Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Khartoum" Is a Great Movie

Cleveland Press June 29, 1966

Military hero, mystic, egotist and a Bible-reading drinker -- the man that was General Gordon was a many faceted character.

And his opponent, the Sudanese leader known as the Mahdi, also was a military genius and a mystic, a man with a vision but more Messianic than Gordon.

The clash of opposing armies is too often all that is conveyed in epic historical adventure films.

"Khartoum" is an exception in that the clash of personalities is also dramatically portrayed. Not only is it dramatized at the level of the two main characters, but it is strongly developed among lesser personages in the drama.

THE MOVIE takes its title from the name of an Egyptian city threatened in a Sudanese uprising and which Gordon was sent to evacuate. The defense of the city took on added importance as Gordon realized that the Mahdi was a religious zealot who planned to take over all of Islam and that Khartoum was merely the first step.

The movie effectively dips into the political background of late 19th Century England, shows Gordon as a pawn in a move by Prime Minister Gladstone (beautifully played by Ralph Richardson) to avoid intervention in Egypt while providing a show of help.

A movie script can do little more than skim the surface of history. That of "Khartoum" is a better, more informative and more literate script than most.

Charlton Heston as Gordon is better than he has ever been. True, it is the sort of casting that has become almost automatic for him. But this time it is no paste board figure that he plays but a flesh and blood man, though a complicated one.

HE ACTS with more realization of the nuances of a character than he has ever indicated, with greater feeling, with more understanding. Sometimes, in the past, Heston's restraint has seemed less a deliberate matter than an inability to break loose.

Laurence Olivier's role as the Mahdi is a relatively small but important one. As with "Othello" Laurence is more than a well-known actor with heavy makeup, but a performer totally immersed in a carefully worked out characterization.

There is little action to the role and Olivier is forced to convey meanings with his voice and his eyes. With a lesser actor the role would have receded into the background.

FOR THOSE who want action, "Khartoum" offers desert charges, hand-to-hand combat, wall scaling, artillery fire and plenty of explosions. These have been magnificently staged across the wide Cinerama screen. Surely there must have been casualties among the thousands of extras involved as soldiers.

Inevitably "Khartoum" will be compared with "Lawrence of Arabia." Both concern desert warfare and enigmatic heroes. Gordon is an easier figure to understand, though never completely.

"Lawrence" reached greater heights as a movie had more memorable moments, but also had its irritations.

"Khartoum" is a balanced mixture of drama and action, has a tighter script. Its musical score is effective but not overpowering and it will probably not achieve the popularity of the "Lawrence" music.

"Khartoum" will not cause the stir that "Lawrence" did, but it will be accepted as a great and major motion picture.

It has less sand, more characterization and it is far easier to sit through.