Directed by William Dieterle in 1949, Rope Of Sand stars Burt Lancaster as a hunting guide named Mike Davis who was hired by a man for a job which found them both trespassing on land owned by a diamond company that was rich with gems. Shortly after this discovery, Mike was severely beaten by a local police official named Paul Vogel (Paul Henreid) in hopes that he'd be able to extract the whereabouts of this land, but Mike didn't speak a word as to where it was located. Some time passes and Mike returns to South Africa and things get complicated when a man named Martingale (Claude Rains) hires a beautiful woman named Suzanne Renaud (Corinne Calvet) to get Mike to spill the beans.
Rope Of Sand starts off with a pretty sizeable bang that culminates with Henreid beating Lancaster's character quite severely in a surprisingly nasty scene that still packs a punch to this day. From there, however, the film runs into some pacing problems and turns into a slow moving and talky piece that, thankfully, finds its footing again in the last half hour or so. Even during the film's slower moments, however, there's enough to make this one worth a look. First and foremost is the cast. Lancaster is the perfect leading man in this film. He's handsome, he's dark and brooding, he's mysterious and he's tough. He fits the part well and his chemistry and rivalry with Henreid's sadistic power abusing police commandant is interesting and offers both of these fine actors a fair bit of good material to work with. On top of that, Lancaster's on screen relationship with Corinne Calvet (a gorgeous French actress unknown to US audiences before this film who would soon marry co-star John Bromfield who plays a guard in this picture) is fun and Calvet oozes sex appeal. A fun supporting performance from Peter Lorre as the aptly named Toady is welcome even if he doesn't add much to the film outside of his quirky screen presence, while Claude Rains delivers a typically dependable turn as well.
The film also looks great. It's very well shot and makes great use of some exotic looking sets and locations. Shadowy interiors help pile on the atmosphere and some smooth camera work is nicely complimented by Franz Waxman's sophisticated sounding score. On a surface level, Rope Of Sand is top notch stuff.
When you dig a little deeper, however, things don't hold up quite as well. There are some rather odd logic gaps in terms of how Lancaster's character deals with his foes. It seems unlikely that even if certain types are bent on returning to the scene of the crime that someone as intelligent as Mike would be so blatantly obvious about it. On top of that, during the big finish he opts not to use his gun but his fists and to 'fight like a man' when he could have been smart about things and used a gun to end his problem quickly - which seems like the type of decision his character would in fact make. There's some corny dialogue and hamfisted exchanges and all sorts of macho strutting throughout the film that make it hard to attach ourselves to it in the way that the filmmakers might have wanted.
Despite those flaws, however, Rope Of Sand turns out to be a pretty decent effort. If it's not a masterpiece it's still a pretty entertaining slice of classic Hollywood with an A list cast and some great production values.
Rope Of Sand looks very good in this 1.33.1 fullframe black and white transfer. While there's a healthy coat of grain present, as there should be, there aren't any problems with heavy dirt, debris or print damage. Contrast looks good and the disc is well authored, not showing any compression artifacts or edge enhancement issues of note. Detail is strong from start to finish and the quality of the picture makes it easy to appreciate the quality of the cinematography and the atmospheric lighting on display in the movie.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono isn't really anything to write home about but it sounds fine for what it is. If it's on the flat side, that's forgivable when you take the age of the picture into account. Generally it's clean and clear and free of any issues and you won't have any problems understanding the dialogue as the levels are properly balanced throughout.
Aside from a static menu offering chapter selection, there are no extra features on this disc at all.
A suspenseful and dramatic picture, Rope Of Sand is a well made film that makes good use of an excellent cast despite some rather obvious flaws. Olive's DVD looks great and sounds just fine and while this is a title that really could have used some extras, well, that didn't happen. At least the presentation is a good one and the disc comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.