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I'm Climbing, Damn It. OK?
by Jon Schuller

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Many famous actors and actresses work diligently for years to get the juiciest movie roles. When there's a sequel they try for that as well. If a movie character becomes really popular, the actor's career is solidified. But the dangers of typecasting may follow and a once-prized role has become a weight around the actor's neck. One particularly famous film character, known around the world for over 50 years, has been portrayed by 7 actors since the first movie, Dr. No, premiered in 1962. Of course, I'm talking about Ian Flemings' James Bond, portrayed by Sean Connery in 7 of the Bond movies. Connery is considered by many people to be the best ever in the grand total of 26 Bond films. But that's another discussion for another column. Connery didn't want to be associated permanently with a most profitable movie character like James Bond. He wanted to branch out and get other roles, once his fame (and fortune) was assured.

In 1964 the great director, Sidney Lumet, approached Connery for a leading role in a movie
about an English military prison in the North African desert for British soldiers who've commited offenses like insubordination - or crimes like stealing. Lumet told him it would be a physically demanding film and Connery's "star status" meant nothing to him. The movie is entitled The Hill.

The prison is in Libya and all day, every day, British military prisoners are mercilessly marched up and down in perfect drill cadence under the blazing hot sun. Their cells are small and the officers and sergeants, who must oversee them, suffer as well in the horrible conditions. The great cast includes the dependable Harry Andrews as Regimental Sergeant Major Bert Wilson, Ian Bannen as Staff Sergeant Charlie Harris, Alfred Lynch as George Stevens, Ossie Davis (the lone American) as Jacko King, Roy Kinnear as Monty Bartlett, Jack Watson as Jock McGrath, Ian Hendry as Staff Sergeant Williams and Sir Michael Redgrave as the Medical Officer.

Staff Sergeant Williams new to the camp - is a sadistic person who takes pleasure in the seeing the prisoners suffer under his constant barrage of orders and drills. His
brutal methods put him in conflict with a kinder Staff Sergeant Charlie Harris who prefers to take things slower with the prisoners. An older, more experienced Regimental Sergeant Major Bert Wilson has his own battle going on because he wants to be fighting the German Army in the desert; watching over a prison camp of British soldiers isn't his idea of a war. The camp medical officer has his hands full, especially after one of the men dies as a result of the incessant drills. The camp commandant has a daily balancing act between the prisoners and the men who guard them.

Above everything else, rising out of the desert, is the artificial mountain dubbed The Hill. The men must climb the hill every day as discipline and punishment rolled into one. The new Sergeant Williams is forcing the men to drill every day in the hopes of advancing his career. He's singled out Roberts for especially nasty treatment. But he's slowly upsetting the delicate balance in the camp and RSM Wilson questions why he left London to be there in the camp. The camp commandant and the doctor are not really in touch with the slow- simmering
resentments building up as the prisoners are becoming more upset.

Eventually, however the Medical Officer and Sergeant Harris decide that the abuses must be reported directly to the Commandant. Williams wants one more shot at Roberts but two of the men find out and they beat up Williams as Roberts watches helplessly, knowing that the camp will become worse if a camp officer is beaten or killed.

The Hill was an off-beat, but solid movie, that unfortunately didn't prove to be a box office success. It did garner several BAFTA Award nominations for its actors' performances and other categories. Sean Connery showed his acting talents in a role that was very different from his more famous Bond character. All of the other actors put in solid believable performances and I can recommend this film for its realistic scenes and dialogue, showing a side of the British Army not always seen in more recognizable war movies. The first time I saw this picture was in late 1967 in Israel at the kibbutz movie theatre where I was a volunteer. Fortunately the film was in English with Hebrew sub-titles, instead of a Polish film with Hebrew sub-titles.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

From 12 To 1

Another Sign That the Times Were Changing

Two Different Neighborhoods, Yet So Alike

I Know About This Type of Friendship

Disorganized Crime

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for over 26 years.I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 47 years (as of December 22, 2015) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.


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