Yesterday's Enemy

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Yesterday's Enemy
Yesenpos.jpg
Original American release film poster
Directed by Val Guest
Produced by Michael Carreras
Written by Peter R. Newman
Starring Stanley Baker
Gordon Jackson
Music by None
Cinematography Arthur Grant
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Hammer Films
Release dates
1959
Running time
95 min
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Yesterday's Enemy is a 1959 Hammer Films British war film directed by Val Guest and starring Stanley Baker, Guy Rolfe, Leo McKern and Gordon Jackson set in the Burma Campaign during World War II.[1] It is based on a 1958 BBC teleplay by Peter R. Newman who turned it into a three act play in 1960. Gordon Jackson repeated his role from the BBC teleplay as Sgt. Ian Mackenzie.[2] Columbia Pictures co-produced the film with Hammer Films in an agreement for five co-productions a year with Columbia providing half the finance.[3] The film was shot on indoor sets in black and white and Megascope. The film has no musical score. Director Val Guest later said that Yesterday's Enemy was one of his films of which he was the most proud.[4] In 2013, film magazine Total Film included Yesterday's Enemy in their list of 50 Amazing Films You've Probably Never Seen.[5]

The TV play was reportedly based on a war crime perpetrated by a British army captain in Burma in 1942.[6]

Plot[edit]

The lost remnants of a British Army Brigade headquarters make their way through the Burmese jungle, retreating from the Japanese. The group, numbering over thirty, is led by Captain Langford as the most senior officer, the Brigadier, is one of several who are wounded. Others in the group include nervous young Lieutenant Hastings, a civilian correspondent named Max along with the Doctor and the Padre, and Sgt McKenzie who is Langford's most reliable man. The exhausted group arrives at a small village which is enemy-occupied. After a short but fierce battle, the 10-strong group of Japanese in the village is wiped out, although several British and Burmese villagers are also killed. Amongst the Japanese dead is a full Colonel, an un-usually high-ranking officer to be with such a small group. The dead officer possesses a map with unknown markings. A Burmese man is caught trying to flee and a villager who speaks English says that the former does not belong there. The man is revealed to be an informer employed by the Japanese. Langford interrogates the man about the dead Colonel and the map and when the latter refuses to talk, he selects two adult males from amongst the villagers, saying he will have them both executed if the informer does not co-operate. The villagers plead for mercy and the Doctor, Max and the Padre angrily protest at Langford's decision but the Captain is un-moved. The two hostages are killed by Langford's men, prompting the informant to begin devulging what he knows. The dead Colonel was carrying a map on which are marked plans for a major Japanese flanking attack which aims to cut off the British army from its supply lines and leave it surrounded. Langford is anxious to send a warning back to British lines but the group's radio has been damaged.

Langford orders McKenzie to execute the informer and then announces that the British wounded are to be left behind so as not to impede the group's progress back to Allied territory. The Doctor, along with Max and the Padre are enraged by the decision but the dying Brigadier and the other wounded agree to remain in the village. A pair of enemy scouts approach the village, killing two of Langford's men. Mckenzie shoots one of them but the other escapes. Knowing that the Japanese are now aware of their location, Langford decides to send Sgt Mckenzie, the Doctor and two others to head back to British HQ to raise the alarm, thinking a smaller group will have a better chance of getting through whilst the remainder of the group will remain to defend the village and delay the enemy as long as possible. Langford offers Max and the Padre the chance to go with them but the latter both refuse, suggesting that another two men go in their place. Lt Hastings asks permission to go but Langford angrily refuses. Mckenzie, the Doctor and the other four men head for Allied lines but they are soon ambushed and all are killed.

Langford takes a party of men out to ambush the approaching Japanese, leaving Hastings and the others to defend the village. The remaining Burmese evacuate, the English-speaking woman remarking bitterly to Hastings, 'Japanese, British- all the same'. After a bloody engagement, Langford's group are all killed or captured. The enemy, using the POWs as a human shield, approach the village but Langford shouts at Hastings to open fire. Just before the village falls, the radio operators managed to send out a weak signal from the repaired set to alert British HQ of the enemy's plans, although it is not made clear if the message gets through. The handful of surviving British, including Langford, Hastings, the Padre & Max, are now all POWs. The Japanese commander, Major Yamazaki, who speaks English, demands to know about the missing Colonel and the map, suspecting that Langford knows about the attack plans.

Yamazaki lines up all of the prisoners in front of a firing squad and informs Langford that unless he agrees to talk, the Major will order his troops to shoot them. Given just two minutes to make his choice, Langford bolts towards the transmitter in an attempt to signal HQ but he is shot dead. Impressed by Langford's courage, Yamazaki bows to his corpse, saying 'I would have done the same' whilst outside, the Padre calmly leads the other prisoners in the Lord's Prayer as they await their execution. The final image is a silent shot of the Btitish war memorial in Burma.

Other information[edit]

The film ends with the Kohima epitaph:

The verse is attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875–1958), and is thought to have been inspired by the epitaph written by Simonides to honour the Spartans who fell at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.[7]

Cast[edit]

Critical Response[edit]

Terence Pettigrew (writing in 1982) wrote "Yesterday's Enemy was criticised at the time for its depiction of British Army cruelty to the natives in a progressively desperate fight to survive. Nothing is done to soften the harshness of armed conflict on all concerned. and the film delivers its strong anti-war message without flinching from the task."[8]

Andrew Spicer (writing in 2001) wrote '(Stanley) Baker's officer hero Langford in Yesterday's Enemy is no gentleman. Langford's dilemma is that he feels he must break the Geneva Convention and kill civilians in order to obtain the information that may save many lives. Langford's men dislike him, the padre and the liberal war correspondent denounce him, but they all know he is their only chance of survival.'[9]

Julian Upton, reviewing the film's 2009 DVD release, singled out Baker's performance. 'The film is worth seeing for Baker's performance alone. A kind of proto Peckinpah anti-hero, he'll commit war crime for the greater good of the operation.....but he'll risk his life to save men he's never civil to.'[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "BFI | Film & TV Database | YESTERDAY'S ENEMY (1959)". Ftvdb.bfi.org.uk. 2009-04-16. Retrieved 2013-06-25. 
  2. ^ "BFI | Film & TV Database | YESTERDAY'S ENEMY (1958)". Ftvdb.bfi.org.uk. 2009-04-16. Retrieved 2013-06-25. 
  3. ^ "Yesterday's Enemy (1959) - Overview". TCM.com. Retrieved 2013-06-25. 
  4. ^ McFarlane, Brian. The Cinema of Britain & Ireland. Wallflower Press, UK. 2005. p-135
  5. ^ http://www.totalfilm.com/features/50-amazing-films-you-ve-probably-never-seen
  6. ^ Marcus Hearn, The Hammer Vault, Titan Books, 2011 p. 28
  7. ^ Imperial War Museum. "What is the Kohima Epitaph?". archive.iwm.org.uk. Retrieved 4 April 2013. 
  8. ^ Pettigrew, Terrence. British Film Character Actors. David & Charles Ltd. 1982. p-58
  9. ^ Spicer, Andrew. Typical Men: The Representation of Masculinity in Popular British Cinema I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, 2001. p-74.
  10. ^ http://www.moviemail.com/film/dvd/Yesterdays-Enemy/

External links[edit]