Saturday, 15 November 2008


I was working in the publicity office of Columbia Pictures when this film was released, although for some reason I never actually got to see the film. Despite being a commercial flop it turned out to be an important film in the history of Columbia as it was directly responsible for the company being expelled from Franco's Spain. Based on a novel by long time Michael Powell collaborator, Emeric Pressberger, the film seems to have been rarely seen since its release,although it is now available on DVD. Like many overtly political films made in America in the Sixties, this never really has the courage of its convictions - in this case to state openly that the film's nominal hero, Manuel, played by Gregory Peck, is a dedicated communist. Manuel is a former hero of the Spanish Civil War who has lived in exile in France for twenty years. When his mother is dying, his old Police Chief enemy (played by Anthony Quinn) tries to lure him back across the border to Spain where he is still a wanted man. The film is not exactly a classic, not even one of director Fred Zinnemann's better films, but it is nicely made although the performances are, because of miscasting, never entirely convincing. Gregory Peck is solid enough but often seems ill at ease with his complicated character, especially during the first half of the film. Quinn is equally miscast as the police chief but thankfully doesn't play it as another variation on his Zorba the Greek (a tendency that marred many of his latter performances. Omar Sharif comes off quite well as a young priest. Robert Hossein is totally wasted in a minor role. It's certainly worth a look although it seems to me that Zinneman either didn't know how to end the film or didn't really know how to achieve what he wanted. Perhaps he should have taken a look at the ending of Kazan's VIVA ZAPATA! Rating **

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