Friday, February 13, 2015

Love or War

Can professional passion coexist with romantic love? A man of the former finds the latter to be a bit twisted up to disastrous results in 1935's World War I adventure film The Last Outpost. An engaging melodrama with wonderful location footage if one can get past its somewhat dubious historical perspective. This is made a lot easier by its stars, Claude Rains and Cary Grant.

Eleven years before they would star together in Notorious, The Last Outpost in some ways feels like a rough draft of the relationship between the two men in the Hitchcock masterpiece. But Rains is a much more heroic figure in The Last Outpost and almost all of the complexity of Grant's character comes from Grant's performance. Set during World War I, the first of the film's two acts takes place in the Middle East where Kurds are trying to stage an invasion of India. We're introduced to the young British officer Michael Andrews (Grant) just as he's been captured, dragged through the dirt by his tied hands from the horse of a Kurdish officer played by Claude Rains.

Except he's not a Kurdish officer but a British agent who gives his name only as "Smith" after he rescues Andrews. Andrews takes most things in stride though his horror at the Kurds executing a dozen civilians feels genuine.

Smith informs him that his base has fallen to the enemy and that the two of them must take on the impossible task of moving an entire village out of the way of a Kurdish attack in a matter of days. A sequence of Smith moving an entire community from a desert village over a snowy mountain range has a lot of effective footage, including a shot of Rains personally carrying a lamb into a river.

Smith earns Andrews' admiration with his unwavering commitment to his goal. Smith, meanwhile, is somewhat flustered at times by Andrews' unabashed respect even as he feels some distaste for the way Andrews flirts with one of the married women of the village. The second half of the film, which takes place in Cairo and central Africa, becomes more truly a melodrama and uses the unlikely coincidences of the mode to push the theme of contrast between Smith, a man whose devotion to his duty has made him violent and unable to connect with a woman even as he desperately needs her love, and Andrews whose easy going nature has allowed him to make such a connexion.

Twitter Sonnet #716

Magenta feathers choke Slimer at night.
The sleeping curtains do reclaim the breeze.
But sand reveals the marathon's a blight.
The coy heaven's hot milk belies all ease.
Solar flare fingers detach on the lathe.
Dragon fruit baskets lay alone at dusk.
Off'rings cooling slow for the unknown wraith.
Elephant tracings appear on the husk.
Tight bracelet graveyard lunches lay untouched.
Plaintive palm tree shadows refrain from speech.
An errant pearl by reed or twig was clutched.
Seashell sepulchres lined the turquoise beach.
Shoe lace tracks imply something unnoticed.
Step ranks presage a pantheon harvest.

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