The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961) starring Laurence Harvey, Richard Todd, Richard Harris, David McCallum, Ronald Fraser, John Meillon, John Rees, Kenji Takaki directed by Leslie Norman Movie Review

The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Richard Todd and Richard Harris in The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961)

True Colours

I've watched "The Long and the Short and the Tall" twice and I have a love hate relationship with this movie directed by Leslie Norman the father of film critic Barry Norman. What I love is the depth of story and character interactions as a situation in the Burmese jungle brings inner feelings to the surface and as characters clash the tension rockets. But the sound stage production and a mix of wooden and over acting causes me to hate it, making it feel far too staged and lacking naturalness. Although having said that I still recommend it as it is a fascinating drama.

On a mission in the Burmese jungle to record sounds to be used in sonic warfare a small platoon of 7 men capture a solitary Japanese soldier. It brings out a lot of tension between the men as Pvt. 'Bammo' Bamforth (Laurence Harvey) who doesn't want to be there and thinks it's all a waste of time initially is the one ready to run a bayonet through the man but when forced to guard him realises that he is no different, he is a man, a husband and a father of three. Cpl. Johnstone (Richard Harris) is totally opposite and he wants the pleasure of sticking it to their prisoner. With the discovery of more enemy soldiers nearby tensions rise between all of them as to what they should do, not only with their Japanese prisoner but also about getting out.

David McCallum and Laurence Harvey in The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961)

Some people call "The Long and the Short and the Tall" a war movie due to it set up of being about soldiers in the Burmese jungle, others call it an anti-war movie because it shows the futility of war and a few other things. Personally I call it a drama about characters who find themselves in an extreme circumstance where the tension brings out the best and worst in them. Now what does that mean, well that means we see how these 7 soldiers react to each other and the Japanese soldier who they take prisoner. We have one who won't bring himself to hurt the prisoner, citing the Geneva Convention but then when he thinks the prisoner may have killed a platoon containing his younger brother lays into him. There is the cocky Bamforth whose attitude gets under everyone's skin yet discovers compassion for the prisoner as he discovers things about him, befriending him in an initially insulting manner. And so it goes on with these characters all firing off each other as their true colours come to the surface.

Now that is all and fine and it is this which keeps you watching but unfortunately "The Long and the Short and the Tall" is a sound stage production and feels it. So in fairness "The Long and the Short and the Tall" was a play and so in some ways the use of a sound stage creates a bit of that stage feel to the movie but it also comes across as incredibly fake. The sets don't convince and between jungle noises turned down and far too clear actor voices it really feels manufactured.

That is not the only problem because there is also some stiff and some over the top acting going on. I like Laurence Harvey and as Bamforth I enjoy how his character evolves but for the first half he is so over the top it is ridiculous and his accent goes from Australian to African and then over to British. Richard Todd as Sgt. 'Mitch' Mitchem spends most of the movie delivering the stare, and if you don't know what I mean in many of Todd's movie there is at least one scene where he speaks staring into the distance with a determined look on his face and a sense of stiff upper lip coming across. It is a shame that the acting and staging doesn't work because the actual tension and drama between characters is interesting.

What this all boils down to is that "The Long and the Short and the Tall" is worth watching because the tension and dynamics between characters is good, as is a twist which comes at the end. But it is a movie which feels incredibly manufactured thanks to it being made on a sound stage and featuring some wooden as well as over the top acting.