Time Limit


1h 36m 1957
Time Limit

Brief Synopsis

An officer is court-martialed under suspicion of collaborating with the North Koreans.

Photos & Videos

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Oct 1957
Premiere Information
New York opening: 23 Oct 1957
Production Company
Heath Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Agoura--Conejo Ranch, California, United States; Governor's Island--Fort Jay, New York, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Time Limit by Henry Denker and Ralph Berkey as produced by The Theatre Guild (New York, 24 Jan 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

In a North Korean prison camp in 1951, an American soldier is shot by Korean soldiers as he tries to escape. A few years later, in his military law offices on Governor's Island in New York, Col. Bill Edwards is under pressure from his superior, Gen. Connors, to wrap up a seemingly obvious case of treason against the ranking American officer at the prison camp, Maj. Harry Cargill. Bill interviews one of Cargill's soldiers, Lt. George Miller, who recounts that during nine months of starvation and torture, not one man broke under the strain, but then, in rapid succession, two men died and Cargill became a Communist collaborator. Miller recalls the day that Cargill broke: After once again being placed in the hold by ruthless Col. Kim, Cargill returns to his men and begins spouting Communist doctrine, convincing them that he has gone over to the enemy. Miller continues that they were shocked and horrified, especially after learning later that Cargill had signed a confession about the Americans' use of germ warfare and made radio broadcasts supporting Communism. When Bill questions Miller about the deaths of the two soldiers, Lt. Harvey and Capt. Joe Connors, the general's son, Miller states that they died of dysentery, and provides a scientific explanation of the illness. Declaring his confusion at Cargill's treachery, Miller remembers the major reciting at the lieutenant's graveside, "My brother died that I may live." Just then, the general enters and, upon learning that Miller was friendly with Joe, invites him to lunch. After Connors leaves, Bill's aide, Sgt. Baker, chastises his boss for wasting time on the case, which is not only "open and shut" but also has personal significance to the general. After Bill dismisses Baker, Cargill arrives and tersely confesses to all the charges against him, including one Bill knows he did not commit. Bill demands to know why he confessed to something he did not do, and urges the major to help mount his own defense, but Cargill remains silent. Before allowing him to leave, Bill plays Cargill's treasonous radio broadcast, noting the major's building anxiety. After Cargill leaves, Bill works on the case all night, hoping to solve the mystery of why the formerly exemplary officer "broke," and in the morning, Bill's secretary, Cpl. Jean Evans, protects him from Baker's intrusions. Bill then visits Cargill's wife, who lets him in reluctantly but agrees to talk upon realizing that Bill believes in her husband. She reveals that Cargill has not discussed the prison camp with her, and has indeed barely talked to her at all in the time he has been back from Korea. At Bill's questioning, she finally remembers one quote from a letter Cargill wrote her, which she hopes may be useful: "He who kills one man kills a whole world. How many worlds have I killed?" Back in Bill's office, Cargill is waiting for their next appointment. Before letting him in, Bill discusses the case with Jean, fretting over the differences between the traitor depicted in his files and the sensitive soul described by Mrs. Cargill. Jean points out that each witness described dysentery in the exact same words, which suggests that they each memorized a statement to recite. Just then, Gen. Connors returns to rebuke Bill once again for prolonging the case, calling for an immediate court-martial. After Bill politely refuses, Baker verbally attacks the waiting Cargill for putting Bill's job in jeopardy through his refusal to speak. Jean agrees, urging Cargill to tell the truth, but Cargill responds that sometimes the truth can be more vicious than a lie. He tells her that any man's mind will "turn to water" when enough pressure is applied to it, after which he will be called a coward. Bill returns, and although he pushes Cargill to explain why he suddenly became a collaborator after months of resistance, the major remains silent. Later, Bill calls Miller back and, bringing Jean, Baker and Cargill into the office with them, has the boy repeat his testimony about the dysentery deaths. When Miller falters over some of the words, Bill prompts him by reading from the records, proving that Miller is reciting by rote. Realizing he has been caught lying, Miller breaks down, revealing the truth about Connors' death: After Harvey is killed by the guards while trying to escape, the rest of the men discover that Connors tipped off Kim, under torture, that Harvey was planning to escape. The men decide to kill the "stool pigeon," despite Cargill's entreaties not to, and draw straws to choose a murderer. Miller draws the short straw, and despite Connors' screams for mercy, strangles him. Back in the office, Miller weeps that he had no choice, and Bill destroys the record of his confession, instructing him that no charges will be filed against him. Cargill still refuses to explain his own treason, insisting that his story can only hurt the rest of the men who survived Kim's constant torture. As Miller becomes hysterical, the general enters and hears the lieutenant condemn his son, until Bill punches Miller to keep him quiet. Connors, however, insists on knowing the truth about Joe, and when Cargill will not speak, excoriates the major as a liar and coward. Unable to stand by, Bill breaks in and reveals the truth to Connors, who sadly denounces his son. Cargill argues with Connors' assessment, stating that there must be a time limit on being a hero. Joe, he says, was a hero for hundreds of days and a coward for only one, so why must he be judged for that one day? Finally, Cargill reveals his own "cowardice": After Joe's death, Kim told him to capitulate or all his men would be killed, and unable to sacrifice his men, Cargill submitted. More gently, Connors defends the military code of honor, pointing out that every military leader is faced with the responsibility of sacrificing some men for the greater good, and cannot rely on his emotions but only on the code, "our bible." He leaves, calling for Bill to recommend a court-martial, but instead Bill files a recommendation that all changes be dropped. He tells Cargill that this will not save him from a trial, but that he will personally stand as his defense lawyer. As Cargill leaves, relieved that finally at least one person understands his choice, Bill sends his regards to Mrs. Cargill.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Oct 1957
Premiere Information
New York opening: 23 Oct 1957
Production Company
Heath Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Agoura--Conejo Ranch, California, United States; Governor's Island--Fort Jay, New York, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Time Limit by Henry Denker and Ralph Berkey as produced by The Theatre Guild (New York, 24 Jan 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

Time Limit


"Better dead than red" was a familiar adage during the 50s. With World War II over, but still fresh in the minds of all red-blooded Americans and Senator McCarthy compiling a list of communist infiltrators in the government and Hollywood, it wasn't surprising that such a slogan was coined. But no matter what the decade, the political climate was never so black and white that it could be summed up neatly in a catch phrase like "Better dead than red". And Time Limit (1957) is a film that effectively addresses the ambiguity and complex moral issues raised during this paranoid time in American society.

Directed by actor Karl Malden, Time Limit is a courtroom drama minus the courtroom. Army Colonel William Edwards (Richard Widmark) is investigating the case of Major Harry Cargill (Richard Basehart), accused of collaborating with the enemy while he and his unit were held captive in a Korean POW camp. Cargill freely admits his guilt, and evidence proves that he signed a germ-warfare confession, and broadcast anti-American speeches over Korean radio. In fact, it would be a simple open and shut case were it not for Basehart's refusal to defend himself. Arousing further suspicion is the fact that Basehart's collaboration with the enemy immediately followed the death of two of his soldiers, and the surviving members in the unit all recite an identical, rehearsed account of those deaths. Under enormous pressure to take his depositions and press for a swift court-martial, Edwards delves into the mystery, refusing to accept superficial explanations for the events in question. When the truth is finally revealed by Lieutenant George Miller (Rip Torn), it sheds a completely new light on Cargill's behavior.

With its narrative structure primarily composed of depositions at the base camp and flashbacks to the POW camp, Time Limit closely resembles a stage play, which in fact, it was on Broadway. But the power of the original play, written by Henry Denker and Ralph Berkey, has not been diminished by its translation to film, and if anything, is even more powerful with its tense close-ups and claustrophobic settings. No doubt, Time Limit must have been a sobering drama for its day, with its conflicted central character - Major Cargill - exclaiming, "how long can a man be expected to play the hero? There should be a time limit on such a duty."

In addition to playing the lead, Richard Widmark also co-produced Time Limit and it was the actor's idea to have his friend and colleague , Karl Malden, direct it. In a 1988 interview about the film, Malden said, "Widmark thought I'd be good directing it, and I said 'Sure, I'd take a crack at it.' I liked what it had to say." Critics liked what it had to say, too, and gave Malden good reviews for his first directorial effort (It turned out to be his only directing credit with the exception of some scenes he filmed for Delmer Daves in The Hanging Tree, 1959). One reviewer praised the movie for it's "taut direction and vigorous performances drawn not only from principals, but a supporting cast of promising new-comers."

Producer: William Reynolds, Richard Widmark
Director: Karl Malden
Screenplay: Ralph Berkey (play), Henry Denker (also play)
Production Design: Serge Krizman
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Costume Design: Henry West
Film Editing: William Reynolds, Aaron Stell
Original Music: Fred Steiner
Cast: Richard Widmark (Col. William Edwards), Richard Basehart (Major Harry Cargill), Dolores Michaels (Corporal Jean Evans), June Lockhart (Mrs. Cargill), Carl Benton Reid (General Connors).
BW-97m.

by Bill Goodman

Time Limit

Time Limit

"Better dead than red" was a familiar adage during the 50s. With World War II over, but still fresh in the minds of all red-blooded Americans and Senator McCarthy compiling a list of communist infiltrators in the government and Hollywood, it wasn't surprising that such a slogan was coined. But no matter what the decade, the political climate was never so black and white that it could be summed up neatly in a catch phrase like "Better dead than red". And Time Limit (1957) is a film that effectively addresses the ambiguity and complex moral issues raised during this paranoid time in American society. Directed by actor Karl Malden, Time Limit is a courtroom drama minus the courtroom. Army Colonel William Edwards (Richard Widmark) is investigating the case of Major Harry Cargill (Richard Basehart), accused of collaborating with the enemy while he and his unit were held captive in a Korean POW camp. Cargill freely admits his guilt, and evidence proves that he signed a germ-warfare confession, and broadcast anti-American speeches over Korean radio. In fact, it would be a simple open and shut case were it not for Basehart's refusal to defend himself. Arousing further suspicion is the fact that Basehart's collaboration with the enemy immediately followed the death of two of his soldiers, and the surviving members in the unit all recite an identical, rehearsed account of those deaths. Under enormous pressure to take his depositions and press for a swift court-martial, Edwards delves into the mystery, refusing to accept superficial explanations for the events in question. When the truth is finally revealed by Lieutenant George Miller (Rip Torn), it sheds a completely new light on Cargill's behavior. With its narrative structure primarily composed of depositions at the base camp and flashbacks to the POW camp, Time Limit closely resembles a stage play, which in fact, it was on Broadway. But the power of the original play, written by Henry Denker and Ralph Berkey, has not been diminished by its translation to film, and if anything, is even more powerful with its tense close-ups and claustrophobic settings. No doubt, Time Limit must have been a sobering drama for its day, with its conflicted central character - Major Cargill - exclaiming, "how long can a man be expected to play the hero? There should be a time limit on such a duty." In addition to playing the lead, Richard Widmark also co-produced Time Limit and it was the actor's idea to have his friend and colleague , Karl Malden, direct it. In a 1988 interview about the film, Malden said, "Widmark thought I'd be good directing it, and I said 'Sure, I'd take a crack at it.' I liked what it had to say." Critics liked what it had to say, too, and gave Malden good reviews for his first directorial effort (It turned out to be his only directing credit with the exception of some scenes he filmed for Delmer Daves in The Hanging Tree, 1959). One reviewer praised the movie for it's "taut direction and vigorous performances drawn not only from principals, but a supporting cast of promising new-comers." Producer: William Reynolds, Richard Widmark Director: Karl Malden Screenplay: Ralph Berkey (play), Henry Denker (also play) Production Design: Serge Krizman Cinematography: Sam Leavitt Costume Design: Henry West Film Editing: William Reynolds, Aaron Stell Original Music: Fred Steiner Cast: Richard Widmark (Col. William Edwards), Richard Basehart (Major Harry Cargill), Dolores Michaels (Corporal Jean Evans), June Lockhart (Mrs. Cargill), Carl Benton Reid (General Connors). BW-97m. by Bill Goodman

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The opening cast credits vary slightly from the closing credits. On July 27, 1956, Hollywood Reporter reported that Richard Widmark had paid $100,000 to The Theatre Guild for the film rights to the play Time Limit. The film adaptation of the play marked the first picture for Widmark's independent production company, Heath Productions, Inc. It also marked the directorial debut of actor Karl Malden. As noted in a April 28, 1957 New York Times news item, scenes were shot on location at Fort Jay on Governor's Island, New York, from 7 May-9 May; in addition, an April 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item states that some scenes were shot at the Conejo Ranch near Agoura, CA. Although a March 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Stephen Ellis to the cast, his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Despite reviews praising his work, Malden's only other feature film directing work was as fill-in director for Delmer Daves on the 1959 Warner Bros. production The Hanging Tree. In his autoboigraphy, Malden stated that he preferred being a good actor to being a fairly good director.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall October 1957

Only film directed by actor Karl Malden.

Released in United States Fall October 1957