22 September 2009 | Bunuel1976
TEN TALL MEN (Willis Goldbeck, 1951) ***
The phrase "they don't make them like this anymore" is often used in this CGI-infested age to describe extra-laden and 'authentic' Hollywood spectaculars of yesteryear but, frankly, watching this more modest, tongue-in-cheek Foreign Legion adventure, I was equally struck by just how old-fashioned (and refreshingly so) it all was – not that the sand storm sequence included here would pass muster with today's audiences! Anyhow, from the very start of the film, we have Burt Lancaster, Gilbert Roland and Kieron Moore disguised as, respectively, an Arab merchant and his two daughters!; legionnaires who are punished for daring to look twice at their Lieutenant's fiancée; an Arab chieftain who marries off his daughter to a rival Sheik to bring peace between their warring tribes and in a bid to rid their country of the 'French' infidels; the kidnapping of that same feisty daughter who, not only turns the heads of all her ten titular captors but, after several escape attempts, eventually steals the heart of tough guy Lancaster; etc. However, shot in lovely Technicolor and moving at a rapid pace, the film is an enjoyable ride through familiar territory; what was somewhat surprising, plot-wise, is that while much was made initially of the unloved Lieutenant (Stephen Bekassy) and his blonde girlfriend (Mari Blanchard), their characters virtually disappear once Lancaster's jailbird unit sets out on its mission! Despite its baffling ultra-rarity, the film is peopled by an interesting pool of talent both in front and behind the camera: Lancaster is in his third adventure flick; Gilbert Roland is his usual laid-back, womanizing Latino self; John Dehner the proverbial rotten apple in the group; George Tobias (perhaps thankfully) sacrifices himself early on; Nick Dennis and Mike Mazurki are among the rowdiest of the 'Ten'; Gerald Mohr adequately provides the required villainy; this was the second product from Norma Productions (which first partnered Lancaster with producer Harold Hecht); writer Roland Kibbee would much later go on to share directorial credit with Lancaster on THE MIDNIGHT MAN (1974; which I will be revisiting presently); associate producer Robert Aldrich would later direct Lancaster in four movies – including TWILIGHT'S LAST GLEAMING (1977; which I'll be viewing for the first time during this ongoing Burt Lancaster tribute); and, most interestingly perhaps, this was multi-talented Willis Goldbeck's most notable directorial effort but, at least two of his screen writing credits are highly impressive indeed: Tod Browning's FREAKS (1932) and John Ford's THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962; Goldbeck's last film work)! One final note: after searching high and low for this film on account of a friend of mine who is a big Burt Lancaster fan (and recalls the star's brief sojourn in Malta in the 1970s), ironically, it was he who eventually provided me with a means to catch up with it via a surprisingly well-preserved VHS-sourced copy he acquired!