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Fear and Desire
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by Jay Seaver

"Kubrick's first is good enough to not keep hidden."
3 stars

"Fear and Desire" would have enough of a place in history for being Stanley Kubrick's first film; that he found it embarrassing and thus did all he can to keep it out of circulation probably made film fans more curious about it. Over a decade after his death, it's easily available, and there's no reason not to satisfy one's curiosity.

Four soldiers have survived a plan crash behind enemy lines: Lieutenant Corby (Kenneth Harp), a well-educated officer; Sergeant "Mac" (Frank Silvera), a grizzled veteran; Private Fletcher (Stephen Coit), quiet and laid-back; and Private Sidney (Paul Mazursky), a nervous new recruit. The lieutenant thinks they can build a raft and float down the river to the other side of enemy lines under the cover of darkness, while Mac has spotted a plane and a general, and thinks they should strike a blow against the enemy even if they only have the lieutenant's pistol for weaponry.

The nationality of the soldiers is not merely kept vague, but entirely hypothetical, as an opening bit of narration states that this forest and this war exists entirely in the mind, and things like language and names have been presented as they are for nothing but convenience. It's a bit of a pretentious affectation, Kubrick wouldn't so much grow out of such things as stop announcing them in such a clumsy manner. He's still got a bit of growing to do as a filmmaker in other areas, too - for a movie that's just over an hour long, Fear and Desire can bog down at times, as abstraction doesn't involve the audience quite so much as detail.

Still, even if Kubrick-the-legend isn't immediately evident here, he's still obviously a guy who knows what he's doing. Serving as director, producer, photographer, and editor, he handles his tiny budget well, building a world that may be non-specific and sparsely populated by still feels solid enough. There's much less arguing of positions than one might expect from a movie this conceptual and a lot more doing, and while the depiction of violence can be kind of artsy, the aftermath can be surprisingly grisly for a film made in the early 1950s.

The script by Howard Sackler isn't necessarily the strongest, but it does give Kubrick four of the basic soldier archetypes to work with, and the cast does well by them. Kenneth Harp's lieutenant has a bit of upper-class detachment to him, but isn't cowardly or stupid; similarly, Frank Silvera plays every sergeant who's ever known what it's really like on the ground, and they naturally clash. It's dramatic and a bit familiar, but well-done without too much exaggeration. Paul Mazursky does well enough as the sweet-seeming kid who cracks, though he seems to be playing a type versus an individual more than the rest of the cast. Steve Coit is in the background for much of the film, but makes a nice impression when he is called upon later.

"Fear and Desire" is an odd little thing, which probably would have been a film school project if Kubrick had come to cinema via a different route in a different time. Despite its obscurity (both deliberate and natural), it's still worth seeing just to watch, as opposed to only being studied in terms of what it says about the director's evolution.

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originally posted: 02/06/13 16:14:42
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  01-Apr-1953 (NR)
  DVD: 23-Oct-2012



Directed by
  Stanley Kubrick

Written by
  Howard Sackler

  Frank Silvera
  Paul Mazursky
  Kenneth Harp
  Stephen Coit
  Virginia Leith

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