Tag: Lloyd Nolan

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)

Easy-going father-daughter sentimentality in Kazan’s debut, which softens up an already gentle novel

Director: Elia Kazan

Cast: Peggy Ann Garner (Francie Nolan), Dorothy McGuire (Katie Nolan), Joan Blondell (Aunt Sissy), James Dunn (Johnny Nolan), Lloyd Nolan (Officer McShane), Ted Donaldson (Neeley Nolan), Ruth Nelson (Miss McDonough), John Alexander (Steve Edwards)

In 1912 an Irish-American family, the Nolans, struggle to make ends meet in Brooklyn. Mother Katie (Dorothy McGuire) keeps a close eye on the purse strings to ensure she can keep a roof over the head of her children: 13-year-old Francie (Peggy Ann Garner) and young Neeley (Ted Donaldson). Problem is, Katie also has a third child: her husband Johnny (James Dunn), a happy-go-lucky dreamer and “singing waiter” who is also a hopeless drunk. Johnny, with his “live-your-dreams” outlook on life, natural charm and instinctive understanding of people, is Francie’s idol. With another child on the way, and the Nolan cash reserves at breaking point, can the family hold together?

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn drips with sentimental, old-fashioned, easy-watching charm. Adapted from a best-selling novel by Betty Smith, it strips out most of the plot (which covers nearly 17 years rather than the single one featured here) and considerably waters down the original’s content. (It also, hilariously, avoids any appearance at all of the eponymous tree at the centre of the Nolan tenement block, which is cursorily referenced only twice.) Smith’s book was a semi-auto-biographical chronicle of a life of struggle survived by a daughter who flourishes, but the film is more of an optimistic fable of the triumph of family love.

It feels strange that this is the first film of Elia Kazan, who would become better known for hard-hitting, location-shot, method-tinged dramas rather than the tear-jerking charm here. Kazan was later sceptical about the film – highly critical of what he considered his overly theatrical staging, particularly of the scenes set in the Nolan home – and even at the time stated he was so unsure about what he was doing that the film was effectively co-directed by cinematographer Leon Shamroy. But Kazan’s skill with actors shines through and he invests it with a great deal of pace and emotional truth.

His main benefit is the very strong performances from Garner and Dunn in the film’s most important relationship. Both actors won Oscars (Garner the juvenile Oscar, Dunn for Best Supporting Actor) and it’s the loving meeting of hearts and minds between father and daughter that lies at the film’s heart. Francie is a young girl dedicated to education – slavishly, but obsessively, reading through the local library in alphabetical order, regardless of suitability of the books – who dreams of going to a better school and bettering her life. It’s a dream that her mother struggles to grasp – largely unable to see beyond the immediate needs of putting food on the table – but which her father understands and is desperate to support.

This bond is partly what leads to Francie’s idolising her doting dad. And Johnny is doting. He’ll do things her mother won’t dream of doing – including weaving an elaborate fantasy to win her a place at that better school. He’ll joke and laugh, sing songs and entertain her while indulging her artistic leanings. Unfortunately, he’ll also make promises to reform he won’t keep, stumble home late at night or be found, drunk in the street, having boozed away every penny he’s earned.

Dunn poured a lot of himself into this self-destructive dreamer. A vaudeville comedian who had a successful run of films with Shirley Temple in the 1930s, he had blown most of his fortune in bad investments. By the 1940s was struggling to find work with his drink problem widely known. But he was also charming, decent and kind, but seen to lack the drive to build a successful career. In effect, Johnny was a version of his own life, and Dunn not only nails Johnny’s charm but also laces the performance with a rich vein of sadness, guilt and shame, but still loved by all.

While Johnny jokes and laughs with the neighbours, Katie cleans the hallway of their tenement block to earn extra bucks and moves the family to a smaller room to save what money she can. Played with a fine line in drudgery and put-upon stress by Dorothy McGuire (in a role as thankless as Katie’s life is), Katie remains unappreciated by her daughter (who sees her as a moaner who won’t cut her father a break) and by her husband as being too obsessed with the purse-strings.

The major flaw, for me, of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is that the film falls almost as uncritically in love with Johnny as Francie. Getting older it’s hard not to see Johnny as essentially irresponsible and selfish, a well-meaning but destructive force on the family, the cause of the poverty which has made Katie crushed, dowdy and increasingly stressed and bitter. She essentially suffers everything – skipping meals, slaving over multiple jobs, saying no to every desire Francie has – while Johnny flies in, cracks jokes, says yes to everything and disappears when its time to work out how to deliver.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, however, wants to tell a sentimental story of a father-daughter bond and hasn’t got too much time for Katie – or for making Francie really face the flaws in her father and the virtues of her mother (for all the film gives mother and daughter a late reconciliation). There is something fake about this (tellingly the book gives a sharper realisation for Francie and subtly changes Johnny’s fate to make it less idealised). But all edges are shaved off here and the family divisions are bridged as easily as poverty is eventually solved. (There is also considerable watering down of the liberated lifestyle of Katie’s sister, engagingly played by Joan Blondell).

It makes for a film that’s warm, comforting and essentially light and even a little forgettable. It’s all too easy to drop off in front of it on a Sunday afternoon. Try as you might, you can’t say that about other Kazan films. A little more grit to this would have increased its impact considerably.

Airport (1970)

Airport (1970)

Disaster awaits in the sky in this ridiculous soap that is less exciting than Airplane!

Director: George Seaton

Cast: Burt Lancaster (Mel Bakersfied), Dean Martin (Captain Vernon Demerest), Jean Seberg (Tanya Livingston), Jacqueline Bisset (Gwen Meighen), George Kennedy (Joe Patroni), Helen Hayes (Ada Quonsett), Van Heflin (DO Guerrero), Maureen Stapleton (Inez Guerrero), Barry Nelson (Captain Anson Harris), Dana Wynter (Cindy Bakersfeld), Lloyd Nolan (Harry Standish), Barbara Hale (Sarah Demarest), Gary Collins (Cy Jordan)

A busy Chicago airport in the middle of a snowstorm. Workaholic Mel Bakersfeld (Burt Lancaster) doesn’t have time to prop up his failing marriage to his humourless wife: he’s got to keep the flights moving, clear the runways and solve the problems other people can’t. He’s not dissimilar to his brother-in-law Vernon Demerest (Dean Martin), who hasn’t got time for his plain-Jane wife at home when he’s got a flight to Rome to run and a saintly pregnant air hostess girlfriend Gwen (Jacqueline Bisset), to deal with. Tensions will come to a head when depressed former construction worker Guerrero (Van Heflin) joins Demerest’s flight, planning to blow himself up so his wife can profit from his life insurance. Disaster awaits!

“A piece of junk”. That was Burt Lancaster’s pithy review of this box-office smash that was garlanded with no fewer than ten Oscar nominations. He’s pretty much spot on. Airport is a dreadful picture, a puffed-up, wooden soap opera that never takes flight, stapled together with a brief disaster plotline that only really kicks in during the final act of the film and is solved with relative ease. Other than that, it’s all hands to the pumps to coat the film in soapy suds, which can be stirred up by the strips of wooden dialogue that fall from the actors’ mouths.

Seaton adapted the script from a popular low-brow novel, though it feels as if precious little effort went into it. It’s corny, predictable dialogue does very little to freshen up the bog-standard domestic drama we’re watching in a novel setting. Both lead actors juggle loveless marriages with far prettier (and much younger) girlfriends. Those girlfriends – Jean Seberg for Burt and Jacqueline Bisset for Dean – play thankless roles, happily accepting of their place as no more than a potential bit-on-the-side and very respectful of the fact that the job damn it is the most important thing.

The film bends over backwards so that we find Burt and Dean admirable, despite the fact that objectively their behaviour is awful. Burt treats his home like a stopover, barely sees his kids and seems affronted that his wife objects he doesn’t attend her important charity functions and doesn’t want the cushy job he’s being offered by her father. Just in case we sympathise with her, she’s a cold, frigid, mean and demanding shrew who – just to put the tin lid on it – is carrying on behind Burt’s back. We, meanwhile, applaud Burt for showing restraint around the besotted Jean Seberg, merely kissing, hugging and chatting with her about how he’d love to but he can’t because of the kids at home damn it!

He looks like a prince though compared to Dean. Only in the 1970s surely would we be expected to find it admirable that a pregnant girlfriend happily takes all the blame – the contraceptive pills made her fat and she knows the deal – begs her boyfriend not to leave his wife and then urges him to not worry about her. Dean’s wife doesn’t even seem that bad, other than the fact she’s a mumsy type who can’t hold a candle to Bisset’s sensuality. That sensuality is overpowering for Dean, who at one point pleads with her to stay in their hotel room because the taxi “can wait another 15 minutes”. Like a gentleman his reaction to finding out Bisset is pregnant, is to offer to fly her to Norway for a classy abortion (rather than the backstreet offerings at home?).

This soapy nonsense, with its stink of Mad Men-ish sexual politics (where men are hard-working, hard-playing types, and women accept that when they age out, he has the right to look elsewhere) is counterbalanced by some laboriously-pleased-with-itself looks at airport operations. Baggage handling. Customer check-in. Customs control checks. Airport maintenance. All get trotted through with a curious eye by Seaton. Just enough to make parts of the film feel briefly like a dull fly-on-the-wall drama rather than a turgid soap.

Soap is where its heart is though. Helen Hayes won an Oscar for a crowd-pleasing turn (from which she wrings the maximum amount of charm) as a seemingly sweet old woman who is in fact an expert stowaway. Van Heflin and Maureen Stapleton play with maximum commitment (Stapleton in particular goes for it as if this was an O’Neil play rather than trash) a married couple whose finances are in the doldrums, leading the husband to take drastic steps.

It’s all marshalled together with a personality-free lack of pizzaz by Seaton, who simply points the camera and lets the actors go through their paces, with a few shots of humour here and there. There are some interesting split-screen effects, but that’s about the last touch of invention in the piece. It’s mostly played with po-faced seriousness – something that feels almost impossible to take seriously today, seeing as the structure, tone and airport observational style of the film was spoofed so successfully in Airplane (a much better film than this on every single level, from humour, to drama even to tension – how damning is that, that a pisstake is a more exciting disaster thriller?)

It smashed the box office in 1970 and got nominated for Best Picture. But its dryness, dullness and lack of pace mean it has hardly been watched since. Although it can claim to be the first all-star disaster movie, it’s not even fit to lace the flippers of The Poseidon Adventure, which far more successfully kickstarted the cliches that would become standard for the genre (and is a tonne more fun as well as being a disaster movie – this has a disaster epilogue at best). An overlong, soapy, dull mess.

Peyton Place (1957)

Peyton Place (1957)

Small-town America is the home of hypocrisy in this ridiculously silly soap opera that spawned…a long-running TV soap opera

Director: Mark Robson

Cast: Lana Turner (Constance MacKenzie), Diane Varsi (Allison MacKenzie), Hope Lange (Selana Cross), Lee Philips (Michael Rossi), Arthur Kennedy (Lucas Cross), Lloyd Nolan (Dr Matthew Swain), Russ Tamblyn (Norman Page), Terry Moore (Betty Anderson), David Nelson (Ted Carter), Betty Field (Nellie Cross), Mildred Dunnock (Elsie Thornton), Leon Ames (Leslie Harrington)

Small-town America: what mysteries lie behind those white picket fences? If the small New England town of Peyton Place is a guide, all sorts of terrible things. Why is Constance MacKenzie (Lana Turner) so afraid of sex and romance? Could her fear that the slightest kiss could turn her would-be-writer teenage daughter Allison (Diane Varsi) into a slut, be rooted in her own mysterious past? Why does Allison’s friend Selena (Hope Lange) fear her drunken and lecherous step-father Lucas (Arthur Kennedy) so much? Why is Mommas-boy Norman (Russ Tamblyn) so shy?

If that all sounds like the set-up for a great-big TV soap… well that’s because it essentially is. Peyton Place was a huge box-office success in 1957, but you can argue it found its natural home when it later mutated into a long-running TV soap. It’s one long onslaught of high-flung, ridiculously OTT events, all filtered through the sort of dialogue punctured by swelling music to hammer home the feelings. Peyton Place is completely disposable – but also strangely enjoyable, rollicking along like all the best soaps do, so full of events that you don’t have time to stop and realise how silly it is.

Adapted from a doorstop popular novel, screenwriter John Michael Hayes faced quite a task. The original was crammed with sex, foul language and everything from murder to teenage pregnancy, illegal abortions, rape and incest. That’s not exactly the sort of stuff the Hays Code dreamed of. Peyton Place: The Movie is almost a triumph in how much of this stuff it manages to cover, all in a very cunning, under-the-radar way. Sure, the rough edges are shaved off (and, of course, not the hint of a cuss word makes it to the screen) but it still manages to tick a lot of those boxes.

It’s all to hammer home the hypocrisy of small-town America. Curtain-twitching busybodies watch every moment, leaping for their phones at the merest hint of scandal: from kisses out of school to teenage kids skinny dipping (bet they can’t believe their luck when an actual murder happens). Peyton Place follows in Picnic’s footsteps (to which it is vastly superior, equally shallow but much less pleased with itself and far more entertaining) in exposing the hypocrisy of 50s America, where everybody goes to church and no-one practices the good-will and love it preaches (and yes, I know the film is set in the 1940s, but no one told the costume or production designers).

Peyton Place was littered with acting nominations (in a year where 12 Angry Men got none, for Chrissakes!). It’s a little hard to understand why, considering every part fits neatly into a trope. Lana Turner is the nominal lead as the frigid clothes-store owner who hides a secret shame (all about that long-lost husband) that gets in the way of her flirtation with the newly arrived schoolmaster (played with smug dullness by Lee Philips). But that’s only because she’s the most famous actor in it. Her performance sets a sort of template for mothers that would be repeated countless times.

The real leads (both Oscar nominated for Supporting Actress) are Diane Varsi and Hope Lange as the two teenagers at the heart of Peyton Place’s ocean of hormones (although, it being a 50s film, a smooch at a booze-free party is the furthest anyone goes). Varsi narrates most of the film as a precocious would-be writer, with several grandstanding scenes wailing at her mother for being so unfair. It’s a broad but engaging performance and she manages to make Allison not quite as wet as she could be. She also gets a shy romance with nervous Norman Page (a gentle Russ Tamblyn, also nominated): Norman is clearly closeted, struggling with his sexuality in a small town (“I don’t know how to kiss a girl” he says) but the film does its best to overlook this.

More engaging is Hope Lange, who gets the juiciest material to play. The film is surprisingly daring in staging her rape by her boorish step-father (a slightly too ripe Oscar nominated Arthur Kennedy, although still the most memorable male performance). Robson’s camera pans up from her being pinned down, to her raised hands and then finally cuts outside. Lange plays the trauma of this – including an unwanted pregnancy, removed by the Doctor in an abortion the film bends over backwards to make an accident-induced miscarriage – with a great deal of vulnerability and empathy, her shame and desperation rather moving.

It makes her the target for gossip. Peyton Place smugly ticks off small-town America for its gossipy meanness – while still peddling a message that, if we just followed the warmth of the best of small-town values, the world would be a better place – ending with Lloyd Nolan’s doctor delivering a pompous ticking-off to the town (from the witness box during a murder case no-less). Peyton Place at heart is a fairly conservative film, that ends with most people discovering their inner-goodness (apart from a few irredeemable harridans), and all wickedness resolved.

It’s directed with workmanlike professionalism by Mark Robson, but it didn’t need inspiration. It’s odd to consider this had nine Oscar nominations, since it feels like the sort of disposable mini-series Netflix throws together every week. Its main claim to fame might be that its quaint small-town smugness, masking a bucketload of scandal, served as the main inspiration for Twin Peaks (though dialled up to a whole other level of weird). It’s overlong, overblown and very silly, but because it doesn’t take itself seriously (unlike heavy-duty message film that year Sayonara, a silly soap that thought it was Pulitzer material) it’s actually ridiculously entertaining, in a totally trashy way.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey and Dianne Wiest are Hannah and Her Sisters one of Allen’s finest films

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Woody Allen (Mickey), Michael Caine (Elliot), Mia Farrow (Hannah), Carrie Fisher (April), Barbara Hershey (Lee), Lloyd Nolan (Evan), Maureen O’Sullivan (Norman), Daniel Stern (Dusty), Max von Sydow (Frederick), Dianne Wiest (Holly), Sam Waterston (David)

Hannah (Mia Farrow) is divorced from Mickey (Woody Allen) and happily married to Elliot (Michael Caine). Eliot is in love with Lee (Barbara Hershey). Lee is Hannah’s sister. Holly (Dianne Wiest) is considering dating Mickey. Holly is also Hannah’s sister. This whirligig of relationships is the heart of Hannah and Her Sisters, one of Woody Allen’s finest and certainly most humane films. Witty and heartfelt, it’s one of his sharpest scripts, crammed with acute observation and fine gags and is directed with a coolly introspective eye.

Allen splits the film into multiple sections, each opening (like the chapter of a novel) with a quote from the scene we are about to watch. Music plucked from Allen’s beloved classics (most often, and fittingly considering its romance theme, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered) frequently bridge scenes. Internal monologues is used often to allow us to explore the inner lives of the characters (the actors do a marvellous job reacting on screen to this internal thought process we are hearing).

The film uses a host of inspirations carefully mixed into Allen’s Manhattan Metropolitan middle-class milieu. The entire film has an autumnal Chekovian feel to it, with a rich sense of lives continuing ‘off stage’ as much as on. While the title obviously echoes Three Sisters, it’s study of romantic and intellectual entanglements overlaps with Chekov, as does the film’s love of wordplay. There are also, of course, echoes of Bergman (with gags) both in the film’s episodic structure but also its framing device of three Thanksgivings dinners, reflecting Bergman’s triumphant Fanny and Alexander.

The most effective thing about the film, in addition to its wit, is the surprising warmth it feels for the characters. Not always in an Allen film does one find the sympathy and empathy so widely spread – there is usually at least one character who is the target for the writer’s scorn. But here, no major character is presented as either the butt of snide humour or sneers. Even von Sydow’s pretentious artist is capable of searing emotional pain, and its hard not to sympathise with him as clients enquire whether his art will fit with their home décor. Each scene carefully balances the perspectives of multiple characters to allow us to relate to what each of them is going through. It’s possibly the largest cast of fully-rounded characters in an Allen film, and his most generous film.

It’s a film that avoids judgement over its characters, despite the frequently terrible and morally troubling things they do. It’s a film that understands the heart is an uncontrollable but resilient muscle, which doesn’t always guide us to the right or the easy things. Of course today, with Allen, you think it’s probably not a surprise he had sympathy with a group of people engaged in relationships that often involve profoundly betraying others. But at least her understands the irresistible urge people have to continue doing things they shouldn’t.

It’s hard not to overlook that the film’s least explored character (despite her multi-layered performance) is Mia Farrow’s Hannah. Poor Hannah, the still, moral centre of the film, is betrayed by both her husband and her sister (to their mutual guilt). Allen leaves her in ignorance – even though she knows something is wrong – and while Allen acknowledges what Elliot and Lee is doing is wrong, he mitigates things by making clear Hannah’s decency and generosity makes her overwhelming. While we see the impact a sudden distance from her husband has on Hannah (in a great shot she talks to him while he is off camera in another room, making her look like she is talking to a wall), Hannah is one of the few characters we don’t get the insight of an internal monologue for, and that feels like an easier way for Allen to maintain our sympathies for others.

The person whose internal monologue we hear the most is her conflicted husband Elliot. Hannah and Her Sisters may be unique in that it has two characters who are clear Allen substitutes. While Allen plays one, Caine is the husband (who looks alarmingly like a prediction of future developments in the Allen-Farrow relationship). Caine is superb, not least because he turns lines you can hear could be delivered with an Allenesque twitchiness, into ones crammed with utter emotional genuineness.

For all that he is a cheat, Elliot is strangely guileless and rather sweet, plagued with guilt and also giddy as a schoolboy, begging Lee to read an ee cummings poem that carries special meaning for him. Caine makes Elliot a genuine human character, a flawed man trying to avoid hurting people (but causing pain everywhere). If Branagh in Celebrity (with his distracting Allen imitation) showed how much of a slave to Allenesque delivery you can become, Caine shows how heartfelt simplicity and underplaying can bring out deeper emotion from Allen’s dialogue. Allen also rather brilliantly directs this abashed dance of attraction: from Caine’s internal monologue telling him to play it cool, moments before he kisses Lee, to the camera framing Frederick’s sketches of a naked Lee directly in Elliot’s line of sight while he tries to think of literally anything else.

Caine also matches superbly with Barbara Hershey, excellent as a woman who feels trapped in her life and drawn to Elliot despite herself. Lee’s current relationship is with Frederick, wittily played in a near parody of Bergmanesque brooding by Max von Sydow, who takes a late lurch into real vulnerability, a pretentious artist who is part-lover-part-tutor and is disconnected from the real world, Lee is virtually his only link left with it. Frederick is clearly a tutor and surrogate parent, as much as a lover to Lee – and that attraction to a figure who can take responsibility in her life is clearly something she’s attracted in Elliot. The slow, guilt-ridden coming together of Elliot and Lee – and the slow deflation of this fling – is the emotional heart of the movie.

The film’s other two arcs provide more of the gags. Woody Allen gifts himself some of his finest comic moments as Hannah’s hypochondriac ex-husband (the second Allen stand-in) undergoing an existential crisis after he discovers he is in fact not dying of a terminal disease. Dianne Wiest is similarly excellent (and also Oscar winning) as Hannah’s unsuccessful sister Holly, a would-be actress too insecure to find success. Wiest is not only funny, but also vulnerable and affecting, as she tries to find her place in the world. In many ways Wiest plays a third version of Allen here, as she becomes a neurotic writer channelling her real life into writing (to the consternation of her sister).

Changing reality into scripts is the only thing awkward about Hannah and Her Sisters today. Hannah and her extended family (and many children) are a thinly veiled portrait of Farrow’s own family (Hannah’s mother is even played by Farrow’s real life mother Maureen O’Sullivan). Like Allen and Farrow, Mickey and Hannah needed to adopt and foster children. And of course Eliot’s affair with Hannah’s sister eerily mirrors Allen’s own affair with Farrow’s adopted daughter, and the film’s sympathy for Elliot sometimes seems like an unsettling excusing of Allen’s future conduct. That’s not even mentioning one of the film’s earliest jokes is Allen’s character complaining about the cutting of a child molestation skit from his Saturday Night Live-ish show (“what’s the problem half the country’s doing it” quips Allen, a joke that doesn’t work today for so many reasons).

But put that aside because, whatever your opinion of Allen, Hannah and Her Sisters is one of his finest films. It’s expertly shot and directed with a real unobtrusive ease (Allen’s innate understanding of this Manhattan world contrasts sharply with how at sea he is in his European movies). The acting is spot on. As well as being very funny, the moral conundrums the film explores are sympathetic and witty, as are the flawed human beings behind them. Possibly his best film.

Ice Station Zebra (1968)

Rock Hudson takes command in the rather turgid cold war thriller Ice Station Zebra

Director: John Sturges

Cast: Rock Hudson (Commander James Farraday), Ernest Borgnine (Boris Vaslov), Patrick McGoohan (David Jones), Jim Brown (Captain Leslie Anders), Tony Bill (Lt Russell Walker), Lloyd Nolan (Admiral Garvey), Alf Kjellin (Colonel Ostrovsky)

Rumour has it that Howard Hughes loved this movie so much, he insisted on the Las Vegas TV broadcaster he owned to screen the film over 100 times. For most of the rest of us, once will probably be enough to take in all the fun that can be pulled out of this sub-par Alistair MacLean Cold War thriller, a poor relation to The Guns of the Navarone and Where Eagles Dare.

It’s the middle of the Cold War and US submarine commander James Farraday (Rock Hudson) is ordered to the North Pole to rescue a British scientific team. However that mission is just a cover for the real goal – something to do with retrieving a top secret gizmo from a crashed satellite. Farraday is ordered to transport British intelligence agent “David Jones” (Patrick McGoohan) to the Pole, who has bought Soviet defector Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine) along with him. En route, sabotage nearly downs the sub, and on arrival the base has been nearly destroyed. Looks like there is a traitor on board – but is it Boris or recently arrived marine Captain Leslie Anders (Jim Brown)? Who can tell?

To be honest most people watching the film. It’s one of many not-particularly-intriguing mysteries in a hopelessly over-extended film that takes nearly two hours to get going, and then crams its paper-thin characters into a series of adventures that bounce from dull to cliché with giddy haste. Directed with a professional lack of engagement by John Sturges (who could believe the director of Bad Day at Black Rock and The Great Escape could have made something as flat as this?).

It’s a film that mistakes lack of explanations and rushed conclusions for intriguing mystery. There is barely enough actual plot here to sustain an hour and a half let alone the nearly two and a half hours the film takes to get nowhere in particular. The middle of the film is given over to a series of submarine escapades that would have already felt familiar at the time from The Enemy Below and have been bettered since in countless submarine films. From deep dives to furiously leaking compartments, there isn’t anything particularly new here.

When we finally arrive at the polar base, there is finally some decent mystery – as well as a haunting atmosphere – as the characters explore the badly damaged base and its traumatised residents (You can see how this film influenced John Carpenter as he directed The Thing). Sadly, what the film hasn’t managed to do up to this point is make us care at all about any of the characters. Rock Hudson, never a particularly inspiring performer, makes a dry and unengaging lead (first choice Gregory Peck would have made the world of difference). Patrick McGoohan does his best as the mysterious British agent, but the character is so lightly written that you never really feel particularly intrigued by his mystery. Ernest Borgnine chews the scenery as the ex-Pat Soviet while Jim Brown is serviceable as the marine captain. Virtually no other character makes any real impact.

The film culminates eventually in a confusing stand-off between the Americans and the Soviets, until the villains reveal themselves and a détente that doesn’t end up destroying the world is revealed. That’s about the sum total of interest the film can spark. Other than that, it’s slow pace, unengaging characters, uninvolving plot and unoriginal action make it a great deal of fuss about nothing in particular. Howard Hughes may have wanted to watch it a hundred times. You probably won’t want to.