Cast & Crew
The Diamanstad police of the South African desert work for the Colonial Diamond Co., and are commissioned to track down thieving employees attempting to escape through the sand dunes. The brutal police commandant Paul Vogel even scrutinizes his prisoners' open flesh wounds, in which he often discovers secreted diamonds. The return of American game hunter Mike Davis, after a two-year absence, infuriates Vogel, who has vowed revenge against Mike for an old transgression. Vogel savagely takes out his hostility on John, a black dock worker, and Mike comes to John's aid and befriends him. Vogel reports Mike's return to Fred Martingale, and the devious, wealthy manager of Colonial insists that Vogel refrain from any action until Mike's intentions are known. Later that night, Suzanne Renaud, a beautiful nightclub dancer, attempts to seduce Martingale, who instead hires her to seduce Mike and determine the location of his secret diamond cache. At a seedy café, Mike is approached by Toady, an opportunist who believes that Mike has returned to collect the diamonds that Vogel once tried to torture him into giving up. Suzanne also approaches Mike, but he sees through her cheap manners and snubs her. Vogel, however, is smitten by Suzanne, and becomes enraged when Mike insults her. Instead of fighting, the rivals compete in a poker game, and Vogel wins by cheating. Suzanne goes home with Vogel, but is repulsed by his ruthless acquisitive nature. Mike then breaks into Vogel's house and recovers his money as well as Suzanne, thereby beating Vogel at his own game. On the drive back to Diamanstad, Mike succumbs to Suzanne's charm, and recalls the source of his old feud with Vogel: While on a lion hunt, Mike's client, Ingram, sneaks off alone into an area of desert owned by Colonial. Mike follows Ingram's tracks for miles in the relentless desert heat until he finds Ingram, who has discovered a bushel of raw diamonds. Forced to shoot his dehydrated horse, Mike leaves the diamonds, and carries the dying Ingram back to town. Vogel brutally beats Mike to discover the location of the diamonds, but Mike refuses to talk, and barely survives his torture. Mike has now returned for the diamonds, which he feels he paid for with the beating, and Suzanne, who has fallen in love with Mike, is unable to talk him out of it. Using information from his alcoholic friend, Dr. Francis "Doc" Hunter, Mike later befriends Thompson, a disgruntled Colonial guard, and secretly plans for Thompson to take him into the prohibited area. When Suzanne firmly rebuffs Vogel in favor of Mike, Vogel becomes even more determined to ruin him, and forces Thompson to reveal their plan. Mike senses a set-up and refuses to go through with his rendezvous with Thompson, but Vogel arrests him anyway and brutalizes him, until Martingale orders his release. Vogel complies only after Suzanne threatens to make public his marriage proposal, which could ruin his reputation. Mike convalesces for as long as his patience allows, then puts his faith in Suzanne, who has secretly promised to tell Martingale the location of the diamonds in exchange for Mike's life. When Mike sees confirmation of Suzanne's apparent duplicity, he leaves immediately, and ambushes Vogel on a desert road. During their struggle, Vogel accidentally shoots his own guard. Mike takes Vogel hostage so that he can pass the police check point, then dumps him in the middle of a sandstorm. Mike digs up his diamonds and drives across the border into Angola, while Vogel struggles back to Diamanstad. Enraged by his defeat, Vogel accidentally kills Hunter while arresting him for complicity, and covers up his blunder by arresting Suzanne for Hunter's murder. In Angola, Mike learns of Suzanne's plight from Toady, and finally takes up Toady's offer of assistance. Mike returns to Diamanstad and confronts Martingale, offering to trade the diamonds for Suzanne. Martingale is amused by the thought of thwarting Vogel, while at the same time appearing the "hero" to his company. At Martingale's office, Mike forces Vogel to sign a statement claiming Suzanne's innocence, and Vogel realizes too late that this implicates him as Hunter's killer. The duplicitous Martingale helps Vogel defend himself, but warns Mike, who then kills Vogel as Martingale had hoped. Later, when Mike learns that Suzanne tried to save his life, he pledges his love to her. Before their boat leaves the dock, Martingale gives Mike three of his diamonds as a gift, and Mike bestows one upon John, who has become a steadfast friend, and one to Toady as thanks.
Everett G. Brown
Edward Willmore Tarr
James R. Scott
Richard A. Blaydon
R. L. Johnston
Charles B. Lang Jr.
E. W. Tarr
Rope of Sand -
In 1949 Lancaster was still on the Wallis payroll, playing yet another grim-faced adventurer in a sandstorm in the desert west of Yuma, Arizona. Rope of Sand is a tale of diamonds and intrigue in South Africa. The plot brings together a group of shifty fortune hunters, including three cast members from the wartime classic Casablanca. Two years back, lion-hunting guide Mike Davis (Lancaster) was forced to trespass on the property of the Colonial Diamond Company, which is surrounded by a heavily guarded no-man's-land called the Rope of Sand. Mike was willing to tell exactly where his greedy client found a fortune in uncut diamonds, but clammed up when the overzealous, sadistic Commandant of Mine Police Paul Vogel (Paul Henreid) tried to beat the information from him. After discovering that the vindictive Vogel has had him barred from legitimate work on the continent, Mike returns to recover a hidden treasure trove. Vogel volunteers to acquaint Mike with a few new torture methods, but Colonial's scheming executive Arthur Martingale (Claude Rains) prefers instead to obtain the information in a more amorous way, by hiring the French adventuress Suzanne Renaud (Corrine Calvet). Also entering into the dangerous equation are the camp's Doctor Hunter (Sam Jaffe) and the unscrupulous opportunist Toady (Peter Lorre). Mike has a secret plan to bribe his way past Vogel's Afrika Corps- like security troops, but dare he put it into effect?
A polished production on all technical levels, the gritty Rope of Sand was filmed from a screenplay purchased by producer Wallis specifically for Burt Lancaster in 1947. Although William Dieterle's direction is capable, the script works too hard to introduce an overly familiar collection of stock thriller types. Feared by his own men, Commandant Vogel is the unloved martinet who prides himself on catching diamond smugglers and torturing them for information. The cultured but irredeemably corrupt Martingale pretends to champion Vogel's bid for a seat on the company's board, yet blackballs him with every secret vote. Martingale acts the disinterested observer yet is the secret manipulator behind every crooked scheme. Suzanne Reynaud blackmails Martingale by threatening to accuse him of rape, but instead agrees to seduce Mike for money. When Mike and Vogel aren't physically tormenting one another they show an interest in Suzanne, who is revealed to be a displaced person from the war, with no other means of supporting herself. The promise of an amorous future with Mike straightens her out. Shoehorned uncomfortably into the proceedings is the superfluous Toady, who appears in just three brief scenes to dispense what Cue magazine generously called "sophomoric aphorisms".
Rope of Sand isn't exactly brimming with new ideas. Lancaster stumbles twice through the arid desert and is subjected to numerous whippings and beatings -- his stoic acceptance of the punishments almost seems perverse. The storyline could use more action scenes and fewer uninspiring confrontations between its greedy diamond hunters. More than one scene hinges on a gun changing hands in time-honored but dusty "Aha, the tables have turned!" fashion. People are forced to sign confessions at gunpoint and double-crosses become triple-crosses as if loyalty were a game of musical chairs. Why any of these people bother to listen to one other is a mystery, as all know perfectly well that nobody is telling the truth. The arbitrary plot reversals may have caused censors to overlook the fact that at the film's fade-out, one of the villains responsible for a murder walks away completely unpunished.
The isolated outpost Diamantstadt is a hellhole in the desert, yet both Martingale and Vogel maintain luxurious private houses. Vogel's new showplace looks like it should be in Palm Springs. All we see of the diamond operation is Vogel's clever methods to detect thievery. He routinely X-rays workers to examine their innards for swallowed gems. Vogel delights in ripping a bandage from worker Mike Mazurki's arm, revealing contraband stones hidden in the wound.
As is common in genre films of the Cold War era, ostentatious high culture is a sure sign of corruption. At one point Vogel shows off a Sèvres porcelain vase, boasting that he bought the valuable item for a song from a (presumably Jewish) Frenchman forced to flee during the occupation. Vogel's cruel revelation reminds Suzanne of own backstory of wartime hardship. True to the unwritten tough-guy code, Mike Davis smashes the vase to bits just for the pleasure of seeing the look on Vogel's face. Mike enjoys this perverse act of destruction almost as much as he "enjoys" being hung by his feet and whipped.
Leading lady Corrine Calvet thought her big break had arrived two years earlier when she was brought to Hollywood as a possible challenger to Rita Hayworth. She was set to star in Paramount's Sealed Verdict (1948), but when it was decided that Calvet's English wasn't yet good enough the part was instead given to actress Florence Marly. Playing up the sex angle, Paramount publicists exploited a moment in which Calvet's character violently rips her dress in an attempt to compromise the unflappable cad played by Claude Rains. Time magazine slighted Ms. Calvet's spirited Hollywood debut with a real cheap shot: "For all her diamantine Gallic Glamour, Calvet is only a rhinestone in the rough."
Rope of Sand may have been a low point for Burt Lancaster before his career reboot as a swashbuckling swordsman in the next year's The Flame and the Arrow. Critics generally liked Lancaster's performance, even if they slighted the work of Claude Rains and Peter Lorre and saved the bulk of their praise for Paul Henried's nasty villain. Lancaster's own assessment of the film was unprintable, but he was quoted at a time when he was itching to move on to more interesting roles. Mike Davis is the last of Lancaster's early-career heroes that suffer gruesome beatings (Rope of Sand) or die in hopeless despair (Criss Cross) or animalistic rage (Brute Force).
Olive Films' DVD of Rope of Sand is a handsome presentation with a smooth and sharp transfer of a B&W thriller requested by many Burt Lancaster fans. Charles B. Lang Jr.'s atmospheric camerawork is at its best out in the open desert, and in a howling nighttime sandstorm fight between Lancaster and a diamond guard on top of a halftrack armored car. Franz Waxman's brooding score is good, but a slightly distorted soundtrack renders some of the softer dialogue less clear than it might be. The disc carries no extras.
For more information about Rope of Sand, visit Olive Films. To order Rope of Sand, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Rope of Sand -
This part of the desert of South Africa, where only a parched camel thorn tree relieves the endless parallels of time, space, and sky, surrounds like a rope of sand the richest diamond-bearing area in the world -- an uneasy land where men inflamed by monotony and the heat sometimes forget the rules of civilization.- Narrator
Of course, if you're a man of principle...- Suzanne Renaud
I take it you're quite experienced.- Fred Martingale
The German is brittle. The Frenchman cries l'amour! The American is hoping for the cavalry to come.- Suzanne Renaud
And what do Englishmen do?- Fred Martingale
They pay.- Suzanne Renaud
Now do you want to kiss me?- Suzanne Renaud
N - no, I think not. You'd better keep your kisses for emergencies.- Fred Martingale
Consider the diamond itself for instance. Carbon, soot, chemically speaking. And yet the hardest of all matters. So hard, in fact, that whatever it touches must suffer: glass, steel, the human soul.- Toady
I am here, free as the wind, fountain of extraordinary knowledge, splendidly corrupt and eager to be of profitable service.- Toady
This film opens with the following narrated foreword: "This part of the desert of South Africa, where only a parched camelthorn tree relieves the endless parallel of time and space and sky, surrounds like a rope of sand the richest diamond bearing area in the world, an uneasy land where men inflamed by the monotony and the heat, sometimes forget the rules of civilization." In addition to their cast credits, Josef Marais and Miranda are also credited onscreen with "South African Veldt songs." Desert sequences were shot on location in Yuma, AZ, according to information in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library. Rope of Sand marked Corinne Calvet's American film debut and the first release of Wallis-Hazen, Inc., a company formed by Hal Wallis and Joseph H. Hazen. On May 31, 1949, Lux Radio Theater broadcast a version of this film.