Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fear and Desire

Directed, shot, and edited by Stanley Kubrick and written by Howard Sackler, Fear and Desire is the story about a group of soldiers caught behind enemy lines as they try to evade the enemy. The film is Kubrick’s feature film debut as it explores the idea of war from the perspective of soldiers. Starring Frank Silvera, Paul Mazursky, and Kenneth Harp. Fear and Desire is a film that has a lot of potential but is hampered by a weak story.

Four soldiers have just crash-landed from their plane six miles behind enemy lines as they figure out how to evade the enemy. Leading the pack is Lt. Corby (Kenneth Harp) as he’s joined by Sgt. Mac (Frank Silvera), Pvt. Fletcher (Stephen Coit), and a young private named Sidney (Paul Mazursky). Realizing there’s a house nearby where the enemy general lives in, the men try to figure out what to do as Sgt. Mac wants to infiltrate and kill the general though Lt. Corby thinks they should hide from the enemy and get back to friendly land. On their way to safer ground, the soldiers encounter a young woman (Virginia Leith) as they capture her where Sidney has to watch while the rest go scouting. Something goes wrong forcing Lt. Corby to do something that could help them escape from the enemy.

The film is essentially the story about soldiers trying to evade the enemy behind enemy lines as they all figure out how to survive. It’s a film set in a fictional world where it is about survival. Howard Sackler’s screenplay keeps things simple but some of the characterization and situations really lets the story down as a whole. Particularly as Pvt. Sidney is a young man with mental issues as his character becomes very annoying. Then there’s the third act where the enemy is revealed where it adds a surrealistic point of view that is later followed by an overdrawn ending that is unsure how to end the film.

Stanley Kubrick’s direction does have a lot of interesting imagery in the way he frames his actors in close-ups and medium shots. Despite the lackluster screenplay he has to work with, Kubrick makes up for it with his approach to lighting in many of the scenes in the exterior along with some eerie moments in the nighttime interior and exterior setting as he serves as the film’s cinematographer as well as doing the editing and sound. While Kubrick is able to create some amazing images that he would later shape in his later work. He isn’t as successful when it comes to directing actors as some of the performances don’t translate well due to the script. Kubrick does manage to utilize a lot of stylistic approaches to editing including an attack scene and create an atmosphere with some of the sound effects. The overall work reveals a young filmmaker who is just trying to hone his craft in a film that is interesting but somewhat forgettable.

Art director Herbert Lebowitz does nice work with the few set pieces such as the houses that the soldiers encounter. The film’s music by Gerald Fried is pretty good for the sense of drama that occurs in its orchestration along with its suspenseful moments. The film’s cast is quite good for the most part as it features a very memorable performance from Virginia Leith as the silent girl captured by the soldiers. Paul Mazursky is OK as the young Pvt. Sidney though he over does it in a moment where he tries to entertain the girl. Stephen Coit is decent as the more professional Pvt. Fletcher while Frank Silvera is wonderful as the more grizzled Sgt. Mac. Kenneth Harp is really good as Lt. Corby who tries to deal with everything that is happening while ensuring that everyone makes it out alive.

Fear and Desire is a watchable but lackluster debut film from Stanley Kubrick. While the film does feature some interesting visual settings that would become part of Kubrick’s trademark as a filmmaker. It’s a film that only his fans would want to seek out to see how the young Kubrick would start out. In the end, Fear and Desire is an OK but underwhelming film from Stanley Kubrick.

Stanley Kubrick Films: Killer's Kiss - The Killing - Paths of Glory - Spartacus - Lolita - Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb - 2001: A Space Odyssey - A Clockwork Orange - Barry Lyndon - The Shining - Full Metal Jacket - Eyes Wide Shut

Related: Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures - The Auteurs #18: Stanley Kubrick

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