Between HUD/’63 and HOMBRE/’67, Paul Newman, director Martin Ritt & cinematographer James Wong Howe swung for the rafters and missed badly on this heavy-handed, poetically pretentious RASHOMON adaptation. Taken from a B’way retelling of the 1950 Kurosawa classic that retained his Japanese setting (see album cover, below), the film adaptation mercifully avoids any YellowFace issues by relocating the action to a Southern bordertown where three strangers (Edward G. Robinson, Howard Da Silva & William Shatner, staring into the void) are cogitating over a recent murder & rape case.
In a trio of flashbacks, the three involved principals (murder victim Laurence Harvey & wife/rape victim Claire Bloom in deep-fried Southern mode, Paul Newman in alarmingly swarthy make-up as a randy Frito-Bandito*), offer variant scenarios before Da Silva, a witness to the crimes, chimes in with a fourth view. Whom to believe? All? None? Or is truth unknowable? Worth a look if only for the striking, stylized train depot soundstage exterior with a positively Biblical threatening-storm cyclorama backdrop where the strangers take shelter and chew the cud. (The rest of the film plays out on natural locations; a fresh disappointment every time we cut back to that rainy, artificial depot, as atmospheric & visually compelling as something from late silent cinema. Very Josef von Sternberg.) Howe had recently achieved similar effects in the water tank on THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA/’59, but the look is even better in WideScreen monotone. (It also helps to have Eddie G. working the joint.)
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Someone must have felt that Newman’s famously piercing blue eyes wouldn’t show in b&w and wreck his Mex-make-up . . . someone was wrong.