The Andersonville Trial
This is evidently modeled on Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, the significant advancement over the Golden Age live dramas is a fair dispensing with largely cinematic effects perforce, and a straitlaced concentration on the actors in close-up within a continuous “live” production.
The result had at least one marked influence, on an ideal version of Incident at Vichy directed by Stacy Keach three years later.
Sheepherders in the 1968 Dugway Proving Grounds accident “may have had ‘a narrow escape’”, according to a Science article in the December 27th issue of that year, which concluded that “in retrospect, the Army can clearly be blamed for a lack of caution in handling the deadly nerve agents, as well as a lack of candor in informing the public about the cause of the incident.”
The film is closely based on that accident, transposed to Wyoming from Utah.
The tremendously complex construction has material from Huston’s Abraham and Isaac in The Bible, Richard Basehart from Sturges’ The Satan Bug (and protectively-garbed servicemen in the field), an echo of the farmhouse scene in Hitchcock’s The Birds, even smoke blown at the camera from Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, not to mention the helicopter from Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly (it flies through the Biblical scene), and the ending of Hodges’ The Terminal Man two years later, more or less.
The very name of the Chivington Research Laboratories, where MX-3 is made, evokes a paradox or ambiguity.
Ritt’s Hud is probably the point of departure.
Critics generally panned the work.
There is another line of thought, from Stevens’ Woman of the Year, on a certain lofty disregard for man and boy alike, the last image of a ball game comes from that film or Wood’s The Pride of the Yankees.
The boy dies in the man, the father repines, it may be.
In any case, there is more to Scott’s film than Variety observed (“a shambles”) or Halliwell’s Film Guide (“turgid and boring”).
The Savage Is Loose
The shipwreck in a storm is depicted by way of a painting and a rostrum camera. The film begins seven years later, in 1912.
The Darwinian naturalist and his wife, who knows her Bible a bit, educate their young son. The island is of considerable size, goats, wild boar, leopards and panthers thrive in its jungles.
The reality of the situation is that there’s no future in it, no way to civilization, a thousand miles from anyplace, therefore the boy must learn to live amidst the jungle beasts, tempered by the lesson of Noah.
The symbolic expression has been most direct, now the action shifts to a more abstract plane. The boy is grown, there is no “outlet” for him but a wretched simulacrum. Father builds a raft for the shipping lanes, a desperate move, he and Mother wish to leave the boy to his own devices. The boy cuts the raft adrift before they leave.
While Father and Son settle the matter between them in the jungle, Mother calmly sets fire to the huts they all live in.
At this point, it’s well to note that Vincent Canby exerted himself to the utmost in ridiculing this film for the New York Times, it never once occurred to him that it made sense or was competent in any way.
The ending is, of course, the most difficult part of the whole business. Amidst all these shenanigans and machinations, which are very obliquely psychological if at all, what possible answer can there be?
The ploy of the Father, the gambit of the Mother, the determination of the Son, pass away and come to naught, the ending is simply that, as mysterious as Heaven, Earth and Man.
Certainly one of the greatest films ever made, by a director with extraordinary gifts and skill, the second of his two feature films after the television production of The Andersonville Trial.