Thursday, August 29, 2013

Martin Ritt tries his hand at acting

Martin Ritt is generally known for his work as a director, and of course that reputation is well deserved. Maximilian Schell, on the other hand, is known for his work as an actor, and that reputation is well deserved, too. However, the two switched roles for the movie The End of the Game. It's airing tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 PM on the Fox Movie Channel, with a couple more airings in September.

The movie starts with an expository scene set about 30 years in the past, in Istanbul just after the end of World War II. Hans Baerlach (Ritt) and Richard Gastmann (Robert Shaw) are two young Swiss men who are involved with a young lady. Gstmann lures the woman onto a bridge, where she either falls accidentally, or is pushed by him. Baerlach is convinced it's the latter, since he knows he saw it with his own eyes. However, he can't prove it, and for Gastmann, that's the point Gastmann returns to Switzerland and becomes a prominent businessman; Baerlach returns and becomes a police detective.

Fast forward 30 years. Baerlach has wanted to get Gastmann all this time, but has never been able to pin anything on him. Meanwhile, he's also developed some sort of illness that's probably a terminal case of stomach cancer, but the actual ailment is never actually named. A policeman gets killed in his private car not far from Gastmann's estate, and Baerlach is convinced that Gastmann is responsible. Obviously there has to be an investigation, and Baerlach is given younger detective Walter Tschanz (Jon Voight) as a partner to determine who the actual murderer is.

At this point the movie starts to get murky, and that's a shame since the movie is only about a third of the way through if that much. Tschanz visits the dead policeman's girlfriend, and Irishwoman named Crawley (Jacqueline Bisset) who seems to have gotten around. Tschanz proceeds to sleep with the woman he's supposed to be interviewing, even though this certainly must violate all sorts of police protocol. Baerlach gets the impression that Gastmann is still trying to torment him, which is of course true. Gastmann even arranges for another murder at the airport that Baerlach and Tschanz won't be able to solve. Meanwhile, the two detectives spar over their view of who killed the policeman.

All of this ought to lead to a really good movie, but instead what we get is just a mediocre mishmash. The plot has a lot to do with this; there often doesn't seem to get from point A to point B to point C, and the ending is even more wrong. Bisset isn't given much to do but is OK at it; Shaw and Voight are given more to do and are about as good as Bisset. Ritt, though, actually acquits himself quite well as an actor, portraying an extremely sympathetic character who knows fully well that he's dying, and dammit, he wants to solve this one last case and deal with his lifelong adversary. The film should be technically better, too, but then perhaps it only needs a restoration: FMC ran a pan-and-scan print the last time they showed the movie. The End of the Game was filmed on location in Switzerland, and ought to look lovely. But there's so much mist, and he panning-and-scanning makes everything look grainy.

There are two high points though. In addition to Ritt are two other men who aren't generally known as actors. One is Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt, who wrote the novel on which the movie is based. (He also wrote the play that was turned into the movie The Visit.) He plays "The Author". Even though it's a throwaway scene full of elliptical dialogue, it's nice to see the man show up on screen. The other is virtuoso violinist Pinchas Zuckerman, who is credited as "The Violinist". I think he only gets a couple of background scenes playing the violin, and not one line of dialogue. Another person it's nice to see doing his thing.

Amazon lists The End of the Game as having received a DVD release in Europe, but not in North America.

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