Color, 1969, 107 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Starring Burt Lancaster, Patrick O'Neal, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Peter Falk, Astrid Heeren, Tony Bill, Al Freeman Jr., Scott Wilson
Indicator (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Sony (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Though Castle Keepmost of Hollywood Castle Keepdoesn't remember it, director Sydney Pollack got his start after cutting his teeth on television shows with a string of wild projects in the '60s and early '70s that rank among the most experimental studio films of the era. In addition to having a very strong hand in The Swimmer, he turned out such films as They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, The Scalphunters, and the indelible wartime fairy tale, Castle Keep. Drawing inspiration from a decades' worth of landmark French cinema as well as the long tradition of American war films, it's a haunting, unique, and often outright bizarre piece of work that could have been a significant midnight movie had it come out a few years later.

In the waning months of World War II, eight American soldiers end up arriving at and commandeering a Belgian castle featuring a drawbridge, a moat, and a considerable treasure trove of valuable sculptures, decor, and paintings. Among them are one-eyed Major Falconer (Lancaster), who starts an affair with the castle's countess (Heeren) with the apparent consent of her husband (Aumont), as well as an amateur writer (Freeman), a solider (Wilson) who becomes infatuated with a Volkswagen, Castle Keepan art history buff (O'Neal) who wants to salvage the castle's treasures, and an aspiring baker (Falk) who finds his calling in town when they aren't all killing time at the local brothel. However, German forces are Castle Keepdestined to close in and try to take out the American interlopers, which can only mean a giant, fiery showdown promised on the film's poster.

It's impossible to watch this film without thinking of some of the films that Pollack watched beforehand like King of Hearts and Last Year at Marienbad, though you could also point to other films it anticipated in turn, most obviously Malpertuis and Donkey Skin. Of course the story itself comes from a 1965 novel by William Eastlake, one of the many studies of the madness of war that poured out at the time, and which preceded William Peter Blatty's somewhat similar Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane (later republished and turned into a film as The Ninth Configuration). Despite these associations, Castle Keep feels like a true original Castle Keepwith its pre-credits sequence feeling like the characters are not only stepping through time but into another dimension entirely. That effect is really driven home by the gorgeous widescreen cinematography by the great Henri Decaƫ, a maestro of scope composition who also shot Castle KeepThe Sicilian Clan, most of Jean-Pierre Melville's films, The 400 Blows, and Sundays and Cybelle, as well as a haunting score by the great Michel Legrand (who was hot off of The Thomas Crown Affair and Ice Station Zebra at the time.

Though it crashed and burned at the box office, Castle Keep built up a following over the years among war art art movie buffs thanks to frequent TV screenings and a VHS release. When the film hit DVD in 2004 in a very ill-conceived pan-and-scan transfer that demolished the film's striking Panavision cinematography, the film's fan base was impossible to ignore as the studio was slammed with an unprecedented outcry for a letterboxed version. A few months later they capitulated with a widescreen DVD that quickly consigned the first one to clearance shelves.

However, the version to go for is definitely the very welcome dual-format UK edition from Indicator, containing a Blu-ray and DVD with identical bonus features. The HD transfer is pitch perfect, looking exactly like a beautiful scan of a late '60s negative should with rich blacks and Castle Keepblazing colors; the stained glass shots during the credits pack a real punch from the Castle Keepoutset, and many scenes can still make you gasp. Audio options include the original 35mm mono mix (LPCM) and a 4.0 surround mix (DTS-HD MA) offering a pretty good approximation of how the six-track 70mm engagements would have sounded. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included. Also present as a third audio option is "The John Player Lecture with Burt Lancaster" from 1972 at the National Film Theatre in London, covering pretty much his entire acting career from his first break into theater through his Hollywood projects that made him one of the biggest names of his era. "The Lullaby of War" (18m20s) with actor Tony Bill goes more into his ongoing professional relationship under the tutelage of Pollack and John Calley, his work on Ice Station Zebra, the plans to make They Shoot Horses before this film got off the ground, and the ins and outs of the shoot in Yugoslavia involving a burnt castle and the creation of fake snow. "Eastlake at USD," a public access 1968 interview with source novel author William Eastlake and the University of South Dakota's John R. Milton (29m46s), is very lo-fi but worth watching as they sit outside on campus and chat about his writing process (and cough a lot). The theatrical trailer is also included, and as usual the liner notes booklet is a work of art in itself with a new essay by Brad Stevens and an assortment of archival reviews and critical responses.

Reviewed on August 5, 2017.