Rottenberg's rotten book review | nyc | 06/28/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is an unforgettable mix of history and the study of human nature with supernatural overtones. Peter Finch plays Nobile, the ill-fated Italian explorer who, years after a doomed 1928 expedition to overfly the North Pole in an airship, must confront the restless spirits of those whose lives were destroyed. With his Roman apartment turned into a court of inquiry, Finch faces not only those killed when arctic winds tore his airship in half and split his crew up, but others whose lives were ruined by their loss, suffered from botched rescue attempts or otherwise suffered the horror of survival. (The crew car of the dirigible "Roma" is torn clean from the main body of the airship, and those left in the now powerless gasbag on top can only look helplessly as they float away from their comrades.) Among the accusers stands Nobile's fiercest rival, the legendary Roald Amundsen, (Sean Connery) and Claudia Cardinale as a crewmate's lover. "Tent" excels because it rises above just telling the story of the expedition. Instead, the film delves deeper into human nature, and the drama that men try to create. (One unforgettable moment has Amundsen escaping the wreck of a plane in which he had planned to rescue his rival. In a twist of fate, and to underline his own doom, Amundsen emerges from the ruined plane to discover the wreck of the Roma's main body and the now dead crewmembers who floated away with it. Inside, he finds a bible opened to an ominous verse. A fellow accuser chastises Amundsen - the found bible seems to have been a detail invented for dramatic purposes. But this seems acceptable, since man needs some drama to highlight his own pitiful existnce. Isn't that why men take to exploration in the first place?) Guilt isn't so much the issue, decides a surprisingly sympathetic Amundsen who lost his life in one of the rescue attempts. Instead, Nobile cannot be punished for being no worse under the circumstances than his accusers who were, in turns, incompetent, greedy or unreasonably pious. The last of these earns one of Nobile's ascetic accusers, Amundsen's harshest rebuke. Piety, Connery says, is nice, but it's human nature to think for one's own pleasure. If a man can't think for his own good he is less likely, not more, to think of the good of others. Foregoing pleasure isn't pious, but sterile, and leaves only bitterness for the survivors. "You should have given her one last night of pleasure" Amundsen concludes. It is only after he discredits his fellow accusers that Amundsen offers what is both the most damning yet redeeming evidence: when boarding a rescue plane that can carry only him but not his crewmen off the ice-floe, the General thought not of his men's welfare, but of the warm bath that awaited him back in civilization. The "Red Tent" is in turns heart-breaking, incisive and also quite funny. Finch is fun, but Connery runs the show (it's interesting to compare how he looks today and how he looks here, made up prematurely old). The other characters are more one-note, but, like good leaders, Nobile and Amundsen are more than capable of putting their qualities together to form a complex whole. A must-see."
93% Great Film--so-so DVD
Wayne A. | Belfast, Northern Ireland | 08/26/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I knew I was in trouble when the menu for this film came up on my TV screen and the background art showed the airship "Italia" blowing up like the Hindenberg...in fact, exactly like the Hindenberg. Whoever did the art didn't get it, and whoever was managing the DVD project didn't catch it. (The "Italia" did not blow up) Overall, the quality of this DVD release indicates nobody gave a rat's hinder anyway. There was also no noticeable attempt to clean up the image which is sad because what I remember of the theatrical release it had a nice quality--hardly Technicolor but still nice. Felt like real life, which was no doubt intended.
The story is of the disastrous 1920's trip of the Italian General Nobile (no-bill-lay--it should roll trippingly off the tongue) and his "boys" to the North Pole in an airship. It's set up as a sort of ghost-court years later--Nobile at home in the 1950s conjuring the past (literally--the characters turn up and hold court) and asking for judgement. The crash and the results (The bulk of the film and I won't spoil it for you!) were an endless series of screw-ups and good/bad luck and Nobile was pilloried for the whole extraordinary debacle.
It was all way too complex a situation to affix blame to any one person and that's the great--stupendous even--aspect of this movie. It conveys, quite brilliantly through a mostly great script and solid acting, the ambiguities of leadership and responsibility, maybe even the imbecility of witch-hunting and scape goating. The cast is terrific, with one exception and not her fault (and I'll get to that) with Sean Connery particularly outstanding--proving in 1970 that he could act and he could act well. He plays Roald Amundsen--the Norwegian explorer who was first to reach the South Pole and I'll just assume some Norwegians do have Scottish accents. It's all forgivable. Peter Finch also turns in a typically solid performance as Nobile but Connery dominates the film (well, they gave him a great part).
This movie was a joint Italian/Russian venture and it shows...positively. Episodes that took place in Russia were filmed in Russia and a magnificent Soviet icebreaker co-stars. It looks like they actually filmed much of this on the ice up north, adding to the documentary feel. The actors and costumes look beat-to-heck; the director was Russian and those familiar with Commie movies know how Russian directors had a fantastic knack for avoiding shine and gloss in historical films. Old cars, for example, never looked like they came out of a car show (a major flaw with US productions) and the cast looks like people of the era. With one glaring exception.
For some fool reason, some nitwit thought a "romantic" element needed to be introduced into this all-male film, so the ludicrously beautiful Claudia Cardinale appears (in a rather vile scene that will make feminists hurl their hot chocolates at the screen) and becomes a love interest of one of the doomed arctic aviators. To someone's credit she is used to carry the plot along at an important point but to someone's dishonor she's also used in saccharine running-through-the-snow-hand-in-hand moments accompanied by even more saccharine Ennio Morricone music. Ghastly! Given the overall excellence of this film, this fluff is as jarring as a train wreck.
The other downer is that in 1970, apparently no one from Italy or Russia knew how to do acceptable--for that era--special effects work. To be fair most of the art direction is stunning and simultaneously believable, but at least one very dramatic moment is badly damaged by the all-too-visible presence of strings holding up a crashing aircraft--astonishing considering how easy it is to conceal things like this in a snowy environment. Also, no attempt is made to give the audience a sense of the size of the airship--at one point it looks like they used a small blimp (far too much smaller than the "Italia") and the problem of scale is jarring. A simple glass shot of the type Mario Bava was a master of and a little more imagination could have fixed nearly everything.
So overall you've got an excellent, unique, and well-worth-owning flick that's marred by a handful of deeply embarrassing moments and an Ennio Morricone score that gets a bit repetitious (what works for a spaghetti western doesn't work as well here). Fortunately, the bulk of "The Red Tent" is great and the film sums up so effectively, with Connery/Amundsen carrying the day, that you'll be convinced this was a once-lost and unfairly neglected treasure.
I'm not planning on researching this but my guess is this film was put together by a committee--the best explanation for the inconsistencies. I'd hazard Cardinale's presence was do to the shenanigans of some Paramount goofus (no distribution in USA without the "babe" factor!) or an overheated Italian film mogul who owed someone a favor. My guess is that if this had been a pure Russian effort with Connery added, and about forty-five minutes longer, it would have turned up on Criterion and on "best" lists.
Minus one star for Paramount's total indifference.
A Haunting Recreation of Possible History
Rottenberg's rotten book review | 09/21/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For devotees of arctic exploration, this is one of the best movies ever made. Aside from the general excellence of acting and photography, and the fidelity to history, one cannot forget the haunting, wordless picture of Cardinale when she sees again the form of a man she might have loved. The whole film has that aura - dreamlike, memory-nudging, self-reproaching, the over riding sense of regret that a brilliant screen writer has fashioned in a wholly unexpected presentation. The story of Nobile is given a treatment that one wishes had been adapted by the film makers to the equally tragic story of Scott, his wife @ his stalwart comrades. This film is better than "The Last Place on Earth", a famous Scott saga, because of its originality, poetry and profound sense of authentic tragedy. Not just another adventure film, its characters as ghosts prove to be the best way to tell it's true story."
Great Movie! Expected More from the DVD!
Moviefanatic | Chicago, Il | 09/04/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a great movie. I saw a Russian version in Russia many years ago and some scenes stayed in my memory ever since. I saw the Italian version for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I never realized before that there were two distinct versions of this great movie. The Russian one is about 30 minutes longer than its Italian counterpart (152 minutes version is available on VHS in Russia). The Russian version was dubbed in Russian and also had a different music score (by famous Russian composer Zatsepin). If someone had a great idea to finally release this movie on DVD, why not present both versions to the public? The final product, however great, only seems half-way done to me. What a shame!"
Excellent Leadership Lessons
Rich Lamb | San Gabriel, CA USA | 10/23/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The movie is framed as a jury trial to determine whether General Nobile's choices constitute failure in leadership and dereliction of duty in this doomed North Pole expedition. The trial is convened by Nobile himself during one of his countless sleepless nights even forty years after the events under question. The jury, those whose lives were ended or changed by the expedition, is called up in Nobile's mind to recount the story and render a verdict. This works very well as a case study in leadership, planning and contingencies, rebellion, failure, and forgiveness. Used in a teaching setting on leadership, this is one of the most compelling dramas I've seen on the topic. Sean Connery's role is not large, but his presence in the movie renders it a little more accessible to today's viewers."