THE HIGH BRIGHT SUN, from Britain in 1965, was released in the US as McGuire, Go Home, a weak retitle seeming to indicate a comedy, a spin on the then-current slogan “Yankee Go Home”. Though there is wit displayed in the dialogue, jokes are absent, and in this case, the fiddling foreigners are the British Army, occupying the island of Cyprus in the midst of a revolt against eight decades of English colonial rule. Directed by Ralph Thomas, the script was written by Ian Stuart Black, based off his novel. *
‘British’ Cyprus, 1957. As the Mediterranean island seethes in rebellion against being administered/occupied by another country 2,000 miles distant, intelligence officer ‘Maj. McGuire’ (Dirk Bogarde) fights on several fronts, official and personal. He’s after the rebels who killed some of his troops. He has to handle duties his clumsy superior officer bollixes. He both depends on and fends off “help” from a shady operative (Denholm Elliott) who had an affair with his wife. He’s certain ‘Haghios’ (George Chakiris), a suave and chilly Greek Cypriot, is an enemy. And he’s allowing personal feelings for a visiting American archeological student (Susan Strasberg) to muddy the already murky mix.
Filming in still-roiling Cyprus was off the table, so locations in southern Italy stood in to good effect. Produced on a £350,000 budget, which was roughly $980,000 back in 1964 (something on the order of £7,276,000/$10,047,000 in 2021), it presents a convincing atmosphere, the sense of place accented by a neat music score from Angelo Francesco Lavagnino (he composed an incredible twenty-three scores in ’65 alone).
Bryan Forbes did some uncredited assist on the screenplay. Behavior potholes are a problem, especially regarding the foolish stubbornness and cluelessness of the Strasberg character—vacationing in a war zone?—and McGuire’s thinly sketched interest in her. Strasberg makes a wan choice, as well: her performance isn’t compelling. Though the story is set in a place and time of political and nationalistic upheaval, the complexity of the island’s ethnic tensions (Greek vs. Turkish) are barely hinted at.
Cancelling out the debits (which mostly occur to you after watching, not during) are a strong job from Bogarde, and a scene-stealing turn from Elliott. Chakiris is properly intense, and the other supporting players are well-picked.
Not a box-office success (the US take was a dismal $1,500,000, 112th in ’65), the film gets overly banged up by reviewers. We side with ‘CineSavant’s’ astute Glenn Erickson in giving this offbeat and neglected item a positive recommendation. With added vim in the cast from Gregoire Aslan, Joseph Fürst, Katherine Kath, Nigel Stock, George Pastell and Paul Stassino. 114 minutes.
* Extraordinarily hard to find and at an astronomical price, Ian Stuart Black’s “The High Bright Sun” was published in 1962, a few years after his other novel, “In The Wake Of A Stranger”. The latter was also made into a movie, a 1959 item featuring future Bond girl Shirley Eaton—reason enough to seek it out.
Bogarde, 43, had several noteworthy resume items during the decade in Song Without End, Victim, Damn the Defiant!, King and Country, The Servant, Darling and The Damned. Ralph Thomas (directing) and Betty Box (producing) partnered on twenty films. Eight headlined Bogarde, of which this was the last, as the star fell out with the pair during the shoot.
Speaking of spats: during the 50s England had her hands full, as Brit digits were being pried from the Imperial cookie jar. Stiff upper lips met stiff resistance in the ‘Malayan Emergency’ (Outpost in Malaya, The 7th Dawn), the ‘Palestine Emergency’ (Exodus), the ‘Kenyan Emergency’ (Simba, Something Of Value), the ‘Suez Crisis’ (too embarrassing to make a movie out of), and assorted fraying odds & ends (Guns At Batasi, The Yangtze Incident). Pride was to be massaged by Bond and The Beatles.