Thomas Hudson (Scott) is an American sculptor whose self-imposed isolation on an island in the Bahamas is ended by two forces: the visit of his sons and the outbreak of World War II. Hudson attempts to guide his sons while coping with his own personal conflicts and the threat of war.
The film of Ernest Hemingway's posthumously published novel has the air of an Important Event that never quite comes off. Here's Thomas, an artist who's outlived his artistry and settled into sun-kissed reclusiveness on one of the lesser Bahamas. With World War II literally rumbling on the luminous horizon, he divides his time between torturing metal into sculpture, lolling with semi-worshipful retainers and cronies, and committing occasional acts of petty, booze-induced, aimless destructiveness. He is, of course, not
Ernest Hemingway. But if he were, who in 1979 would have more appropriately been asked to incarnate him than that disputatious, granite-jawed, reclusively inclined, Oscar-scorning actor George C. Scott? And who better to preside over the ceremony than Franklin J. Schaffner, the director of that earlier celebration of truculently rugged individualism, Patton
Alas, Scott doesn't so much act as pose, and Schaffner sets up every shot and every encounter like a dust-jacket for a tasteful book-club edition (the DVD transfer is impeccably crisp; the images, stillborn). Thomas's attempts to bond with the three sons who come to visit after years of estrangement are painful, mostly because of the badness of the kids' dialogue and the worseness of the kid actors. However, as Thomas's boon companion Eddie--the "good man" rummy reminiscent of To Have and Have Not--David Hemmings is heartbreakingly fine. So, astonishingly, is the final reel, an absurdist adventure on the periphery of war... and we realize there could have been, should have been, a good movie in this bad idea for a movie after all. --Richard T. Jameson