The 1955 film “Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer” has the historical distinction of being the first feature film produced in Israel. And that’s about all it has. The film is an adequate, well-acted but somewhat unmemorable mix of melodrama and propaganda that was highly effective in its time (seven years after the creation of the State of Israel) but which seems dated and manipulative today.
The film takes place during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence and details the lives of four soldiers en route to guard an outpost high atop a strategic valley (the eponymous Hill 24). Their mission is to secure this output until United Nations observers can arrive to verify it is under Israeli control and can thus be incorporated into the nascent country’s international boundaries.
The soldier in this assignment are a mixed bunch: a native-born sabra who is eager to expel the British colonial occupiers, a Northern Irish military policeman who was part of the British colonial detail but who is now fighting as a mercenary with the Jewish troops, a refugee from Nazi Europe who had an ironic reunion with a former concentration camp commander who is aiding the Arab League troops, and an American Jew who arrived as a tourist and stayed to join the Jewish cause. Each man has a lengthy flashback detailing what brought him to that point in their respective lives.
“Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer” laid the groundwork of what appears to be the modus operandi of too many Israeli movies: a low-budget production and a sincere but plodding cinematic style. But unlike the wave of Israeli films that followed it, this one was made in English (clearly to get a wider international release, which it actually did) and was directed by a British filmmaker, Thorold Dickinson. The acting is also more vigorous and fully dimensional than one usually finds in an Israeli production. Two of the film’s stars actually graduated to wider visibility: Irish actor Edward Mulhare found fame on the TV sitcom “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” while Israeli actress Haya Harareet was the leading lady in the Oscar-winning “Ben-Hur.”