Rope of Sand Blu-ray review
“This part of the desert of South Africa, where only a parched camelthorn tree relieves the endless parallels of time, space and sky, surrounds like a rope of sand the richest diamond-bearing area in the world; an uneasy land where men inflamed by monotony and the heat sometimes forget the rules of civilization.”
There are warnings signs in three languages, instructing trespassers to keep away from the prohibited area. Any such trespassers near the diamond mine are quickly found and may never be seen again.
It’s been a while since Mike Davis (Burt Lancaster, whose credits up to this point included the Ernest Hemingway adaptation THE KILLERS and Jules Dassin’s BRUTE FORCE) has been to the area and his return is immediately questioned by Vogel (Paul Henreid, who portrayed Victor Laszlo in CASABLANCA), an intimidating commandant who knows that Mike hid a cache of diamonds on his last visit and will threaten to no end to find out the location for his boss.
That’s Martingale (Claude Rains, who had also appeared in CASABLANCA, as Captain Renault), who serves as head of the diamond-mining company. Martingale’s approach veers from Vogel’s violent tendencies and instead involves a sexy woman named Suzanne (Corinne Calvet, in her Hollywood debut; future credits include 1951’s ON THE RIVIERA and 1954’s THE FAR COUNTRY), who he hires to seduce Mike so he will reveal the location of the diamonds. And because films like this work a certain way, it’s only a matter of time before Suzanne eventually falls for Mike.
There is nothing entirely unexpected in the plot and so viewers have to accept that ROPE OF SAND won’t veer far from the formula. It is indeed, as many have suggested, another one of the numerous CASABLANCA-inspired dramas (even though it was released more than five years after Michael Curtiz’s work won three Academy Awads), with its foreign settings, broad-shouldered and selfish protagonist and supporting cast of thick air and dimly-lit bars. That the supporting cast is even populated by CASABLANCA alums (in addition to Henreid and Rains, Peter Lorre turns up as a character named Toady) is certainly no coincidence.
ROPE OF SAND features a number of clear knockoff moments and questionable goofs that could be designated plot holes (would a mining area’s means of security only be a sign planted in the sand, easily passable by a man on a horse?), but it’s still quite an enjoyable effort, in part because of Lancaster’s strong lead performance.
Director William Dieterle (1937’s THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA, which won Best Picture) keeps a steady vision and makes good use of the Arizona locations, making them believable South African desert landscapes. The score, by Franz Waxman (who earned 10 Oscar nominations in his career, winning for SUNSET BOULEVARD and A PLACE IN THE SUN), is also quite effective, as is the cinematography by Charles Lang (who himself earned a record-tying 18 Oscar nods, winning for 1932’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS), which calls to mind the noir genre.
ROPE OF SAND earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Screenplay (it lost to Robert Pirosh’s for BATTLEGROUND).
Video: 1.78:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. Although there are some scratches and the like throughout, ROPE OF SAND looks quite nice in high-definition and this Blu-ray features fine details and textures as well as strong blacks.
Audio: English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio. The dialogue is clear and Franz Waxman’s score sounds quite nice.
There are no special features on this release.