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Film / The Passage

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The Passage is a 1979 British action film directed by J. Lee Thompson, starring Anthony Quinn and James Mason.

Professor John Bergson (Mason) is a scientist who is wanted by the Nazis. Perea of the French resistance entrusts him and his family to the care of an elderly Basque shepherd (Quinn) who will show them through a passage in the Pyrenees Mountains so they can reach neutral Spain. In the meantime, they're pursued by sadistic SS officer Captain von Berkow (a scenery-eating Malcolm McDowell), who is determined to capture them.

It is based on the Bruce Nicolaysen novel Perilous Passage. Nicolaysen also wrote the script, and it is to date his sole screenwriting credit. The film is known to have bombed spectacularly for a variety of reasons including rather shoddy production values despite its budget and star-studded cast, and its rather unusual, meandering editing style. Critics of the time also latched onto a scene involving von Berkow wearing a Nazi jockstrap as the most visible example of the overly-indulgent film's refusal to even take itself seriously. Nevertheless it remains something of a cult film.

Not to be confused with the 2010 novel by Justin Cronin. Or with the 2002 Connie Willis novel Passage.

Tropes present in this work:

  • Adaptation Name Change: The Bergman family is now the Bergson family.
  • And Starring: "With Christopher Lee!"
  • Ate His Gun: The dying von Berkow in a rather bizarre hallucination at the end.
  • Autocannibalism: It's implied that Von Berkow forces Renoudot to eat his own fingers.
  • Bad Boss: Von Berkow frequently yells at his men and leaves one behind to die when he's injured, and also shoots his Vichy French guide in the back for siding against him.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Part of the movie takes place in Vichy France. A Vichy Frenchman also guides von Berkow and his men through the mountains. However, von Berkow suspects him of duplicity and eventually shoots him.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: The Basque, like any grizzly old badass in a movie like this.
  • Death by Cameo: Christopher Lee.
  • Defiant to the End: The leader of the gypsies.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mrs. Bergson, after realizing she's The Load, goes off in the night to freeze to death in the storm.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Reinke (who is a regular Wehrmacht officer) is shown to be horrified by von Berkow's methods. Von Berkow tells him he's a Minion with an F in Evil.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The gypsy leader. When faced with torture and death, he casually tells the Nazis everyone has to die sooner or later, so go ahead and do whatever they want because their threats don't scare him. His son, on the other hand...
  • Faux Affably Evil: Von Berkow is always kind and polite, but it's a facade concealing a deeply disturbed mind.
  • Fin Gore: Von Berkow cuts off Renoudot's fingers.
  • I Am a Humanitarian: Von Berkow uses human fingers as an ingredient in a dish when he's torturing Renoudot while also making dinner. It's possible this was only done as part of the torture, though, and von Berkow is never shown actually eating the food.
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: Mrs. Bergson is Genre Savvy enough to realize she's The Load, and repeatedly attempts to persuade her family to leave her behind because she can't make it through the mountains. When they won't listen and keep insisting on dragging her along, she eventually departs of her own volition.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: Von Berkow uses this trope a couple of times, frequently using proxies to torment and torture in lieu of the actual person he wants information from.
  • Hair-Trigger Avalanche: One of these is started by von Berkow shooting at the Basque on a cliff.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Mrs. Bergson, who chooses to die in the snow rather than slow her family down, and Perea, who goes back to try and kill von Berkow in order to buy the group some time, getting himself blown up.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The Basque may claim he's Only in It for the Money, but he really does care about the family in his own gruff, Anthony Quinn way.
  • Large Ham: Von Berkow. He's basically Alex De Large in a Nazi uniform.
  • The Load: Mrs. Bergson is elderly and has trouble making it through the mountains, with her husband and children frequently having to help her. The Basque is frequently annoyed with her. However, she's likable enough that unlike mods examples of this trope, she never drags the movie down. She even eventually realizes she is only slowing the group down and leaves.
  • Made of Explodium: The German train. La RĂ©sistance shoot it repeatedly until it explodes. Justified, though, because it is said to be an ammunition transport.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Reinke. In Perilous Passage, he is simply "the lieutenant."
  • Nazi Nobleman: Von Berkow. He laments that he comes from an important family who expected all their sons to be generals and colonels in the Wehrmacht, but he chose the SS because he believes in Hitler's new world order.
  • Nay-Theist: When Mrs. Bergson says they can make it across the mountains with God's help, the Basque sarcastically replies "God. I forgot about Him."
  • Neck Snap: The Basque kills a Gestapo agent this way.
  • One Last Job: The way the Basque treats his mission to guide the family.
  • Only in It for the Money: The Basque only agrees to guide the Bergsons if he gets paid.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: In one scene, von Berkow tries to bribe Renoudot because it's just easier than beating him up and torturing him for the information he wants. However, Renoudot lies, leading to von Berkow torturing him anyway.
  • Refusal of the Call: The Basque initially rejects La RĂ©sistance's request to get Bergson and his family to safety, claiming the trip is too dangerous and he doesn't want to leave his safe farm. He eventually agrees to do it for five thousand pesetas.
  • Run for the Border: The movie's plot is basically this writ large. Unusually, though, the story continues even after the heroes have made it across the border into Spain, because the SS wipes its rear end with international non-aggression treaties and they pursue them into Spain anyway in violation of Germany's diplomatic relations with them.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Bergson, who goes from meek scientist and family man to shooting Nazi soldiers in the face. His son, Paul, also becomes quite the gun-toting badass at the end, and Leah proves to be very capable at aggressive driving.
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: Done in a rather horrifying scene by von Berkow. He pours gasoline onto the gypsies' leader and says he'll let him go if his son will tell him where the Bergsons are. In the meantime, the old guy tells von Berkow to go to hell. Eventually, the son caves in and squeals, whereupon von Berkow says "He can go to exactly where he told me to go. Hell!" and flicks a lit cigarette into the father, burning him up.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Personified by von Berkow in his all-black SS uniform (the ones they had in the field were green-gray, not much different from regular Army uniforms).
  • Would Hit a Girl: The Nazis. They torture Madame Alba and von Berkow also hits Leah.