This war film from Sydney Pollack centres on a beautiful 10th-century castle in a Belgian forest defended by a handful of Americans who make it their stronghold against the invading Germans in World War II.
It becomes a focal point in the struggle for beauty against ugliness, and sanity against insanity.
Trying to save the castle and its treasures – paintings by Van Gogh and Reubens, medieval sculptures, frescoed ceilings and elegant architecture – are the owner, a tattered French Count (Jean-Pierre Aumont) who shares his wife (Astrid Heeren) around, and Captain Beckman (Patrick O’Neal), an art historian.
One-eyed Major Abraham Falconer (Burt Lancaster) is a warmongering zealot concerned only with the battle, and his griping, fornicating soldiers stumble crassly around amid the castle’s centuries-old preciousness like the proverbial bulls in a china shop.
One of the men (Scott Wilson) thinks he is having an affair with a Volkswagen while another (Peter Falk) calmly sets up shop in the village as a baker and forgets that the war even exists. Another is a former priest given to harmless sexual fantasies.
The town itself is a disaster area of human flotsam. A group of pacifist American deserters is led around by ranting, hymn-chanting Lt. Billy Byron Bix (Bruce Dern) and the place is rammed with American soldiers in disorganised retreat. The local whorehouse fights German tanks with Molotov cocktails.
Just as the “comedy” threatens to degenerate into complete buffoonery, it all turns horribly black.
Men are dying all over. The battle scenes are Hell-like in intensity. The conflict is between mindless morons caring about nothing, least of all the freedom they have been charged to protect.
Major Falconer builds it all up into one final holocaust by withdrawing to the castle, for no reason other than to make a last clumsy, futile, self-destructive stand. When the smoke and flame clears, everything is gone.
Castle Keep was filmed on location in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, and at a studio in Belgrade. The elaborate $750,000 castle set in Kamenitza Park was accidentally destroyed during filing when a special effects explosion ignited gasoline fumes and the castle burned down. The flames were visible three miles down the Danube at the hotel in Petrovaradin where most of the cast and crew were staying.
Maj. Abraham Falconer
Capt. Lionel Beckman
Henri Tixier, Count of Maldorais
Therese de Maldorais
Pvt. Allistair Piersall Benjamin
Al Freeman Jr.
Lt. Billy Byron Bix
Red Queen Girls
Anne Marie Moskovenko