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Friday, August 11, 2017

THE RACK (1956)

After his breakthru on SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME/’56, Paul Newman returned for this decent (in both senses of the word) military courtroom drama that questions the limits of heroism against psychological torture. Well, sort of. Newman, a much decorated captain, is home, but facing Court Marshall for collaborating-with-the-enemy during two years as a P.O.W. Technically guilty, but with extenuating circumstances and explanations for his actions, the film is a carefully constructed obstacle course of personal issues (lost mom; kid brother dead in the war; emotionally unavailable/ regular-army dad) which wind up adding little to the court proceedings. But do add plenty of opportunities for overcooked speeches out of court, more than matching the parsed ethics in. The film derives from a Rod Serling teleplay and feels it, especially in the drab visuals from tv helmer Arnold Laven who might as well be auditioning for next year’s PERRY MASON start-up. (He didn’t get that, but did work with Raymond Burr on IRONSIDE.) It plays better than it sounds though, thanks to an excellent cast with Newman dropping his tortured countenance routine as the film goes on; and compelling, if rather theatrical, turns from Walter Pidgeon (Pops); Anne Francis (sister-in-law); Lee Marvin (unbowed P.O.W.); and especially Edmund O’Brien (bearishly pressing defense). Only Wendell Corey, as a sadder-but-wiser prosecutor misjudges his effects. Perhaps because he’s the sole repeater from the original broadcast and can’t find a fresh angle in Serling’s single-dimension dramatics.

DOUBLE-BILL: Remembered mostly for the 1954 film which ‘opens up’ the action, as a play, THE CAINE MUTINY is one-set courtroom drama till its somewhat specious divide-the-blame epilogue. Something it has in common with THE RACK.

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