Men in War (1957)
, directed by Anthony Mann.
Low budget, very gritty lost patrol story set in Korea, 1950. As you would expect it is a "and then there were none" story as the men are picked off one by one. A bit cliche? Perhaps, but still very powerful:
- The always outstanding Robert Ryan is the old army Lt, competent but very, very tired, starting to forget the names of his men, who's living and who's dead.
- Aldo Ray is "Montana", the Sgt Rock character with an attitude. He must have been doing this forever: he has the semi-psychic powers required for survival. Shoot first and forget about asking questions.
- Robert Keith is the shell-shocked, catatonic Colonel who, seeing a kindred spirit in the Lt, comes to life again when the chips are down.
Also with Nehemiah Persoff, James Edwards, the very young Vic Morrow and LQ Jones, and others we don't get to know very well.
The territory is an eerie, deserted, scrubby wilderness; no buildings, just lurking death and strange, inexplicable phenomena like the incoming pattern of artillery shells blocking the road. The enemy is crafty and can kill silently. Originally I said they were practically invisible, but with the Blu-ray you can see faces and they become individuals.
As a kid, it was always the mine field scene that scared me. My father had mine stories from WW2 and I know they scared him, too.
It has a striking minimalism, harsh and unsentimental. The suicidally heroic "let's take that hill" scene at the end would seem out of place if it weren't for the "we're too tired to give a damn" attitude. Good thing they lugged the flamethrower all that way.
Mann's only war picture. Elmer Bernstein score.
Available on Blu-ray. A typical Olive Films bare-bones disc, no subtitles. The old DVD had been cropped to 1.33, so we are thankful for a widescreen version.
Although the image is often rather good, there is no sign of film restoration and we have lots of scratches, other film damage and static on the soundtrack. I really don't mind: it makes it more real.
Available for rent from ClassicFlix.