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Rope of Sand

Posted by martinteller on November 23, 2012

“What’s going to happen once someone unties the knot that holds you together?”
“Maybe you’ll be around to pick up the pieces.”

Mike Davis (Burt Lancaster) is a hunter/guide in the South African desert.  One day, one of his clients wanders off into prohibited territory owned by a diamond mining company.  Mike finds him passed out on a bed of diamonds.  He hustles him out of there, not taking anything but the client has a fistful of the precious gems.  Paul Vogel (Paul Henreid), the commandant of the company police force, accuses Mike of stealing and tries to beat the location of his find out of him.  Now it’s two years later, and Mike is back to take what he was beaten for.  But the diamond company owner Martingale (Claude Rains) hires the seductive Suzanne (Corinne Calvet) to get the location of the diamonds out of him.

Noir in exotic locales rarely feels quite like noir.  Maybe it’s because noir is typically about characters taking actions outside the rules of society, and out in the wild, there are fewer rules.  So maybe this film is more an adventure thriller in the vein of To Have and Have Not and Casablanca.  It may have even been an attempt to capitalize on Casablanca‘s success to some degree… besides Henreid and Rains, Peter Lorre has a role.  He even gets an above-the-title credit, although he’s not in it very much.  Which is too bad, because he’s a delight, playing a shabby but erudite outsider character, charming in a way similar to his performance in Three Strangers.

But there are noir characteristics… a femme fatale, slippery morality, double-crosses, sharp dialogue.  And noir or not, it’s an entertaining film either way.  Although I wished for more Lorre, the rest of the cast is equally enjoyable.  Lancaster tough as nails, with the steely, vengeful determination reminiscent of I Walk Alone.  Henreid in a role so nasty and sadistic it’s hard to believe he’s the same guy who played the noble hero Victor Laszlo.  And Rains, utterly delighted at any opportunity to play people against each other, using his power and influence to amuse himself tampering with the lives of others.  Some complain about Calvet not being up to the task, but I thought she was adequate at the very least, not to mention stunning.  I enjoyed her about as much as anyone else in the picture.

The plot of the film is rather inconsequential and sometimes doesn’t quite add up, but it serves well enough as a sufficient prop for the fun performances and punchy dialogue.  We want to see Lancaster succeed because he’s been wronged and we want to see Henreid get what’s coming to him because he did the wronging.  The situations the characters get in and out of are not the cleverest of plot construction, but they do the job of putting different personalities together to see what sparks.

Trying not to give anything away here, but I do wonder how the ending of this movie isn’t considered a violation of the production code.  Rating: Good (78)


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