Friday, June 21, 2013

The Winston Affair

Robert Mitchum is known for playing tough guys on screen. Lawyers? Well, not so much. But he did play a military defense attorney in the movie Man in the Middle, which is coming up at 1:25 PM tomorrow on the Fox Movie Channel.

The movie starts off in late 1944 at a British military base someplace in India, which was as far east as the Empire went before you reached areas occupied by the Japanese, making it a somewhat important theater in the war. Keenan Wynn plays US Lieutenant Winston, enters one of the barracks on the base, and... shoots one of the British solders dead! In cold blood, no less! The British are obviously irritated by this to no end. In the name of British-American relations, it would be a good thing from the British point of view if the Americans just found Winston guilty and hanged him. Indeed, it's no secret that Winston did it, but there's a problem. Winston has a brother-in-law who is a US Representative, and that brother-in-law is raising a stink over all the proposed defense attorneys the military has nominated for the case (remember, military justice works differently from civilian justice). Also, Winston himself seems to be curiously detached from all the proceedings going on around him, as if he doesn't really care what happens to him.

Enter Robert Mitchum. He plays Lt. Col. Barney Adams, who had been an attorney in civilian life but is now a career soldier. However, he was injured over in the European theater and has been recuperating for months, so he's not really any good to the military as a soldier. However, he would be good as Winston's defense counsel. So, he's been flown out to India to take on the case, even though he's not particularly thrilled with the idea. But, orders are orders. So Adams stars investigating to try to build a defense.

As Adams investigates, something seems not quite right. Winston's indifference over what happens to him is one thing. Perhaps more importantly, it seems to Adams as if everything is wrapped up in a little too neat a bow. It's almost as if there's some sort of conspiracy between the American commanding officer (Barry Sullivan) and the British to keep information from Adams to get the case over with a conviction. Adams comes to believe that perhaps Winston is insane, considering Winston's views on other races and international cooperation. Adams' belief is buttressed by his experience with Kaufman (Sam Wanamaker), a psychologist at the hospital where Winston was first examined. Kaufman believes Winston is insane, but his medical report is shelved, and he's sent off to a remote base, presumably to keep him from testifying.

Man in the Middle is serviceable, if not great. Robert Mitchum does a very good job, as does Keenan Wynn. But the trial itself seems a bit contrived, and the other cast members aren't given enough to do. I thin this is particularly displayed by the fact that I haven't had any reason until now to mention the two biggest names behind Mitchum. Trevor Howard plays the commander of the base where the murder happened, who has psychological experience but has been shunted off to the backwater base because of his incompetence, while France Nuyen plays Wanamaker's nurse, a character you wonder if she's supposed to be trying to have a romantic involvement with Mitchum. What in her character didn't get translanted from the original story to the screen?

Man in the Middle has received a DVD release, although I'm not certain whether it's still in print.

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