Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Morituri te salutant*

" *Those about to die, salute you "

An old fillum this, a forgotten fillum. I only know of it from the legendarily dismissive Brando interview* where he refuses to promote it.

Strange that it should languish in such complete obscurity all the same. People have heard of Marlon Brando after all and people have heard of Yul Brynner, and war and espionage are popular subjects and Morituri has a strong and engaging story arc so what's wrong with it?

Well, there was the problem of the title. I mean I don't have a problem with the title,— I like it, if a title is to remain at the back of your mind, as Stephen Fry puts it: 'like a flag flapping somewhere visible and distant', then I think'Morituri' is a cracker.

'Those who are about to die'... What does that mean? Well I reckon it means someone's going to die and we don't know who.

In terms of the film as a complete work of art, it's an excellent title. But, sadly, in terms of marketing it was not such a good idea and just confused folk. It was re-named 'The sabateur,-code name 'Morituri' which not as pretentious-sounding maybe but is tragically clunky and ridiculous.

The titles then are either
and unfortunately the film itself is guilty of living up to the promise inherent in both of them.

Made in 1965, it feels like an awkward bastard child of the stagey studio-bound war fillums of the 50's and 60's and the grimmer and grittier flicks to follow in the eighties and nineties. So, while this is a film that was probably, in many ways, ahead of it's time,- it doesn't age well.

For example, despite being shot in black and white, there is some very innovative and accomplished photography; there are a couple of long and beautifully framed 'scooping-helicopter' shots where we see that the sea is the real sea and that the ship is a real ship and the the actors are the real actors scrambling around it. But this has the over-all effect of making the sound-stage, where the majority of the action takes place, seem less rather than more realistic.

The many aspects of the storyline are sophisticated and 'mature' for what we expect from a 1960's War picture. By the end of the film we have touched upon, morphine-addiction, alcoholism, systematic rape, the holocaust, survivor guilt, and the truly base actions of men in wartime.

Far from a black-and-white 'good guys vs the nazis' story, the heroic old-school ship's Captain ( who steadfastly remains his own man despite the machinations of the Nazi regime he finds himself a party to ) is by far the most sympathetic character, the American soldiers are comparatively vile and the protagonist makes it clear from the outset that he wishes only to be left in peace somewhere where he can hide out this irritating war with all his lovely money.

Like the helicopter photography, the very 'real' and complicated moral questions in the story actually make the entire film feel a bit more cardboardy. The presentation of the girl prisoner in traditional 'extreme-close up', with traditional 'dramatic score' feels entirely at odds with the story that she's relating.

That it died at the box-office doesn't surprise me, nor do I expect it to gain a cult following anytime soon.

And that's a shame really because, while it does clunk heavily in parts,—it really is a rollicking good story with memorable characters and great performances; it may have been all a bit much for american cinema audiences at the time, but it feels honest and well-intentioned and it 'means' something,( about morality and what-have-you ).

And I'm all for anything that tries.

Also Janet Margolin's really rather good and Martin Benrath is excellent in it, how come we never heard so much of either of them again?


  1. Smoke Optimo cigars, folks.

  2. ...It's a physical idiosyncracy, but it's a charming one...