22 May 2009 | bkoganbing
A Mound For Punishment
One of Sean Connery's personal favorites among his movies is The Hill. He had high hopes for its success and that it would break him out of the James Bond mold. Unfortunately the movie going public wanted more James Bond and less Sean Connery at this point.
The Hill is close to a perfect masterpiece of characterization and cinematography. Director Sidney Lumet opted for black and white in making The Hill and I think it enhances the stark surroundings of the British military stockade in North Africa. These are really the forgotten people of World War II.
If Sean Connery could have gotten a chance for a Dirty Dozen type mission from the British army he would have taken it. His character is very similar to Charles Bronson's from that film. Bronson was an officer, Connery a sergeant major, Bronson shot, Connery struck a superior with extremely good cause, but their respective armies didn't see it that way.
So now Sean is in a cell with four other prisoners all of varying character, Roy Kinnear, Ossie Davis, Jack Watson, and Alfred Lynch. Norman Bird is the commandant, but the camp is really run as in all armies by the Sergeant-Major Harry Andrews. Andrews has a special punishment for the prisoners, called The Hill; a specially constructed mound of sand about 200 feet high where they have to run up and down it with field pack in the desert heat.
Andrews has the assistance of Staff Sergeant Ian Hendry who has his own sadistic bent quite apart from military punishment. When one of Connery's cell-mates dies from punishment, all hell threatens to break loose.
One of the things that attracted Sean Connery to this film according to the Citadel Film series book on his work was the fact that it was unlike James Bond, no glamorous locations, no fancy wardrobe and absolutely no romance. This would give him the chance to show he could be something other than James Bond.
Connery got rave reviews for playing former Sergeant Major Joe Roberts in The Hill and the rest of the cast Sidney Lumet assembled did likewise. Unfortunately the film failed at the box office. Connery remarked that without his name on it, this would have been an art house special limited release type of work. But the public only wanted to see James Bond and it wasn't until The Anderson Tapes that Sean Connery finally got great reviews in a film that did well at the box office as well as the critics.
Over 40 years after it was released The Hill now is considered a cinema masterpiece. Besides Connery my favorite performances are from Michael Redgrave as the medical officer who's not a strong man, but steps to the plate when his duty is clear and from Ossie Davis as a cynical black soldier who finally grows tired of the institutional racism he finds and 'leaves' the army. You won't forget them, Connery or The Hill once you see it.