May 19, 2020  (Web Review)

Time Limit

Kino Lorber, 96 min., not rated, DVD: $19.99, Blu-ray: $21.99, Apr. 14

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

This 1957 drama, the only film ever directed by actor Karl Malden, is based on a Broadway play and remains rather talky and static, the action limited to a single office except for a late flashback to a POW camp. Nonetheless, the quality of the writing and acting makes for a tense, engrossing tale. Richard Widmark plays William Edwards, an army colonel who must decide whether Major Harry Cargill (Richard Basehart) should be court-martialed for collaborating with his North Korean captors while a prisoner—a case complicated by the fact that the son of Edwards’ superior died heroically in the same camp. Cargill admits his guilt and refuses to mount a defense, but Edwards is dissatisfied, despite warnings from his aide (Martin Balsam) that delaying a decision will harm his career. Instead, he insists on pressuring one of the former POWs (Rip Torn) to tell the truth about what motivated Cargill to so blatantly betray his country and fellow soldiers. The film’s female characters—Edwards’ secretary (and romantic interest) Jean (Dolores Michaels) and Cargill’s wife (June Lockhart)—are weak, but Widmark, Basehart and Torn give intense performances, and Balsam is engaging as the sergeant trying to protect his boss. Most important, Time Limit succeeds as a dramatic debate pitting military discipline against human ethics in the most extreme context, when soldiers are captured and threatened with torture—or worse. The film raises issues that remain relevant even after more than six decades. Though the only bonus item is a series of trailers, this is recommended. (F. Swietek)