Combustible Celluloid
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With: Burt Lancaster, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Corinne Calvet, Sam Jaffe, John Bromfield, Mike Mazurki, Kenny Washington, Edmund Breon, Hayden Rorke, David Thursby, Josef Marais, Miranda Marais
Written by: Walter Doniger, John Paxton
Directed by: William Dieterle
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 104
Date: 08/03/1949

Rope of Sand (1949)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Diamond Swine

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Olive Films continues cleaning out the Paramount vaults, and releasing things like Rope of Sand, an awkwardly titled, inert adventure film that looks as if it were trying to cash in on the success of Casablanca seven years earlier. (Even producer Hal Wallis is here.) Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and Peter Lorre all return for another adventure/romance set in Africa, though this time at the opposite end of the continent, where all the diamonds are.

This time Burt Lancaster stars; he plays a diamond hunter who returns to South Africa some time after getting thrashed by Commandant Paul Vogel (Henreid); Vogel's job is to make sure that no diamonds are smuggled away from his domain. In one scene, he rips a bandage from a man's arm and digs a gemstone from his open wound. While Vogel is acting evil, Lancaster's Mike Davis spends most of the film hanging around, looking sullen and tough, and presumably waiting for his move. Lorre plays the aptly-named Toady, who haunts a cantina, looking crazy and talking about diamonds a lot.

There's a nasty femme fatale (Corinne Calvet), who tries to work a ridiculous scheme on Arthur Martingale (Claude Rains); she basically tears her own dress and tries to blackmail him for it. Instead Martingale hires her to get close to Davis and find out what he knows. Davis unleashes a flashback for her, and she falls in love with him (who knew a flashback could do that?). All of this boring stuff leads up to Mike's attempt to steal back some diamonds he hid years earlier, but suffice to say that the movie is lacking in excitement.

Director William Dieterle is in charge. He had his best successes with slightly supernatural tales, like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), and Portrait of Jennie (1948), so perhaps he was bored. We do get one interesting, dirty fight between Lancaster and Henried, in the darkness and desert sand, although it seems hard to believe that Lancaster would struggle so long against the prissy Henreid.

Perhaps the movie would have benefited form more loony scenes with Lorre, but as it stands, it's a dud. Olive Films released another adventure film, The Mountain (1956), starring Spencer Tracy and directed by Edward Dmytryk. In 2014, the company followed up its DVD release with a Blu-ray.

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