At first glance these two films would seem to have very little in common. The first was made by an expatriate arty American filmmaker, the second a former actor turned writer/director of little consequence and barely remembered today.
Joseph Losey established himself as a unique filmmaker to watch with his first feature, “The Boy with Green Hair.” He would make four more films before getting caught up in the HUAC witch hunts and decided to leave the country rather than face Joe McCarthy’s inquisition. His first stop was Italy where he made one film before settling in for good in England where by the early 1960’s he began a cycle of films (The Servant, Accident, The Go-Between) that would cement his reputation, especially with a series of works written by playwright Harold Pinter.
Crane Wilbur began his career as a suave, handsome, silent film actor, most famously as Pearl White’s co-star in “The Perils of Pauline” serial. Wilbur also showed a knack for writing and directing becoming a triple threat. By the time the sound era arrived, Wilbur’s acting career was on its last legs; he would spend the remainder of his career behind the screen. As a screenwriter Wilbur wrote or co-wrote such films as “Crime School,” “Alcatraz Island,” “House of Wax,” “Women’s Prison,” “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima,” “I Was a Communist for the FBI,” “He Walked by Night,” Crime Wave,” and “The Phenix City Story.” As a director, Wilbur spent the bulk of his career in “B” film alley with most of the films largely forgotten today. Best remembered is arguably his next to last directorial effort, “The Bat” starring Vincent Price.
So what do Joseph Losey and Crane Wilbur have in common as filmmakers? On the surface, very little, but in the two short reviews that follow, they thematically came together making two works about man’s inhumanity and brutality to man; animal instinct at its lowest level.
“King and Country” is a dark, brutal, effective attack on war by the exiled Losey. A shell shocked soldier (Tom Courtenay) is put on trial for desertion after a foolish moment where he walks away from the brutality and loss of humanity of it all (and one has to ask how foolish is it to walk away from the horrors of war?). His lawyer (Dirk Bogarde) is a straight-laced military man who at first can find little, even no sympathy of the young though war-weary seasoned soldier. As the film progresses the lawyer discovers the layers of human frailty in a boy scarred by the violence and brutality of constant battle, and the strong unforgiving arm of military injustice. There is a most powerful scene during an interrogation by Bogarde of an arrogant doctor portrayed by Leo McKern defending his wrong-headed medical position for the young soldier’s behavior. “King and Country” is not a film for the faint of heart. There are some very unpleasant scenes of animal cruelty requiring a strong stomach used to reflect the numbing effect the brutality of war has on men. The film contains masterful performances from both Tom Courtenay and Dirk Bogarde and is earnestly directed by Losey. “King and Country” had its American premiere at the second New York Film Festival in 1964 before beginning a regular run at an Eastside theater in Manhattan. (****)
Have you ever heard the expression, “the walls have ears?” Well, in “Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison,” the walls don’t have ears, but they do have a voice as the narrator of this film. That’s right, it’s not a prisoner, or the Warden, or an investigative reporter that does the narration here, it is the prison itself that speaks to the audience! Once you get over your first thoughts of “this is already heading toward the dumpster,” this little oddity from the Warner Brothers vault is not a bad little film. A vicious warden (Ted DeCorsia) takes no prisoners (pun intended) as he cracks down on anyone who does not follow his strict and archaic rules. Brutal scenes of prisoners in solitary, their hands chained behind their back raised high above their heads to the wall, so they are forced to continuously stand in dark dank, cold dungeon like cells are cruelly inhumane. A new Captain (David Brain) of the guards attempts to implement a more humane approach but is met with resistance from the warden. This all leads to a bloody violent shootout during an attempted escape. Steve Cochran heads the cast as one of the prisoners along with character actors Paul Picerni (The Untouchables), William Campbell (Battle Cry, Love Me Tender) and Philip Carey (One Life to Live). Overall, the film is a fairly standard prison drama, the kind Warner Brothers did so well over the years, however Ted de Corsia’s warden is a standout rivaling Hume Cronyn’s Captain Munsey in “Brute Force” for the insensitive “Warden of the Year” award. (***1/2)
You may want to check out my review of Joseph Losey’s noir thriller The Prowler.