The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

Time Limit (1957) Classic Movie Review 26

Time Limit (1957)

Time Limit (1957)

A man can be a hero all his life, but if in the last month of it, or the last week, or even the last minute, the pressure becomes too great and he breaks, then he's branded for life.

Time Limit (1957) is a Korean War POW investigation that takes place following the war.

Time Limit (1957)

Time Limit (1957)

Welcome to Episode 26 Time Limit (1957). We are following the Richard Widmark line from The Long Ships (1964). This is a great little movie. I hadn’t watched this movie in a couple of decades and the last time I saw it was before I had ever seen The Manchurian Candidate (1962). I was a little shocked by the similarities between the two. But I’ll get into that after we go over the stars that are in this movie.

This film was directed by Karl Malden. He was born in Chicago but was raised in Gary, Indiana. Following high school, he spent three years working in a steel factory. He spent a short time at Arkansas State Teacher’s College before attending the Goodman Theater Dramatic School. Three years after he left the mill he went to New York and found work on the stage.

He severed in WWII as an NCO in the Army Air Corp. If was during this time that he was filmed for the movie Winged Victory (1944). He returned to Broadway and in the 50s made a transition to film. In 1951, he won the Oscar for playing Stanley Kowalski’s best friend in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). He shined as Father Corrigan in On the Waterfront (1954), as the warden in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) opposite the great Burt Lancaster, as Capt. Wessels, in Cheyenne Autumn (1964) which was directed by John Ford. Of course, Malden is probably best known as Detective Mike Stone for the Streets of San Francisco television show that ran from 1972-1977. His partner was the son of Kirk Douglas, Michael.

However, I remember him best for two military roles. The first was Patton (1970) where he was cast in the role of General Omar Bradley and played opposite George C. Scott as Patton. This second film is another where he is cast with the star that he directs in this movie, Richard Widmark. The film, of course, is the hard to find Take the High Ground! (1953) where Malden and Widmark are drill instructors preparing raw recruits for the Korean War.

Malden cast himself as one of the POWs but he is hard to pick out.

Richard Widmark was cast in the role of Col. William Edwards, a JAG officer investigator. I cover Widmark pretty thoroughly in Episode 23 – The Long Ships (1964) so I will not add more here.

Richard Basehart played Maj. Harry Cargill the subject of Edwards’ investigation. Basehart came to Hollywood in 1947 after a successful Broadway career. He made his mark on film noir with the gritty He Walked by Night (1948). Basehart was a prolific talent with 112 movie and television credits. In 1956, he played Ishmael in Moby Dick which starred Gregory Peck and was directed by John Huston. He is perhaps best known as Admiral Harriman Nelson from the tv show “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” 1964-68.

Dolores Michaels acted in the role of Cpl. Jean Evans an assistant to Edwards. Michaels was a mid-western whose father was a catcher for the Chicago Cubs. She was trained as a dancer and followed her sister into the traveling version of Brigadoon at age 16.

She later moved to California and was discovered in a 20th Century Fox talent school. She had a ten-year career which included ten movies. Her first credited role was The Wayward Bus (1957). She was in Warlock (1959) with Widmark and Henry Fonda. Her final movie was Battle at Bloody Beach (1961). It is odd that early in her career she had a yo-yo weight problem because the first thing I noticed about her in Time Limit (1957) is how small her waist was. I won’t delve into too much as it is reported that when a reporter asked her for her measurements, she responded, “You can go to the wardrobe department and find out” and “…I’m not a sexpot, I’m an actress”. Michaels died at 68 in 2001.

June Lockhart had a very small but important role as Mrs. Cargill. She was born in New York to an acting family. She started her stage work at 8 and had her first movie role as a teenager along with her parents in A Christmas Carol (1938). Over the next ten years, she made at least a dozen more movies before returning to the stage. In all, she had 169 movie and televisions roles. She is best known for her two television series, “Lassie” 1954 and “Lost in Space” 1965.

Carl Benton Reid played Lt. Gen. J. Connors the commanding officer. He started acting on the stage in Cleveland and move to Broadway where he was very successful between 1929 and 1949. In 1941, he was in his first movie, The Little Foxes (1941). He made a lot of movies playing the stern authority figure. Some of his greats include In a Lonely Place (1950) with Bogart, The Command (1954) which I spoke about in Episode 25, Broken Lance (1954) with Spencer Tracy, and Pork Chop Hill (1959) with the great Gregory Peck.

Reid followed these movies with a successful television career mostly playing the same type.
Martin Balsam played Sgt. Baker the man with all the info. Balsam was born in the Bronx. He started acting in high school and continued while he was in college. When WWII broke out Balsam joined. Following the war, he went to work at Radio City Music Hall and began studying at the Actors Studio under the direction of Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg. He started working on Broadway in the late 40s and had a few small television roles.

His big break came with On the Waterfront (1954). His skills lead to other vehicles such as 12 Angry Men (1957), with Henry Fonda. Working on television in the mid-50s he met the big man, Alfred Hitchcock. This meeting eventually landed Balsam in Psycho (1960). Other 60s roles included Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Cape Fear (1962), The Carpetbaggers (1964), A Thousand Clowns (1965) where he won best supporting actor, Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), All the President’s Men (1976), and the totally forgettable St. Elmo’s Fire (1985).

He moved to Italy and was in over a dozen Italian movies. He died in Rome at the age of 76.

Rip Torn played former POW Lt. George Miller. Damn he was a handsome devil. I’m used to seeing him as Zed or as Patches O’Houlihan. Torn was a true born Texan and attended Texas A & M and the University of Texas, majoring in animal husbandry. Hook um horns.

As a young man, he hitchhiked to Hollywood for fame and fortune. This resulted in him working a lot of odd jobs until he got his first film part in Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll (1956). To work on his acting he moved to New York and joined the Actors Studio. Through the late 50s and early 60s, he worked on several important television shows.

He made his Broadway debut in 1959. He has always been in demand as a character actor including films such as Pork Chop Hill (1959), Payday (1973), Songwriter (1984) with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, Summer Rental (1985), Defending Your Life (1991), Men in Black (1997), Men in Black II (2002), Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, and Men in Black 3 (2012).

Sissy Spacek is his cousin.

Khigh Dhiegh played Col. Kim in this movie, Wo Fat on the original 5-oh, and Dr. Yen Lo in The Manchurian Candidate (1962) but he was born Kenneth Dickerson in New Jersey. Shocking. He was of Egyptian/ Sudanese ancestry and is noted for playing Asian roles. I guess that’s why they call it acting.


The movie begins in a Korean pow camp. The men are searched and one that has a knife is shot while attempting to escape. It then switches to the first army headquarters in New York. Col. William Edwards (Richard Widmark) is heading to the office. Back at the office a nervous Lt. George Miller (Rip Torn), a nosey Sgt. Baker (Martin Balsam), and the best-looking corporal in the army, Cpl. Jean Evans (Dolores Michaels) are waiting. Sgt. Baker mentions to Lt. Miller that they were in the Battle of the Bulge and they are both wear 1st Division combat patches, The Big Red One. Very soon I will review the Battle of the Bulge (1965) a fictionalized version of the 101st airborne in the bulge and The Big Red One (1980) a really fictionalized version of the division.

When Edwards gets back Cpl. Evans tells him that the general is looking for him. He meets Lt. Gen. J. Connors (Carl Benton Reid) who is only interested in bringing the current investigation to an end. The way this general pushes for the report is very similar to General Hershberg (Michael Moriarty) pushed Lt. Col. Nathan ‘Nat’ Serling (Denzel Washington) to submit the report on Capt. Karen Emma Walden (Meg Ryan) Medal of Honor recommendation in Courage Under Fire (1996)

Edwards returns and continues his interview with Lt. Miller is a very reluctant witness. As Miller tells the tell they go back to the pow camp. The prisoners are waiting in the compound for Korean Col. Kim (Khigh Dhiegh) and the ranking American Maj. Harry Cargill (Richard Basehart) to return from a torture session. When Kim starts the communist lecture the POWs resist with coughed. Then Maj. Cargill is pulled from the back of the truck and begins speaking the same communist propaganda. When Kim leaves the POWs we see that Cargill is not just acting. He is broken.

The interview continues with Lt. Miller telling how two men died of dysentery before Mag. Cargill broke. Gen. Connor comes in to talk to Lt. Miller and we find out that the generals son died in the same pow camp. The general takes the witness away for drinks and to talk about his son. Col. Edwards is still concerned because Maj. Cargill has a stellar record until he broke and became a collaborator. Cargill also refuses to defend himself.

Cargill shows up for his interview and is very resentful and unhelpful. Edwards plays a newsreel that Cargill recorded and Cargill freaks out. The next morning Edwards goes to see Mrs. Cargill (June Lockhart). Mrs. Cargill tells Edwards that they haven’t had sex since he came back.

When Edwards returns to base Maj. Cargill is waiting. Edwards keys in on the phrase that Col. Kim is serious now. Cpl. Evans note similarities in the testimony of the POWs concerning the deaths of the two men in the camp. Shades of The Manchurian Candidate. Or as I first learned about on WKRP in Cincinnati Season 3, Episode 3 where everyone that is interviewed about Herb says he is “hard worker, loyal husband, and all-around fine person.” In this movie, they used the phrase “He died following an acute case of dysentery. Bacillary dysentery and dehydration.”

The General busts in and starts questioning Edwards about seeing Cargill’s wife and the time the investigation is taking. The general tells a story that he heard in the bar from Miller that contradicts Miller’s testimony.

Sgt. Baker takes Maj. Cargill into the office and tries to convince him to confess or kill himself so Col. Edwards will not get in trouble. Cargill explains to the Cpl. that no man can stand an unlimited amount of pressure. Edwards returns and continues the interrogation. Edward and Cargill argue and Cargill leaves. He brings in Lt. Miller and begins trapping him in lies. They bring Cargill back in with Baker and Evans. Miller breaks down and he blurts out that Cargill must have told what really happened.

They go back to the camp where they are drawing lots to kill a man. Cargill does not go along but it is agreed no one will talk. Miller gets the marked stick and when the generals son comes in they accuse him of betraying the man with the knife that was shot by the North Koreans. Miller does the killing.

It turns out that after seeing the men turn on each other and Col. Kim saying he will kill all of the men in the camp he flips to save them.

Miller freaks out and thinks he is going to be charged with murder.

The general finds out that his son broke and Kim and Cargill get into a debate but the general hold the line, traitors are traitors. Cargill says a man has a time limit and the general says they have a wider responsibility.

Edwards recommends no trial but the general has the final word. Edwards asks to defend Cargill.

So are all of your strong days washed away by one weak day? Just one sheep….

World-Famous Short Summary – A remake of The Manchurian Candidate (1962) five years prior

Time Limit (1957)

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