Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Hill by Ray Rigby

This is a movie I remember seeing when I was a kid, and which I was delighted to find on DVD. It was Sean Connery's first attempt to break away from his James Bond persona. 

And it was successful enough to get screened at the Cannes Film Festival. That recognition was well deserved. Connery is very impressive in it — indeed, The Hill is impressive all around.

It's an uncompromising story of brutality and the struggle for dominance in a British prison camp in North Africa in World War 2. 

Now, there's no shortage of prisoner of war movies, but The Hill is unique as far as I know in depicting a punishment camp, i.e. a camp run by British soldiers for other British soldiers who have transgressed in some fashion.

The Hill of the title is a structure which has been deliberately built in the middle of the parade ground to provide a gruelling ordeal for the prisoners who are marched up and down it under the blazing desert sun.

The film is shot in beautifully gritty black and white by Oswald Morris using an amazingly mobile camera. Morris worked extensively with John Huston, shot Lolita for Stanley Kubrick and won a BAFTA for his work on The Hill.

The film is written by Ray Rigby won both the Cannes Film Festival Award and the Writers' Guild Award for his script and was further nominated for a BAFTA (he lost to Frederick Raphael for Darling). 

The film is credited as being based on a stage play by Ray Rigby and some chap called R.S. Allen. This is all a bit mysterious because Rigby was a British TV writer with extensive credits, including the very first episode of the original black & white Avengers.

Rigby gets sole screenplay credit on the movie, wrote an excellent novel based on the same material and actually spent time in field punishment detention centres which provided him with the experience to write such a convincing and powerful drama.

Which leaves us with the question, who the hell is R.S. Allen? According to IMDB and Wikipedia, he's an American who wrote TV shows like The Flintstones. 

Now, it's not impossible that this is the guy in question, but I think it's more likely it's a further example of the internet thinking two people with the same, or similar, names are the same person. (I am often said to be Andrew Cartmell. I am not. He's a perfectly nice fellow and very talented. But I am not him.)

So, without airbrushing R.S. Allen out of history, let's celebrate the work of Ray Rigby. And also Sidney Lumet, a very talented American who does a wonderful job of directing this film.

The Hill was shot in the Spanish desert in AndalucĂ­a, which provides a very convincing substitute for North Africa. And the cast is impeccable. They all deserve praise... 

But I'm going to single out Ossie Davis, a distinguished African American actor (he also directed Cotton Comes to Harlem, the father of all Blaxploitation movies). In The Hill he does a very creditable job of portraying a West Indian soldier, convincing accent and all.

This movie still packs quite a punch today, with its depiction of cruelty and savagery in a military institution and the abrupt, remorseless ending is a knockout.

It's a reminder of a time when movies had achieved a maturity which often seems lost in our current era of comic book blockbusters.

(Image credits: The vertical yellow poster is from Imp Awards. The horizontal black and white poster is from Ian Hendry official tribute site. The hilarious Australian poster featuring an almost totally irrelevant belly dancer is also from there. The horizontal red poster is from YouTube. The green vertical poster is from Ice Poster. The red vertical ditto. The DVD cover is from Amazon. The horizontal yellow poster is from Sombrero Books, also linked above, which has a very useful article about Ray Rigby. Thanks guys.)


  1. It's hard to decide whether it's this or whether it's The Offence which is Connery's best work. Tellingly, both films are by Lumet. It's a close call and it's a joy to see Connery actually act.

  2. How true! The Offence is a dark masterpiece and I must write about it soon. Thank you for reminding me!

  3. In "Two Against the Underworld - The Collected Unauthorised Guide to «The Avengers» Series 1", authors Richad McGinlay, Alan Hayes and Alys Hayes wrote that "At the end of his ABC contract, Rigby wrote a play for the theatre with R.S. Allen, «The Hill», which was based on Rigby's experiences of wartime imprisonment in a North African military detention camp". I see no reason to believe that Allen (who specialized in comedy) did not co-wrote the play. From my own experience I can tell that a co-author often contributes to structure, dialogue, objective perspective and useful literary tools, to a collaborative text, so for me it is plausible.