MAN IN THE MIDDLE has Robert Mitchum coast through one of his pick-up-a-check jobs in a mildly interesting military court martial drama set in India during WW2. Mitchum, director Guy Hamilton and cinematographer Wilkie Cooper did a weeks worth of pickup location shots in New Delhi for atmosphere; the rest was done in England. The script by Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse was pulled from “The Winston Affair” (the movie went by that title on release in the States), a novel written four years earlier by Howard Fast (Spartacus).
1944. While the war in Europe dominates the headlines, over in the CBI (China-Burma-India) Theater of Operations, dicey relations between U.S. and British allies are further strained by an incident when American army officer ‘Lieut. Winston’ (Keenan Wynn) snaps at a jungle base camp and murders a British sergeant. Cold-blood. A dozen witnesses. Military justice, no picnic to start with, must play ball with politics (you ever see a court martial movie where the deck is less than stacked?) and ensure the culprit meets a noose, but it has to look like a “fair” trial. ‘Lt. Col. Barney Adams’ (Mitchum) gets the thankless defense job, and finds little cooperation from anyone, let alone his obviously psychotic defendant.
Mitchum’s all right, but the juicier roles go to Wynn (in raving racist loon mode) and Trevor Howard, shoehorned in as “Guest Star”, carrying off his small part as a psychiatrist with customary élan. The “it’s a war, we may as well sleep together” add-on with Mitchum and France Nuyen, as a Eurasian nurse, carries little spark (they’d previously worked together on another service-related picture, the wan comedy The Last Time I Saw Archie) and merely drags momentum.
The scoring duty was split between Lionel Bart and John Barry: it’s no cap feather for either, with a number of inappropriate cues bonging in needlessly to punch up some nondescript scenes. Reviewers shrugged the movie off; the middling ‘Man’ fell by the wayside, passing by at 95th place in 1964 with a gross of $2,500,000. Director Hamilton’s next assignment had considerably more pizzazz in every department, an item called Goldfinger. *
With Barry Sullivan, Alexander Knox, Sam Wanamaker, Robert Nichols, Lionel Murton, Errol John, David Bauer, Paul Maxwell and Michael Goodliffe. 94 minutes.
* Hamilton: My pleasure and joy in working with Bob Mitchum was in direct contrast to my previous experience with Hollywood stars. I still think of him as one ofmy favorite people, both as an actor and as a human being.”
1964 did produce an excellent court martial tale, also from Britain, King and Country.