Release Date(s)1988 (August 30, 2022)
Studio(s)CBS/Hallmark/MGM Television (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C-
The Tenth Man is a TV movie originally broadcast on CBS as a Hallmark Hall of Fame special. Based on the 1985 novel by Graham Greene (The Third Man, Our Man in Havana), it poses questions of ethics and morality.
In Nazi-occupied France in 1941, wealthy attorney Jean-Louis Chavel (Anthony Hopkins), on business in Paris, is rounded up in a sweep of the streets to arrest thirty random people in retaliation for Resistance attacks. After a Nazi official is killed, the thirty prisoners are ordered to choose among themselves three men to be executed. The prisoners draw lots and Chavel is one of the unlucky three. The night before the execution, he bribes another prisoner, laborer Michel Maugeot (Timothy Watson), to take his place in exchange for his estate and holdings, then has lawyer Chavel draw up a will bequeathing them to his mother and his sister, Therese (Kristin Scott Thomas). Beset by tuberculosis and likely to die soon anyway, Michel believes he has made a good deal and enjoys his status as property owner, if only for a few hours.
Three years later, France is liberated. Chavel is freed but penniless. He returns to his former estate in the countryside, where Michel’s mother and sister now live in perpetual hatred of Chavel. Because they have never seen him, he’s able to keep his identity a secret. He passes himself off as a fellow prisoner with her brother and Therese hires him to stay on as a hired hand.
Therese and her mother find the newcomer a willing worker and the three get along quite well together. Things change when a stranger (Derek Jacobi) turns up, claiming to be Chavel. In fact, he’s a Nazi collaborator being hunted for execution by the Resistance.
Hopkins conveys Chavel’s emotions so well that we believe his motivations. We understand his terror and panic at the prospect of being shot to death and his desperation when he offers everything he owns to change places with another prisoner. Later, his sense of guilt as well as curiosity prompt him to visit his former home. And when the impostor Chavel arrives, he feels compelled to figure out why anyone would pretend to be him. Hopkins turns in a low-key performance as Chavel, in a repressed combination of shame for what he’s done, developing love for Therese, and fear for the consequences of any revelation.
Jacobi has tremendous screen presence and infuses dramatic tension at a point when the pace is lagging. Conveying self-assurance and arrogance, his impostor is the antithesis of the real Chavel. His bravado is all the more fascinating when we learn his true identity.
Directed by Jack Gold from a teleplay by Lee Langley, The Tenth Man features first-class performances by Hopkins, Thomas, and Jacobi, but the project would have worked better as a play than a film. The story is far more about the characters’ feelings than action and plot twists. It deals with morality, regret, forgiveness, and a bit of romance. The opening scenes are well-staged and include exterior scenes, a large number of extras, and imaginative camera work. But most of the subsequent scenes are dialogue-heavy and take place in claustrophobic interiors. Apparently working with a limited TV budget, director Jack Gold had to make concessions and the film suffers. There are a few brief exterior scenes later in the film and they are welcome, but it settles into a static, talky narrative.
The Tenth Man was shot by director of photography Alan Hume with Panaflex cameras and lenses on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ration of 1.85:1. The Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics contains both 1.78:1 and 1.33:1 versions of the film. As is the norm with TV movies, fade-outs appear where commercials were to be inserted. This interrupts the narrative flow. Close-ups are used often, especially for key dialogue. (This was well before large-screen TVs). The picture is sharp and nicely detailed. An exterior view of Chavel’s chateau is impressive. To make the interiors more interesting, shadows are used dramatically. Complexions are natural, and a make-up gash and blood on Chavel’s face are the result of his being hit by a soldier’s rifle. The crowded prison set is appropriately grim and depressing, in contrast to the early scene of Chavel being served breakfast at his luxurious home in the country before taking the train to his office in Paris. Production design includes Nazi flags hung on buildings, period automobiles and trucks, soldiers’ uniforms, and simple street clothes for most of the prisoners. Only Chavel wears a pinstriped suit.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio. Dialogue is clear and distinct. None of the actors playing French people assume a French accent, though the actors playing Nazis speak with a German accent. Sound mixing in the random-arrest sequence is excellent, blending crowd noise, soldiers shouting, people running, and truck engines. Dialogue scenes at Chavel’s home after Liberation and before the impostor arrives are performed at a consistently subdued level, which tends to become monotonous. Jacobi adds some spark to the proceedings when his character arrives.
The only bonus features are a series of theatrical trailers for other releases by Kino Lorber Studio Classics:
- When Eight Bells Toll (2:50)
- The Bounty (2:08)
- The Silence of the Lambs (1:52)
- Nixon (4:32)
- Hannibal (2:19)
- Bitter Moon (1:56)
The Tenth Man explores moral conflict and the balance between human values and human nature. But there are problems with the believability of the story. Even though Chavel has grown a beard and wears glasses, why does no one in his home town recognize him after only three years away? How could the handwritten will made in prison be legally enforceable so that Therese and her mother will actually inherit Chavel’s wealth? Notwithstanding a thought-provoking premise and good performances, the film often strains credibility and moves at a sluggish pace.
- Dennis Seuling