Life Boat films pt 1

The Hollywood Reporter has these cool Roundtable interview videos on YouTube, one of which is the Full Director’s Roundtable. Stephen Galloway hosts and starts the conversation with questions about filmmaking and each director answers. For this blog series, I’ll be focusing on the question, “You’re on a life boat and you can bring only one movie. Which movie do you choose?”

Angelina Jolie pick: The Hill (1965)

Written by Ray Rigby and directed by Sidney Lumet. Major Roberts gets sent to military prison for beating up his commander after refusing to back into a war zone. Running time 2 hours 3 minutes.


Set in a North African military prison and filmed in black and white. The film opens in a windy, dusty North African military compound. Major Joe Roberts (Sean Connery) along with other military prisoners: Monty Bartlett (Roy Kinnear), Jacko King (Ossie Davis), Jock McGrath (Jack Watson), and George Stevens (Alfred Lynch). They soon discover this is no ordinary prison and these aren’t ordinary prison leaders. Staff Sergeant Williams (Ian Hendry) is out to punish the prisoners and push them to their limits by making them run up and down “the hill”, a tall hill built of sand, over and over in the unforgiving desert heat.

Meanwhile, the more compassionate Sergeant Charlie Harris ( Ian Bannen) tries to protect and stand up for them whenever he can. As the prisoners are mistreated, and one of them dies from the extended periods running the hill in the sun, the medical officer (Michael Redgrave) tries to intervene but is held back by the compound’s leaders. Roberts and Jacko try to talk to RSM Wilson (Harry Andrews) the compound highest officer, about the mistreatment and murder of the prisoner but he doesn’t budge as he’s blinded by words and reassurance from Williams.

When Roberts limits are finally pushed to the brink, a chaotic scene ensues with prisoners standing together. That is until the few rights they have left are threatened. Roberts finally gets Williams where he wants him–exposed to his sadistic measures–when his cell mates take the ultimate revenge.

What I Liked

The hill is a giant mound of sand and point of punishment for those who buck against authority. This film shows the grit and will to survive during these harsh conditions as well as lengths people will go for power and humanity. The black and white style lends a harsher lens to the gritty, dirty landscape within the prison. The cast is dirty and sweaty, the prison cells are stark with little for the prisoners to posses, and the hill is daunting in its height and sharp incline. There are some great moments when the prisoners joke among themselves at the expense of the prison guards and when Roberts’ food is withheld as punishment, one of his cell mates shares his food with Roberts. There is an underlying tone of humanity in the face of such hardship as well as a yearning for dignity by the prisoners which the guards and Williams take great pleasure in stripping away.

The dialogue is rich with biting dialogue between the prisoners as well as in the exchanges with the Williams. Sean Connery is excellent as Roberts and is the perfect hero in this movie. Roberts has a full character arc as he’s processed in, observing and taking in the way things are run while answering questions in a smart ass way testing the waters. Once Roberts runs the hill a few dozen times, the weariness and determination set in. Connery has a lot on his plate with this film as he carries so much of emotional balance for the prisoners and the prison staff while maintaining his own dignity and humanity.

What I Wished Was Better

Nothing. The end is not the typical happy ending (which I prefer) but it works because on one hand, justice is served; but, on the other hand, the opportunity to let justice be its own reward is thwarted by the need of personal justice by the prisoners.

Final Thoughts

While The Hill is a great film for brilliant acting as well as an expose of what people in power will do to exert it, the end left me questioning the fate of humanity. Available on Amazon. Watch the trailer below:

Fun fact: Temperatures on set averaged 115 degrees and 2000 gallons of fresh water was shipped in for the cast and crew. Even then, many suffered from dysentery (stomach cramps and diarrhea). Sean Connery took this role to show he was capable of being more than just James Bond. He missed the premiere of Goldfinger while filming The Hill. Angelina Jolie chose The Hill as her Life Boat film because she loves Sidney Lumet and The Hill “shows you how to survive against all odds.” Her second choice was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in case she needed to watch “something that’s a little more alive.”

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