VCI Home Video // 1956 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // September 14th, 2011
By the time this movie is over, you will have seen not just one, but many black tents. There is truth in advertising!
One glance at the cover and you know what you're in for. Exotic adventure in World War II era Libya. But you know what they say about judging a DVD by the cover.
The story begins with Sir Charles Holland (Donald Sinden, Balto) heading off to Libya to search for his brother who was supposed to have been killed during World War II. Doing some detective work he eventually meets Sheik Salem ben Yassef (Andre Morell, Bridge on the River Kwai) who knew Captain Holland (Anthony Steel, Tiger of the Seven Seas) but is obviously hiding more than he initially lets on.
Eventually we are treated to an extended flashback in which we learn that Captain Holland was wounded in action and treated by the sheik and his daughter Mabrouka (Anna-maria Sandri, Reaching for the Stars). Quicker than you can say forbidden romance the captain and the daughter fall in love. This is not greeted with resounding applause and soon Captain Holland must not only hide from Nazis but the sheik.
About half way through The Black Tent I realized this wasn't going to be war or adventure film, but a melodrama. The movie is more concerned with the relationships between Captain Holland, Mabrouka and her father than with anything else. So if you go in with that in mind, you might enjoy the film a bit more than I did.
Frankly, for this story to work, you need to have some kind of passion between Steel and Sandri, and sadly none is ever generated. Steel is too low key, trying to maintain the stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. He never seems truly taken by the sultry eyes of Sandri. When the romance is the crux of your movie and your leads just don't have the chemistry, the whole film falls flat.
Combine that with some really odd pacing issues and the 94 minute film really dragged. What is storage is that some scenes were cut briskly and in odd ways. Usually movies from this era tend to have lots of long drawn out shots, but that isn't the case here. Instead it feels like the editor felt the original cut was too long and went to work trimming The Black Tent down. The result is a film that moves in fits and starts, with some scenes ending abruptly and others meandering around before they get to the point.
Then there is the bookend story involving the living brother Charles. There is an eventual pay off to this element of the story, but it's handled so poorly that it lacks the punch I think the director was going for. The film would probably play better if it was told in the order it occurred.
VCI's presentation of The Black Tent it is a bit of a mixed bag. The visuals are actually stunning, with plenty of excellent detail for the location shooting and a great restoration job. The audio is where things get a bit dicey. The 5.1 audio track is mixed oddly, with crowd noise and music being overly loud and drowning out the dialogue. In some cases certain characters speaking from the side of the screen end up echoing all around you and sounding like they are in the middle of a warehouse. I ended up switching to the stereo track halfway through and it sounded fine, with the dialogue and music equally clear. You get a photo gallery of production stills and poster art as an extra.
Two things make the The Black Tent worth seeking out for fans of classic cinema. First is the beautiful locations shooting in Libya. Even though the story and characters aren't terribly interesting, the setting is gorgeous and you are treated to some beautiful desert vistas, amazing ancient ruins, and the city of Tripoli in the 1950s. The restoration makes it look that much better.
If you enjoy golden age style musical scores, than William Alwyn's work here will give you plenty to smile about; with lots of big themes, sweeping melodrama and exotic flavor. It works overtime to keep you interested in the movie, and while it goes a bit over the top here and there, it was one of the better elements of the movie.
Oh, and I got a kick out of seeing Donald Pleasance (You Only Live Twice) as Sir Charles' guide, Ali. He's supposed to be the comic relief character, but most of the time I was just snickering seeing him in a fez and riding a camel.
There is potential to this story and maybe with a stronger focus on the adventure aspect it might have worked. But as it stands it's a visually lovely but rather uninteresting melodrama. Worth a rental for fans of the cast and those who want to see some beautiful location shooting in Libya.
Guilty of missing an opportunity.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1956
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery