DVD: Man in the Middle (1964)

March 8, 2019 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer: Very Good

Extras: Standard

Label:  Twentieth Century-Fox

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  April 24, 2007

Genre:  Drama

Synopsis: A former JAG goes against his superior and seeks to save the life of a possibly insane cold blooded killer in WWII India.

Special Features:  Theatrical Trailer.




A whydunnit transposed to a WWII military courtroom in India, this adaptation of Howard Fast’s novel deals with a U.S. lieutenant facing the death penalty after shooting a British colleague in cold blood. The Brits want justice, the Americans just want the killer to hang regardless if he’s insane, and both sides hope the case’s clean & simple nature will quell any friction between the two allies, and keep them focused on defeating fascism.

Robert Mitchum is Lt. Barney Adams, a one-time, one-case JAG who’s spent the rest of his military career in the combat field, and out of loyalty to family friend Gen. Kempton (a quietly snarling Barry Sullivan), flies in from Europe to ensure the case is handled professionally. The fact Lt. Winston (bellicose Keenan Wynn) shot a man in front of several witnesses should make it an easy case, but Adams isn’t one to bend the law for the sake of an imposed, unreasonable schedule, and after several meetings with his client, Adams realizes he might be insane, making the death penalty unethical.

The events within this 94 min. drama aren’t complex, but the superb cast elevates the already fine dialogue by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, writers of the classics A Kind of Loving (1962) and Billy Liar (1963). Guy Hamilton’s direction is tight and shows he could handle his international cast and the courtroom drama just as slickly as the James Bond films Goldfinger (1964) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

One suspects Mitchum knew he was surrounded by top British talent, and while underplaying Adams in his characteristic low key style, there’s never a doubt Adams will butt heads with brass because he refuses to let a hunch or a fuzzy clue go unnoticed – hence his bullheadedness in tracking down Maj. Kensington (Trevor Howard), an officer who has a good grasp of Winston’s dented, paranoid, psychological state, and the tensions that can render idling soldiers toasty between battles.

Alexander Knox (Wilson) is the sour-faced doctor who couldn’t care less about Winston’s life, Sam Wanamaker is the lone psychiatrist who holds key evidence, and Canada’s Al Waxman (The King of Kensington) is a lippy corporal who’s completely indifferent to the case.

The injection of a love interest is contrived, but half-Chinese-French Kate Davray (France Nuyen) does have a role in the drama, nudging Adams to look deeper, see through facades of indifferent officers, and she offers some lightness, especially in a beautifully written & performed semi-seduction in which she pokes fun at Adams’ persona of a stoic, reserved soldier. The brief banter between the ephemeral couple is smart-assed, yet captures the attraction which results in a (naturally) off-screen love scene.

The denouement and resolution aren’t especially novel – combative wordplay, attitude, and determination on Adams’ part ensures the verdict is right and just – and Indian characters are background material, except a token reporter in an otherwise monochromatic press scrum.

The B&W cinematography by Wilkie Cooper (Green for Danger, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, First Men in the Moon) is stark, suiting the drenched exteriors and claustrophobic interiors, and although John Barry’s score is derived from a main theme by longtime vocal collaborator Lionel Bart, it’s a score that’s often at odds with the drama. Bart’s bristling march is tracked over inappropriate scenes and transitions, and with few exceptions, the intrusiveness of the music is worsened by horrible mixing. The shrillness is most evident when Bart’s theme clatters up, and a few bad sound edits are just as distracting, especially a quiet tete-a-tete exchange between Adams and Kensington at the latter’s base. (It’s possible these scenes were affected by lost or damaged frames during reel changes which Fox couldn’t fix or didn’t notice in the film to video transfer.)

Fox’s visual transfer is otherwise fine, and the disc lacks any meaty extras to contextualize the film in careers of prolific Mitchum, and several of its cast members who appeared in various classic dramas and war films for the studio.

Other films adapted from works by Howard Fast include Rachel and the Stranger (1948), Spartacus (1960), Cheyenne Autumn (1964), Sylvia (1965), Mirage (1965), Penelope (1966), and Jigsaw (1968).



© 2019 Mark R. Hasan





External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmographies: John Barry / Lionel Bart
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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