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FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE (director: Joseph Losey; screenwriters: Robert Shaw/based on a novel by Barry England; cinematographers: Henri Alekan/Peter Suschitzky/Guy Tabary; editor: Reginald Beck; music: Richard Rodney Bennett; cast: Robert Shaw (MacConnachie), Malcolm McDowell (Ansell), Pamela Brown (Widow), Henry Woolf (Helicopter Pilot), Christopher Malcolm(Helicopter Observer), Roger Lloyd-Pack (Soldier),Andrew Bradford (Soldier), Warwick Sims(Soldier); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Kohn; CBS/Fox Video-PAL format DVD; 1970-UK)
Pretentious and murky thriller that is filled with symbols.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s based on the 1968 novel by Barry England, and reworked by star Robert Shaw. American exile Joseph Losey (“The Prowler”/”The Sleeping Tiger”/”The Big Night”), living in England, directs this pretentious and murky thriller that is filled with symbols.It might be good to look at, every mise en scène is a sight to behold, but the story is slight and the characters are too sketchy for us to be fully drawn to them.

In the summer, two English prisoners escape from an unnamed European country’s prison (supposedly set in Spain) and while handcuffed and in prison garb trek through the rugged desolate terrain pursued by a dogged helicopter pilot and soldiers on the ground. The middle-aged married family man is the unpleasant know-it-all brutish prisoner, MacConnachie (Robert Shaw), a man of instinctual responses constantly berates the more rational twenty-something former London department store clerk Ansell (Malcolm McDowell) to keep up with him or else he’ll leave him.The two are always antagonistic, for whatever unexplained reason, but cling to each other out of desperation.

We never learn why the seemingly apolitical prisoners were arrested in a seemingly totalitarian country, and why the locals help them get rifles, food, and clothes. After most of the film is spent watching the escapees dodge the stalking helicopter in a cat-and-mousegame, the men, now free from being bound, reach the snowy mountain-top frontier. Ansell chooses to safely cross over to another country, while Mac loses his life shooting it out with the helicopter pilot.

It’s never clear what the allegory means. It could be about a hopeless world situation, the survival of the fittest, a lesson in attaining manhood, about the corruption of mankind or whatever. It plays out like a Kafka nightmare story.Too much of the film was too elusive for me to get into it, or really care what it was supposed to be about.It’s a pic one can get lost in just as easily as the escapees were lost in the landscape. That the long-winded, hamstrung, puzzling pic somehow works for the viewer who can rid himself of his sense of disbelief, is the most positive claim I can make about its results.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”