remake of a 1929 silent movie, this 1934 film is a surprisingly
bleak and modern feeling movie.
in 1917, it opens with a British army patrol stranded in the
Mesopotamian desert after their commanding officer is killed
by an Arab sniper. Not knowing the mission, or even where they
are, Sergeant Victor McLaglan manages to lead his troops to
an oasis, only to find their sentries killed and horses stolen.
As the unseen Arabs lay siege to the patrol, picking off the
soldiers one by one, the survivors become increasingly desperate
as madness and paranoia takes over.
terse little movie, directed by John Ford, is ostensibly a war
film, but with it's invisible and faceless enemy and increasing
sense of foreboding, it often feels more like a horror film
- something helped by the presence of Boris Karloff as a religious
fanatic who becomes more maniacal as the film progresses. Interestingly,
the film has a cynical, anti-religious slant to it that is unusual,
even now, for American cinema, and it's this, plus the well-rounded
characters (ironic that an American film can portray British
soldiers in a less stereotyped way than much of our own war-fixated
cinema!) that makes the film still seem surprisingly fresh.
Steiner's Oscar-nominated score is mostly effective - though
there are a few moments of entirely inappropriate upbeat marching
music (the closing theme seems especially ill-timed, given what
we've just seen) - and John Ford's direction is tight and economical.
many ways, this is a precursor to films like Assault
on Precinct 13, though arguably more nihilistic and
grim. Certainly, it's a revelation if you only know Ford through
his more sentimental Westerns - there's no schmaltz here.
worth picking up.
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