ACROSS THE BRIDGE, a tense, downbeat, flee-the-law thriller from 1957, was adapted from a Graham Greene short story written twenty years earlier. Set mostly on the Rio Grande border of Texas and Mexico, it’s a British-made enterprise with an American star. The movie’s ‘Mexico’ was located in Spain around the town of Lora del Rio, conveniently equipped with the river-crossing span of the title. Ken Annakin directed. *His embezzlement scheme discovered, German-born British businessman ‘Carl Schaffner’ (Rod Steiger) flees England for Mexico, where he has money stashed. Taking a train from New York to the Tex-Mex border he switches identities with passenger ‘Paul Scarff’ (Bill Nagy), who somewhat resembles him. That cold-blooded swap involves drugging Scarff and dumping his body off the moving train. Then Carl finds out that his new self (the jettisoned Paul) is wanted in Mexico for murdering a politician. Not enough, the fall from the train didn’t kill Paul. Will witnesses on the Texan side play hardball? Can Scotland Yard get there in time? Are the Mexican police corruptible? (keep a straight face). Soon it seems Carl’s only friend is ‘Dolores’, a dog that belonged to Paul: she follows Carl everywhere.
The first half works to good effect, then it plods to a fitting yet lackluster finale. The plot mechanics work in its favor, as do the technical credits and the settings, and that’s one patient hound, a sad-eyed mongrel spaniel discovered in a London shelter. The beleaguered character of the smart-but-stymied Schaffner gave Rod Steiger another histrionic scenery-chew at playing a bad guy, this time with a German accent. Some regard it as a great performance: we’re in the tent that sees “camp”. Besides Rod’s amusing bag of ticks, bellows and snarls, the English supporting players are iffy with their various Mexican or American accents.
Screenplay by Guy Elmes and Denis Freeman. James Bernard (Horror of Dracula) provided the expressive music score. With Noel William, Marla Landi, Bernard Lee, David Knight, Eric Pohlmann and Faith Brook. 103 minutes.
* In his anecdote-stoked autobiography, “So You Wanna Be a Director?”, Ken Annakin relates his difficult but rewarding experiences dealing with Steiger’s Method acting. He also cited the film as a personal favorite.
Annakin: “For two whole weeks Rod argued with me about the inner meaning and psychological motivations…Thank God I had been introduced to the basic theories of Freud and Jung or I would have been completely lost!”…”Sometimes he would lose the sense of time completely and just emote. I would let him strut and shout, stumble and sob, always checking in my mind what character I could cut away to in the editing—usually the dog!”
No-nonsense supporting actor Bernard Lee (our friend ‘M’) was less than enchanted with Rod’s actorish indulgences: “These bloody Yanks. The poor buggers don’t get enough opportunities to play in legitimate theaters, so have to fall back on stupid mechanical gimmicks!”