Seven British soldiers are trapped behind Japanese lines during World War II. During the long days and dangerous Malayan jungle nights, tempers are short and the tension is high. A vivid and stark portrayal of a British patrol unit from the director of Dunkirk and producer Michael Balcon.
- The first social realist war film (possibly...)
This film is reputedly not as good as Lindsay Anderson's stage production. In particular, it suffers from the inevitable watering down of the language in order to get past the film censors. However, when I first saw it, I knew nothing about it and thought it was a Lindsay Anderson film. In fact, it was directed by Leslie Norman, who previously made the more patriotic (although still ambivalent) Dunkirk. Nevertheless, this is a radical departure which subverts all the established cliches of the war film genre and has more in common with kitchen sink drama. The section of tommies who are the central (and more or less only) characters are seen to be a thoroughly obnoxious bunch who spend more time fighting each other than fighting the Japanese. Although the characters might at first appear to be crude stereotypes, ambiguities soon appear. Their mission is not at all exciting or heroic. At best it is banal, at worst a complete waste of time dreamt up by someone remote from the realities of fighting. The soldiers, most of whom lack any combat experience, are well aware of this, and tension between them mounts as the situation deteriorates. Suspicions of incompetence surround the leader (Richard Todd who defies expectations by playing against type - a particularly brave performance from someone who actually fought in the war) and these almost become a self fulfilling prophecy. Richard Harris' corporal makes himself out to be a hard ba****d and a professional soldier, but in truth he does nothing constructive and only criticises his sergeant, then when action is required, he loses his nerve, surrendering pathetically. Bamforth (an excellent performance by Laurence Harvey) is abusive and insubordinate, but eventually proves to be the best fighter, and yet, paradoxically, most able to retain his humanity in the dehumanising context of a brutal war. David McCallum is also very convincing as a young man (really just a frightened child) completely out of his depth. The rest of the section are shown up as complacent hypocrites at various times, as pressure and crisis provoke knee jerk reactions. In particular, Ronald Fraser (far more than just the token Scot) tries to insist on doing everything by the book but eventually lets his emotions get the better of him. The threat of being cut off by the advancing Japanese causes problems enough, but the capture of a Japanese soldier presents several moral dilemmas which the soldiers must deal with, adding an extra dimension to the drama. The cruel irony of the final scenes comes not only from the knowledge of what actually happened to POWs in the far east, but also from the way the British soldiers have treated their prisoner during the preceding scenes.
It could be argued that the film is slow moving and lacks action, but this is inevitable given that it is an adaptation of a stage play. In fact, there is enough drama in the frayed relationships between the characters to maintain interest throughout, and the central message is, after all, that war is not much fun (to put it mildly). The fear of the largely unseen Japanese builds up convincingly and the jungle looks suitably dour and threatening. While the graphic close-ups of corpses would have had more impact in colour, black and white generally adds to the intense and claustrophobic atmosphere.
Overall a groundbreaking work. In a way it would be nice if it could be remade today (now that the BBFC are starting to accept that saying "fuck" and "cunt" will not automatically destroy society as we know it!), particularly if Lindsay Anderson could be persuaded to revive his angry young man persona to direct. Sean Bean might be good in the Richard Harris role, too.
- A moving account of jungle warfare
Rarely does a movie transform from the stage to the screen successfully. The Long and the Short and the Tall is one of few exceptions. A harrowing and moving story of how a group of British soldiers find themselves engaged in combat with the enemy in the Burmese jungle. Not only does the imagery capture the intense feeling of fear engaging the soldiers as they realise the enemy forces are aware of their existence, it also takes the viewer into the minds and exposes the smell of death as it envelopes the humid moment of combat. Well worth watching. One of the best war movies ever made with an all star British cast delivering a perfect script.
- Great production of the GCSE set text.
Having read the Willis Hall play with the school. I watched this film and saw that it was like watching the actual characters arguing. This shows how the different characters react to a war situation and this makes the combat scene at the end deeply moving because we get to know the characters as individuals as well as stereotypes. First class drama
Laurence Harvey .... Private Bamforth
Richard Todd (I) .... Sergeant Mitchem
Richard Harris .... Corporal Johnstone
David McCallum (I) .... Private Sammy Whitaker
Ronald Fraser .... Lance Corporal 'Mac' Macleish
Also Known As:
Jungle Fighters (1960) (USA)
Long, the Short and the Tall, The (1960) (International: English title)
Runtime: full and uncut version at 101 min.
Language: English / Japanese
Color: Black and White
If you like this film you might like Ice Cold in Alex and Dunkirk.