BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE WHITE TOWER (Warner Archives)

By • Aug 27th, 2014 •

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This film is so Leni Riefenstahl, it should be double-billed with THE WHITE HELL OF PITZ PALU. Alida Valli sounds like Ingrid Bergman, but does capture Leni’s passion for epic conquests (in the German ‘Mountain films’ tradition) in lieu of petty relationships. (The only thing missing in the third act of Quentin Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS was having Leni be at that screening. She would have scaled the walls and been the only one to survive.)

Valli is an obsessed woman who has returned to climb a dangerous mountain in honor of her father who died trying many years before. She recruits an unwieldy team, some of whom, by their very natures, are doomed to fail in the effort, but are also guaranteed to supply dramatic fire power, so it’s a trade off: We know there will be life lost, but we’re up for the histrionics courtesy of that fine cast. In addition, an often unheralded (nowadays) member of the cast, equally important as any of the humans, is the Technicolor cinematography, in this instance supervised by vet Ray (BECKY SHARP, DUEL IN THE SUN, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS) Rennahan. The transfer is not up to Technicolor standards, and RKO Technicolor films, when released for home media, rarely achieve their original luster, but you can certainly still see the look they were striving for.

What a cast. Oscar Homolka (MR. SARDONICUS) sporting eyebrows the size of tent-caterpillars. Claude Rains, given a weak character to play, but it’s nice to see him and hear his mellifluous voice. His wife (June Clayworth) is reminiscent of Marie Windsor’s barbed-wire-mouthed-spouse of Elisha Cook Jr. in Kubrick’s THE KILLING. Not as blatantly caustic, but enough, we assume, for her degrading attitude toward her husband to have taken its toll. Glenn Ford, who I avoided for decades because he reminded me of Howdy Doody, finally won me over with his underplayed and moving portrayal of Pa Kent in the 1978 SUPERMAN. But he’s a bit ill cast here as the ugly American opposite Lloyd Bridges’ obnoxious Nazi.

All the narrative elements – the reluctant hero, the epic journey, etc., are in place, but the director downplays much of it in favor of faux realism. Ted Tetzlaff’s directorial and cinematography bios give no indication that this was his preferred approach to dramatic material. Other films he directed were the juicy noirs THE WINDOW, JOHNNY ALLEGRO and GAMBLING HOUSE, the adventure/comedy RIFFRAFF, and even a Cinerama feature, SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD. He was obviously trying something slightly experimental here, and doesn’t pull it off, but lest I drive you away, the third act really delivers, and the final confrontation between Ford and Bridges is terrific. What follows that, however, strains our willing suspension of disbelief.

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