Monday, September 19, 2011

End of the Game (1975)

          Ambitious, provocative, and thoughtful—but ultimately jumbled because its reach exceeds its grasp—End of the Game is a twisty whodunit that intertwines the resolution of an epic conflict between two aging enemies with the melodrama of young characters drawn into a scheme beyond their understanding. If that already strikes you as a confusing premise, then you’ve lit upon this highly admirable picture’s main problem: End of the Game tries to tell at least one story too many, and, as a result, all of its narrative elements get short shrift. The movie gets all sorts of points for trying to make a complex statement about morality, but the statement is neither clear nor forcefully expressed.
          Martin Ritt, appearing here as an actor but better known to audiences as a director of sensitive dramas, is appealingly rumpled as a veteran Swiss detective named Baerlach, who has spent decades trying to prove that a powerful industrialist named Gastman (Robert Shaw) once killed a woman. For cold-blooded Gastman, getting away with murder is the ultimate aphrodisiac, so he relishes watching his old adversary struggle with clues and evidence; furthermore, Gastman uses lethal force to protect himself whenever Baerlach gets too close to closing the case. After Baerlach’s aide (Donald Sutherland) dies mysteriously, the relentless investigator decides Gastman was responsible, so he sends an eager young cop (Jon Voight) after Gastman, which unexpectedly draws the young cop’s lover (Jacqueline Bisset) into the intrigue.
          End of the Game was directed by Austrian hyphenate Maximilian Schell, best known as a leading and supporting actor in international movies; unsurprisingly, the flamboyance of his performance style carries over to his directorial approach. (Schell co-wrote the script with German author Friedrich Durrenmatt, upon whose novel the film is based.) Attractive European locations enhance the theme, because it’s as if the “game” has been played since the ancient bridges and buildings surrounding the characters were first erected. More importantly, Schell put together a terrific cast, and the valiant efforts of his leading players make the picture consistently watchable—even when the story becomes impossibly convoluted, the actors ensure that individual scenes are credible and tense.
          The premise of aging adversaries using younger people as pawns is interesting, and the juxtaposition of wise older characters and reckless younger ones gives the picture an existential quality: Everyone in this movie seems to be grasping for the deeper meaning of his or her own life. So, even though End of the Game doesn’t ultimately make all that much sense, it’s worthwhile because what it’s trying to accomplish is so interesting from a psychological perspective.

End of the Game: FUNKY


Joe Baker said...

Just watched this very hard to find movie today and I think I liked it a bit more than you. Schell does seem pretty amateurish behind the lens, but it does have great atmosphere.

Terrific blog by the way... just stumbled across it. My love for 70's cinema is akin to yours!

Barry Miller said...

Most of Schell's career, either as an actor ("Judgement at Nuremberg", for which he won The Oscar as Best Actor in 1961 with Montgomery Clift, or "The Young Lions" with Marlon Brando in 1958) has a connection to the ghosts of the Nazi past; both this film and his other Oscar-nominated film that he directed, "The Pedestrian" from the same year as "End of The Game" are suffused with German guilt and expiation down through the generations, either directly or indirectly. Of note also is the fact that Schell starred in Robert Shaw's "The Man In The Glass Booth" another tortured and haunted facet of the very same Third Reich diamond. Most provocatively, he played an ardent Jewish Zionist in the film adaptation of Chaim Potok's "The Chosen" (1982) alongside Rod Steiger, whose single greatest film performance was as a tormented and soulless Jewish Holocaust survivor in Sidney Lumet's "The Pawnbroker" from 1965, one of the very first Hollywood films to ever deal
with the subject matter in an extremely upfront manner.

Barry Miller said...

Oh yes....and Jon Voight in "The Odessa File" and Martin Ritt's "The Front"
and his personal legacy with The Hollywood Blacklist of the 50's...yep..Nazi references, signifiers, and allusions are all over this film.