TIME LIMIT (director: Karl Malden; screenwriters: from the play by Ralph Berkey & Henry Denker/Henry Denker; cinematographer: Sam Leavitt; editors: William Reynolds/Aaron Stell; music: Fred Steiner; cast: Richard Widmark (Col. William Edwards), Richard Basehart (Major Harry Cargill), Dolores Michaels (Corporal Jean Evans), June Lockhart (Mrs. Cargill), Carl Benton Reid (General Connors), Martin Balsam (Sgt. Baker), Rip Torn (Lt. Miller), Kaie Deei (Col. Kim); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: William Reynolds/Richard Widmark; UA releasing; 1957)

"The taut direction, finely tuned philosophical screenplay and crisp performances, make this superior courtroom military film a suspenseful and cerebral one."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The sole film directed by character actor Karl Malden is a skillfully done b/w army courtroom drama (without the courtroom) revolving around an American officer who was a POW in North Korea and is accused of treason. It's based on the talky play by Ralph Berkey & Henry Denker. The taut direction, finely tuned philosophical screenplay and crisp performances, make this superior courtroom military film a suspenseful and cerebral one.

Army Colonel William Edwards (Richard Widmark), in 1954 at the military base at Governors Island in New York City, has been asked by the Pentagon to investigate the apparently open and shut case of Major Harry Cargill (Richard Basehart), accused by 14 witnesses of collaborating with the enemy while he was held captive in a Korean POW camp, Gee Gee, with these other servicemen. Cargill admits his guilt and refuses to say anything else. There's proof that he indoctrinated his fellow POWs with Red propaganda and made anti-American speeches over Korean radio falsely stating that the Americans engaged in germ warfare. As Edwards investigates whether to proceed with a court-martial, he suspiciously notices that the witnesses all offer the same seemingly rehearsed responses to his questions. Edwards, though pressured by his boss General Connors (Carl Benton Reid) to hurry up, bucks his superior and takes his time. After speaking with the accused's devoted wife (June Lockhart) and fellow POW Lieutenant George Miller (Rip Torn), there's new light shed on the major's actions.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

The stagebound film gets ambiguously resolved. The crusty general, whose son Joe was killed in the camp under mysterious circumstances, takes a hard line that the military code of honor must be followed no matter the emotional circumstances, while the major at last exclaims: "how long can a man be expected to play the hero? There should be a time limit on such a duty." It's revealed that Cargill had agreed to cooperate with the enemy to keep his men from being executed--but only after another American soldier, whose name Cargill wants to keep out of it, had ratted out the POW's escape plans while under torture. It ends with Cargill probably facing a court martial and Edwards acting as his defense attorney, as it asks the viewer to judge for themselves the unresolved question about a soldier's duty when tortured at a POW camp.

REVIEWED ON 3/29/2010       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"