Castle Keep (1969)

Genres - War  |   Sub-Genres - War Adventure  |   Run Time - 108 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Nathan Southern

Directed by Sydney Pollack, who was tapped to helm the project by friend and star Burt Lancaster, Castle Keep is a confusing, pretentious mess. The premise, of a half-mad one-eyed WWII major (Lancaster) who holes up with his men in a treasure-laden fortress and prepares to take on the Nazis, sounds enticing. And Pollack and producers Martin Ransohoff and John Calley assembled a game cast, including not only Lancaster but also Peter Falk, a pre-Hill Street Blues Michael Conrad, Jean-Pierre Aumont and Patrick O'Neal. Certainly, everything looks decadent, too, shot as it was in the Yugoslavian countryside by master cinematographer Henri Decae (Les Amants). So what went wrong? Well, to begin with, this adventure operates on the strange, alien landscape of cerebral allegory, yet doesn't define any of the symbolism adequately enough to stay coherent. Back in 1969, many fans of William Eastlake's source novel - a blackly comedic, Catch-22 like tale of military insanity - swore by the genius of this screen adaptation, lauding the literary faithfulness of Pollack and master scribes David Rayfiel and Daniel Taradash. The remainder of viewers were likely bewildered by the impenetrability of what plays out onscreen, and stayed away in droves. There are a few diverting scenes, such as Falk's opportunistic (and humorous) affair with a baker's wife; otherwise, the film is a dud. Castle Keep predictably bombed, but merely a few months later, Pollack's searing drama They Shoot Horses, Don't They? hit theaters, swept up Oscar nominations, and cinched the director's reputation.