The Cavern (1964 film)

Last updated
The Cavern
The Cavern.jpg
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by Jack Davies
Michael Pertwee
Starring John Saxon
Rosanna Schiaffino
Music by Carlo Rustichelli
Cinematography Gábor Pogány
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Schorcht Filmverleih
Release date

The Cavern (Italian : Sette contro la morte, German : Neunzig Nächte und ein Tag, also known as Helden - Himmel und Hölle) is a 1964 Italian-German-American war-drama film directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. This was his last film as a director. [1] [2] [3] It was one of a number of war movies John Saxon made outside Hollywood. [4]



Although the screenplay is credited to Jack Davies and Michael Pertwee, some confusion has existed about whether those writers were serving as fronts for the once-blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. [5] A 2015 biography of Trumbo co-written by his son Christopher cites Trumbo's claim that "For $5,000 and using a pseudonym that he no longer remembered, Trumbo dashed off a script that was probably not very good," and later demanded that his name be removed from anything to do with the production. [6] Film scholar Bernard F. Dick labels the assertion that Trumbo was denied screen credit for the film as a "Fallacy," noting that Trumbo had written the screenplay while blacklisted, but even though the blacklist had been lifted by the time of the film's release, he still wanted his pseudonym to be used. Although Dick calls The Cavern "a director's film," he does cite a scene of the trapped characters celebrating Christmas as a "quintessential Trumbo touch." [7] The exact roles of Davies and Pertwee remain unclear.

Working with a small budget by Hollywood standards, but still larger than most films he had directed, Ulmer began shooting in the Postojna Caves in Slovenia (Yugoslavia at the time) but was forced to relocate to Trieste, Italy, where an interior cavern set was constructed. [5]


In 1944 Italy, Allied forces are fighting German Nazi troops who have occupied Italy. Near a village, Anna (Rosanna Schiaffino), a local woman finds her lost goat in an abandoned hillside cavern, followed by her sometimes-boyfriend Mario (Nino Castelnuevo). American Sergeant Joe Cramer (John Saxon), also finds the cavern and alerts his small reconnaissance party, led by a Captain Wilson (Larry Hagman) and accompanied by a British war journalist and officer, who still likes to be addressed as "General" Braithwaite (Brian Aherne). They are also joined by another soldier, Lieutenant Peter Cramer (Peter Marshall), claiming to be a Canadian officer but soon revealed to be a deserter. The group is confronted by German officer Hans Beck (Hans von Borosody) and his sergeant, but nearby shelling seals the mouth of the cavern, killing the sergeant and trapping the seven together.

The group discovers that the cavern had been used as a supply and munitions depot, with a generator and enough food and water to sustain them for some time, as well as a stock of brandy. Not finding any other exit, the group sort themselves into individual living areas, while their social relationships quickly realign. Captain Wilson has no real command experience, and General Braithwaite is too old and set in his ways to be an effective commander, so Cramer becomes the acting leader of the group. Anna, who finds herself being subjugated to "women's work," winds up rebelling while sexual tension builds between her and Cramer. Braithwaite begins to steal brandy tand is discovered by Wilson, who promises not to inform the others as long as he can share the General's hidden bottles.

The group manages to hold together for many months while still seeking an escape route, but the confinement, dwindling supplies, and personality conflicts take an increasing toll on their mental states and united purpose. Eventually, overcome by his alcoholism and growing claustrophobia, Braithwaite shoots himself, triggering a small landslide that reveals a possible opening. Beck and Carter climb up the walls of the cavern, but Carter falls to his death. Beck makes it to an opening but just as he emerges into daylight and what he expects to be freedom, he is shot by anti-Nazi partisans. Unaware of what has happened to Cramer and Beck, the survivors in the cavern realize that they have to risk dying by detonating the rubble that had trapped them. The explosion succeeds.


See also

Related Research Articles

Dalton Trumbo American screenwriter and novelist

James Dalton Trumbo was an American screenwriter and novelist who scripted many award-winning films, including Roman Holiday (1953), Exodus, Spartacus, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944). One of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 during the committee's investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry.

<i>Roman Holiday</i>

Roman Holiday is a 1953 American romantic comedy film directed and produced by William Wyler. It stars Audrey Hepburn as a princess out to see Rome on her own and Gregory Peck as a reporter. Hepburn won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance; the screenplay and costume design also won.

<i>Spartacus</i> (film) 1960 film by Stanley Kubrick

Spartacus is a 1960 American epic historical drama film directed by Stanley Kubrick, written by Dalton Trumbo, and based on the 1951 novel of the same title by Howard Fast. It is inspired by the life story of Spartacus, the leader of a slave revolt in antiquity, and the events of the Third Servile War. It stars Kirk Douglas in the title role, Laurence Olivier as Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus, Peter Ustinov, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, as slave trader Lentulus Batiatus, John Gavin as Julius Caesar, Jean Simmons as Varinia, Charles Laughton as Sempronius Gracchus, and Tony Curtis as Antoninus.

John Saxon American actor

John Saxon was an American actor who worked on more than 200 projects during a span of 60 years. He was known for his work in Westerns and horror films, often playing police officers and detectives.

Brian Aherne English actor

William Brian de Lacy Aherne was an English actor of stage, screen, radio and television, who enjoyed a long and varied career in Britain and the US.

Edgar G. Ulmer American film director, set designer

Edgar Georg Ulmer was a Jewish-Moravian, Austrian-American film director who mainly worked on Hollywood B movies and other low-budget productions. His stylish and eccentric works came to be appreciated by auteur theory-espousing film critics in the years following his retirement. Ulmer's productions include The Black Cat (1934) and the film noir Detour (1945).

<i>The Long Ships</i> (film) 1964 film by Jack Cardiff

The Long Ships is a 1964 Anglo–Yugoslav adventure film shot in Technirama directed by Jack Cardiff and starring Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, Russ Tamblyn and Rosanna Schiaffino.

Paul Jarrico was an American screenwriter and film producer who was blacklisted by the Hollywood movie studio bosses during the era of McCarthyism.

Irving Pichel Actor, film director

Irving Pichel was an American actor and film director, who won acclaim both as an actor and director in his Hollywood career.

<i>The Victors</i> (1963 film)

The Victors is a 1963 British-American war film written, produced and directed by Carl Foreman, whose name on the film's posters was accompanied by nearby text, "from the man who fired The Guns of Navarone". Shot on location in Western Europe and Britain, The Victors features an all-star cast, with fifteen American and European leading players, including six actresses whose photographs appear on the posters — Melina Mercouri from Greece, Jeanne Moreau from France, Rosanna Schiaffino from Italy, Romy Schneider and Senta Berger from Austria as well as Elke Sommer from West Germany. One of the posters carries the tagline, "The six most exciting women in the world… in the most explosive entertainment ever made!".

<i>One of the Hollywood Ten</i>

One of the Hollywood Ten is a 2000 Spanish-British bio-picture. The film was written and directed by Karl Francis.

<i>Conspiracy of Hearts</i> 1960 film

Conspiracy of Hearts is a 1960 British Second World War film, directed by Ralph Thomas, about nuns in Italy smuggling Jewish children out of an internment camp near their convent to save them from The Holocaust. It stars Lilli Palmer, Sylvia Syms, Yvonne Mitchell and Ronald Lewis, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Film Promoting International Understanding at the 18th Golden Globe Awards in 1961.

Sorority House is a 1939 American drama film starring Anne Shirley and James Ellison. The film was directed by John Farrow and based upon the Mary Coyle Chase play named Chi House.

Hollywood blacklist

The Hollywood blacklist was the colloquial term for what was in actuality a broader entertainment industry blacklist put in effect in the mid-20th century in the United States during the early years of the Cold War. The blacklist involved the practice of denying employment to entertainment industry professionals believed to be or to have been Communists or sympathizers. Not just actors, but screenwriters, directors, musicians, and other American entertainment professionals were barred from work by the studios. This was usually done on the basis of their membership in, alleged membership in, or even just sympathy with the Communist Party USA, or on the basis of their refusal to assist Congressional investigations into the party's activities. Even during the period of its strictest enforcement, from the late 1940s through to the late 1950s, the blacklist was rarely made explicit or easily verifiable, as it was the result of numerous individual decisions by the studios and was not the result of official legal action. Nevertheless, it quickly and directly damaged or ended the careers and income of scores of individuals working in the film industry.

Pat Aherne English actor

Patrick de Lacy Aherne was an English film actor. He was the son of the architect William de Lacy Aherne, and the elder brother of the actor Brian Aherne. The family lived at Kings Norton.

<i>Drop Dead Darling</i>

Drop Dead Darling is a 1966 British-American black comedy film directed by Ken Hughes and starring Tony Curtis, Rosanna Schiaffino, Lionel Jeffries and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

<i>Corruption</i> (1963 film)

Corruption is a 1963 Italian drama film directed by Mauro Bolognini.

<i>Trumbo</i> (2015 film) 2015 film directed by Jay Roach

Trumbo is a 2015 American biographical drama film directed by Jay Roach and written by John McNamara. The film stars Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, and Michael Stuhlbarg. The film follows the life of Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, and is based on the 1977 biography Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Alexander Cook.

Robert Presnell, Jr. was an American writer and the husband of the actress Marsha Hunt. He was also an activist who participated in several humanitarian initiatives together with his wife. He became the director of radio shows such as I Love a Mystery and The Orson Welles Show.


  1. Roberto Chiti; Roberto Poppi; Enrico Lancia; Mario Pecorari (1991). Dizionario del cinema italiano. I film. Gremese Editore, 1992. ISBN   8876055932.
  2. Gregory William Mank (21 June 2010). Hollywood Cauldron. McFarland, 1994. ISBN   978-0786462551.
  3. Bernd Herzogenrath (20 May 2009). The Films of Edgar G. Ulmer. Scarecrow Press, 2009. ISBN   978-0810867369.
  4. Vagg, Stephen (July 29, 2020). "The Top Twelve Stages of Saxon". Filmink.
  5. 1 2 Nixon, Rob (May 17, 2017). "The Cavern". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved December 25, 2020.
  6. Ceplair, Larry; Trumbo, Christopher (2015). Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.
  7. Dick, Bernard F. (1989). Radical Innocence: A Critical Study of the Hollywood Ten. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. pp. 202–203.