A Foreign Field” is a slow, embarrassingly sentimental comedy-melodrama about three World War II veterans revisiting the site of their combat. In subject matter and humor, all-star film aims at senior citizens, viewers who unfortunately seldom go to the movies anymore. Technically pedestrian, it’s probably more suitable for TV and video than for theatrical markets.
Pic begins as a comic tale of Amos (Guinness) and Cyril (Leo McKern), two British vets who heroically participated in the D-Day landing and now return to Normandy for the first time. Their “mission” is twofold: to visit the grave of a wartime buddy, and to look up Angelique (Jeanne Moreau), the French girl Cyril was enamored of back in 1944.
At their hotel, they run into Waldo (John Randolph), an American vet traveling with his bickering daughter (Geraldine Chaplin) and her CPA husband (Edward Herrmann).
To his surprise and dismay, Cyril realizes the Yank is there for the same reason he is: to revisit Angelique, who seduced him too. Lauren Bacall, as a mysterious lady who appears to be an American widow, is also staying at the hotel.
TV writer Roy Clarke’s utterly predictable script consists of brief scenes in which each of the characters makes revelations about his/her past and shares some painful and joyful memories.
In the first half-hour, the healthy, if obvious, humor is based on the rivalry between the Brit and the Yank, reflecting the mutual distrust between the Allies in 1944. But as the tale unfolds, it loses its humor and shamelessly goes after pathos and slapstick.
Clarke’s material might work better on stage or TV (in fact it was produced for the BBC), where its contrived dialogue might serve as the basis for juicy acting. But it’s a pity that the impressive international cast is wasted on a schmaltzy story.
It is always a pleasure to see Guinness, who does some marvelous things (mostly gestures) as a long-wounded vet. But most of the other actors play cliched parts rather than well-rounded individuals, particularly Chaplin and Herrmann as an uptight and unpleasant couple who seem to be there only to make the older actors appear more sympathetic.
As the retired prostie now living in a home, Moreau brings some life to her stereotypical role and delivers a stirring rendition of Edith Piaf’s “La vie en rose.”
Bacall, as a boozy widow whose national identity constitutes the film’s only genuine mystery, looks elegant, but is given nothing memorable to do or say.
Charles Sturridge, who established some reputation as helmer of TV’s “Brideshead Revisited” and the feature “Where Angels Fear to Tread,” here exhibits an unaccountably draggy, unmodulated style. Director for the most part uses head-on camera angles, and his strategy of tackling scenes directly results in a schematic film that lacks visual distinction, subtlety or nuance.