From the Vault: 1965
Starring: Sean Connery, Harry Andrews, Ian Hendry
Director: Sidney Lumet
The film: Sean Connery was well into his stride as James Bond when he slotted this, arguably his best screen performance, between Goldfinger and Thunderball. The setting is a British Army prison camp in North Africa during the second world war, but the prisoners aren't German - they're British soldiers who've been locked up on a variety of charges from petty theft to desertion. Connery is in for striking a senior officer, and there are suggestions of cowardice, resulting in his demotion from sergeant-major and the prospect of a less than rosy spell at His Majesty's pleasure.
The hill of the film's title is man made, and is well established with a clever three-minute tracking shot that runs through the opening credits.
Baking menacingly in the desert heat, it's used as daily punishment exercise for the most minor of transgressions, and as the camp's regimental sergeant major tells Connery at the outset, he's going to be seeing rather a lot of it. But his biggest enemy is a newly arrived staff sergeant, played by Ian Hendry (Get Carter, Repulsion), whose vicious streak is explained in part by some subtle psychoanalysis that plays out during the film.
Things take an unexpected turn with the death of one of Connery's cellmates who is sent up the hill once too often by Hendry. It's then that order begins to break down, on both sides of the fence, and the stage is set for some extremely intense drama. Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon) is well known as a director who coaxed the best performances out of many an actor, and here he did so with several - Connery and Hendry, as well as the lantern-jawed Harry Andrews as the Regimental Sergeant Major and Ian Bannen as his well intentioned, sexually ambiguous subordinate. Director of Photography Oswald Morris (The Man Who Would Be King, Life at the Top) also deserves much credit, and earned a Bafta award for his striking use of deep focus, unusual (for the time) camera angles and startling black-and- white cinematography which picks up every bead of sweat and grain of sand on the actors' faces.
The extras: Sadly this new DVD, released in June as part of a box set with some less remarkable war films, but now available on its own, offers few extras. The Sun ... The Sand ... The Hill is a seven-minute promotional film made just after The Hill's screening at Cannes, and following a few shots of Connery on the steps of the old Palais du Festival, there are some behind-the-scenes location shots in Spain and a couple of brief interviews.
It's interesting enough but really inadequate as the main extra for a film of this calibre. Also included are theatrical trailers for The Hill and for Operation Crossbow and The Battle of the Bulge. The atmospheric, widescreen-enhanced transfer is excellent throughout.