Yesterday’s Enemy (1959)
Point me towards a Stanley Baker film and I’ll find a seat to nestle into and watch. Then tell me it’s from the famed Hammer Films studios and I’m hooked into what will probably be multiple viewings.
Far from being a Gothic horror as the studio was known for this WW2 story features the horrors of war versus the usual Dracula or Frankenstein horrors one would expect from producer Michael Carreras and company.
The film finds Stanley Baker leading a platoon of men in the deep swamps and jungles of Burma. Their opposition are the Japanese forces led by Philip Ahn. Ahn it seems practically led the Japanese fighting men in every second film from 1941 onwards. In Baker’s platoon you’ll find a variety of characters in keeping with a plot of this nature. We have the minister, the news correspondent played by Leo McKern and the familiar face of Gordon Jackson who executes without discrimination when Baker calls upon him to do just that.
This black and white effort has at it’s core a twist on the ethics of war. Early on in the film when Baker and his men capture a Burmese village he must decide the fate of a captured informer and how to go about extracting information from him. Baker is a stern leader who will do whatever it takes to get the information he requires to radio back to his command post. This doesn’t sit well with the man of the cloth, Guy Rolfe who condemns the actions that Baker is threatening to carry out.
When Ahn and his forces reclaim the village it becomes a battle of wills between our two leaders. It soon becomes apparent that Ahn is about to use the same tactics Baker had in order to get the information he and his command require. Can Baker look his men in the eyes knowing that death that awaits them and not give in to the enemy? Ahn’s character at first seemed like it was going to be a by the numbers role but the script and this fine actor infused some empathy into it that I found refreshing from the many propaganda films of the forties.
This is an odd feature in the Hammer catalogue as it’s somewhat of a message film that was adapted from a play by Peter R. Newman. It’s also in black and white as opposed to the color footage they used for their bloody terrors. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t film this one in color as well. The jungle greens and battle scenes would have benefited greatly.
Considering this is a Hammer film it’s surprising that house character actor Michael Ripper isn’t in here as a platoon member. Still if we look close we’ll see the make up artist was Roy Ashton who gave us many of the monsters of Hammer and actor Richard Pasco is in here who in 1964 would play a prominent role in The Gorgon.
The film is directed by Val Guest who did a number of films at Hammer including The Quatermass Experiment and the superior crime drama Hell Is A City with Stanley Baker once again in 1961.
Since this is a take on the fighting forces in Burma it’s too bad that Errol Flynn wasn’t around as he was accused of winning the war in Burma by himself in grand Hollywood style back in 1945’s Objective Burma.
This Hammer film is available in the MOD style from Columbia if you are so inclined.