Castle Keep [1969]

Released to mixed reviews in 1969, Castle Keep now qualifies as a potent allegory for the insanity of the Vietnam War. In that respect it belongs in the same category as better-known anti-war films of the period including Little Big Man and The Wild Bunch, and director Sydney Pollack (who scored his breakthrough hit later that year with They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) deftly straddles a stylistic line between old-school Hollywood and the emerging counterculture epitomized by Easy Rider. He also gets a memorably off-kilter performance from Burt Lancaster (who had been instrumental in launching Pollack's directorial career), the young-looking Tony Bill (who later became a successful producer-director), and especially Peter Falk, who would soon gain TV fame as Columbo. As American soldiers occupying a richly-appointed medieval castle in the Ardennes Forest near the end of World War II, they're a M*A*S*H-like bunch of military misfits (including Bruce Dern as a conscientious objector) engaged in a microcosm of occupational warfare as German troops draw closer. The ending is uncompromisingly bleak, reflecting the futility of Vietnam with long-lasting resonance. From a latter-day perspective, Castle Keep is a bold hybrid of large-scale WWII action and political statement, which may explain why such high-profile filmmakers as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese campaigned for this glorious widescreen DVD after the earlier release of an inferior full-screen version. --Jeff Shannon

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