J. Lee Thompson’s (Guns of Navarone/Cape Fear) movie The Passage is a genuine oddity. Set during the Nazi occupation of France, it tells the story of a group of French Resistance leaders is desperate to smuggle professor John Bergson (James Mason) and his family safely out of the country. As their options dwindle, they decide to hire a crusty Basque shepherd (Anthony Quinn) to guide the Bergsons across the treacherous, snowcapped Pyrenees. No sooner do they get started, however, than the Nazis catch wind of their plan and send the sadistic Capt. Von Berkow (Malcolm McDowell) to bring them back.
Ostensibly a standard WWII adventure, the picture is in fact a theatre of cruelty, with Malcolm McDowell gleefully sabotaging any pretensions to reality the story possessed. Anthony Quinn’s Basque farmer helps a scientist (James Mason) and family escape over the Pyrenees to neutral Spain, pursued by McDowell’s unhinged SS Officer Capt Von Berkow.
Thompson throws in a great deal of torture porn, as a chirpy McDowell burns, slices and rapes his way across the scenic Basque Country.
Playing Alex DeLarge in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Caligula in the same year as The Passage appears to have fuelled the actor’s desire to go full-evil. Or maybe he just thought that the movie was going to be such a dud that he might as well have fun with it. Which he does – playing his role like a live action cartoon – a malevolent mix of The Great Cazoo (Flintstones), and Bugs Bunny with a dash of Pepé Le Pew.
Did Quentin Tarantino watch The Passage before coming up with the character of Standartenführer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) in Inglorious Basterds (2009)?
Take a look and you be the judge: