Time Limit

TIME LIMIT, an excellent Cold War drama, produced by and starring Richard Widmark, joined a full slate of military-themed pictures in 1957, and is the best of a subset from the era that dealt with the effects of brainwashing in the Korean War. Directed by Widmark’s friend Karl Malden, the lean, powerfully acted story boasts a fine cast in a solid script by Henry Denker. Widmark and Malden (first time directing) brought it in tight and under budget at $475,000. Grosses of $3,600,000 put it 69th place for the year. *

The fighting had ceased in Korea, but back in the States, a court martial looms for ‘Maj. Harry Cargill’ (Richard Basehart) accused of collaborating with the enemy. Obviously guilt-ridden and defiant, Cargill offers no defense for his behavior, but investigator ‘Col. William Edwards’ (Widmark) senses there is more to what otherwise looks to be an open & shut case.

After a dramatic start in a frigid North Korean P.O.W. camp, the consequence stakes are raised back in the States as the frustrated but conscientious and determined Edwards pries out the truth, through assorted intimate confrontations with Cargill, his distraught wife (June Lockhart), glib witness ‘Lt. Miller’ (Rip Torn, 25, his first credited role), and fuming ‘Lt. General Connors’ (ever-dependable Carl Benton Reid).

Widmark is at his best, and Basehart has one of his strongest roles as the tormented defendant. Everyone does high-caliber work, including Dolores Michaels as Widmark’s secretary (subtly conveying interest beyond professional) and Martin Balsam, as his sergeant who insists defending an apparent traitor will lead to career ruin. Engrossing material, accompanied by a well-measured score from Fred Steiner that carries a hint of Bernard Herrmann. *

With Khigh Dheigh and James Douglas. 96 minutes.

* Widmark, 42 here, dons a uniform for the 7th of 17 times he played a military officer of one kind or another (18 if you count his buckskinned Colonel Bowie in The Alamo). Time Limit was one of three Cold War-related pictures he produced, followed by 1961’s The Secret Ways (disappointing) and The Bedford Incident (excellent) in 1965. He and Malden faced off as soldiers in Halls Of Montezuma, Take The High Ground and Cheyenne Autumn. In his frank and refreshing autobio “When Do I Start”, Malden talks about the pressures of being a first-time director, with his friend overseeing as producer. Clashes didn’t affect their friendship, but made for tension, including one blowup that occurred when the no-nonsense Widmark exploded over Method actor Torn’s habit of taking five to ten minutes to get back “into character”—between each take. 

Talk about a complex!—there were at least 21 military-themed movies released in 1957. Along with classics The Bridge On The River Kwai and Paths Of Glory, the superb Soviet entry The Cranes Are Flying rates highest praise.

** Widmark hired composer Fred Steiner after Steiner’s fine job scoring another neat Widmark picture, the adventure thriller Run For The Sun. Not related to the legendary Max Steiner, the unsung Fred Steiner did most of his work for TV series. Highlights include The Bullwinkle Show, but Steiner’s most lasting contribution was the instantly recognizable theme to Perry Mason.


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