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Long and the Short and the Tall, The (1960)


Main image of Long and the Short and the Tall, The (1960)
DirectorLeslie Norman
Production CompanyMichael Balcon Productions
 Associated British Picture Corporation
ProducerMichael Balcon
ScreenplayWolf Mankowitz
 Frederic Gotfurt
 T.J Morrison
Director of PhotographyErwin Hillier

Cast: Laurence Harvey (Private Bamforth); Richard Harris (Corporal Johnstone); Richard Todd (Sergeant Mitchem); Ronald Fraser (Lance-Corporal Macleish); David McCallum (Private Whitaker)

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A group of British servicemen, fighting the Japanese in the jungles of South-East Asia during World War II, confront the enemy within when class tensions and personal rivalries erupt.

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Willis Hall was a comparatively unknown playwright when his play was produced at the Edinburgh Festival fringe in 1955, where it was seen by Michael Balcon. Balcon, now working at the Elstree studios of the Associated British Picture Corporation, following the sale of Ealing Studios, made Hall an offer for the film rights. Theatre producer Oscar Lewenstein, however, offered Hall a London production provided that the film rights were unsold.

The play transferred to London's West End, where it became a huge success. The then little-known Peter O'Toole played Bamforth. Balcon recounts in his autobiography how he eventually secured the film rights, in conjunction with ABPC. Experienced screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz adapted the play, retaining some of Hall's own draft screenplay, and the film was directed by Leslie Norman.

Even Balcon had to admit that the result was disappointing. The political situation at that time precluded filming the exteriors on real South-East Asian locations, and the studio jungle looks unconvincing. By alternating interior shots with exterior 'action', the claustrophobia and much of the suspense of the play is lost.

Worst of all was the casting of Bamforth, the central role. Balcon had wanted either O'Toole, or another up-and-coming young actor called Albert Finney. This was unacceptable to the Americans, who had put up some of the money and wanted a 'name' that would play in the American market. Laurence Harvey was cast - a most unlikely Cockney . He gives a 'star' performance, all "professional mimicry and forceful personality selling", as the Monthly Film Bulletin review put it. Only Kenji Takaki, playing the Japanese scout Tojo, survived from the London stage production. Alongside experienced British film actor Richard Todd, however, the cast boasted some names that would soon become household - Richard Harris and David McCallum.

The British army in the Far East was a popular film subject, especially in the 1950s, and was also treated memorably in Peter Nichols' Privates on Parade (d. Michael Blakemore, 1982). Class tensions and personality clashes among servicemen were also the subject of John McGrath's The Bofors Gun (d. Jack Gold, 1968).

Janet Moat

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Extract 2 (3:35)
Extract 3 (5:27)
Original poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Harris, Richard (1933-2002)
Harvey, Laurence (1927-1973)
Hillier, Erwin (1911-2005)
Norman, Leslie (1911-1993)
Film and Theatre: 1960s