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The 25th Hour

The 25th Hour(1967)

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teaser The 25th Hour (1967)

Not to be confused with the 2002 Spike Lee film of the same name, The 25th Hour (1967) follows the tribulations of a simple Romanian peasant during and after World War II. Falsely sent to a work camp by a local police captain who lusts after his gorgeous wife, Johann Moritz is first erroneously tagged as a Jew, then "rescued" by a Nazi officer who determines Moritz is a perfect Aryan specimen and forces him into service as a model for German propaganda. Imprisoned after the war, he is severely beaten by his Russian captors, then put on trial by Allied forces because of his work for the Nazis.

Moritz is played by Anthony Quinn with echoes of both his robust peasant character in Zorba the Greek (1964) and his dim-witted strongman in Fellini's La Strada (1954). As the Hollywood studio system went into decline and the majors moved more toward distribution than production, a new trend emerged: the multi-company, multi-national co-production. Whether through wisdom or good fortune, Quinn - who had played almost every conceivable ethnicity - was perfectly positioned to take advantage of this development. In fact, much of his later career was sustained as an international actor. As early as 1953, he began working in Italy, and for the rest of his life he continued to move between the U.S. and Europe. The 25th Hour was a Yugoslavian-French-Italian production, based on a highly regarded 1950 Romanian novel adapted by French and British writers, directed by a Frenchman, produced by Italian Carlo Ponti and featuring a cast of actors from Italy, Switzerland, England, Ireland, France, Czechoslovakia, Canada and, in Quinn's case, Mexico.

Many in this far-ranging cast will be familiar to viewers. Stunningly beautiful Virna Lisi (who, according to a New York Times review by Bosley Crowther, "looks and acts about as much like a peasant as Lana Turner might") was a major star in her native Italy and an occasional player in American films, particularly comedies such as How to Murder Your Wife (1965) and If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969). Moritz's defense lawyer is played by the distinguished British film and stage veteran Michael Redgrave (father of Vanessa and Lynn and grandfather of Natasha and Joely Richardson). Marcel Dalio (Strul) was a star in 1930s France, with important roles in the Renoir classics La Grande Illusion (1937) and La Regle du Jeu/The Rules of the Game (1939). During the war he came to America, where he became every director's favorite French character, playing supporting roles in such films as Casablanca (1942), The Song of Bernadette (1943) and To Have and Have Not (1944). Canadian-born Alexander Knox played scores of supporting roles but had his finest hour (and earned an Academy Award nomination) as the eponymous American president in Wilson (1944).

One of the writers on this project was successful British novelist-playwright-screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz who, in addition to his numerous credits, has the distinction of being the man who introduced producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli to each other. The two soon went on to create the hugely successful James Bond cinema franchise. The grateful team hired Mankowitz to write the first draft for their initial venture in the series, Dr. No (1962). However, the author thought the picture would be a huge flop and asked to have his name removed. Upon seeing it, he changed his opinion, but prints had already been made and it was too late to put his credit back on the picture. He eventually did write and receive credit for a Bond flick, the non-Broccoli-Saltzman spoof Casino Royale (1967), which turned out to be as dismal an effort as he feared the first picture might.

Director: Henri Verneuil
Producer: Carlo Ponti
Screenplay: Francois Boyer, Wolf Mankowitz, Henri Verneuil, based on the novel by C. Virgil Gheorghiu
Cinematography: Andreas Winding
Editing: Francoise Bonnot-Verneuil
Production Design: Robert Clavel
Original Music: Georges Delerue, Maurice Jarre
Cast: Anthony Quinn (Johann Moritz), Virna Lisi (Suzanna Moritz), Gregoire Aslan (Dobresco). C-122m. Letterboxed.

By Rob Nixon

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