THE LONG AND THE SHORT AND THE TALL —a gust of disgust from England in 1961, was also known as Jungle Fighters in the States. That’s not only because the song the title was kipped from (a WW1 ditty, “Bless ‘Em All”) was unfamiliar to Americans but also simply because it’s set in the… jungle, Malaya to be exact, as the exhausted and confused Brits are being mauled by the advancing Japanese in 1942.
The jungle setting matters not, as it’s phony as heck, all done on sets (it had been a play originally) and a ceaselessly nasty tone, complete with pretentious what-for? underlay, says a lot more about depressed working-class Britain in the days of Harold Macmillan than it does about the resoundingly surprised and humiliated army that ended up in prison camps after the Fall of Singapore. Bitterness to go round, no doubt, but this comes away as just a playwright’s mouthoff and actor’y showcasing. That’s provided by Laurence Harvey, Richard Todd, Richard Harris, Ronald Fraser and David McCallum as they argue with each other for 110 minutes about whether to fight, run, surrender or off their Japanese prisoner (Kenji Takaki), who of course is so much nicer than the good guys: ain’t guilt-soaked historical revisionism wonderful?
Harvey is really hard to stomach and his mincing song & dance at one point is enough to drive you into the jungle to make it stop. Castmates Todd & Harris despised him (he had that effect on a lot of people). Like many a Boomer child, I will always have a soft spot for Harvey thanks to his great ‘Col. Travis’ in The Alamo, but boy, it about stops there.
With John Meillon and John Rees, directed by Leslie Norman. Harsh. If you want a good, bleak, black & white Brit war flick about the same period, see if you can locate Yesterday’s Enemy, from 1959, starring Stanley Baker and Leo McKern: join that patrol instead.