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Time Without Pity

Time Without Pity
Home Vision
1957 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame / 85 min. / Street Date March 30, 2004 / 19.95
Starring Michael Redgrave, Leo McKern, Ann Todd, Peter Cushing, Alec McCowen, Lois Maxwell, Richard Wordsworth, Joan Plowright
Cinematography Freddie Francis
Production Designer Reece Pemberton
Art Direction Bernard Sarron
Film Editor Alan Osbiston
Original Music Tristram Cary
Written by Ben Barzman from a play by Emlyn Williams
Produced by John Arnold, Leon Clore, Anthony Simmons
Directed by Joseph Losey

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Joseph Losey's first English movie bearing his real name was written by another famous blacklistee, under his real name as well. Ben Barzman (Christ in Concrete) later became known for his epic screenplays for Anthony Mann and others (El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire, The Heroes of Telemark, The Blue Max) but here tackles a crackling suspense tale, the kind of story with a ticking deadline built-in. Losey's direction barely keeps the lid on the hysteria of a man going crazy because he doesn't have enough time to save his son from the gallows.


Fresh from an alcoholic asylum, David Graham (Michael Redgrave) returns to London to find that his son Alec (Alec McCowen) has been convicted of murder and is due to be hung the following morning. His lawyer (Peter Cushing) has given up and nobody will talk to him, but thanks to the helpful Stanfords, Graham tries to get witnesses to talk. Honor Stanford is an anti capital punishment advocate and her big-businessman husband Robert (Leo McKern) makes a show of wanting to help get Alec freed, but David begins to think both are somehow implicated in the framing of his son. Under the pressure, David starts to drink again, jeopardizing his slim chances of saving Alec.

Joseph Losey's last American films were definitely films noir, and this English production carries on as if nothing had changed in six years. There's a definite social edge to the proceedings, as Barzman's story implicates the state as uncaring about a railroaded young man and contemptuous of his alcoholic father. The villain turns out to be an arrogant industrialist of course, a powerful man who abuses his authority.

But the main thrill of Time Without Pity is the script's tight hold on a tension that never lets up. Clocks stick out at us from everywhere (one woman has a room filled with alarm clocks) to remind us that time is slipping away. David Graham has every reason to go off his rocker - barely ambulatory after another drinking binge, he's rejected by most everyone he meets, including his poor son who can barely hold himself together. A fast succession of characters reject David out of hand - a showgirl (Joan Plowright) who was close to the murdered girl, a suspicious landlady (Renee Huston) and an attractive woman who was promoted at the Stanford motor works soon after the murder (Lois Maxwell of the James Bond movies).

The fact that the real murderer is fairly obvious doesn't mitigate the suspense. David's suspicions prove nothing, and even the sympathetic Honor Stanford (Ann Todd) is too frightened or demoralized to help him in the open. It's up to David to solve the problem, to clear his son's name and somehow win back his self-respect. His solution is pretty extreme, the stuff of macabre tales.

Detractors of director Losey's later and more self-conscious movies (The Servant, Modesty Blaise, Accident) often point to Time Without Pity as an example of his better work. That's not entirely fair, as Losey's so-called pretentious films later on were brave enough to dispose of the crutch of an identifiable genre. Time Without Pity has the slightly overboiled, hysterical tone of much of his earlier work from The Prowler to These Are The Damned. When Losey's heroes lose their cool, they really lose it. Losey critics often point to weaknesses that run through his pictures and like to remind us that a film like These Are The Damned is "laughable" because audiences find certain scenes amusing. In Time Without Pity the new "Stanford" motorcar Leo McKern is testing is obviously just a late-model Mercedes-Benz sports car, there mainly because there was no budget to even make a stab at something original. Losey surrounds the car's test track with an eerie field of statuary, continuing a through-line of theatrical decor imposed on realistic settings that pervades much of his work.

Michael Redgrave's tormented drunk takes over the show. David Graham is sort of a sympathetic variation on the psycho ventriloquist of Dead of Night twelve years earlier. Graham is humiliated but stands firm. He seems so fragile as an alcoholic that his resolve to justify his existence as a man and a father is nothing short of Homeric. Leo McKern is less interesting as the bluffing, bossy company owner, but handles his dialogue especially well. Ann Todd's role doesn't seem completely clear - why does she not speak out with what she knows? Peter Cushing's lawyer is meant to be ineffective. That doesn't allow him to play to his strengths, so his effect is muted as well. However, Alec McCowen (A Night to Remember, Travels with My Aunt) makes a permanent impression as the haunted man whose time is running out, Lois Maxwell is suitably venal, and Joan Plowright (later to marry Laurence Olivier) is both cruel and sensitive as a woman who blames the wrong man. In a transparent scene about capital punishment, the great Richard Wordsworth (The Quatermass Xperiment) plays an inquisitive member of parliament.

Home Vision Entertainment's DVD of Time Without Pity is a good disc but not as terrific as most of their other UK offerings. The non-enhanced transfer is on the soft and light side, and only looks right when cropped off to 1:78 on a widescreen monitor. The sound is good but also not pristine; this show must be sourced differently than most of the other HVe offerings.

Included as an extra is Joseph Losey's first film, an ambitious (and also rather hysterical) industrial film about the virtues of oil called Pete Roleum and his Cousins. It's a bizarre color two-reeler that uses extensive stop-motion animation to bring to life a score of unpleasant little oil-drop characters. Its weird design scheme is like Theodore Geisel on LSD and it includes a number of surreal musical sequences. It's not exactly entertaining, or even effective, but for strangeness, it takes the cake.

The package design and disc menuing are handsome. This is the first HVe disc I've seen with liner notes by the label's in-house film critic, Wheeler Winston Dixon. He nails the significance and unique flavor of Time Without Pity in a few efficient paragraphs.

The cover picture is the image that predates and seems to be the inspiration for the famous jailhouse visual composition in Akira Kurosawa's High and Low.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Time Without Pity rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: Joseph Losey short industrial film Pete Roleum and his Cousins
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 22, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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