The Passage (1979 film)

The Passage is a 1979 British action-war film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Anthony Quinn, James Mason, Malcolm McDowell and Patricia Neal. The film is based upon the 1976 novel Perilous Passage by Bruce Nicolaysen, who also wrote the screenplay for the film.[1]

The Passage
The Passage FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed byJ. Lee Thompson
Produced byMaurice Binder
Lester Goldsmith
John Quested
Written byBruce Nicolaysen
Based onnovel Perilous Passage by Bruce Nicolaysen
StarringAnthony Quinn
James Mason
Malcolm McDowell
Patricia Neal
Kay Lenz
Michael Lonsdale
Marcel Bozzuffi
Paul Clemens
Robert Rhys
Christopher Lee
Music byMichael J. Lewis
Monday Films
Distributed byUnited Artists (USA Theatrical)
Hemdale Film Distribution (International)
Metro Goldwyn Mayer (Current worldwide distributor)
Release date
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom


During World War II, a Basque farmer is asked by the French resistance to help a fleeing scientist and his family escape across the Pyrenees Mountains to safety in neutral Spain. On his trail are a group of Germans, led by a sadistic SS officer.



The film was based on the novel Perilous Passage which was published in 1977. The Los Angeles Times said "isn't really that good".[2] The New York Times said it was "very well done" with a "general air of excitement, suspense and even horror".[3]

One of the producers was Maurice Binder, who was best known for doing the title sequences for James Bond movies.[4]

The film was shot on location in the Pyrenees.[5] Malcolm McDowell had to perform a nude scene with Kay Lenz on his first day of shooting. In order to lighten the atmosphere he wore underpants with a swastika on it; J. Lee Thompson liked the idea so much he made it part of McDowell's character. McDowell says Kay Lenz "wasn't happy" to do her nude scene.[6]

McDowell later called the movie "utter rubbish. I took it only because I needed money to pay my taxes. Making it depressed me terribly."[7]


As he made this movie in Europe and England, James Mason predicted to co-star Kay Lenz that people do not like movies in snow and this film would bomb miserably after they were finished making it. He was right: the film opened to bad box office worldwide and, in critics' eyes, was a disaster in contrast to J. Lee Thompson's 1961 masterpiece The Guns of Navarone.

The Los Angeles Times said "we've seen it all so many times before."[8]

The Globe and Mail said "The director of The Passage is J. Lee Thompson, possibly the worst experienced director in the world today. The cinematographer is Mike Reed, whose work is appalling: the dominant color is khaki and every scene is either under- or overexposed. The writer is Bruce Nicolaysen, who based the movie on his novel Perilous Passage. They should all be deeply ashamed and should do penance by crossing the Pyrenees on their knees. Too cruel? Fine. They can sit through every movie Anthony Quinn ever made. Twice."[9]

Filmink magazine compared the depiction of rape in this movie unfavourably with the way it was dealt with in J. Lee Thompson's Cape Fear which they said "is a terrifying examination of that crime" while in The Passage "the rape of a woman (Kay Lenz) at the hands of an SS Officer (Malcolm McDowell) is treated in an exploitative, camp way (McDowell wears underpants with a swastika on them, Lenz is shown topless in a shower)… it seems like a movie directed by an entirely different person."[10]


  1. ^ PASSAGE, The Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 46, Iss. 540, (Jan 1, 1979): 50.
  2. ^ THE BOOK REPORT: Life Passage Lacks Vision Erickson, Steve. Los Angeles Times 10 June 1977: h16.
  3. ^ Criminals At Large By NEWGATE CALLENDAR. New York Times 16 Jan 1977: 246.
  4. ^ Maurice Binder, 73, 007 Film-Title Artist: [Obituary (Obit)] New York Times, Late Edition 15 Apr 1991: B.10.
  5. ^ Dramatic Pyrenees scenery in war film Jim; Higgins, Shirley. Chicago Tribune 3 June 1979: n13.
  6. ^ THE HORSEY SET IN 'CALIGULA' Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times 3 Dec 1978: p48.
  7. ^ MALCOLM McDOWELL: NERVOUS AS A CAT? Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times 16 Apr 1981: i1.
  8. ^ MOVIE REVIEW: Scientist Flees Nazis in 'Passage' Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times (23 Mar 1979: g28.
  9. ^ MOVIES Passage takes viewers to perverted Waltonland Scott, Jay. The Globe and Mail 29 Mar 1979: P.15.
  10. ^ Vagg, Stephen. "Joan Henry: The Jailbird Muse". Filmink.

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