Hill, The (1965)

“Roberts, the court martial broke you, but I’m going to finish the job. I’m gonna bust you wide open.”

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

Hill Poster

Synopsis:
During World War II, a sadistic military prison warden (Harry Andrews) in North Africa makes life miserable for a group of detainees — particularly “busted” Sergeant-Major Roberts (Sean Connery).

Genres:

  • Michael Redgrave Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Prisoners of War
  • Ruthless Leaders
  • Sean Connery Films
  • Sidney Lumet Films
  • World War Two

Review:
Based on a T.V. play by Ray Rigby, Sidney Lumet’s film about a ruthless military warden making life miserable for his minions in the heat and dust of North Africa is brutal, uncompromising fare, and often difficult to stomach — but ultimately so powerful in both its message and its delivery that it’s worth viewing. Sean Connery — hoping to shift away from his suave James Bond persona — took a break between Goldfinger (1964) and Thunderball (1965) to play Joe Roberts, a sergeant-major censured for hitting his superior and refusing to send his men into a suicidal battle mission. Because he and his cellmates (Ossie Davis, Alfred Lynch, Roy Kinnear, and Jack Watson) are presumed to be cowards hoping to get out of active military service, Andrews and his equally sadistic chief officer (Ian Hendry) do whatever they can to break the men’s spirits and bodies — including sending them pointlessly up and down the film’s titular manmade dirt “hill”. The increasingly grim situation finally comes to a head when one of the new inmates dies from heat stroke, and Hendry is accused by the prisoners of murder.

The subject matter is harsh, but the performances are superb — particularly Connery and Andrews, as well as Ossie Davis in a supporting role as a soldier from the West Indies who must put up with merciless racism on top of other indignities. Meanwhile, Oswald Morris’s crisp black-and-white cinematography is the perfect choice for such a bleak historical setting, and Rigby’s scathing dialogue is smartly conceived. (Note, however, that even native English speakers will want to have the subtitles on, since it’s often difficult to make out what the actors are saying.) Ultimately, while The Hill isn’t a film for the light of heart, those interested in exploring military power dynamics taken to a fatal extreme will surely be interested to check it out. It’s a surprising omission from Peary’s book — especially given that he awards Connery an Alternate Oscar as best actor of the year in his Alternate Oscars book.

P.S. Watch for Michael Redgrave in a small but effective supporting role as a sympathetic military doctor.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Sean Connery as Roberts
    Hill Connery
  • Harry Andrews as RSM Wilson
  • Ossie Davis as Jocko
  • Oswald Morris’s b&w cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Connery’s noteworthy performance.

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One Response to “Hill, The (1965)”

  1. An overlooked must.

    ~apparently overlooked, in a way, by me as well. I’ve always known of the film but, til now, have not seen it. It’s certainly among Lumet’s strongest work, yet another of his studies of hierarchical power, the fumblers at the top and the little guy(s) at the bottom.

    Impressive, gritty ensemble work by the cast (actors often do particularly well with Lumet) and Oswald Morris’ photography is superb.

    Simple film, really, tho it may not seem it. I don’t find it all that “difficult to stomach” except for the fact that those with the most power in this situation are godawful blowhards who live for what authority affords them. It’s very easy for the casual viewer to relate; anyone who has ever faced the “I’m the boss and don’t you forget it” mindset.

    Gripping stuff.

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