Review: Castle Keep

castle_keep_cov.jpgYear: 1969
Director: Sydney Pollack
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Patrick O’Neal, Peter Falk, Astrid Heeren, Jean-Pierre Aumont
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 44


During the winter of 1944, a small group of American soldiers hole up in an old castle and battle an overwhelming German advance.

Quick Review

Castle Keep deserves kudos for attempting to deliver a complex message in a war film, but deserves to be overlooked for its failure to accomplish its goals. The final battle can’t overcome the plodding, listless middle of the film.

Full Review

Castle Keep is a bizarre, wandering film. Half action film, half commentary on the nature of war, this film is one of Syndey Pollack’s weaker efforts. While I applaud the risks in making this more than a simple war castle_keep_1.jpgfilm, the execution never takes shape. We’re left with a plodding and ineffective allegory on the nature of war versus art.

The film starts of interestingly enough. A small contingent of World War II American soldiers, led by a hard-nosed Major Falconer (Burt Lancaster) has been assigned to a Belgian castle behind the front lines. A count (Jean-Pierre Aumont) and his gorgeous wife (Astrid Heeren) own the castle, which is laden with art treasures. Soon after settling in to the castle, the major learns that the Germans are planning a major offensive that will lead them right over the castle. So far, so good.

From this point on, though, we come to Castle Keep’s biggest problem: the choppy, sluggish middle of the film. Here the film gets stuck in a debate over whether the soldiers should retreat, thus saving the castle and its art from certain destruction, or hold the castle and face an equally certain death at the hands of the Germans. The film largely degenerates into a debate on the destructive nature of war versus the creative nature of art.

The thought did occur to me that perhaps I just missed many of the finer points of this movie, that perhaps I was too stupid to appreciate the complex commentary. After all, the philosophical script raises some thought-provoking questions on the nature of man. Also, there are some potentially interesting subplots weaving through the larger debate on the nature of war. For example, the count—who is impotent—allows Major Falconer to sleep with his wife in hopes of prolonging his family line. Told not to fall castle_keep_3.jpgin love with Falconer, the wife inexplicably falls for the brusque Major. Can we surmise that this symbolizes some sort of union between art as war and war as art, a theme which arises from time to time in the film?

But while these subplots and musings may have made the film into something more memorable, the film fails because it botches the execution. The loftly, artistic script overreaches itself. Humor scenes lack timing, and the philosophical lines are delivered with little impact. The subplots running through this portion of the film lack force as well. Too many scenes take too much time and go nowhere. Everything feels like a disjoint mess. The acting doesn’t help as well. Burt Lancaster does a decent job as a sharp inscrutable military mind, but the rest of the cast never reach their potential. Patrick O’Neal and Astrid Heerenn deserve particular mention for their ability to suck the energy out of their scenes. Even Peter Falk, who plays a baker turned soldier turned baker, disappoints. By the end, anything more profound that the film is trying to say gets lost in the jumble of slow.

The film does redeem itself with some loud, chaotic action at the end of the film, The climatic battle has castle_keep_2.jpgsome great explosions, some decent stunts, and ample ferocity. Yet here too the execution fails to impress. The timing of the battle gets lost, and much of the action is generic. Lastly—and you’ll know what I mean when you get to this point—what ever happened to the captured German tank?

The film does deserve points for trying to incorporate gorgeous women into a war film. We’ve got some fine looking prostitutes in the town, a striking baker’s wife, and the beautiful Astrid Heeren. However, Heeren is robotic in her role, and the other women don’t factor into the film enough to raise the rating much. From the hunk side of things, I suppose some of the soldiers were handsome enough, but an aging Burt Lancaster was not one of them.

In the end, Castle Keep deserves kudos for attempting to reach beyond a traditional war film, but deserves to be overlooked for its failure to accomplish its goals. The final battle can’t overcome the plodding, listless middle of the film.

Fun Fact

The castle set blew up and burned to the ground during filming. Portions of the set burning are shown in the film.

Pace: 43
Plot: 36
Action: 48
Consistent Premise: 62
Script/Quotes: 41
Characters: 53
Acting: 55
Villain: 43
Body Count: 72
Time to First Dead Body: 16 minutes, 00 seconds
Babes: 57
Hunks: 36
Explosions: 78
Special Effects: 18
Stunts: 57
Ending: 71

Overall: 44 (Muddled Middle Messes Up Movie)

[tags]Castle Keep, war film, Sydney Pollack, Burt Lancaster, Patrick O’Neal, Peter Falk, Astrid Heeren, Jean-Pierre Aumont, movie review[/tags]

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