Castle Keep cements Sydney Pollack’s reputation as a director of great talent who is sorely missed. Powerhouse Films’ new dual format DVD-Blu-ray is the finest home video edition ever produced for this minor classic.
There is a structural economy established within the first ten minutes of Sydney Pollack’s Castle Keep which draws you in. Within this ragtag band of war weary American soldiers sit latent writers, bakers, art historians and leaders of men. Featuring an eclectic cast including Burt Lancaster and Peter Falk, this starts out like Kelly’s Heroes before revelling in an anti-war sentiment of some cunning.
Casting aspersions on the necessity for warfare Castle Keep explores its cultural casualties in subtle and unexpected ways. Patrick O’Neal’s Beckman and Lancaster’s Falconer are pragmatist and dreamer respectively shaped by differing experience. Falconer values practicality and strategic advantage above all things, while Beckman acknowledges war but will never place it above human achievements. Weakness in both is manifested when they encounter Astrid Heeren’s Therese, striking and sexually potent yet saddled with an impotent husband.
It is here where Pollack’s Castle Keep breaks the mould as a darkness begins creeping into proceedings. Beckman’s jealousy is illustrated through flashing imagery and brooding silences while Falconer’s lack of concern and indifference serve as a juxtaposition. Their chemistry is key in making the film work while Pollack’s direction never allows things to degenerate into caricature or stereotype. Amongst the other actors it is Peter Falk’s Rossi, Bruce Dern’s Byron Bix and Al Freeman Junior’s Alistair Benjamin who hold our attention most. Whether visiting a brothel decorated in deep reds and thinly attired ladies, or driving tanks and sinking Volkswagens this dark fairy tale hides much beneath the surface of their subtle performances.
Picturesque woodland landscapes, slow motion horseback riding and a simmering gothic undercurrent takes Castle Keep outside of genre expectations. Anti-war sentiment and the delegation of a bloodline to an invading enemy force are far from subtle, while that ending says much for Pollack’s political position. Name checking Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory in a chuck away line also does no harm in reiterating this opinion. Tonally this also comes through i#n something Falk’s character does mid-way through which is never fully explained.
Rossi simply takes up with the local baker’s wife and son, leaving his platoon, responsibilities and war time experiences behind him. His reaction although extreme merely demonstrates the underlying futility of war. As the film continues and Falconer fortifies his position disenchanted men from elsewhere flood into the town, leaderless, bedraggled and in need of salvation. Which gives Pollack another opportunity to hammer home his point with an overly elaborate set piece, draining momentum and diminishing impact.
Beyond that minor quibble Castle Keep remains a film of importance featuring an understated performance from Burt Lancaster you would do well to watch. Admirably supported by Patrick O’Neal, Peter Falk and a committed ensemble, it cements Sydney Pollack’s reputation as a director of great talent who is sorely missed.
Powerhouse Films’ Dual Format DVD/Blu-ray limited edition
Limited to 3,000 copies this sparkling home video presentation sees Castle Keep make its debut on Blu-ray courtesy of a high definition remaster. The film features original mono audio or alternative 4.0 surround sound audio track.
The Powerhouse Films presentation includes: The John Player Lecture with Burt Lancaster (1972, 100 mins): audio recording of an interview conducted by Joan Bakewell at the National Film Theatre, London; The Lullaby of War (2017, 18 mins): a new interview with actor Tony Bill about his experiences making Castle Keep; and, Eastlake at USD (1968, 29 mins): an archival, videotaped interview with the acclaimed author of the original Castle Keep novel, William Eastlake.
There’s also the original theatrical trailer, new and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing; and a limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by Brad Stevens, archival interviews with Sydney Pollack and Burt Lancaster, and original pressbook material.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Sydney Pollack
Written by: Daniel Taradash, David Rayfiel
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Bruce Dern, Patrick O’Neal, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Peter Falk
Released: 1969 / Genre: War
Country: USA / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed Castle Keep on Blu-ray courtesy of Powerhouse Films. The film was released on DVD/Blu-ray dual format on July 24, 2017.