Escape from Zahrain (1962)
“Escape to Explosive Adventure!”
Director: Ronald Neame
Cast: Yul Brynner, Sal Mineo, Jack Warden
Synopsis: A hunted revolutionary leads a rag tag group of individuals through the desert in an attempt to elude the security forces and escape the fictitious Arab country of Zahrain.
The Mojave Desert stands in for the fictional Arabian country of Zahrain in Escape from Zahrain, a modestly budgeted but competently made action adventure directed by versatile British director Ronald Neame. It was made in 1962, so the lead character of the Middle Eastern insurgent Sharif (Yul Brynner — Anastasia, Futureworld) is not some wild-eyed fanatic bent on incurring his wrath upon the Western infidels relieving his homeland of its oil, but a reasonable and thoughtful man of calm assurance who provides an altogether preferable alternative to the ruling Sheik who sees Western interests as a means for lining his own pocket.
This explains why the Sheik orders Sharif to be executed, but the truck transporting him and an assortment of other prisoners is hijacked by a group of Sharif’s supporters, led by Ahmed (Sal Mineo). Hotly pursued by the Sheik’s militia, Sharif and his fellow escapees make their getaway. Amongst Sharif’s companions on this flight from injustice are American embezzler Huston (Jack Warden (The White Buffalo, 12 Angry Men), and Tahar(Anthony Caruso), a treacherous, self-serving thief. These desperadoes hijack a truck from the oil company from whom Huston was embezzling funds, kidnapping the driver and a pretty young nurse, Laila (Madlyn Hrue) on the way to ensure their escape, and head for the border, a perilous journey which means travelling across hostile desert territory while attempting to avoid being seen by the Sheik’s men.
This arduous journey makes up the bulk of Escape from Zahrain and provides its characters with plenty of time to establish their credentials as they engage in some desultory socio-political conversation between brief burst of action. Laila, who remains remarkably fresh-looking for some time, slowly grows to admire Sharif and his beliefs to the point that she opts to stay with him when offered the opportunity to stay behind with an un-credited James Mason at one of the oil company’s outposts. Quite why an actor of Mason’s stature should choose to appear in a cameo role in a movie of such modest ambitions as Escape from Zahrain is something of a mystery, and to have him unexpectedly pop up out of nowhere is a moment of almost surreal peculiarity.
Escape from Zahrain is fairly ordinary stuff, to be honest, with few surprises contained within Robin Estridge’s competent but uninspired screenplay. Brynner provides a restrained performance in line with the demands of the part, leaving Jack Warden, as he did in so many movies, to steal every scene he’s in.
(Reviewed 28th February 2014)