The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Long and the Short and the Tall

So I'm kinda slow sometimes. I'm not the most tech-oriented of people so I just kinda assumed iTunes just offered music downloads and rentals of new movies. Yeah...nope. There's hundreds and thousands of movies available to rent and/or buy!!! You'd think I would have realized this years ago, but anyhoo, here we sit. I found a flick I've long sought out, 1961's The Long and the Short and the Tall.

During the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942, a small, seven-man patrol commanded by Sgt. Mitchem (Richard Todd) is deep in the jungle miles away from their base camp. Their mission? Record sounds of troop movements and vehicles moving through the jungle that will be used to trick Japanese troops into thinking they're facing more opposition than they really are. With his right-hand man, Corporal Johnstone (Richard Harris), at his side, Mitchem is trying to keep things in line with inexperienced soldiers making up the patrol. As they prepare to wrap up the mission, the patrol begins to have radio issues, and the men begin to question if something is up. Several are convinced they've been cut off by Japanese troops, and they're now on their own deep in the jungle. Can they make it back to the camp? Their situation is muddled even more when a lone Japanese soldier walks into their camp. Now they're alone and isolated and also have to decide what to do with their prisoner.

Talk about a dark, anti-war flick. This is your movie if you're looking for one. Director Leslie Norman helms this British film that's based off a play and doesn't have much of a reputation built up over the years. It's surprising in that sense because 'Long' is quite the quality movie. Sure, it has flaws but it tries things that movies weren't even thinking of trying, much less attempting yet. Filmed in a stark black and white, the story was filmed on indoor sets in England. Rather than film in real jungles, the decision works. The plants and vegetation permeate the screen to give things quite the claustrophobic feel that hangs in the air. The Japanese troops could be anywhere, but we just can't see them. Music is kept to a minimum with very little taking away from the ever-developing story.

For both good and bad, one of the most interesting things in 'Long' is the dialogue. Based off a play, this is movie dependent on an abundance of dialogue. Why does it work? It feels authentic...when I could understand it. The patrol is made up of soldiers from all over Great Britain, Scotland and Ireland so we get all sorts of thick brogues and cockney accents. This is a movie dependent on getting to know the soldiers through these conversations. We learn little about them in terms of background, but we start to see their personalities, their dynamics, their rivalries, their hatreds. At times, it gets to be a little much because it just wears on your ears, 90-plus minutes of soldiers bitching and moaning at each other.

So in terms of reality, 'Long' gets big points. These aren't heroic, gung-ho soldiers seeking glory. They just want to stay alive. Todd and Harris are good together as the only two veterans among the group. There's also Laurence Harvey as Bamforth, an annoying motormouth from London, Ronald Fraser as MacLeish, the wishy-washy Scotsman, David McCallum as Whitaker, the mousy radioman, John Meillon as Smith, the most intelligent among the group but simply looking to follow orders, and John Rees as Evans, Bamforth's friend and a bit of a follower. There isn't a likable man in the bunch, just less despicable individuals. This isn't an anti-war movie made about Vietnam. This was made in the early 1960s and is already beginning to reflect how the world felt about war and violence and so-called bravery and heroism. Quite a cast, all of them playing humans, not robotic killing machines. Harvey especially hams it up, pushing buttons left and right to the point he's unbearable as a character. Quite the performance if you think of it that way.

It's in the last half that things really take a turn for the dark when the patrol takes a prisoner (Kenji Takaki) and must decide what to do about him. Take him along? Leave him behind to possibly talk? Or the most uncomfortable option...kill him in cold-blood?  The story blends morality, ethics, survival, the rules of war, right and wrong, all of it as the situation gets harrier and harrier. The finale takes some interesting turns, some of them more predictable than others, but they work. Overall, it's a really good movie that's missing that special something. I really recommend it, but it's more of a quality movie than an entertaining movie. Still worth chasing it down but know what you're getting into here.

The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961): ** 1/2 /****


  1. Holy crap, this one's on iTunes!?! I saw this as a kid and have been looking for it for years. Thanks for the heads-up (and the review).

  2. Yes, sir! Think I rented it for $2.99. It was still there as of late last week.