Friday, May 12, 2017

The Passage (1979)

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Writer: Bruce Nicolaysen

Composer: Michael J. Lewis

Starring: Anthony Quinn, James Mason, Malcolm McDowell, Patricia Neal, Kay Lenz, Christopher Lee, Paul Clemens, Robert Rhys, Marcel Bozzuffi, Michael Lonsdale, Peter Arne, Neville Jason, Robert Brown, Rose Alba, Jim Broadbent, Frederick Jaeger, Terence Maidment, Terry Yorke

More info: IMDb

Tagline: An ice-swept escape route in front of them. A cold-blooded killer behind them. The only way out is up.

Plot: During WW 2, a Basque shepherd is approached by the underground, who wants him to lead a scientist and his family across the Pyrenees. While being pursued by a sadistic German.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.

At times this movie feels like it was made for TV and even though there were some high quality TV movies in the 70s, this isn't meant as a compliment.  Sometimes the direction and editing feel weaker than they should be and sometimes it's Micheal J. Lewis' score that feels thin.  The music could be the fault of the mixing but there's an airy quality (heavy on the high strings with little to bring any mid range or bottom).  It could also be in the recording of the score or the budget wasn't there to have a larger, fuller orchestra.  The point is, there are a few little things that add up enough to weaken the overall look and sound of the movie.  The likeliest culprit could be the budget.  Now that I've beaten that damn horse, let's move on.  The dialogue has moments of either cliche or typical Hollywood-ness to it but the actors are good enough to help move it along.  For the most part this is an OK WWII thriller with some big time stars and except for one particular thing, it's largely forgettable.  Malcolm McDowell delivers a delightfully bonkers performance as Capt. Von Berkow, the mustache (if he had one, that is) twirling evil Nazi.  He reminded me a little of Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) from INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009).  He's evil, sadistic and playful.  Berkow (as well as McDowell) in his role as one of Hitler's elite force, the SS.  At first McDowell's choice to play Berkow this way is a little odd because it doesn't fit with the rest of the film, like he's working on a different picture.  But somewhere along the way I just went along with it and embraced it.  That's when I saw the comedy and laughed out loud.

That scene is the apex of the picture's humor.  When he tortures a man (I'm not going to spoil it with who the victim is) in the kitchen, it's absurd and horrific.  The victim sells the shit out of it while McDowell gleefully serves it up.  Then there's the scene where he's wearing a swastika-ed jockstrap.  Once you get past the shock of his out of place performance, he's fun to watch.  The ending is wild as shit, too.  The rumor is they filmed three scenarios for the finale and used all three.  No spoilers again but you need to see this to believe it.  It's fucking glorious.  I absolutely LOVED the ending.  This is an unusual film, for sure, but it's also enjoyable in a peculiar way.  Lower your expectations and have some fun.

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