This weekend, as part of my Monday night film journalism course, I had to write a review of a Jean Moreau interview with Mark Cousins from a few years back.
I then decided to dig out my off-air VHS of Sean Connery’s Scene by Scene with Cousins from 1997. Taking place in the interviewer’s Edinburgh flat, Connery seemed at ease with the whole thing. Clips of his first Hollywood venture, Derby O’Gill and the Little People, brought a smile to his face and memories of having to memorise a song on the morning of filming.
Some scenes from Sidney Lumet’s The Hill were also shown, which Connery believes is his best film (sadly no clips were show from his other Lumet collaboration, the harrowing The Offence). Luckily BBC2 screened The Hill the same night as the interview, so I left it playing…
The film takes place in a World War II British disciplinary camp in the Libyan desert. Trooper Joe Roberts (Connery) is sent to the camp for disobeying orders and attacking his superior officer. He arrives to find a camp terrorised by Staff Sergeant Williams (Ian Hendry), with soldiers being made to run up and down the titular hill in the blazing sun.
I’ve watched The Hill a dozen or so times over the years, and every time it seems as fresh as the first. Made at the time of Bondmania, when Connery was more used to wearing a tuxedo than a beret, the film stands as evidence to naysayers who claim Edinburgh’s finest export cannae act. Watching him here, making sly comments to Williams while on parade, rounding on his cellmates or going head-to-head with the officers, is electrifying.
Another superb performance comes from Ian Bannen as Staff Sgt. Charlie Harris, the only compassionate officer in the camp. His anguished performance stands out from the others and I can’t quite decide whether he or Connery steal the most scenes.
With no music, it’s left to the actors and the director to set the tone for each scene. Watching each man try to cope with his surroundings is harrowing, not a word I’d use for many films (though the site of Connery in that nappie in Zardoz comes close). And that final scene…
Here’s hoping BBC4 repeat the Scene by Scene’s sometime soon.
I’ve just added a trailer for the film from YouTube.