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