Friday, June 6, 2014

Castle Keep (1969) (A Mini-Review): You Can Keep It

On this the seventieth anniversary of our forefather's supreme sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy, my good friend Mister Muleboy and I drove down to the AFI-Silver to see Castle Keep, a 1969-vintage war movie starring Burt Lancaster, Peter Falk and Bruce Dern, directed by Sydney Pollack.

With a pedigree like that, what could go wrong? Well, as it turns out, everything.

The story: During the Battle of the Bulge, Burt Lancaster and his eyepatch defend a Belgian castle that sits on a road leading through a beautiful countess's underpants to Bastogne. The problem is, Lancaster can't defend said underpants without risking a priceless collection of art.

In various subplots, Falk makes a separate peace with a baker's wife, Dern gathers twelve disciples and preaches the gospel, and the rest of Lancaster's platoon takes up a strategic position in the world's most chaste brothel.

Told straight, Castle Keep might have been The Train (also starring Lancaster) or at the very least, last year's Monuments Men. Instead, we get a half-assed knock-off of the French New Wave—soft-core porn with no nudity, black comedy with no jokes and more religious allegories than you can shake a stick at.

Throw in lots of 14-century lute music, random editing and one man's unconsummated romance with a Volkswagen, and you have the worst war movie I've ever seen, and probably one of the ten worst movies I've ever seen in a theater. And I've seen Brooke Shields in Endless Love!

I won't presume to say what my father or Mister Muleboy's believed they were fighting to protect when they served in World War II (both in the Pacific), but I'm pretty sure Castle Keep wasn't it.

My rating: 1 star (out of 5).


Beveridge D. Spenser said...

I think I get the idea. Would you say it fails to be Kelly's Heroes or more like King of Hearts?

Mythical Monkey said...

The initial set-up felt like it was going to be a Hammer Studio horror film and I thought the countess might turn out to be a vampire, but it didn't follow through, which made me think of soft core porn with the impotent count wanting his wife to sleep with Burt Lancaster, but everybody's clothes stay on, then it wanted to be King of Hearts but isn't nearly sharp enough, and it has moments of aspiring to be Kelly's Heroes, but it's not a comedy and there is no caper, and it wants to be The Train, debating the merits of art versus the necessities of war, but while they repeat that mantra, they never really get to the kernel of the argument, and it wants to be Sartre's No Exit but they lose their nerve and turn it into a standard shoot-em-up war movie, but the staging of that is generic and low budget (the castle was built out of styrofoam and caught fire in the middle of shooting).

It's a hodgepodge. Or maybe more charitably, an experiment at a time when directors were experimenting, but a misfire.

I haven't read the novel it's based on, but I imagine the writer thought he was doing Catch-22 one better ("I've read the existentialists, dammit!") without realizing that Catch-22 is masterpiece.

Which isn't to say I didn't thoroughly enjoy the experience of being at the theater with Mister Muleboy. He saw it on television as a 14 year old boy and remember it as being "weird" but also remembered the beauty in the gauzy gowns and the explosions at the end. Maybe he liked it better than I did, having some nostalgic good will banked up in its favor. But I'd never seen it and could only see it through the lens of the last 45 years.

Uncle Tom said...

so you're saying Burt Lancaster in an eye-patch isn't as good as Jack Klugman wearing an eye-patch.

How's that for an obscure "Odd Couple" reference?