Picks and Pans Review: The Tenth Man
updated 12/05/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/05/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST
If Edgar Allan Poe had lived through World War II, he would have written a tale like this. Graham Greene wrote it instead. The Tenth Man began as a 1943 proposal for a movie that wasn't made. Then it was rediscovered and published as a book in 1983. Now, at last, it is a movie. Anthony Hopkins plays a French lawyer who is picked at random to be executed by the Nazis in retribution for French resistance activity. But Hopkins is rich, so he gives his house and all his wealth to a poor man to take his place before the firing squad. The rich man lives, poorer of pocketbook and spirit; the poor man dies but provides an inheritance for his mother and sister. After the war, Hopkins faces what he has done, returning to the house that bought his life and hiding his identity from the dead man's sister, who would "spit in his face and then kill him." It is a gripping plot that attacks big moral issues in a small way, as a short story would. So it does not have quite the depth, weight and shape of a full novel. Still, The Tenth Man intrigues because it asks hard questions about responsibility, courage, guilt and love, about our choices when confronted with senseless evil and about virtue that comes in through the back door.