King & Country (Joseph Losey / United Kingdom, 1964):

The brutal pivot is depicted in Fuller’s The Steel Helmet (the grunt snaps amid gunfire, drops his rifle, walks off the screen), the numbed mental states that ensue are here put on trial. A winding camera on the Royal Artillery Memorial accords a tinge of Franju's Hôtel des Invalides, a photograph of a skeleton still in uniform dissolves to the young prisoner (Tom Courtenay) with harmonica in his makeshift cell, the sacrificial lamb in the catacombs. The British camp in the wake of the Passchendaele campaign is a mess of mud and rats, still there’s a court-martial for the traumatized Cockney cobbler who one day simply wandered away from the guns. "A fair trial and a quick death," he gets neither, the upper-crust captain (Dirk Bogarde) who defended him has the final bullet. "The war hasn’t gotten to that stage, has it?" Joseph Losey between Kubrick (Paths of Glory) and Rosi (Uomini Contro), or The Servant in the trenches, as it were. The distance between cold feet and shellshock has no meaning in a world of such pervasive rot, the brass has only laxative pills to give and executions to stage "pour encourager les autres." (The verdict is decided in the time it takes for a colonel to pack and light his pipe.) Freeze-frames and cutaway inserts give way to deep-focus long takes and endless raindrops, the ideal proscenium for the battlefield’s humorless farce. A Brechtian remembrance of the Great War (Courtenay and Bogarde like Lew Ayres and Colin Clive), with subterranean quarters not too cramped to exclude a Losey mirror to reflect the characters’ nausea—the captain quotes "The Mock Turtle’s Song," his superior retorts with a bit of Masefield ("When I am buried..."). The extensive studies fall to France (Capitaine Conan) and Australia (Breaker Morant). Cinematography by Denys Coop. With Leo McKern, Barry Foster, Peter Copley, James Villiers, and Jeremy Spenser. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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