Nobody Good

Yesterday’s Enemy doesn’t have a musical score. It never needs one to indicate tension or relief – and partly because there is no relief.

It’s an oppressive, bleak war film, and sans any true heroics, one of great British WWII dramas. Why Yesterday’s Enemy isn’t among the great WWII genre efforts fron any country is only due to low exposure.

Aside from the obvious studio sets that host the jungles and swamps, Yesterday’s Enemy is nigh perfect, a sensationally bold morality fable in which the authoritarian British Captain, Langford (Stanley Baker), finds himself challenged by a war correspondent and priest. They speak for peace, Langford for civilian executions – necessary executions in his mind.

In Yesterday’s Enemy, the overarching dilemma is what’s worth sacrificing to win

“What if it was you on the other side?” pleads the reporter. Still, Langford refuses to listen. Then in the final act, with equally barbarous Japanese soldiers holding him hostage, Langford is forced to witness his own cruelty used against him.

Isolated and surrounded, British troops contend with their reality. It’s gripping, bouncing between cruel battlefield logic (leave the wounded behind) and empathy (natural human emotion). In the few action scenes, gunfire trades between these sides, neither developed as villain or hero. Editing is erratic; it’s not clear who specifically is aiming or shooting at the other, conveying total chaos.

In Yesterday’s Enemy, the overarching dilemma is what’s worth sacrificing to win. It’s only logical to root for the western Allies, even Langford. Yesterday’s Enemy chillingly makes him right – murdering two Burmese civilians by firing squad does result in answers from a tormented POW. But then he lives with those actions, a breaking point for those already teetering from his callous command style. Langford must defend it, noting those two lives saved thousands. He’s right, and that same logic spread to hundreds of thousands dead to save millions to end the war.

After making a last desperate push to save his own, the Japanese commander states, “I’d have done the same.” It’s an eerie, truthful revelation, drawing an inarguable equality between the two side’s wartime actions. Pushed from their homes, local Burmese villagers reject the British who ask them to stay. A lone English-speaking woman retorts, “Japanese, British. British, Japanese. Nobody good.” At that point, it’s clear neither side gains anything from this piece of land, whether attacking or defending. Given the conflict’s scale, this relatively microscopic struggle doesn’t matter. And yet they kill, innocent or foe alike. How cruel, and masterfully composed for cinema.

Video

Yesterday’s Enemy sports a fantastic gray scale, easily the presentation’s highlight. Jungle scenery casts deep shadows across the screen, and the simulated heat/humidity makes surfaces glisten. Overall range is superb, with mid-tones well represented.

The rest wavers, certainly the dull resolution. Textured faces and plant overgrowth fair decently, enough to feel this is at least mastered in HD. Anything complex struggles, lacking the refinement seen in better catalog efforts. Wide/long shots whither and can’t display the needed texture.

On the same disc with The Camp on Blood Island, bitrates don’t appear to cause issues. Grain doesn’t introduce artifacts (save for moments with heavy smoke). Overall encoding is transparent, so the faults lie at the mastering level, not the transfer. The print itself shows limited damage, so it’s well cared for at least.

Audio

Shot entirely on soundstages, the audio reflects that. The echo-y dialog suffers not only from age, but the recording conditions too. Some lines become unintelligible, a slight static only furthering that problem. Splashing in water sounds completely distorted.

Heavier gunshots bring some bass. It’s an otherwise flat, typical mono mix.

Extras

Nothing.

Yesterday's Enemy
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

A tense, daring depiction of WWII’s cruelty, Yesterday’s Enemy is a classic war film deserving of wider exposure.

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