The Cavern


1h 23m 1965
The Cavern

Brief Synopsis

An explosion traps soldiers and civilians in a cave during World War II.

Film Details

Also Known As
Helden--Himmel und Hölle, Sette contro la morte
Genre
Drama
War
Release Date
Nov 1965
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Cine Doris-Ernst Neubach;
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Country
Italy
Location
Italy; Yugoslavia

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 23m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

In Italy during World War II, German soldiers trap Anna; U. S. Army Pvt. Joe Kramer; U. S. Army Captain Wilson; American General Braithwaite; Mario, an Italian soldier; Hans, a German soldier; and Lieut. Peter Carter, a Canadian pilot who escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp, in an Alpine cavern that has served as a German storehouse. Falling explosives seal the entrances, and they spend weeks seeking a means of exit. Captain Wilson, an alcoholic, finds a cache of liquor and later shares it with fellow drinker General Braithwaite. Meanwhile, Kramer falls in love with Anna, against the wishes of Mario. Hans discovers a way out, but Italian partisans kill him before he can return to notify the others. Later, Carter dies trying to find an escape route, and Captain Wilson drowns in a drunken stupor. When General Briathwaite goes insane and attempts suicide with a grenade, the explosion creates a passageway to the outside, and the captives leave the cavern.

Film Details

Also Known As
Helden--Himmel und Hölle, Sette contro la morte
Genre
Drama
War
Release Date
Nov 1965
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Cine Doris-Ernst Neubach;
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Country
Italy
Location
Italy; Yugoslavia

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 23m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

The Cavern


Edgar G. Ulmer is one of the most fascinating case studies of Hollywood cinema. His career started at a high point: set design and art direction for Fritz Lang, G.W. Pabst, F.W. Murnau; assistant director on Murnau's The Last Laugh (1924); one of the directors of People on Sunday (1930), which also launched the careers of Curt and Robert Siodmak, Fred Zinnemann, and Billy Wilder. Yet while his early collaborators went on to long A-list careers, Ulmer labored for most of his life in Poverty Row, with few accolades and minimal resources but eventually a cult following for such singular works as The Black Cat (1934), Detour (1945), and Ruthless (1948).

The Cavern may not be the best example of the "demented poetry" Myron Meisel* found in Ulmer's work, but it should be essential viewing if only as the last theatrical feature completed by the director. Despite the rather tepid reviews and poor distribution upon its release, the film - like most of Ulmer's work - has been reconsidered and found to offer more than mere career curiosity.

The story concerns a motley group of six soldiers - American, British, Canadian, Italian, and German - and one beautiful woman who find themselves, in the closing months of World War II, trapped in an underground cave when a retreating army blows up the entrance to prevent anyone from looting the munitions stored in it. There are good performances from the international cast that includes John Saxon, Italian star Rosanna Schiaffino, veteran actor Brian Aherne, a young Larry Hagman before his "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Dallas" days, and Peter Marshall, later host of the TV game show "Hollywood Squares," who talked Ulmer into changing the part from British to Canadian to accommodate his lack of an adequate English accent.

Ulmer created a tense atmosphere of claustrophobia in this dark, confined setting, a factor not solely attributable to the usual low-budget constraints under which he often had to work. This was not just a hack job for hire but a project he actually cared about and began preparing as early as the mid-50s. Because so many of his films were set in interiors (both physical and psychological) in which his characters felt trapped or doomed, he certainly would have been attracted to the idea of a group of desperate people barely surviving over many months in what is virtually a sealed tomb. The story offered him opportunities to exercise his characteristic strong visual style, abetted by the strange and shadowy forms of the cave.

Ulmer was able to secure a larger, albeit still limited, budget than he had been given in years, but that small blessing turned into a major headache of the kind that often plagued the director's productions. Doris Day's husband, Marty Melcher, possibly looking for a way to reinvest some of the money made from the release of her pictures in Europe, was attracted to the script, then under the title "Search for the Sun," and agreed to finance the production.

Shooting began in early fall 1963 in the famous caves at Postojna in the mountains of then Yugoslavia (now Slovenia). As most reports had it, Melcher bailed on the agreement halfway through, so Ulmer had to scramble to complete the picture, finally having to sneak cast and crew across the nearby border with Italy. Production continued in Trieste, where cave sets were constructed cheaply in a municipal swimming pool.** Ulmer also experienced health problems during the shoot, suffering bouts of claustrophobia in the confined space. On the night train to Italy during relocation of the production, the 59-year-old director, who had experienced a mild heart attack a few years earlier, collapsed, quite likely the beginning of the series of strokes that would debilitate him in later years and finally lead to his death at age 68 in 1972.

As for the script that Melcher claimed to have found appealing, it is credited to two British writers most frequently associated with comedies, Jack Davies and Michael Pertwee, but they are widely believed to have been fronts for the then blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. The notion that Trumbo had written The Cavern was backed by Aherne, French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, and later Trumbo himself, although the claim becomes a little clouded when one considers Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger had already broken the blacklist with full writing credits for Trumbo on their respective films Spartacus (1960) and Exodus (1960), and the writer was given screen credit on two other pictures before Ulmer's was released.

Although fairly well received in Germany, where it was promoted as a "great ballad of comradeship," the picture got only middling reviews elsewhere, with the New York Times calling it "small, respectable and forgettable." Like most of Ulmer's films, it has since come under critical re-evaluation. Years after its release, Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader said, "Dramatically, it's Ulmer's most fully realized film."

The film was photographed by Hungarian-born Gábor Pogány (1915-1999), who worked for most of his career in Italy. Pogany was the cinematographer on the Burt Lancaster western Valdez Is Coming (1971) and Vittoria De Sica's Two Women (1960).

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Producers: Ernst Neubach, Edgar G. Ulmer, Zeljko Kunkera
Screenplay: Jack Davies, Michael Pertwee
Cinematography: Gábor Pogány
Editing: Renato Cinquini
Art Direction: Giorgina Baldoni, Lamberto Giovagnoli
Music: Carlo Rustichelli
Cast: John Saxon (Pvt. Joe Cramer), Rosanna Schiaffino (Anna), Larry Hagman (Capt. Wilson), Peter Marshall (Lt. Carter), Brian Aherne (Gen. Braithwaite)

By Rob Nixon

* "Edgar G. Ulmer: The Primacy of the Visual" in Kings of the Bs: Working within the Hollywood System, Eds. Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn, E.P. Dutton & Co., 1975
** Much of the background information about the production comes from Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins by Noah Isenberg (University of California Press, 2014).
The Cavern

The Cavern

Edgar G. Ulmer is one of the most fascinating case studies of Hollywood cinema. His career started at a high point: set design and art direction for Fritz Lang, G.W. Pabst, F.W. Murnau; assistant director on Murnau's The Last Laugh (1924); one of the directors of People on Sunday (1930), which also launched the careers of Curt and Robert Siodmak, Fred Zinnemann, and Billy Wilder. Yet while his early collaborators went on to long A-list careers, Ulmer labored for most of his life in Poverty Row, with few accolades and minimal resources but eventually a cult following for such singular works as The Black Cat (1934), Detour (1945), and Ruthless (1948). The Cavern may not be the best example of the "demented poetry" Myron Meisel* found in Ulmer's work, but it should be essential viewing if only as the last theatrical feature completed by the director. Despite the rather tepid reviews and poor distribution upon its release, the film - like most of Ulmer's work - has been reconsidered and found to offer more than mere career curiosity. The story concerns a motley group of six soldiers - American, British, Canadian, Italian, and German - and one beautiful woman who find themselves, in the closing months of World War II, trapped in an underground cave when a retreating army blows up the entrance to prevent anyone from looting the munitions stored in it. There are good performances from the international cast that includes John Saxon, Italian star Rosanna Schiaffino, veteran actor Brian Aherne, a young Larry Hagman before his "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Dallas" days, and Peter Marshall, later host of the TV game show "Hollywood Squares," who talked Ulmer into changing the part from British to Canadian to accommodate his lack of an adequate English accent. Ulmer created a tense atmosphere of claustrophobia in this dark, confined setting, a factor not solely attributable to the usual low-budget constraints under which he often had to work. This was not just a hack job for hire but a project he actually cared about and began preparing as early as the mid-50s. Because so many of his films were set in interiors (both physical and psychological) in which his characters felt trapped or doomed, he certainly would have been attracted to the idea of a group of desperate people barely surviving over many months in what is virtually a sealed tomb. The story offered him opportunities to exercise his characteristic strong visual style, abetted by the strange and shadowy forms of the cave. Ulmer was able to secure a larger, albeit still limited, budget than he had been given in years, but that small blessing turned into a major headache of the kind that often plagued the director's productions. Doris Day's husband, Marty Melcher, possibly looking for a way to reinvest some of the money made from the release of her pictures in Europe, was attracted to the script, then under the title "Search for the Sun," and agreed to finance the production. Shooting began in early fall 1963 in the famous caves at Postojna in the mountains of then Yugoslavia (now Slovenia). As most reports had it, Melcher bailed on the agreement halfway through, so Ulmer had to scramble to complete the picture, finally having to sneak cast and crew across the nearby border with Italy. Production continued in Trieste, where cave sets were constructed cheaply in a municipal swimming pool.** Ulmer also experienced health problems during the shoot, suffering bouts of claustrophobia in the confined space. On the night train to Italy during relocation of the production, the 59-year-old director, who had experienced a mild heart attack a few years earlier, collapsed, quite likely the beginning of the series of strokes that would debilitate him in later years and finally lead to his death at age 68 in 1972. As for the script that Melcher claimed to have found appealing, it is credited to two British writers most frequently associated with comedies, Jack Davies and Michael Pertwee, but they are widely believed to have been fronts for the then blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. The notion that Trumbo had written The Cavern was backed by Aherne, French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, and later Trumbo himself, although the claim becomes a little clouded when one considers Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger had already broken the blacklist with full writing credits for Trumbo on their respective films Spartacus (1960) and Exodus (1960), and the writer was given screen credit on two other pictures before Ulmer's was released. Although fairly well received in Germany, where it was promoted as a "great ballad of comradeship," the picture got only middling reviews elsewhere, with the New York Times calling it "small, respectable and forgettable." Like most of Ulmer's films, it has since come under critical re-evaluation. Years after its release, Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader said, "Dramatically, it's Ulmer's most fully realized film." The film was photographed by Hungarian-born Gábor Pogány (1915-1999), who worked for most of his career in Italy. Pogany was the cinematographer on the Burt Lancaster western Valdez Is Coming (1971) and Vittoria De Sica's Two Women (1960). Director: Edgar G. Ulmer Producers: Ernst Neubach, Edgar G. Ulmer, Zeljko Kunkera Screenplay: Jack Davies, Michael Pertwee Cinematography: Gábor Pogány Editing: Renato Cinquini Art Direction: Giorgina Baldoni, Lamberto Giovagnoli Music: Carlo Rustichelli Cast: John Saxon (Pvt. Joe Cramer), Rosanna Schiaffino (Anna), Larry Hagman (Capt. Wilson), Peter Marshall (Lt. Carter), Brian Aherne (Gen. Braithwaite) By Rob Nixon * "Edgar G. Ulmer: The Primacy of the Visual" in Kings of the Bs: Working within the Hollywood System, Eds. Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn, E.P. Dutton & Co., 1975 ** Much of the background information about the production comes from Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins by Noah Isenberg (University of California Press, 2014).

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Copyright length: 95 min. Filmed in Italy and Yugoslavia. Released in Italy as Sette contro la morte in 1965; German title: Helden-Himmel und Hölle.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1965

Edgar G Ulmer's last film.

Released in United States 1965