Battle-Weary Battalion – Rediscovering ‘Castle Keep’ (US 1969 – 105 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - December 23, 2013
Battle-Weary Battalion – Rediscovering ‘Castle Keep’ (US 1969 – 105 mins)

“Europe’s dying”, “No Beckman, she’s dead” – Major Falconer to Captain Beckman.

A critical failure at the time, and a film with twice as many questions as answers, the marvellously surreal 1969 movie ‘Castle Keep’, can be viewed as either a straight forward war movie or as an allegory for the madness of war itself.

Based on William Eastlake’s ambitious 1965 novel, ‘Castle Keep’ tells the story of a group of weary American soldiers, led by Major Falconer (Burt Lancaster), who take shelter in an ancient castle situated deep in the Ardennes Forest. This 10th century castle also happens to be home to many priceless art treasures. The troops idea of just sitting out the war however, is soon interrupted by the advancing Germans.

The ensemble cast is led by Burt Lancaster, as the one-eyed Major, presiding over his motley team of military misfits. Peter Falk plays Sergeant Rossi, a sex-mad baker, while Patrick O’Neal’s Captain Beckman is more concerned with preserving the castle’s valuable art work, than he is with the war around him. Jean-Pierre Aumont plays the castle’s owner, an impotent aristocrat who has hopes of the Major impregnating his Countess wife. The impressive supporting cast is made up by Al Freeman, Jr’s would-be writer, Scott Wilson’s Volkwagen-loving Soldier, Bruce Dern as a conscientious objector, and Astrid Heeren as the Countess, who is as beautiful as the castle’s historical artwork.

The films fiery climax features one of the most excitingly staged battle scenes in movie history. At over twenty minutes in length, the photography and direction are terrific. The widescreen is filled with stunningly lit night-time explosions, and expertly edited combat sequences, with a messiah-like Lancaster almost single-handedly taking on the Hun.

This was Lancaster’s third and final collaboration with 34 year old director Sydney Pollack. The talented Pollack had directed some scenes for Lancaster’s brilliant 1968 movie ‘The Swimmer’, before re-teaming for the enjoyable comedy-western ‘The Scalphunters’ (1968).

‘Castle Keep’ has rightfully gained quite a cult following through the years. With it’s dark humour, harsh Belgium winter scenery, and dreamlike execution, the movie is beautiful to look at, and exciting to watch. For me, this movie is one of cinema’s last great war films, with a cast to die for.

There’s only one question that still remains for me……..was it all a dream?

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3 Comments on "Battle-Weary Battalion – Rediscovering ‘Castle Keep’ (US 1969 – 105 mins)"

  • Daren

    If Astrid Heeren was a modern day actress/model, she would in my mind blow anyone else out of the water. She was just naturally beautiful. Strange she only made 3 movies. Would love to know her reasons for this and what she’s doing now !!

    • admin

      Astrid was indeed a stunning presence in this one-of-kind war picture. Maybe acting wasn’t for her and decided to leave the business. Whatever the reasons, I hope she found her calling in life and remains in a good place.

  • Timothy Moen

    Napoleon before Venice said, ” If my

    cannon destroy but one statue…

    …I would rather not take Venice.”

    Did Napoleon say that?

    – Doesn’t sound like Napoleon.

    – Oh, well, no.

    – But I thought it would cheer you up.

    – I appreciate that.

    But Napoleon was a louse.

    – I think soldiering is a bore, don’t you?

    – Yes, sir.

    But I see you have the Purple Heart

    and Silver Star.

    I got excited. For a whole year I was

    out of my mind, but I’ve recovered now.

    But you’d fight for this castle.

    Yes.

    I don’t know who.

    I don’t know which side

    would want to destroy it.

    One thing more, sir.

    Sorry I couldn’t help

    during the lecture.

    That’s beyond and above

    the call of duty.

    – Still…

    – When you write your book…

    …you can rescue me.

    No, don’t bother.

    Just write well about this castle

    and how we kept it.

    It’s really not a bad title,

    Castle Keep.

    Thank you, sir.

    i first stumbled on this picture when I was a teenager when it would pop up now and again on broadcast television…chopped up for commercial interruption. but even then I said hmmm what the hell is this…this is interesting..this is at least trying to do something intelligent and different from the usual war movie. Yes I can understand the criticism…pretentious and unrealistic dialogue etc. which is a common response from Americans especially, when someone attempts to at least try to.make something intelligent and different…well the dialogue is not MEANT to be realistic etc. The movie is a dream…an allegory or a novelized take on the absurdity of war as seen thru the eyes of PFC Benjamin. The dialogue does indeed have a Samuel Beckett like quality and it is just as darkly humorous and pithy. This forgotten gem, although flawed as they say, truly deserves the moniker “cult classic”

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