Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"The Hill" with Sean Connery and Michael Redgrave (1965)

In 1965 Sean Connery took a gamble and walked away from the Bond film series; and we have been reaping the rewards of that decision ever since. In this 1965 movie; based loosely upon the Greek Myth about Sisyphus; he plays a soldier who is punished by his superiors in much the same way as the Gods punished Sisyphus, by being given a futile and impossible task, which he must perform over and over again.

In Albert Camus' “The Myth of Sisyphus”, the author draws the conclusion that although Sisyphus has no hopes, no future and no chance at even succeeding at his task; “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” I don’t wish to sound pompous; or even to overreach in my status as a mere blogger; but such reasoning smacks of the “Albrecht Mach Frei” sign above the entrance to Auschwitz. “Work will set you free”; tell that to all those who died there while struggling to survive.

A more realistic portrayal of what happens to human beings when confronted with hopelessness is contained in the script of this film; which was taken from the book by Ray Rigby from a play he co-wrote with R.S. Allen. Undoubtedly they read Sisyphus, and they too must have had their doubts. It all depends on how you interpret this film.

The film takes place in a military prison in the Libyan desert; sometime around World War Two. Any prisoners who violate the rules are forced to tackle the “Hill”; which is a mass of scrap iron, stone and sand; all piled into the shape of a pyramid. Prisoners are forced to run double-time over the hill wearing all their gear. They must do this endlessly; until they drop; as they always do. It’s inevitable.

The movie is stark; there is no music; and in a film about World War Two, not a shot is fired. Yet this is a violent film. The prisoners are composed of a group of misfits; commanded by a sadistic Commandant; played by Harry Andrews. Sergeant-Major Wilson is a rigid, unmoving man. He revels in the “discipline” he metes out and the power which it gives him over the prisoners under his charge. He’s evil in the worst sort of way; not entirely by desire; but rather by order. He was told to do this; so it must be right.

The prisoners consist of not only British soldiers; but also all of the different colors and nationalities who were then under the Royal yoke as colonists.

Sean Connery plays Joe Roberts; an officer imprisoned for having defied a stupid order which would have resulted in the loss of his men; only to lose them anyway. Talk about futility!  In the camp he is the main witness in a trial against a sadistic officer; Staff Sergeant Williams, played by Ian Hendry; whose action have resulted in the death of a man.

Ossie Davis plays Jacko King; a Caribbean prisoner who comes to realize that his white superiors are mad and loathsome, and not worth the respect they demand. He finds the whole system to be absurd; just as Sisyphus may have felt about his punishment.

Alfred Lynch plays George Stevens; a man who lives only for his wife’s letters; and is despised by Sgt. Williams for it. When he uses the Hill to kill him Connery realizes something he has known all along; that the Devil hides in the Truth. He sees his lack of redress against the rules as his authority to be insubordinate. As a matter of fact, he sees it as his Duty.

With a cast including such notables as Roy Kinnear; who plays Monty Bartlett; Jack Watson as Jock McGrath; and Sir Michael Redgrave as the unnamed Medical Officer; this film has a well-seasoned cast of performers who make every scene hurt.

As an indictment of ruthless rigidity, it stands the test of time. As a commentary on our own contemporary world, it also fits the bill nicely. Complacency; or inertia, in the face of evil and overwhelming odds; is not laudable. While it may be unavoidable in order to survive, the question then becomes one of what you are willing to accept. For every person, that answer will be different.

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