Val Guest just impresses every time as I work my way through his varied directed filmography. Enjoying picking around the vast collection of stories he has tackled in his long career. Making sure I hit all the goodies first before I contemplate watching some of the less desirable sounding ones like, well Toomorrow? Also fun fact, can you believe it was Val who started off the cheesy sex comedy series Confessions of a Window Cleaner. Luckily he only made the first one, though he had ventured into saucy land a few years earlier with a slightly naughty one called Au Pair Girls.
So far every new film of his I watch I’ve felt the need to do a post, a good sign he’s hitting the spot for me. The ones I’ve seen have all been of superior quality, with the clever and interesting dialogue being a noticeable key characteristic to the stories. An almost play along detective mystery in Jigsaw (1962), the heat rising and non-stop banter in the sci-fi drama The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961), then a northern england does a States style cop vs criminal chase movie Hell Is A City (1960). Val was on a roll with these three, which lead me to the World War II drama Yesterday’s Enemy (1959)
Critic Bob Considine Quote – “If they ever make a more meaningful picture they’ll have to fire live ammo from the screen!”
A broken and lost brigade of the British Army find themselves stuck fighting for their lives in the jungles of Burma during World War II. With an ever closing patrol of Japanese soldiers hot on their heels and likely to surround them at any given time, this company of men are desperate to get word of their whereabouts back across to allied HQ. The terrain is harsh, having to stomp through the labyrinth of hot and humid swamp waters of the jungle. Every step is tough, every step is dangerous and to be honest they might not even be going the right way!
With the Brigadier (Russell Waters) injured, Captain Langford (Stanley Baker) is acting command. The Captain is stern, hard-nosed and relentlessly tough. A man who will do anything to bring back his platoon, even if many don’t agree with his harsh manner, the guy does get things done.
Captain Langford – “My concerns are the living not the dead”
Captain Langford – “There’s only one way to fight a war – With the gloves off!”
With a diverse company of men under his command he does have an ally in Glaswegian Sergeant McKenzie (Gordon Jackson) though all the men know they need a man like Captain Langford if they are likely to get of this god forsaken place. To try and keep certain action in check, a civilian reporter called Max (Leo McKern) and the military Padre (Guy Rolfe) try and keep things as civil as possible. These are war times, time is ticking, temperatures are rising. If you want to survive? Do you do anything in your power to do so, especially now that you are responsible for these men!
A film which perfectly mixes equal amounts of the harsh reality of war and the duty of taking orders under such horrific conditions, to reflections and thoughts of a more anti-war notion. Deep thoughts and conversations are undertaken on subjects such as cowardness, sacrifice, survival and the moral dilemmas of making extremely difficult decisions that will result in truly unpleasant consequences.
It’s an thrilling and interesting film. Through all that dark brooding mood is the black and white vegetation of the jungle that looms in the background of every shot adding to the depression. It’s strange to learn it was all shot on a soundstage. The production design and art department must of had a field day creating the Burmese jungle. The only thing that put me off a little at the beginning was you could tell in the sound recording it was on a stage. Though it didn’t take long for you to be so immersed into the story that you instantly forgot about such small little qualms. It gave the film an air of being a play, which suited the exchange of conversations between the actors. The film also doesn’t feature any soundtrack score at all and low and behold it’s a Hammer Films production.
There’s loads of things about the story I could add but won’t, though there is one actor I wouldn’t feel right not mentioning. That is a character called Yamazaki played by Philip Ahn, and that’s all I’ll say. Add this film to your Val Guest list to see or if you’ve seen it, I’m very sure you enjoyed it? Let me know if you fancy.
All the best and happy tense viewing. Second lieutenant Wolfman.
PS – Incidentally over the years I had unwittingly been watching two of his great films without the knowledge he had directed them. They would be the classic sci-fi horror films, The Quatermass Xperiment and Enemy From Space (Quatermass 2). It wasn’t until recently that I found out Val had made those. It’s been years since watching them, I will be revisiting them soon.