Rope of Sand (1944)

Rope of Sand is an action-adventure movie with film noir elements, featuring Burt Lancaster, who certainly was one of the film-noir kings of the 1940s.

Although it sometimes appears on lists of film noir titles, Rope of Sand isn’t urban, it isn’t psychological, it doesn’t feature much of those well-known shadowy cinematic elements, and its femme fatale turns on her heels fairly quickly, changing from a manipulative and greedy cheat, into a loving and caring amour, on the basis of a coup-de-foudre attack of love.

Corinne Calvet, who plays the femme fatale turned girl-next-door, Suzanne had an interesting, but rather unsatisfactory career. She made over thirty films, but the vast majority of people will have heard of none of them. 

And most actors who have worked for forty years in Hollywood will have been in at least one major production.

Corrine Calvet’s entrance in Rope of Sand is stunning, however. She vamps in and immediately attempts to abuse Claude Rains in the worst way possible ― tousling herself up after blagging her way into his hotel room, she announces that if he doesn’t give her money, she’ll say he raped her. 

When this doesn’t work, she reveals her true colours as a prostitute and then actually offers herself for money.

Corrine Calvet - nearly nude!

Corrine Calvet's near naked appearance is stunning, and the whole thing could not be more redolent of the dangers of sex ― much beloved of the film noir canon as a theme. Claude Rains carefully rebuffs her, but only to employ her in order to fox the hell out of Burt Lancaster, and cheat him out of his diamonds.

Suzanne Renaud: Of course, if you're a man of principle...

Fred Martingale: I take it you're quite experienced.

Suzanne Renaud: The German is brittle. The Frenchman cries l'amour! The American is hoping for the cavalry to come.

Fred Martingale: And what do Englishmen do?

Suzanne Renaud: They pay.

All of this aside, and despite its occasional lack of film noir chops, Rope of Sand is still enjoyable, and one of our favourites of the era. There is a sense of adventure, and there's real pain and sweat. On top of that, there's even a willingness in Rope of Sand to define South Africa by its racism, and right in the opening scene we see a native African man man being chased by trucks in the desert.

Burt Lancaster hulks and sulks in and out of shot, and the rest is entirely improbable, including the romance, and some of the tepid scenes. Yet, it somehow still thrills, and perhaps this is down to the terrific cast. 

Your other take away from Rope of Sand will be the immense sadism of Paul Henreid’s character Vogel, and the suffering of Burt Lancaster’s character Mike. And the two go hand in hand.

Paul Henreid - being the baddie.

It’s perpetual punishment in fact ― the desert is pure punishment, as are diamonds ― a fact reiterated again and again by Peter Lorre’s somewhat superfluous character ‘Toady’. 

What’s more, we find out that capitalism is in fact also punishment, with its hierarchies and demands. It is capitalism that has turned the Diamondstadt ‘Commandant’ Vogel into a violent brute who whips, beats and bullies his way through this world, abusing his power, missing only an SS uniform in fact.

The love of mineral wealth in fact made several great movies in this era, or at least good films, such as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

One of the best minor plot lines concerns the fact that this sadist yearns to enter the South African elite, and is rather callously and secretively denied this by smooth-talking Claude Rains. Rain’s character Martingale also proves that the higher you are in the scheme, the less trustworthy you are, and although he survives the piece intact ― as the elites often must ― he really is despicable underneath that ultra-gentlemanly front.

Peter Lorre makes a somewhat inconsequential appearance

Matinée Idol Number One

Lancaster and Jaffe

Calvet and Lancaster - credible at least

Star Of The Show?

Claude Rains in a manner of speaking wins the day. His cynicism is just what is called for in portraying the greed and ruthlessness required to make it to the top in a racist, loot-fuelled bitter capitalist grab for greed, or in this case diamonds. He not only holds the story together at times, but he actually has more than just the one dimension allotted to the other characters. 

Whipper Henreid

Then there is the whipping. Where better than in a Burt Lancaster film noir, to find such utter cruelty. He is whipped also in the film Kiss The Blood Off My Hands, released the year before. The action here is somewhat truncated and may have been longer and crueller in earlier cuts. What’s keenly obvious is that the true emotional bond in the Rope of Sans is not between Lancaster and Calvet but between Lancaster and Henreid.

It is a fascinating part for Paul Henreid. In one sense, the movie is part Casablanca-reunion ― but Paul Henreid is as about as far away from being the freedom fighter Victor Laszlo as you can get here.

Upside down whipping in ROPE OF SAND - Paul Henreid treats Burt Lancaster

Instead Paul Henreid is the brutal commander of the diamond police ― and yes ― the Union of South Africa did have such a force, with full police powers to protect one of the country's most valuable resources for the mine owners. 

You'll see this demonstrated also in Sands Of The Kalahari and Gold, both films set in apartheid South Africa ― as this is.


Burt Lancaster as Mike Davis

Paul Henreid as Vogel

Claude Rains as Martingale

Peter Lorre as Toady

Sam Jaffe as Dr. Hunter

John Bromfield as Thompson, a guard

Mike Mazurki as Pierson, a guard

"I went to bed with a 75mm for three years, but now I sleep alone."

No comments:

Post a Comment