In 1932, Dr. Douglas Meredith (Sean Connery) is living in Switzerland with a much younger woman named Kate (Betsy Brantley), whom Meredith introduces as being his wife. When Meredith and Kate go on a climbing holiday in the Alps, they hire a young guide named Johann (Lambert Wilson). As they climb the mountains they not only discover a dead body but Meredith becomes suspicious that Kate might be falling for their guide. Meanwhile, Johann discovers that truth between Meredith and Kate’s forbidden relationship. Two men may go up the mountain but, in the end, only one man comes down.
Director Fred Zinnemann had a long career behind the camera, starting as an apprentice in Germany before coming to Hollywood in 1929. (He was one of the many German and Austrian directors to immigrate as things grew steadily worse in post-war Germany. He would soon be joined by Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Robert Siodmak, and many others.) Zinnemann was a master craftsman who made several good film without ever really developing a trademark style. Among his best-known (and Oscar-nominated) movies are High Noon, From Here To Eternity, The Nun’s Story, A Man For All Seasons, and Julia. Unlike a lot of his contemporaries, Zinnemann never resorted to changing his filmmaking habits in an effort to keep up with the new wave of the 60s and the 70s. As a result, he never humiliated himself the way that some of the other Golden Age directors did during the final years of their careers. Instead, he continued to put together well-constructed but old-fashioned and occasionally stodgy movies. Five Days One Summer was his final film. It was one that he had been trying to make for close to 40 years and the combination of the critical drubbing that greeted the film and its failure at the box office inspired Zinnemann to retire from filmmaking.
The love story at the center of Five Days One Summer is a bland one and Brantley doesn’t have much in the way of chemistry with either Connery or Wilson. But the love story is just a distraction from the true star of the movie, the mountain. Some of the mountain climbing segments are amazing to watch and knowing that the three stars were actually putting their lives at risk to get some of the shots makes it all the more impressive. At its worse, the film is a visually impressive but old-fashioned travelogue. At its best, it puts you right on the mountain. The film is far from perfect and it’s certainly not one of Zinnemann’s best but, at the same time, it is hardly the disaster that it’s often described as having been. I think some critics are so wedded to the narrative of the once-great director making a film that proves how out of touch he is with contemporary audiences (think of the final films of Otto Preminger, Richard Brooks, Elia Kazan, and George Stevens) that they overlooked that Zinnemann’s final film is a respectable, middle-of-the-road feature.
Ignore the film’s wan story and instead just concentrate on the amazing scenery and you’ll see that Five Days One Summer was not a terrible film for an old craftsman like Fred Zinnemann to go out on.