CASTLE KEEP [1969 / 2021] [Blu-ray [UK Release] A 10th Century castle . . . A 20th Century war . . . and the outspoken novel comes to life on the screen!

Sydney Pollack's Gothic war drama stars the great Burt Lancaster as the brutal, one-eyed army major in charge of a small group of American GIs fighting to save the castle they're stationed in during World War II.

FILM FACT: The film ‘CASTLE KEEP’ was shot in Kamenica Park, in Sremska Kamenica, in the city of Novi Sad, Serbia. Sydney Pollack recalled that Burt Lancaster first wished him to direct the film in 1966 and that the castle which was made of Styrofoam, and was inspired by Walt Disney and dreams. The film is based on the novel of the same name by William Eastlake published in 1965, and has the dubious distinction of being one of the very few war films that is both pro and anti-war at the same time. William Eastlake enlisted in the United States Army in 1942. William Eastlake served in the Infantry for four and a half years, and was wounded while leading a platoon during the Battle of the Bulge.

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Patrick O'Neal, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Peter Falk, Astrid Heeren, Scott Wilson, Tony Bill, Al Freeman Jr., James Patterson, Bruce Dern, Michael Conrad, Caterina Boratto, Olga Bisera, Elizabeth Teissier, Anne Marie Moskovenko, Merja Alanen, Eija Pokkinen, Elizabeth Darius, Karen Blanguernon, Maria Danube, Harry Baird (uncredited), Ernest Clark (uncredited), Jean Gimelo (uncredited), J. David Jones (uncredited) and Dusan Tadic (uncredited)          

Director: Sydney Pollack

Producers: John Calley, Edward L. Rissien and Martin Ransohoff

Screenplay: Daniel Taradash (screenplay), David Rayfiel (screenplay) and William Eastlake (based on the novel) 

Composer: Michel Legrand

Conductor: Michel Legrand

Costume Designer: Jacques Fonteray

Cinematography: Henri Decaë (Director of Photography)

Image Resolution: 1080p (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (Panavision)

Audio: English: 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio
English: 4.0 Surround Sound Audio
English: 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo Audio

Subtitles: English

Running Time: 107 minutes

Region: All Regions

Number of discs: 1

Studio: Columbia Pictures / Powerhouse Films

Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: ‘CASTLE KEEP’ [1969] finds Major Abraham Falconer [Burt Lancaster] towards the latter stages of World War II, is leading a small group of American soldiers when the Count of Maldorais [Jean-Pierre Aumont] gives them shelter in his castle, in the hope that they will defend it against the advancing Germans. Burt Lancaster is efficient as always, in a rather unsympathetic role.

What follows is not your typical war film, and one in which Major Abraham Falconer beds the Count of Maldorais good lady, and Sargent Rossi [Peter Falk] who temporarily puts fighting on hold to pursue his more valued vocation of a baker, and naturally the baker’s wife immediately invites him into her bed, and Scott Wilson plays a Private named Clearboy who becomes enamoured of a Volkswagen, and saves it from receiving a death sentence. If you thought ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ was a different slant on a traditional war movie, ‘CASTLE KEEP’ will have you scratching your head in amazement.

Burt Lancaster leads the able cast assembled here for a World War II tale of an eyepatch wearing Major Abraham Falconer and his team of quirky characters, who take over the isolated Belgian castle of a Count of Maldorais played by the incomparable Jean-Pierre Aumont. They are determined to defend it from the Germans, even as the war is starting to move towards a conclusion. The Captain on the team, a man named Beckman [Patrick O'Neal], knows that he would rather the Nazis not get their hands on the vast treasures taking up space inside this castle.

‘CASTLE KEEP’ is a very surreal war film where the lines between real life and fantasy are constantly blurred, while the viewer is taken on a visual trip through the meandering narrative. The cast of ‘CASTLE KEEP’ give more deadpan performances, each one seemingly not quite gelling with the others, almost like a jigsaw puzzle where the picture is okay but the pieces have been cut out wrong and don’t quite fit together properly. Whether this was the intention of director Sidney Pollack, I have no idea. It just didn’t seem to flow properly for me, and truth be told, it became borderline annoying as the film progressed.

This picture does become more conventional as it goes along, delivering some genuinely intense battle scenes that are pretty exciting. Overall, it's still more of a war drama “for the thinking person,” albeit with some memorable absurdist humour.

Despite my misgivings about the narrative structure and performances, ‘CASTLE KEEP’ looks spectacular in this release from Powerhouse Films. The picture is superb and complements the fantastic cinematography by Henri Decaë and the special features are once again worth the price of the disc by themselves and the audio interview with Burt Lancaster being a particularly interesting highlight for me, so check it out. To some viewers ‘CASTLE KEEP’ might not be to all taste, however, it does provide a striking and surreal alternative to the traditional war film scenario. One of the best funny lines was one where Peter Falk says, “Swim the moat? What the hell war is this?” All in all, a brilliant job is done by director Sydney Pollack along with writers David Rayfiel and Daniel Taradash of adapting a novel by William Eastlake into this funny, horrifying and strangely beautiful film.

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Blu-ray Image Quality – Columbia Pictures and Powerhouse Films presents us the film ‘CASTLE KEEP’ that has a phenomenal 1080p Technicolor image transfer and of course enhanced with a Panavision 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Previously only available in a pan and scan edition, the transfer’s strengths are in detail and the colours of course. The early scenes, when the men are driving through the snowy forest and see a man in red on horseback, are absolutely beautiful. Later, in the long climactic battle, the fiery explosions are a brilliant counterpoint to the grey city and olive drab uniforms. There is some grain at times, and there are some film artefacts like scratches and dust – but on balance this is a totally brilliant image presentation.

Blu-ray Audio Quality – Columbia Pictures and Powerhouse brings us the film ‘CASTLE KEEP’ with two alternative audio experiences and they are 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio and a 4.0 Surround Sound Audio is up to the challenges of the original source, but lacks in the bass department, particularly during the battle scenes. The surrounds are not overbearing, but are used mostly for atmosphere and create a reasonably good field with the back channels are monaural, with the front three discrete. As a result, the cannon shots and explosions sound really great and give the speakers give a good workout and probably as good as or if not better than they sounded with the film’s original release. But on top of all that, what I can say, but the music by Michel Legrand creates a wonderful surreal feel to the films visuals enjoyment.

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Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:

Special Feature: The John Player Lecture with Burt Lancaster [Audio only] [1972] [1080p] [2.35:1] [100:05] Here we get to hear an audio recording of an interview conducted by Joan Bakewell at the National Film Theatre, London on the 22nd June, 1972 with the legendary American actor Burt Lancaster. The following audio presentation exhibits a range of technical problems, which are to be expected from an audio recording in 1972 of its type, Sometimes you get some abrupt dropouts in the source recording which has been left intact and especially of its importance of a unique archival document makes its inclusion essential and they hope you agree. With this audio recording the film ‘CASTLE KEEP’ is shown, It was great hearing Burt Lancaster talking about his start in life really liked certain types of sport, because he liked to keep fit. Burt Lancaster also informs us how he started his career in acting, especially on stage in New York and then getting a lucky break to appear in his first film. Burt Lancaster talks about his favourite directors he liked to work with and is also asked what has been his favourite films he has appeared in. He is also mystified on how they choose who gets awarded an Oscar, and is also very pleased and proud when he won his first Oscar. Burt Lancaster talks about the films that he has been proud to appear in, because he believed in his characters performance, but was very upset when that film failed miserably at the box office. Burt Lancaster informs us that he loves making western films, especially in his opinion it is a good western, because it is pure escapism and especially shown in English speaking countries, because it requires very little verbalisation and people can understand what the actor is speaking and people also understands its values and has a very simplistic style, but Burt Lancaster also feels a western affords an opportunity to tell very modern parallel stories for today. What shocked me was hearing the voice of a very young Joan Bakewell. Also what really annoys me, especially when the audience want to ask questions to Burt Lancaster, why can’t the National Film Theatre  supply the audience a microphone, I find that a very unprofessional crass attitude. Still despite this slight negative criticism of this special feature, it was really great hearing the wonderful Burt Lancaster imparting all of his words of wisdom and why he loves being an actor and is still well worth listening to and gets a five star rating from me.

Special Feature: The Lullaby of War: Tony Bill on ‘CASTLE KEEP’ [2017] [1080p] [1.78:1] [18:20] Here we get to view a new interview with actor Tony Bill about his experiences and involvement in appearing in the film ‘CASTLE KEEP.’ Tony Bill talks about his good friend the director Sydney Pollack who he greatly admired and the other person he admired is director John Calley who Tony Bill appeared in his film ‘Ice Station Zebra’ in 1968. But with the film ‘CASTLE KEEP’ they had to do some filming with snow, but at the time there was no snow, so had to wait around where they stayed for a week, but when it did arrive it would not stop snowing and so they got stranded and could not get to the location to shoot certain scenes, but eventually they were able to leave where they were staying an make their way to the actual location and start to shoot some scenes, especially where the magnificent castle was, which actually was built specially for the film and was made out of 100% wood, but only three sides were built. So after the shoot, went back to where they were staying, but on the next day were getting ready to go back to the location of the castle, but were informed not to bother, because mysteriously the castle caught fire and was completely destroyed, so to finally film scenes with the castle, they rebuilt it again with wood, but with only one wall visible, where as to shoot the interiors scenes in the castle, they had to go to a building in Belgrade. After that shoot they had to go back to the location of the castle, but this time they had built two extra sides, so was able to finish shooting all the scenes they required to finish the film, but there was one problem, it was spring and of course no snow, so now they had to import from Italy tons powered marble, but unfortunately Tony Bill got some of it in his eye and it scratched the retina and went blind, so they rushed him off to the very basic hospital and treated him with some special eye drops and eventually was able to see again. On top of all that, it was extremely hot and had to wear the military uniforms for certain scenes, but Tony Bill found it totally horrendously hot in those military uniforms. Tony Bill also found working on the film a very surreal experience, but just went with the director Sydney Pollack thinking he knew what he was doing. But what Tony Bill really enjoyed was working with Burt Lancaster who he really admired and respected. As to the actor Peter Falk, kept himself much to himself and would not mix with the other actors. Tony Bill again really admired the director Sydney Pollack, because shooting the film had a lot of problems and difficulties and again admire Sydney Pollack how he handled these difficult situations and also had a lot of tenacity in trying to get the film finished, and again helped Tony Bill to be able to act out his scenes, and especially having to work in a communist country, where in between filming there was nothing to do, but at least Tony Bill had his family with him. So all in all, this was a very interesting interview with the actor Tony Bill and especially hearing his experiences working on the film ‘CASTLE KEEP’ and is well worth viewing.   

Special Feature: Eastlake at USD (1968] [480i] [1.37:1] [29:46] Here we get to view an archival videotaped interview with the acclaimed author William Eastlake who wrote the original novel “Castle Keep.” We are informed that the following interview with “Castle Keep” author William Eastlake was conducted by John R. Milton, Director of Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota and editor of the “South Dakota Review.” The black-and-white interview was originally broadcast on the South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s flagship, Vermillion – based UHF channel, KUSD-TV in May 1968. Originally shot and edited on videotape, and unfortunately the programme exhibits instances of image damage and sound distortion, which we are in keeping with a production of its age and type of recording. However, they say its importance as a unique archival document makes its inclusion here essential and they hope you agree. Well to be honest, I found the interview with the author William Eastlake totally and utterly boring, as he had no sort of interesting personality to hold your interest, and on top of all that, the intermittent badly damaged videotape did not help me wanting to watch the whole interview and to anyone else out there who might want to view this very frustrating archive material, well I wish you luck in your endeavour and what was equally annoying, is that author William Eastlake does not make any effort to talk about his novel “Castle Keep.”   

Theatrical Trailer [1969] [1080p] [2.35:1] [3:24] This is the original Theatrical Trailer for the film ‘CASTLE KEEP’ and certainly gives you a sort of flavour what the film is all about.

Finally, ‘CASTLE KEEP’ film was directed by Sydney Pollack with the cinematography handled really professionally by Henri Decaë. This bizarre eccentric take on the Second World War sees both the comical and sheer futility of it all. There’s no doubting that this is one hell of a very surreal and fascinating film. ‘CASTLE KEEP’ is another war film that probably will divide viewers more than most mainstream stuff out today, but it is still definitely worth watching to see what side of the opinion fence you sit. Highly Recommended!

Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado 
Le Cinema Paradiso 
United Kingdom

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