The pristine tower of this tale is a yet-unclimbed peak in the Swiss Alps, its elusive summit sought by a diverse group of travelers, whose personalities and motivations are explored during the quest. Set shortly after the end of WW II, a resort lodge nestled in the shadow of the
shimmering peak serves as headquarters for the group. The adventurers include Valli, who obsessively seeks to master the mountain that killed her climber father; a disillusioned, alcoholic French man of letters, Rains; aging British naturalist Hardwicke; and ex-Nazi German army officer Bridges.
Accompanying the group is experienced Alpine guide Homolka, a bear of a man who has been higher on the peak than any other guide in the area. Recreational climber Ford--a Yankee ex-bomber pilot--is also staying at the lodge, making frequent forays against the gentler climbs in the vicinity.
Knowing Ford to be an accomplished alpinist, Valli attempts to recruit him for the planned climb, her gentle chiding eventually getting him to agree. The climbers set off, but soon the toil is too much for Hardwicke who lets the others go on without him. Marooned in a small space within the
towering vista, the remaining climbers begin their self-revelatory ruminations, which further disclose their characters. Self-destructive Rains, filled with ennui, seeks to meet his maker; Bridges is filled with hate and loathing for his fellow climbers, considering them beneath his dignity;
Homolka is a stolid servant, secure in his abilities and at peace with his profession; Ford is attempting to find an appropriate destiny for himself in the maelstrom of postwar discontent; Valli begins to question her obsession. The climb continues in the morning, albeit with many mishaps. The
party reaches the highest point yet trodden by a cleated boot: virgin snowfields lie beyond a final rocky barrier. The latter has served to turn away many such strivers. Homolka, reaching upward, trying to find a hold, discovers that a man's reach does exceed his grasp, and proclaims failure. "It
won't go," he says. "It must go," states Bridges, unwilling to abort the attempt. Pushing Homolka from his position on the face, Bridges--in a desperate triumph of the will--finds a hold and pulls himself upward. The others follow closely. Ford had not planned on reaching such a lofy point and,
without the requisite dark goggles, suffers snow blindness. His plight persuades Valli that her obsessive quest is senseless, and she decides to abandon the attack on the peak. The arrogant Bridges elects to press on, but soon meets his death. The survivors slowly return to the valley floor with
Valli leading the blinded Ford, a new purpose now in her life.
The best feature film about mountain climbing to its time, THE WHITE TOWER was filmed on location in the Swiss Alps. The best, unfortunately, was none too good. The picture was wincingly irritating to the climbing fraternity. The actors had been ill-coached in the ascent techniques prevalent at
the time, and only a totally mad leader would have selected frail, ancient Hardwicke--who puffed even on the lower slopes--as an appropriate companion on a difficult first ascent. At the time depicted, the Alps were crawling with climbers, yet not a human figure other than those of the cast is to
be seen in all the footage. This was a high-budget production for the studio, and the Technicolor panoramas are superb. Only during the many claustrophobic medium and close shots of the actors doing their formula introspections does the picture really lose interest. The director managed to get
lackluster performances out of a cast of excellent actors; only Homolka really shines. This may be due in large part to the plot line, which is more literary than cinematic.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: The pristine tower of this tale is a yet-unclimbed peak in the Swiss Alps, its elusive summit sought by a diverse group of travelers, whose personalities and motivations are explored during the quest. Set shortly after the end of WW II, a resort lodge nest… (more)