Tag Archives: Willis Goldbeck

Ten Tall Men (Willis Goldbeck, 1951)

Ten Tall Men Poster

Burt Lancaster, at peak handsomeness and in glorious Technicolor. There’s a bathtub scene whose only function is to display his body. The torture scene later on in the film has other functions, but it’s primary one is still to display that body. He’s already doing his Fairbanks-Flynn homage —soon to become a signature of his and catnip to comedians and impersonators – where he puts his hands on his hips, pushes his blond head-backward, juts his gleaming teeth forward and emits that joy-sparking laugh of his. There’s boys’ own action and light-hearted fun but it’s all a bit clunky, inconsequential and Orientalist.

It was well reviewed upon first release, with Time making a pun of its filmic lineage: ‘Ten Tall Men, a tall adventure tale of the French Foreign Legion, treats its old formula so lightheartedly that it becomes the beau jest of the genre.’ Newsweek’s review gets more at why it’s a bit harder to stomach today: ‘Lancaster’s persistent ingenuity in topping the natives might bring the film some hard feeling in the Sahara; elsewhere there is fun to be had.’ [1]

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According to Kate Buford, ‘Lancaster would remember Rope of Sand (William Dieterle, 1949) as the worst film of his career.’ [2] But he must have been forgetting Ten Tall Men; and he had no one to blame but himself. It was produced by Norma Productions, his own production company. That it was relatively well reviewed and made money must have aided the forgetting.

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Of all Burt Lancaster films released theatrically to 1985, there were only two I could not get on physical media, Ten Tall Men (Willis Goldbeck, 1951) and Vengeance Valley (Richard Thorpe, 1951), though the latter at least is available to stream on Prime. Watching the film, one understands why, though I must admit, I still enjoyed it more than I should. Handsome Burt laughing with pals doing physical action goes a long way with me. There is a version on youtube, which was too blurro-vision past a certain size for me to watch so I am indebted to Sheldon Hall for the loan of his copy.

 

José Arroyo

[1] Ed Andreychuk, Burt Lancaster: A Filmography and Biography London: McFarland and Company, 2000, p. 58

[2] Kate Buford, Burt Lancaster: An American Life, Loc 1802 of 10551 on Kindle.