ESCAPE FROM ZAHRAIN
(director: Ronald Neame; screenwriters: from the novel by Michael Barrett/Dudley Nichols/Robin Estridge; cinematographer: Ellsworth Fredricks; editor: Eda Warren; music: Lyn Murray; cast: Yul Brynner (Sharif), Sal Mineo (Ahmed), Jack Warden (Huston), Madlyn Rhue (Laila), Anthony Caruso (Tahar), James Mason (Johnson), Gregory Morton (Colonel), Leonard Strong (Ambulance Driver), Jay Novello (Hassan), Vladimir Sokoloff (Head Man of Village), Joseph Ruskin (Sheik); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ronald Neame; Paramount; 1962)
“The minor desert adventure film is slow paced and its story is uninspired, but it’s beautiful to look at, well-acted and competently made.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The minor desert adventure film is slow paced and its story is uninspired, but it’s beautiful to look at, well-acted and competently made. Directed in a formulaic way by Brit director Ronald Neame (“Hopscotch”/”Tunes of Glory”), it never reaches any dramatic heights though I found it most entertaining. It’s based on the novel by Michael Barrett and the acceptable screenplay is by Dudley Nichols and Robin Estridge. There’s a surprise cameo by James Mason, and I can’t even speculate as to why the famed actor would choose a small cameo as an oil worker in such a modest work unless he was a pal of his fellow Brit ex-pat.
In the fictional Middle-East Arab country of Zahrain, the Sheik (Joseph Ruskin) is bought off by an American oil company to allow them to steal the oil that belongs to the people of his country in exchange for him being richly paid off. The Sheik orders the jailed popular revolutionary leader Sharif (Yul Brynner), who objects to the oil deal, killed before he goes to trial and his message of revolution is further heard. But the police van escorting Sharif and the other prisoners is attacked by Sharif’s loyal supporters, led by the passionate 18-year-old student Ahmed (Sal Mineo), who free all the prisoners. Joining Sharif and Ahmed are the oil company American embezzler Huston (Jack Warden), the elderly weakling Arab convict Hassan (Jay Novello), and the untrusted homicidal madman killer Tahar (Anthony Caruso). After their escape vehicle is destroyed, Huston hijacks an ambulance and holds the Arab driver (Leonard Strong) and pretty Arab nurse, schooled in Europe, Laila (Madlyn Hrue), to be their hostages. The rebels hope to get Sharif across the frontier to a safe location by crossing the isolated Arabian desert, where the reasonable rational leader can collect himself to once again lead the revolution of the people.
Hassan is killed when the escapees go through a roadblock and are pursued by the militia. The escapees must deal with the perilous desert, the pursuing militia and their roadblocks, not enough gas to get them to the border and the militia airplanes shooting at them.
Topics pondered along the way are American colonialism, questions of Moslem identity, Third World poverty and political rule. The film takes its time to cut across the desert and seems more interested in the journey itself than in finding answers to the general questions it raises. But the film, even if not too realistic, is still quirky enough to make something of its ordinary story and left me thirsty for either more swashbuckling or more socio-political commentary or a looser Brynner.
REVIEWED ON 9/18/2017 GRADE: B