ACROSS THE BRIDGE (Ken Annakin, 1957)

Rod Steiger was excrutiatingly mannered as Sol Nazerman, the misanthropic Holocaust survivor in The Pawnbroker (Sidney Lumet, 1965), which he adjudged to be his best performance. Steiger was merely irritatingly mannered in what he considered to be his next-best performance, as Carl Schaffner, an embezzling German-born British tycoon fleeing authorities in Across the Bridge. Steiger’s self-assessments help explain how so talented an actor could be so lousy so often. Both these films, themselves ham-fisted and horrible, suggest Steiger’s knack for choosing to appear in what turn out to be the worst movies imaginable, including the morally depraved, crudely melodramatic On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954).
     Schaffner winds up in Mexico, in a small border town, using the passport and identity of Paul Scarff, whom he believes he has killed, and who himself, heavily ironically, turns out to be a wanted criminal. Confiscating the passport, the resident chief of police (Noel Willman, giving a shrewd performance tinged with Third World melancholy) both frustrates the authorities who are plotting to capture Schaffner and return him to British justice and tries extorting money from the wealthy businessman, commoditizing Schaffner’s freedom and very life. Indeed, the film focuses on the cruel things being done to Schaffner, leaving to our imagination the human fallout from Schaffner’s own crimes.
     Grotesquely written (from the story by Graham Greene), inconsequentially directed by Ken Annakin, Across the Bridge also has a dog in it—Dolores, Scarff’s dog, who heartbleedingly attaches herself to Schaffner, becoming the cinching means for our caring about the deadbeat, who starts out by kicking her but eventually realizes this is all in the world that cares about him. The fucking Brits, unsportsman-like, capture and tie Dolores on the bridge to the U.S., hoping to lure Schaffner into their custody.

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