If you are interested at all in movies, then you won’t have failed to notice the news this week that one of the few remaining greats of cinema, Sidney Lumet, has died. The creator of numerous films that eschewed flashiness and style for a more measured build in tension and socially conscious issues, it’s often that he doesn’t appear highly in people top director lists, but his films often appear on said lists instead. His most memorable films are a long list from his debut 12 ANGRY MEN, THE PAWNBROKER, SERPICO, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, NETWORK and Q&A, although the less aid about the film THE WIZ, the better.
Alas due such annoying things as copyright and stuff, many of his better known films are difficult to find. But there is one film i found that enables me to shed some light on an excellent creative partnership he had with a well-known actor. No, not Al Pacino, but Sean Connery. Yes, before he also stuck gold with Pacino in Serpcio and Dog Day Afternoon, Lumet was already working wonder with Connery on films such as the Anderson Tapes, The Offence (and later with Family Business) and todays filmy all the way back in 1965. Ladies and Gentlemen, for this weeks movie, i give you THE HILL.
The Hill is set in a British military prison in Libya during WWII. In this prison a brutal regime is imposed by Staff Sergeant Williams (Ian Hendry) whose punishments often involve soldiers having to hike up and down a man main mound in the middle fo the barracks (The “Hill” of the title) in the midday sun. the medical officer Harris (Ian Bannen) opposes the treatment, but is often overruled by the camp commander Sergeant Major Wilson (Harry Andrews). Into this mix arrive 5 new inmates, led by Roberts (Sean Connery). In their own way, they each defy the regime that imposed upon them, creating a clash of wills that lead to a confrontation and ensuing tragedy.
The Hill is classic Lumet. It´s a character driven piece that allows the tension (not helped by the stifling heat of the Libyan desert) to build to near breaking point. And each character is well-defined but not merely black and white. For example, Medical Officer Harris is kind, human and well-meaning, but is weak and avoids confrontation. Sergeant Major Wilson is hard and cruel but is also charming and has a direct honesty. Roberts is charismatic and a natural leader, but is too self-centered to be a true leader of men. The performances across the board are top-notch, especially that of Connery and Andrews, each giving their character a sense of purpose and drive, but from different sides of the moral plane in the film. It’s noted that Connery made this film during the height of his popularity with the James Bond franchise and was seen as his first major attempt at ensuring that he wouldn’t be typecast from playing the super spy. Also noting that this fill feel very much like a British drama, despite being direct by Lumet, the very epitome of a New York Director.
If you want to see a quality drama that is not afraid to pull it punches and treat the viewer as an intelligent human, then wrap up warm and take some time out to watch the hill….