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Time Without Pity

David Graham is a failed drunk of a novelist who's just been discharged from a sanitarium to discover that his son Alec is on death row for murdering a young woman in Joseph Losey and Ben Barzman's adaptation of actor/playwright Emlyn Williams's thriller, Time Without Pity (1957). Frenetically shot and edited by director Losey, the film barrels forward powered by a thinly veiled undercurrent of rage that partially invigorates the hopelessly pat source material. But it's Michael Redgrave as the pathetic Graham who invests this tale with a trace of humanity, elevating it above its trite beat-the-clock trappings. Faced with a scant 24 hours to save his son from the gallows, Graham, armed only with the trial transcript, sets about shaking down automobile magnate Robert Stanford (Leo McKern) and his family in order to discover the truth about the murder for which his son has been falsely convicted. Since Losey shows the lecherous Stanford killing the young woman in the film's opening sequence, what little suspense there is hinges on Graham's proximity to exposing the millionaire patriarch as the guilty party, which proves difficult since Stanford has ensured the silence of all those tangentially involved in the case through bribes or intimidation. Graham eventually gains the assistance of Stanford's wife, Honor (Ann Todd), who, it turns out, might've been engaged in an affair of her own with Alec. It's through Honor that Graham is able to win over his uncooperative son, who harbors a deep and abiding resentment for a lifetime of indifference. But Graham's greatest obstacles are his own demons; namely, the ever-present temptation of drink to which he too easily succumbs on more than one occasion, threatening to derail his hastily mounted investigation. As the moment of Alec's execution nears, Graham, overwhelmed with despair, must fight through his sickness to lucidly confront and expose the loathsome Stanford as the real killer. While drunks have always been a favorite role of hammy actors, Redgrave's nuanced work as David Graham in Time Without Pity steers clear of the stumbling, slurring clichés of lushes past. Probably best known today as the father of Vanessa and Lynn, Michael Redgrave was a phenomenal talent who, despite masterful turns in films like The Browning Version and Dead of Night, has never really received the recognition he deserved. For those unfamiliar with his work, Time Without Pity offers up the thespian at his resourceful best, imbuing routine material with a twitchy, sad-eyed portrayal of a man whose selfish failings now (improbably) threaten to damn his son. It's sadly fitting that, for a career wasted on less-than-stellar entertainments, Redgrave might've given the performance of a lifetime in an otherwise minor picture. Matching Redgrave in his intensity is the rotund McKern, who thunders away convincingly as the bullying Stanford. The film also features Peter Cushing as Alec's weak-willed barrister, and Joan Plowright in her feature debut as the sister of the murdered girl. As the first film to be credited to director Losey after his McCarthy era blacklisting, Time Without Pity strains mightily to say a great deal in its brief running-time about capital punishment, greed, and silence in the face of injustice. Unfortunately, Losey and scripter Barzman, while understandably capable at working up a lather, are poor smugglers, and the picture suffers from thematic overload. Despite this shortcoming, however, the film is still eminently involving thanks to the performances and brisk pacing. Home Vision Entertainment presents Time Without Pity in a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with Dolby Digital 1.0 audio. Extras include Losey's first short film, "Pete Roleum and His Cousins" (16 min.), a stop-motion animated ode to oil commissioned for the 1939 World's Fair, and an essay by film critic Wheeler Winston Dixon. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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