Sep 21, 2018

On Blu-ray: The Vibrant Casts of Home From the Hill (1960) and Never So Few (1959)

Sometimes, no matter what other elements are at play, the pure starpower of the actors onscreen dominate a film. The biggest draw of Never So Few (1959) and Home From the Hill (1960) is the unusual composition of their casts. Both have a fascinating, somewhat off-kilter mix of old and new Hollywood. They are also each dominated by by men, Frank Sinatra and Robert Mitchum respectively, who are driven by their own passions, with little regard for the rules. I recently watched both on new Blu-ray releases from Warner Archive.

Never So Few could be half as good and still intrigue, because the cast is an astonishing mix of talent. Frank Sinatra plays a World War II army captain fighting the Japanese in Burma. Among his men: Charles Bronson, Richard Johnson, Dean Jones, and Steve McQueen. Add to this crazy mix of talent love interest Gina Lollobrigida (in her first Hollywood film), Paul Henreid, Peter Lawford and, briefly, Brian Donlevy. Though less famous to US audiences, Philip Ahn is also quietly commanding as the local Kachin people’s leader and Sinatra’s strongest ally. It took me a while to get into the action, because it seemed like everywhere you looked, another great actor popped up.

The action alternates between Japanese ambushes and plush party and nightclub scenes, never going too deep into either, with the tense battle scenes having the most excitement. Lollobrigida and Sinatra have a romance, but it doesn’t sizzle, and is even a bit indifferent. While he brings a great weary spirit of rebellion to the role, it was hard for me to accept the slender, almost frail crooner as a tough army captain. Interactions between the men are more lively, with Bronson settling more firmly into his tough guy persona and Jones seeming to relish a quirkier, darker role than he would have in the Disney flicks that brought him fame. Henreid and Donlevy add old Hollywood dignity in a great contrast to all that youthful energy.

The hottest element of Never So Few is McQueen, who is clearly ready for stardom. He gets the chance to show off his action chops and foreshadow all those great motorcycle and car chases with a little racy driving in his Army Jeep. Apparently Sinatra was impressed by the young actor and asked director John Sturges to give him good angles and exposure.

Home From the Hill is a more melodramatic production, though it has plenty of battle scenes of a different nature and even some shocking moments of violence. Robert Mitchum stars as a randy small town Texan who must be crazy because he constantly cheats on lovely Eleanor Parker, who plays his wife. While dodging the bullets and barbs of angry husbands, he despairs over his hapless son (George Hamilton) and grudgingly accepts the stronger bond he has with another, illegitimate son (George Peppard).

This is one of those small town dramas where polite society exists on a tightrope and everyone is on the verge of exploding from repressed anger or passion, and sometimes both. At 150 minutes, it takes longer than it needs to to make its point, but it keeps a good pace. While the subject matter is sensational, it never drifts into camp as this kind of story can. Amidst all the sex, violence, adultery and illegitimate pregnancy, there’s a tragic story and the gravity of that tale is given its due respect.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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