#614) A Time Out of War (1954)

#614) A Time Out of War (1954)

OR “Two Brothers On Their Way”

Directed & Written by Denis Sanders. Based on the short story “Pickets” by Robert W. Chambers.

Class of 2006 

The Plot: At the height of the Civil War, two Union soldiers (Corey Allen and Robert Sherry) find themselves having a shoot out with a Confederate soldier (Barry Atwater) on the opposite end of a riverbank. Exhausted from the heat, the three agree to a one hour truce to relax and do some fishing along the river. But can these men take each other at their word? And is anything gonna, ya know, happen in this movie?

Why It Matters: The NFR ranks this film “in the pantheon of best student films ever produced”, calling it a “sensitive, elegantly unhurried film that helped put student filmmaking on the cultural map.”

But Does It Really?: If you say so, NFR. There’s plenty of student films on the Registry, but “Time Out” was the breakthrough that proved there was an audience for these films outside of the classroom. A pass for “Time Out” for its straightforward conviction, as well as representation for legendary documentary filmmakers Denis and Terry Sanders.

Everybody Gets One: First off, shoutout to this article from UCLA’s alumni magazine, from which most of my information about this film’s production comes from. In the early 1950s, older brother Denis Sanders convinced younger brother Terry Sanders to ditch Caltech and join him as a film student at UCLA. The two first collaborated on the police training film “Subject: Narcotics” before wanting to make something more personal and creative for Denis’ thesis project. Denis wanted a Civil War story that was in the public domain (and therefore free to film), settling on “Pickets” and adapting the story into “A Time Out of War”, with Terry serving as the film’s cinematographer and co-producer. “Time Out” was filmed along the Santa Ynez River in Santa Barbara with a cast of three, a crew of eight (all UCLA students), and a budget of $2000.

Seriously, Oscars?: After completing “Time Out”, the Sanders brothers submitted the film to the Venice Film Festival on a whim, and wound up winning their Short Film category. The attention from that win led to an Oscar nomination for Live-Action Short Subject (Two-Reel), with “A Time Out of War” becoming the first student film to win an Oscar. Terry Sanders later recalled that they were congratulated backstage by a “puzzled looking” Walt Disney, the category’s perceived frontrunner.

Other notes 

  • Once again, a reminder that this film – added to the National Film Registry the same year as “Fargo“, “Notorious” and “Rocky” – was someone’s thesis film. Let that serve as inspiration to all you young film students out there.
  • Corey Allen and Barry Atwater were UCLA students when they were cast in “A Time Out of War”, and both would go on to have prominent careers playing secondary roles on film and TV. Allen is best remembered as James Dean’s adversary Buzz Gunderson in “Rebel Without a Cause“. Not only is “A Time Out of War” the only NFR appearance and film debut for Robert Sherry, it’s his only film appearance period.
  • This is either the cheapest B movie ever or the most polished student film ever. It tows the line quite well. And the somewhat choppy print I’m watching only adds to the confusion.
  • A quote from Terry Sanders in the aforementioned UCLA article confirmed my theory that the film was shot without synchronized sound. Apparently, the tape recorder loaned out from Paramount “failed almost immediately”.
  • I was ready to make a joke about how this is the same fishing spot Andy Griffith used to take Opie to, but then realized it could very well be. After some quick research, it turns out the opening of the “Andy Griffith Show” was filmed in Los Angeles’ Franklin Canyon Park, still a popular outdoor shooting location. The more you know, I guess.
  • Ultimately I don’t have a lot to say about the film itself. It is certainly one of the more confident “nothing happens” movies I’ve ever seen, I give it that. There’s an inherent tension throughout, and I kept expecting for one side to betray the other as a cautionary tale of how war damages the psyche. That never happened, making the film a subtle plea for peace and tolerance.

Legacy 

  • Following the success of “A Time Out of War”, Terry Sanders was hired to serve as the second unit director on Charles Laughton’s “The Night of the Hunter“. Denis would go on to win another Oscar for his other NFR entry “Czechoslovakia 1968“, while Terry co-founded the American Film Foundation with his wife Freida Lee Mock, winning his second Oscar (and Freida’s first) for “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision”. Although Denis died in 1987 at age 58, Terry is still with us as of this writing, and continues to make movies alongside his wife, as well as their daughter Jessica Sanders.
  • Upon learning that “A Time Out of War” had been inducted into the National Film Registry, Terry Sanders called the experience “gratifying” as well as “a nice memorial for Denis”.

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