|The Long and the Short and the Tall|
1961 British quad format film poster
|Directed by||Leslie Norman|
|Produced by||Michael Balcon|
|Screenplay by||Wolf Mankowitz|
|Based on||The Long and the Short and the Tall (play)|
by Willis Hall
|Music by||Stanley Black|
|Edited by||Gordon Stone|
|Distributed by||Warner-Pathé (UK)|
Continental Distributing (US)
|16 February 1961 (London World Premiere)|
The Long and the Short and the Tall (released as Jungle Fighters in the US and Canada) is a 1961 British war film directed by Leslie Norman, which stars Richard Todd, Richard Harris, Laurence Harvey, David McCallum and Ronald Fraser. The film, which is based on a 1959 play with the same name, by Willis Hall, takes place in 1942 during the Malayan Campaign.
During the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942, a seven-strong British sonic deception unit on a short jungle exercise hides from the rain in a hut at an abandoned tin mine. The men constantly bicker, often provoked by the bullying Corporal Johnstone or the forever mocking Bamforth. While Sergeant Mitchem and Corporal Johnstone are reconnoitering, Lance-Corporal Macleish ("Mac"), provoked, beats up Bamforth. Tension rises as they fail to make radio contact with their base and pick up a Japanese broadcast, indicating that they are nearby. A Japanese scout appears: Johnstone grabs him and tells Taff to stab him. Taff cannot kill him in cold blood and, before Bamforth does, the returning Mitchem says they must take him back for interrogation.
Mitchem places Bamforth in charge of the prisoner, who Bamforth names Tojo. Bamforth realises Tojo is just another soldier, bonding over pictures of Tojo's family. Johnstone, enraged, tries to destroy the pictures but Bamforth, his frustrations boiling over, beats him up, risking a court martial. Mitchem sends Mac and Smudge to reconnoiter. They see a small patrol sending two soldiers to find Tojo. Knowing this endangers their patrol, Mac kills one but the other escapes. Mac and Smudge return to warn the patrol which tries to radio base to warn them, even though it may reveal their position. A taunting Japanese broadcast accelerates their decision to flee for their base.
They head for home. Mitchem now realises that the prisoner is a liability rather than as asset and Johnstone keeps offering to kill him. The group, temporararily blocked by a flash flood, take a break in the mine canyons and Bamforth is sent to keep watch. Johnstone spots Mac and Tojo enjoying a cigarette and cruelly points out that they are British and Tojo must have stolen them from a British soldier he had killed. This affects the men who turn on Tojo. Johnstone rips up his cherished family photos and Mac searches and slaps him. Upon hearing the commotion, Bamforth returns and explains he gave Tojo the cigarettes. The men are ashamed and try to make amends by gathering and returning Tojo's possessions. Johnstone maliciously says that Tojo's cigarette case was made in Birmingham. As the men again grow hostile, Bamford responds that Tojo could have traded for it, forcing the youngest member (Whittaker) to admit that he does this.
The flood is receding and Mitchem asks Whittaker to make a last attempt to contact base before they leave. They plan to abandon the mules, blow up the special equipment and kill the prisoner. Bamforth protests at this and appeals for support from the other men without success. The radio responds to Whittaker's efforts but only a Japanese message can be heard. Tojo approaches him, trying in Japanese to explain the message. Panicking about the Japanese broadcast and ashamed from his unveiling as a looter, Whittaker mistakes Tojo's movements and shoots him dead. The radio crackles into life again and a Japanese accented English announces that the patrol is surrounded and demands their surrender. Whittaker's firing will have further alerted the Japanese.
Mitchem with Bamforth forms a rear guard to allow the others led by Johnstone to escape. The rear guard are soon defending against the main Japanese force. As the main group emerge, a Japanese sniper dispatches Taff and Mac. Although Whittaker is cut off, Johnstone tells Smudge they must return to Mitchem. As they flee, Smudge is also killed.
Mitchem is shocked to see the superficially injured Johnstone back alone but is shot by a sniper. As the Japanese close in, Johnstone implores Bamforth to surrender. Bamforth however shoots as the explosives. The explosion kills many attackers but also causes a rockfall, killing Bamforth. Johnstone strides forward and, taking a white scarf from a dead Japanese soldier, surrenders. Whittaker is also taken by the Japanese and is shouted at and mocked just as the British treated Tojo.
The film was shot at Elstree Studios in 1960, where Richard Todd had starred in The Dam Busters a few years earlier. Todd loathed making this film, as he didn't get along with Laurence Harvey, In an interview many years later, he said, "I didn't enjoy working with Laurence Harvey... I took it for granted that they would cast Peter O'Toole, who was marvellous on stage, but they said they wanted a 'name'". Richard Harris later claimed Todd would stand on top of mounds of dirt to seem as tall as his co-stars. Leslie Norman was also unhappy he had to cast Laurence Harvey instead of Peter O'Toole. He felt Laurence Harvey and Richard Harris "let the film down... Harris because he resented Laurence Harvey, despised him and they didn't get on with Richard Todd". Norman says "I was very pleased with my side of the film in the end. It was all made in a studio, we never set foot outside for a month. I asked to go on location, but a jungle's pretty claustrophobic, for sure".