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  Hill, The ...And He Marched Them Down Again
Year: 1965
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Sean Connery, Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen, Alfred Lynch, Ossie Davis, Roy Kinnear, Jack Watson, Ian Hendry, Michael Redgrave, Norman Bird, Neil McCarthy, Howard Goorney, Tony Caunter
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: At a British Army detention camp in North Africa, R.S.M. Wilson (Harry Andrews) is offering a morale-boosting talk to two prisoners released today. He thinks the camp is an improving environment where the men carry out repetitive drills, and the most dreaded punishment is the hill, which the men are ordered to run up and down with full kit until they are exhausted. As the two soldiers are let go, more relieved than anything else, five more are transported into the establishment and told to line up. But these men will prove more trouble to Wilson than he has ever encountered, shaking the foundations of his authority...

You can almost smell the stale sweat in director Sidney Lumet's adaptation of The Hill, a play written by Ray Rigby and Ray Allen, with Allen on scripting duties. The drama operates at a level of tightly wound hysteria that erupts with increasing frequency as the story proceeds, and the excellent ensemble cast keep the developments convincing even as the tone strays dangerously close to melodrama. Heading the cast in a role designed to prove himself a proper actor after his James Bond success was Sean Connery as Roberts, a career soldier incarcerated for supposed cowardice.

As he is played by Sean Connery, we can believe Roberts had a very good reason for disobeying orders and knocking down his superior officer, but it's not the case with all of the five new arrivals. Bartlett (Roy Kinnear) is a career black marketeer, inside for the ninth time and probably deserving of his place there. However, the Army has no sympathy for sentimentality, and another of the prisoners is Stevens (Alfred Lynch), caught trying to flee back to England to see his beloved wife who he misses desperately. One of the officers, Williams (Ian Hendry), sees the man's weakness as something to exploit.

And that is where the trouble begins. For the first half hour or so, the film plays out over real time as we are introduced, as the five new boys are, to the regimen at the camp. The heat is enough to exhaust them even if they aren't performing exercises, so just watching the cast run up the hill of the title is enough to leave the viewer tired. Some of the men, like Bartlett and McGrath (Jack Watson), simply want to serve their time and get out of there, but eventually they will all be affected by Roberts' controlled insolence and spirit of rebellion.

In a strong group of actors, almost stealing the show is Andrews as the man who believes himself to be harsh but fair only to have his orders questioned, not only by his underlings but by himself as well. After tragedy strikes, the manner in which Wilson defuses a potential riot situation through sheer force of personality is one of the highlights, as is when Ossie Davis's King reacts against the racism he suffers. In the mid-sixties there was a sense that authority was not necessarily something one should continue obeying blindly, and the forelock-tugging of old was replaced by more questioning, less submissive obedience; The Hill is one of those films that captures that vividly. It does go over the top, and eventually no line is spoken when shouting will do, but the despair of the ending is undeniably powerful as only Roberts realises when enough is enough and it's film with no wrong notes in its performances.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Sidney Lumet  (1925 - 2011)

Esteemed American director who after a background in theatre moved into television from where he went on to be the five times Oscar nominated filmmaker behind some of the most intelligent films ever to come out of America. His 1957 debut for the big screen, 12 Angry Men, is still a landmark, and he proceeded to electrify and engross cinema audiences with The Fugitive Kind, The Pawnbroker, Cold War drama Fail-Safe, The Hill, The Group, The Deadly Affair, The Offence, definitive cop corruption drama Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon (another great Al Pacino role), Network, Equus, Prince of the City, Deathtrap, The Verdict, Running On Empty and his final film, 2007's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Often working in the UK, he also brought his adopted home town of New York to films, an indelible part of its movies for the best part of fifty years.

 
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