Time Without Pity
March 20, 2002
Starring: Michael Redgrave, Leo McKern, Ann Todd, Paul Daneman, Peter Cushing, Alec McCowen, Renee Houston, Lois Maxwell, Richard Wordsworth, George Devine, Joan Plowright, Ernest Clark, Peter Copley, Hugh Moxey, Dickie Henderson, ,
Filmmaker Joseph Losey was blacklisted from Hollywood during the McCarthy witch-hunts of the 1950s. He relocated to England and made films under a pseudonym. Time Without Pity (1957) was made during his early British incarnation period (1954-62) and was the first film released under his real name after the blacklisting.
David Graham (Redgrave) returns to England from a stint in rehab in Montreal because his son, Alec (McCowen), is to be executed for murder. He is bitter at having not seen his father much over the years because of the patriarch’s job as a novelist. Alec is resigned to his fate. Feeling guilty for neglecting his son, David decides to try and do something but he only has 24-hours to prove his son’s innocence. David has very little to go on and must find a way to fight back his alcoholic tendencies as the pressure to save his son mounts.
There is urgency to everything David does because time is of the essence. Losey underlines this visually in one scene by framing Graham with a clock in the background as he frantically talks about his lack of time. The clock reinforces the immediacy of his mission. And yet the film’s pacing is not as frantic as you’d expect given the circumstances. Perhaps it is the British knack for politeness and decorum, even in the face of life and death that separates this movie from its American counterparts. David is constantly tempted to drink. People are constantly offering or pouring drinks for the poor man.
This film has a top notch cast. Michael Redgrave does a fantastic job of portraying a man being pulled apart at the seams. As the film progresses, the weariness setting in becomes visible in the way he walks, his short temper, and in his increasingly haggard appearance. David is trying to go cold turkey from drinking, prove his son’s innocence, and reconnect with him after years of estrangement. It’s a powerhouse performance as Redgrave transforms himself from a prim and proper English gentleman to a frantic man with nothing left to lose.
Aside from Redgrave, Peter Cushing (in a rare non-horror film role) plays Alec’s lawyer. A young Joan Plowright is the beautiful sister of the dead girl. Leo McKern, who would later go on to fame with playing Rumpole, is a powerful figure who may provide a crucial clue to solving the murder. Look close and you’ll spot a young Lois Maxwell who would later go on to play Ms. Moneypenny in the James Bond films.
Included on the DVD is a short film, entitled “Petroleum and His Cousins,” that marked Joseph Losey’s directorial debut. He was commissioned to make it for the petroleum industry exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. It’s an amusing stop-motion animated short film advertising all the various uses of petroleum. It’s pretty impressive considering the year it was made.
There are also filmographies for Losey, Michael Redgrave and Leo McKern.
Time Without Pity is a prime example of a British film noir. This DVD features an excellent transfer free of any blemishes or artifacting. Fans of Losey will be happy that this underrated director is finally getting his due with a fine DVD release.