Reviews | Written by Rich Cross 28/01/2022

THE BLOCKHOUSE (1973)

A wartime prisoner film with a distinctive and alarming premise, The Blockhouse is a harsh and claustrophobic study of the existential terror of incarceration in the company of others. On D-Day 1944, allied prisoners forced to build coastline defences for the Nazis come under attack from a bombardment from the sea and air. A small group find sanctuary in a blockhouse. When the survivors descend to the lower levels they become trapped, without prospect of rescue, amidst stockpiles of food and supplies. As the weeks and months pass, the pressure cooker of their predicament begins to distort the sanity of each of the men stuck below ground.

Based on a 1955 novel by Jean-Paul Clébert, and shot entirely on location in the Channel Islands, the film premiered at the 1973 Berlin International Film Festival but went almost unnoticed in the decades that followed. After the opening set-piece, the drama is locked away in the concrete catacombs and takes on more of a theatrical timbre. The intentionally monotonous visuals mean that everything relies on the performances of the small but high-calibre cast. British comedian Peter Sellers (as Rouquet) and French chanteur Charles Aznavour (as Visconti) play against type to impressive effect.

The screenplay by John Gould and Clive Rees is relentlessly bleak, and in the director’s chair Rees makes no compromise to their dark vision - even preferring silence over a musical score. It’s perhaps not surprising that cinema distribution companies of the time were reluctant to champion the film. This new release of The Blockhouse by Powerhouse Films includes a theatrical and a director’s cut, and a generous collection of special features.

The limited-edition Blu-ray release of THE BLOCKHOUSE is out now