The setting is a recently decolonized Africa in the early 60’s. The British army still has a presence here, but is trying no to interfere with domestic politics. As the unrest reaches the boiling point, however, the army is ordered to turn command over to local commanders. No sooner is this done that a coup turns everything upside down, and the African captain of the local garrison is captured by mutinous troops. He escapes and finds his way to the officers’ mess. There, Regimental Sergeant …ajor Lauderdale (Richard Attenborough) determines to protect the man, no matter what grim odds mount outside.
Attenborough has a fine old time in the role, which allows him to be cartoonishly plummy and ridiculous for the first part of the film, but decisive and courageous for the rest. The film does its best to confront the complicated racial politics of that time and place. While not in the same league as Zulu and Dark of the Sun, it does have bracing cynicism about the games the British are playing, though it is also a fairly unapologetic and romantic celebration of the traditions of the British army (with accompanying intimations of inherent superiority of honour and ability). The film is also a reminder that director John Guillermin did some interesting work before moving on to the delightful nonsense of The Towering Inferno and the dire King Kong films produced by Dino De Laurentiis.
As usual, the audio options are 2.0 and the original mono. The inevitable wraparound of the dialogue is present, though it isn’t the worst I’ve heard by any means. That said, there are also plenty of other peculiar moment created by the forced stereo, with one actors dialogue splitting between speakers to disorienting effect. To make matters worse, there is a fair bit of distortion. The volume level could be higher, as well. The music isn’t bad, and the rear speaker presence is subdued, avoiding giving too much of a perception of undifferentiated sound, but the score is also a little on the thin side, even for a 40+ year-old movie.
The picture, on the other hand, is very good. The print is in excellent shape, with virtually no trace of damage. The image is very sharp, and the black-and-white tones are superb. Grain and edge enhancement are not a problem. There is a tiny bit of flicker, but hardly enough to interfere with the viewer’s enjoyment. A very nice transfer, then, that is let done somewhat by the attendant sound.
John Leyton, who plays Private Wilkes in the film, provides the documentary, and if he repeats himself a few times, he is also a wealth of information not only on the filming of the movie itself, but for background as well (helpfully explaining what, exactly, a Regimental Sergeant Major is, for instance). The other extras are limited to trailers for the film, Back Door to Hell and Immortal Sergeant. The menu is basic.
A very interesting and entertaining film, well worth checking out. The sound could be better, but overall the disc is recommended.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary