Man in the Middle (1963)

Directed by Guy Hamilton

man_middle_01.jpgIt’s hard not to be drawn in by a film that stars Robert Mitchum. In the case of Man in the Middle, however, you’re drawn in well before Mitchum’s initial appearance with a riveting opening scene.

Keenan Wynn, as Lt. Charles Winton, deliberately and coldly walks across a military compound into a barracks where he blandly shoots a British soldier. From here, the movie concerns itself with why.

And this is where Mitchum shows up. He plays Lt. Col. Barney Adams, the officer given the assignment of defending Wynn’s character. The U.S. Army wants a good, strong defence, and a guilty verdict so they can hang Wynn for murder.

Due to the troubled relations between the British and American soldiers (in India) the killing of the British soldier creates tension, therefore the U.S. military wants a guilty verdict to smooth things over.

Thus the film deals with the moral quandary Mitchum’s character finds himself in as the “man in the middle.” He’s a career soldier and, at least initially, more than happy to give the military what it wants. However, as he develops his case, hoping to provide the rigorous defence that will maintain appearances, he begins to see that while it is obvious Wynn’s character has committed the murder (it is self-confessed and there were numerous witnesses), there may be a compelling argument for why a “not guilty” verdict should be delivered.

So how does it all play?

Overall, fairly well. There are some awkward elements, or perhaps it’s better to say over-the-top elements due to the period the film was made, and there is a certain early 1960’s earnestness regarding social justice and so on that are a bit anachronistic, but it’s an engaging film and Mitchum is a pleasure to watch. His naturalness is flawless and it appears effortless.

I can’t think of any performances in the movie that don’t range from good to excellent, and there is Trevor Howard in a smaller role to add just a little more “oomph.”

Yes, it’s an enjoyable movie. While far from great, it is definitely worth a look. It’s a solid, middle of the pack kind of film.

2½ stars out of 4.

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