Yesterday's Enemy


1h 35m 1959
Yesterday's Enemy

Brief Synopsis

A British captain will stop at nothing to capture a Burmese village from the Japanese.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Nov 1959
Premiere Information
London opening: 17 Sep 1959
Production Company
Hammer Film Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
England, Great Britain

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In Burma during World War II, an exhausted patrol of British soldiers trudges through a jungle swamp urged on by their ruthless captain, Alan Langford. Their radio had been disabled by water, causing them to lose contact with headquarters, and their commander, Brigadier, has been mortally wounded. After fording the river, the patrol comes upon a small Burmese village where they are met by machine-gun fire emanating from some Japanese soldiers hiding in the native huts. Returning fire, the British overpower their enemy, killing eight Japanese soldiers and one full colonel. They also capture an uncooperative Burmese man who was working as an informant for the Japanese. When the captain questions the informant about the colonel and a map with strange markings they found, the man refuses to talk. The captain then threatens to kill him unless he cooperates, and to convince the informant that he is serious, orders two villagers shot unless he answers the questions. The captain's callousness enrages both Max, a war correspondent traveling with the patrol, and the patrol's chaplain, affectionately known as "Padre." Sgt. McKenzie supports his superior's decision, however, and carries out his orders. After the villagers are executed, the frightened informant tells Langford that the map, in code, outlines a major attack that will trap the British and cut off their supply lines, leaving them helpless. Realizing that the lives of thousands of British soldiers hang in the balance, the captain orders McKenzie to kill the informant so that he will never be able to divulge that the map has been found and deciphered. Because it is imperative that the British command be informed about the attack, Langford decides to leave the wounded behind so as not to impede their progress to headquarters. Although Max and Padre are outraged by Langford's decision, Brigadier announces that the wounded have unanimously decided to remain behind. When a division of enemy soldiers is spotted in the area, the captain realizes that they must all remain in the village to prevent the Japanese from suspecting that their attack plan has been discovered. Consequently, Langford dispatches McKenzie, Padre and Max to headquarters to alert them about the attack while he and the others remain behind to repair the transmitter. Knowing that they will slow down the sergeant, Max and Padre insist on staying behind, although it means certain death. As the sergeant and two other men make their way through the jungle, they are killed by the enemy. While the men desperately try to repair the radio at the camp, Langford's second-in-command, 2d Lt. Paul Hastings, wrestles with his fear of dying. When word comes that the Japanese are approaching, Langford leads a patrol to ambush them at the river, but one of his men fires his rifle too early and alerts the enemy to their position, resulting in their capture. The Japanese commander, Maj. Yamazaki, wonders aloud why the British stayed in the village when they easily could have escaped and begins to suspect that they may have found the map. In order to pressure Langford, the major threatens to execute his men unless he divulges all he knows. When Langford protests that Yamazaki is ignoring the code of conduct in war, the major chides that there are no morals in war. While Langford watches from a window in the hut, the major orders the British soldiers lined up in front of a firing squad, then tells Langford that he has two minutes to cooperate or his men will die. Unwilling to watch his men be executed, Langford makes a dash for the radio transmitter and is gunned down by one of his guards. As the others bravely face death, Padre leads them in prayer, while in the background, a speech from the commander of the British troops is broadcast over the radio, praising the bravery of his men.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Nov 1959
Premiere Information
London opening: 17 Sep 1959
Production Company
Hammer Film Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
England, Great Britain

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

Yesterday's Enemy


The British World War II drama Yesterday's Enemy (1959) was tagged in its home country as "the most controversial...ever filmed," largely because it took the unprecedented step of suggesting the British were not always honorable in combat. A brigade, cut off from its main division in the Burmese jungle in 1942, comes upon a small force of Japanese holed up in a remote village. The British troops defeat their enemy, discovering an important top-secret map on the body of a slain Japanese commander. Suspecting one of the villagers secretly knows more about the map than he will tell, the brigade commander begins to execute innocent villagers to force a confession from the person in question, an act that draws horrified condemnation from the brigade's chaplain and a war correspondent embedded with the British troops. When the commander and his men get the information and try to return it to headquarters, they are captured by Japanese soldiers, and suffer the same treatment as the villagers.

Yesterday's Enemy was nominated for four British Academy (BAFTA) Awards, including two for director Val Guest for Best British Film and Best Film from Any Source. Stanley Baker received a BAFTA Best Actor nomination for his performance as the brigade leader, as did Gordon Jackson as Sgt. MacKenzie. Breaking with the screen tradition of stiff-upper-lip gentlemen officers, Baker's Captain Langford is willing to commit war crimes for the success of his mission, and although he is often cruel to his own men and unwavering in his unpleasant and unpopular decisions, he will also risk his life to save his troops.

The film captures jungle warfare with remarkable realism considering it was shot entirely in the Shepperton and Bray studios in England. The confining production realities, however, serve to heighten the tension and create a claustrophobic atmosphere. Credit for that goes not only to Guest but to Arthur Grant, who not long after this became one of the most prolific cinematographers in the burgeoning British horror film industry of the late 50s through the early 70s; he was a contract artist at Hammer Films (which produced countless genre movies starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee).

According to a news item appearing in The Hollywood Reporter in March 1959, Yesterday's Enemy was part of a deal between Hammer and Hollywood's Columbia Pictures that stipulated Hammer would co-produce five films per year for Columbia over a period of five years. Columbia had previously acquired a 49 percent interest in Hammer's Bray Studios and under this new arrangement was to provide 50 percent of the financing for the co-productions.

Yesterday's Enemy also features Korean-American actor Philip Ahn as a Japanese officer. Ahn played hundreds of Chinese and Japanese characters during a busy career that stretched from 1934 until his death at 73 in 1978. Late in life, he found a whole new audience on American television as Master Kan in 38 episodes of the popular series Kung Fu. Ahn was the first Asian-American actor to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The authorship of the screenplay is credited to Peter R. Newman. Some sources, such as The Hollywood Reporter and the review in Variety, said Newman adapted the script from his own stage or television play, but others claim it was an original story and screenplay.

Director: Val Guest
Producer: Michael Carreras

Screenplay: Peter R. Newman
Cinematography: Arthur Grant
Editing: Alfred Cox, James Needs
Production Design: Bernard Robinson
Cast: Stanley Baker (Langford), Guy Rolfe (Padre), Leo McKern (Max), Gordon Jackson (MacKenzie), David Oxley (Doctor).
BW-94m.

by Rob Nixon
Yesterday's Enemy

Yesterday's Enemy

The British World War II drama Yesterday's Enemy (1959) was tagged in its home country as "the most controversial...ever filmed," largely because it took the unprecedented step of suggesting the British were not always honorable in combat. A brigade, cut off from its main division in the Burmese jungle in 1942, comes upon a small force of Japanese holed up in a remote village. The British troops defeat their enemy, discovering an important top-secret map on the body of a slain Japanese commander. Suspecting one of the villagers secretly knows more about the map than he will tell, the brigade commander begins to execute innocent villagers to force a confession from the person in question, an act that draws horrified condemnation from the brigade's chaplain and a war correspondent embedded with the British troops. When the commander and his men get the information and try to return it to headquarters, they are captured by Japanese soldiers, and suffer the same treatment as the villagers. Yesterday's Enemy was nominated for four British Academy (BAFTA) Awards, including two for director Val Guest for Best British Film and Best Film from Any Source. Stanley Baker received a BAFTA Best Actor nomination for his performance as the brigade leader, as did Gordon Jackson as Sgt. MacKenzie. Breaking with the screen tradition of stiff-upper-lip gentlemen officers, Baker's Captain Langford is willing to commit war crimes for the success of his mission, and although he is often cruel to his own men and unwavering in his unpleasant and unpopular decisions, he will also risk his life to save his troops. The film captures jungle warfare with remarkable realism considering it was shot entirely in the Shepperton and Bray studios in England. The confining production realities, however, serve to heighten the tension and create a claustrophobic atmosphere. Credit for that goes not only to Guest but to Arthur Grant, who not long after this became one of the most prolific cinematographers in the burgeoning British horror film industry of the late 50s through the early 70s; he was a contract artist at Hammer Films (which produced countless genre movies starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee). According to a news item appearing in The Hollywood Reporter in March 1959, Yesterday's Enemy was part of a deal between Hammer and Hollywood's Columbia Pictures that stipulated Hammer would co-produce five films per year for Columbia over a period of five years. Columbia had previously acquired a 49 percent interest in Hammer's Bray Studios and under this new arrangement was to provide 50 percent of the financing for the co-productions. Yesterday's Enemy also features Korean-American actor Philip Ahn as a Japanese officer. Ahn played hundreds of Chinese and Japanese characters during a busy career that stretched from 1934 until his death at 73 in 1978. Late in life, he found a whole new audience on American television as Master Kan in 38 episodes of the popular series Kung Fu. Ahn was the first Asian-American actor to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The authorship of the screenplay is credited to Peter R. Newman. Some sources, such as The Hollywood Reporter and the review in Variety, said Newman adapted the script from his own stage or television play, but others claim it was an original story and screenplay. Director: Val Guest Producer: Michael Carreras Screenplay: Peter R. Newman Cinematography: Arthur Grant Editing: Alfred Cox, James Needs Production Design: Bernard Robinson Cast: Stanley Baker (Langford), Guy Rolfe (Padre), Leo McKern (Max), Gordon Jackson (MacKenzie), David Oxley (Doctor). BW-94m. by Rob Nixon

TCM Remembers - Leo McKern


TCM REMEMBERS LEO MCKERN, 1920-2002

The recent death of Leo McKern, 82, marked the passing of one of Britain's finest and most respected character actors. He was suffering from ill health in recent years and was moved to a nursing home a few weeks before his death on July 23 2002 in Bath, England. An actor of commanding presence with a deep-throated voice, the portly, bulbous-nosed McKern had a long, distinguished career spanning more than half a century, earning numerous plaudits along the way in all major mediums: theatre, film and television.

Born Reginald McKern on March 16, 1920 in Sydney, Australia; he served with the Australian Army during World War II and worked in regional theatre in his native Sydney before immigrating to England in 1946. It was a slow start, but after a three-year apprenticeship of painting scenery, stage-managing and acting, McKern eventually joined the celebrated Old Vic theatrical company in 1949 and proved one of the more versatile actors in the troupe tackling diverse roles in comedy, the classics and serious contemporary parts.

His film debut came in Murder in the Cathedral (1952) but it took a few years before he made his mark in cinema. Some of his best film work included roles as Peter Sellers' comic henchman in the classic satire The Mouse That Roared (1959); a bungling train robber in the charming Disney film The Horse Without a Head (1963); a nefarious professor who kills off his colleagues for amusement in the brilliant black comedy A Jolly Bad Fellow (1964); Clang, a cartoonish villain in the Beatles' pop film Help! (1965); Cromwell, the persecutor of Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons (1966) and as Thomas Ryan in the David Lean drama, Ryan's Daughter (1970).

Yet despite all the accolades McKern earned in theatre and films, it was television where he foundinternational fame as the wily, irascible barrister Horace P. Rumpole in John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey in 1975. Infusing the character with beguiling skill and energy, McKern made the acerbic, wine swilling, Tennyson-quoting Rumpole a much loved figure that was adored by critics, audiences and even its creator Mortimer. Perhaps Mortimer offered the most fitting tribute when he once referred to McKern - "His acting exists where I always hope my writing will be: about two feet above the ground, a little larger than life, but always taking off from reality." Enough said.

By Michael T. Toole KATY JURADO, 1924 - 2002

Katy Jurado, an Oscar nominee and major actress in Westerns, died July 5th at the age of 78. She was born in Guadalajara, Mexico on January 16th 1924 as Maria Cristina Estella Marcela Jurado Garcia, daughter of a cattle rancher and an opera singer. Jurado started to appear in Mexican films in 1943. After 15 films in her native country, director Budd Boetticher saw Jurado attending a bullfight (Jurado wrote about the subject for Mexican newspapers) and cast her in his Bullfighter and the Lady (1952), her Hollywood debut. For much of her career Jurado alternated between the two film industries. In the US, she was memorable for the sensual energy she brought to roles in High Noon (1952), One-Eyed Jacks (1961) which was directed by Marlon Brando, Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) and John Huston's Under the Volcano (1984). She was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for Broken Lance (1954). Jurado's Mexican films were in a broader range of genres and included Luis Bunuel's El Bruto (1952), Ismael Rodriguez's We the Poor and Miguel Littin's The Widow Montiel (1979). She won three Ariel Awards (Mexican equivalent to the Oscars) and one special award. She was married to Ernest Borgnine from the end of 1959 to summer 1963. One of her final films was The Hi-Lo Country (1998), a contemporary Western directed by Stephen Frears and co-starring Woody Harrelson, Billy Crudup and Penelope Cruz.

by Lang Thompson

DOLORES GRAY, 1924 - 2002

Broadway and nightclub star Dolores Gray died June 26th at the age of 78. Her movie career was brief but consisted of high-profile MGM musicals which guaranteed her a place in film history. Gray was born in Chicago on June 7th, 1924 (and where, according to a common story, she was accidentally shot by a gangster as a child and had a bullet in her lung her entire life). As a teenager she began singing in California until Rudy Vallee featured her on his radio show. Gray moved to Broadway in 1944 and then to the London stage in 1947, solidifying her reputation as a singer/actress while constantly giving the gossip columnists plenty to write about. She had two small singing roles in Lady for a Night (1941) and Mr. Skeffington (1944) but didn't really light up the big screen until It's Always Fair Weather (1955) even though Gray reportedly didn't much care for the role. Her rendition of "Thanks a Lot, But No Thanks," which has her gunning down a slew of male dancers on-stage and kicking them through trap doors, is a genuine showstopper. Three more unforgettable musical roles quickly followed: Kismet (1955), The Opposite Sex (1956, which Gray turned down Funny Face to do) and Designing Women (1957). That was it for Gray's film career. She kept busy with TV appearances (mostly singing though she did one 1988 episode of the cult show Dr. Who) and a busy recording and nightclub schedule. In 1987, she appeared in a British production of Follies at Stephen Sondheim's request.

by Lang Thompson

TCM Remembers - Leo McKern

TCM REMEMBERS LEO MCKERN, 1920-2002 The recent death of Leo McKern, 82, marked the passing of one of Britain's finest and most respected character actors. He was suffering from ill health in recent years and was moved to a nursing home a few weeks before his death on July 23 2002 in Bath, England. An actor of commanding presence with a deep-throated voice, the portly, bulbous-nosed McKern had a long, distinguished career spanning more than half a century, earning numerous plaudits along the way in all major mediums: theatre, film and television. Born Reginald McKern on March 16, 1920 in Sydney, Australia; he served with the Australian Army during World War II and worked in regional theatre in his native Sydney before immigrating to England in 1946. It was a slow start, but after a three-year apprenticeship of painting scenery, stage-managing and acting, McKern eventually joined the celebrated Old Vic theatrical company in 1949 and proved one of the more versatile actors in the troupe tackling diverse roles in comedy, the classics and serious contemporary parts. His film debut came in Murder in the Cathedral (1952) but it took a few years before he made his mark in cinema. Some of his best film work included roles as Peter Sellers' comic henchman in the classic satire The Mouse That Roared (1959); a bungling train robber in the charming Disney film The Horse Without a Head (1963); a nefarious professor who kills off his colleagues for amusement in the brilliant black comedy A Jolly Bad Fellow (1964); Clang, a cartoonish villain in the Beatles' pop film Help! (1965); Cromwell, the persecutor of Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons (1966) and as Thomas Ryan in the David Lean drama, Ryan's Daughter (1970). Yet despite all the accolades McKern earned in theatre and films, it was television where he foundinternational fame as the wily, irascible barrister Horace P. Rumpole in John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey in 1975. Infusing the character with beguiling skill and energy, McKern made the acerbic, wine swilling, Tennyson-quoting Rumpole a much loved figure that was adored by critics, audiences and even its creator Mortimer. Perhaps Mortimer offered the most fitting tribute when he once referred to McKern - "His acting exists where I always hope my writing will be: about two feet above the ground, a little larger than life, but always taking off from reality." Enough said. By Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

According to March 1959 Hollywood Reporter news items, Yesterday's Enemy was part of a deal between Hammer Film Productions, Ltd. and Columbia Pictures Corp. that stipulated that Hammer would co-produce five films per year for Columbia over a period of five years. Columbia had previously acquired a 49% interest in Hammer's Bray Studios, and under this new arrangement, was to provide 50% of the financing for the co-productions.
       Although a Hollywood Reporter news item and the Variety review noted that British writer Peter R. Newman adapted his play for the screen, other sources indicate that Yesterday's Enemy was based on an original story and screenplay by Newman. Modern sources add Barry Foster to the cast.