Saturday, April 21, 2012

Film Review: The Purple Plain (1954)

Gregory Peck in one of my all time favorite films.
Photo Courtesy of
TCMDb: A blinded Canadian flier has to find his way through World War II Burma.

   The Purple Plain is another one of Gregory Peck's movies that is just totally forgotten when his long and full filmography is being combed through. It was made right after last week's Gregory Peck essential, The Man with a Million. My feelings about The Man with a Million is exactly how I feel about The Purple Plain, and perhaps even more so.
     Based off the novel of the same name by H.E. Bates, the film in itself is, to me, an oddity. I say this because while there is action, it's more of a psychological action film, and then toward the last half of the film, a psychological survival of the fittest action film.
     While there are other actors that could have pulled this kind of film and role perfectly well, I do not believe that many could have done it as well or better than Gregory Peck. I say this because Gregory was such an intelligent man, he valued knowledge, and he liked to learn. I do not know how he felt about this role, or how many others feel about it, but Leonard Maltin, Director Martin Scorsese, and I all agree that it's a fine film with Maltin saying: "Absorbing Eric Ambler scripted drama of love, loss, and survival during World War II, charting the plight of disaffected pilot Peck . . ." Scorsese saying in the April Highlights on TCM: "Peck's performance takes on a genuinely spiritual dimension, and he is absolutely mesmerizing." I say: Ditto to both.
Flight Commander Bill Forrester
and Anna.
Photo Courtesy of
     Besides the fact that Gregory is mesmerizing in this film another added benefit is the actress Win Min Than, who plays Anna, Gregory's love interest. This is her only film, but even so, her beauty is undeniable. While the novel, which is my favorite book that I've read so far, is slightly more sexual than the movie, (and by that I mean all they do is kiss which they don't do at all in the film) the attraction between the two leads is like a slow burning ember: the heat is there, it's strong enough for it to be noticed, and it's constant. I find that I really like this. It's a different change of them being all over each other, or of them first hating each other. It's a soft kind of loving; very nice, indeed.
     As was The Man with a Million, The Purple Plain was filmed on location, but this time in Sigaria, Ceylon which is now Sri Lanka. The terrain is quite beautiful, and, as it apparent throughout the whole picture, extremely hot. I can only wonder how extremely tiring this shoot was, and how much it physically demanded of all of the actors because of the heat.
Maurice Denham as Blore.
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Bernard Lee as Dr. Harris.
Photo Courtesy of 
     Though I don't know too many British actors, I do know that the main ones in The Purple Plain had to be some of the best. Maurice Denham who plays Blore, a man who's all talk but no action, and, in the end, a hypocrite, was fantastic. I disliked Blore intensely, but I liked Denham. He was a fine supporting player, and was the exact antithesis of Gregory's Forrester. I also really enjoyed the acting of Bernard Lee who played Dr. Harris, the one man who knows that Gregory really isn't such a terrible guy at all.
      There's one scene in The Purple Plain that got to me. Forrester finds a little Burmese boy (or girl, I can't quite tell) teasing a lizard. The boy is blocking the lizard's escape though the lizard isn't trying to escape because it's afraid for it's life. Forrester sits down and watches. Dr. Harris comes up on him and asks him if he would like to take a trip with him to a Burmese Christian community. "Really nice people," he says. "Very interesting. Pure Burmese. They speak English. I buy fruit from them."
     "Well, you bring me back a nice cold melon, would you?" Forrester replies sarcastically.
     Dr. Harris catching sight of the little boy "playing" with the lizard asks, "What's this?"
     "Kill or not to kill, that's all. That's--" Forrester stars to say, but stops at the sound of a loud SMACK! Dr. Harris looks over at the boy and sees him poke his finger at the now dead lizard.
     All he and Forrester can do is stare. Finally, Dr. Harris turns to him and says, "Strange how fascinating death can be, isn't it?"
     Indeed it is. This small scene is a big key to the film. It may not seem that way at first, but it really is.
     The Purple Plain is a small film in Gregory's filmography, but one that should definitely be seen. It's a fascinating film that probes into the psyche of a man's mind, and how he learns to deal with a harrowing experience in his life to overcome that of another. I give this film 3.5/4 stars.


azw596 said...

Having read hundreds of H.E.Bates' short stories over the years, I've now put this novel on my "To Read" list, seeing that you describe it as your favourite book that you've read so far! The film of course has also been added to my "To Watch" list! Many, many thanks for this and all of your excellent reviews on this fascinating blog!

Spencer Healy said...

Watching it Tonight.