Situation Hopeless — But Not Serious Film Details
Overview: During WW2, a lonely German air-raid warden captures two downed American airmen and keeps them prisoner in his basement way past the end of the war.
Review: This movie is based on a 1960 novel, “The Hiding Place,” by British actor, novelist and playwright, Robert Shaw. The film’s title describes a segment toward the end in which Wilhelm Frick describes the reversed war conditions to his two American captives. “Situation Hopeless – But Not Serious” is his way of telling Captain Hank Wilson and Sgt. Lucky Finder that the outlook for the Allies is futile, but it’s not so bad because the end will see Germany winning the war for the good of all. And, that segment is the capstone to this movie as a sophisticated comedy. The sophistication is probably what drew Alec Guinness to take the part of Frick in the first place. He later expressed his dislike for this film. But that it is billed and touted as a comedy is a big stretch. It certainly is a war film, and most obviously a drama. One other reviewer already has referred to this film as a character study, and that is precisely what makes it drama. What comedy there is can best be described as pathos. The ending is a rather abrupt change in the setting and story, and seems very hurried, disconnected and forced to bring a long, drawn-out story to a conclusion. And, in that, Paramount appears to be forcing the idea of the film as a comedy by having Frick showing up in San Francisco. There, he and the two Americans become party celebrities in telling their escapade. The absurdity is one way of trying to leave audiences with the impression of having seen a comedy. But the ending is almost an insult to the intelligence of anyone older than 10 years. The year 1965 had some great movies, topped by the number one at the box office, “The Sound of Music.” It’s U.S. box office was $146 million. Second place in the U.S. was “Doctor Zhivago,” at $127 million, and James Bond’s “Thunderball” had $77 million in domestic ticket sales. Twenty more films had more than $10 million in U.S. ticket sales that year. But, “Situation Hopeless,” finished way down the list at 110th place with $1.8 million. It surely was a big loser. One can frequently tell when a movie is a flop when reviews are neutral or somewhat positive but don’t mention public reception – that is, box office sales. Was 20 years after WWII too soon to have comedies about the war? No, because other movies had already appeared that were clear comedies set in the war. “McHale’s Navy” had appeared in 1964, a takeoff from a successful 1962 TV series of the same title. And, this movie premiered just one month after the record wartime TV sitcom, “Hogan’s Heroes,” first aired on CBS. That highly popular series was proof that enough time had passed since World War II, that humorous movies and shows could be made about the war, with settings in the war. But there was a catch to this. Wartime comedy had to be very obvious, at least some of the enemy officers and soldiers had to look like fools or “dummkopfs,” and there could be nothing serious shown such as torture, killing, or even the brutality of the surroundings. While “Hogan’s Heroes” was good comedy, none of those elements that made wartime imprisonment seem funny are in this movie. At first, the two Americans are amused to find their German host’s basement to be like a museum of horrors. In ages past, Frick’s family had lived in a castle, and as it lost all of the land holdings, the furnishings of the castle wound up in Frick’s home. That explains the jail cell bars, and ancient chain and handcuff restrainers. But, within a short time, that little bit of humor evaporates as Frick decides to keep his two guests as prisoners under the pretense of protecting them as the war rages on outside. The movie is never clear about exactly how long the Americans were captive after the war ended, but it appears to be at least two years. Because, by the time they finally make their escape, there are no longer any American or other allied occupation forces apparent, and all the police and uniformed people are German. But, for the lengthy time before their escape, Wilson and Finder border on insanity at times. They go through psychological phases. An interesting little conflict between the two points out character differences and military training and discipline. Sgt Finder looks for every possible way to escape. That’s what POWs are supposed to do. It not only adds to the problems and difficulty of the captors, but it helps the psyche of the captives by keeping hope alive and giving them a purpose and effort for survival. On the other hand, Capt. Wilson’s character is the opposite. He’s for sitting the war out, going along with his captor, and otherwise waiting to be rescued. That’s a reversal in the role of officers who were supposed to encourage and lead their men in escape efforts. Wilhelm Frick is billed as a loner who has no friends. So, that’s his reason for keeping his American airmen as prisoners. But Guinness shows his character as having second thoughts at times about the morality of what he is doing. He struggles with this a few times in the film, but each time shrugs it off as a matter of guilty conscience, which he will not abide for long. This is not much of a comedy at all. As a drama, it has some merit. But, the long film time of the two Americans in bondage become tedious and boring. The story just doesn’t work well. My five stars are for the acting, especially by Guinness and Mike Connors as Sgt. Finder. Robert Redford’s generally blasé Capt. Wilson doesn’t take much acting ability.
Country: USA, West Germany
Duration: 97 min
Genre: Comedy, War
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