|Directed by||Edgar G. Ulmer|
|Written by|| Jack Davies |
|Starring|| John Saxon |
|Music by||Carlo Rustichelli|
|Distributed by|| 20th Century Fox |
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. It was one of a number of war movies John Saxon made outside Hollywood.
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.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. 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." 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.
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.
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