Monday, February 25, 2013

Reeling Backward: "The Betrayal" (1957)

It's a truism of mainstream movies that it's OK for the hero to get beat up and injured, but not permanently maimed. Once the protagonist is crippled, the audience changes their feelings for him/her. They're no longer identifying with him, but instead feel pity and possibly a tinge of disgust. Harsh, but true, especially about audiences back in 1957.

Even today, when there are so many mechanisms to help the disabled live full and satisfying lives, not to mention generally more positive attitudes toward them, people are terrified by the idea of losing a limb, their mental capacities, or their sight.

So the British film "The Betrayal" is somewhat daring in that its hero, Michael McCall, is a blind man who became blind after being shot by the Germans during an escape attempt from a POW camp. What's notable is that he's a blind man who's out for revenge. I think the fact that he's on a quest like this makes the character seem more virile and embraceable as a main character. The fact that's proactive and bold, rather than leaning on others because of his handicap, makes him somewhat to root for.

Needless to say, the movie also provides McCall with a beautiful young girl who falls head over heels for him in a matter of two days. While predictable, at least the script -- by Brian Clemens and Eldon Howard -- didn't have him magically regain his sight with a conk to the head at the end or something.

Ernest Morris directs with a heavy hand, in what is obviously what they would have called a B picture in the States. It essentially plays out as a crime procedural with a blind guy leading the investigation.

Philip Friend plays McCall, who has aristocratic manners and lots of confidence. Friend does a rather convincing job of playing an unsighted man, letting his gaze seem unfocused and wandering. It's no surprise that Janet Hillyer (American Diana Decker) at first doesn't realize he is blind. McCall eschews a white cane and dark sunglasses, tapping about with a regular cane like an English countryside squire.

McCall is after a British traitor who warned the Germans about the escape attempt he was organizing. All the other prisoners were killed, and Michael shot in the face and blinded. He spends the first couple of years after the war trying to locate his tormentor through the war crimes tribunal, but since he can't identify the man it's hopeless. He's convinced to undergo surgery to fix his scars, enters the perfume business with the help of a fellow vet and lets the matter drop.

Flash to 1957, and McCall overhears the voice of the man he's been seeking while on a business trip to Paris. The filmmakers quickly reveal that it is Bartel (Philip Saville), the head of the fashion company where Janet works as a model. We spend the rest of the movie playing catch-up as we wait for the intrepid duo to figure out that it's Bartel.

They spend much of the time working off a guest list to find the man, never thinking it was the man hosting the meeting rather than one of the people he invited. As detective work goes, it's more Laurel & Hardy than Hardy Boys.

"The Betrayal" is a rather ham-fisted affair, but the reason it fails isn't because the man at the center of the story can't see. I give it points for originality, but subtract them back for its obvious plot and gooey love story.

2 stars out of four

(Apologies ... the film is apparently obscure enough that I couldn't find any video clips or DVD links.)

1 comment:

  1. How were you able to find this film? Was there an electrified clay wall?