Castle Keep (1969) is a very anti-heroic World War II film filled with lots of dark humor and beautiful photography. The film is based on William Eastlake’s novel about a weary squad of American soldiers who come upon a tenth century castle in Belgium in December 1944.
Sydney Pollack, who was still yet an unknown in Hollywood circles, was chosen to direct this large scale film. Veteran Hollywood great Burt Lancaster stars as Major Abraham Falconer, who leads a reconnaissance squad badly in need of R&R. The remaining cast includes Peter Falk (Sgt. Orlando Rossi), Patrick O’ Neal (Capt. Lionel Beckman), Scott Wilson (Cpl. Ralph Clearboy), Tony Bill (Lt. Amberjack), Al Freeman (Pfc. Alistar P. Benjamin), Michael Conrad (Sgt. De Vaca), and wide eyed screen great Bruce Dern (Lt. Billy Byron Bix).
In the opening scenes of the film, the men are trying to maneuver their battered jeep through heavy mud down an old road. The use of slow motion photography of two individuals on horseback establishes the meeting of the two residents of the castle and the American soldiers. The Count of Maldorais (Jean-Pierre Aumont) welcomes the American soldiers and hopes that they will help protect his castle and its vast treasures and art from the advancing Germans who are preparing to counter-attack in the Ardennes Forrest.
Once in the castle, Maj. Falconer (Lancaster) begins fortifying in preparation of the attacking Germans. His adjutant Capt. Beckman (O’Neal) is an art historian who stresses the importance of the Count’s art collection and that the castle holds some of the greatest treasures of Western Europe.
Beckman tries to convince the Major that they should pull back towards the Meuse River and spare the castle from any destruction. Falconer is a career soldier and cares nothing for the statues, paintings, tapestries, and other treasures. Falconer’s men quickly find ways to keep themselves entertained whether its using expensive bottles of wine as bowling pins, defacing bust sculptures, or satisfying certain requirements at the local whore house in the nearby village known as The Red Queen.
Continue Reading →