Rope of Sand (1949) Burt Lancaster in the Forties
As the 1940’s drew to a close, Burt Lancaster finished up the decade in a film that sought to re-team the cast of Casablanca. Producer Hal Wallis who had done the earlier title almost succeeded. Peter Lorre, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains turned up but Burt stepped in for Bogie and Corinne Calvet filled in for Bergman.
Burt stars as an adventurer out for revenge. He has a powerful hatred on for sadistic Paul Henreid. Taking place in Africa, Henreid runs the day to day operations of a diamond field overseen by the polished Claude Rains. Burt has returned to a flea ridden town that borders the diamond operation. Upon his arrival he renews hostilities with Henreid and bumps into bar fly Peter Lorre. Lorre conveniently places Burt from the past and tells us a supposed fairy tale of an American who was wronged but left a fortune in diamonds stashed in a secret hideaway somewhere across the barrier protecting the diamond field.
Lorre is quick to remind Burt, ” I am here, free as the wind, fountain of extraordinary knowledge, splendidly corrupt and eager to be of profitable service. ”
Slippery Rains enlists the lovely Calvet to extract from Burt the location of the hidden gems that everyone in the screenplay assumes he has returned for. Better still, Calvet is used to attract both Henreid and Lancaster for Rains’ amusement. Could it be just possible that our lovely lady might actually fall for one of the leading men? Care to guess which one?
During the course of this Paramount picture, Burt is a sucker for both physical punishment and of the heartbreak type. Before the final fade out, Henreid is going to get his hooks into Burt though each does get the upper hand at various times during the proceedings. This includes a cutthroat game of poker for high stakes. There is plenty of action packed into this tale of diamonds and deceit from director William Dieterle. We’ll even get the benefit of seeing the likes of Sam Jaffe, Mike Mazurki and John Bromfield putting in appearances.
Lancaster is pretty much all action and brooding this time out as he takes on the supposed Bogart role. His physical presence is towering when he takes on Henreid during a late night sand storm encounter. Henreid really takes to the vicious role assigned him here. He adapts well to the sadism that the script allows his character to employ when extracting information form those in his way or the women who spurn him.
It should come as no surprise that Claude Rains steals every scene he’s in. He toys with Calvet upon their first encounter as she tries to blackmail him. He quickly turns the tables in his favor. He spars with Lancaster throughout and he keeps Henreid at arm’s length controlling his puppet strings with the promise of wealth.
Rains practically winks at the camera with lines like, “I never know what to think anymore. I’m being constantly disillusioned. Has money completely lost its power? Is everyone motivated now by love? ”
Considering Burt Lancaster made his film debut just three years prior to this films release he holds his own as an action hero while surrounded by the three Casablanca alumni. Sure at this time they could act circles around him. Mainly because they didn’t look to be trying so hard. Still, Lancaster was up to the challenge and full marks have to be given to him for wanting to become more then just a he-man star of violent action movies. After all, history will prove that he’s the only member of this cast that would some day hold an acting Oscar though I don’t mean to diminish the record of the other men. Especially Rains.
Rope of Sand could easily have morphed into a Bogart showcase but as it is, it’s an above par effort that helped to establish the Burt Lancaster persona for the decade ahead.