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Friday, August 16, 2013

BATTLE HYMN (1957)

Rare enough finding a film about the Korean War; rarer still finding one with an uplifting tale to tell. This Rock Hudson-Douglas Sirk pic, sandwiched between two better-known (and better) collaborations (WRITTEN ON THE WIND/’56; TARNISHED ANGELS/’57) is a fact-inspired story about an ex-WWII flyboy who leaves the pulpit and re-ups to train pilots in Korea. Hoping to both assuage & confront his guilt over a bombing run that laid waste to a German orphanage, he’s now hesitant to take the offensive, even when under attack, finding refuge in organizing an effort to help Korean war orphans. The film is loaded with kids, religion, gung-ho flyers, a chaste romance with a tragic local beauty, sentiment and even Dan Duryea, filmdom’s ultimate slimeball villain, as a jocular scapegrace Requisitions Officer. Plus, a last act that anticipates the famous kids march to freedom from THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS/’58 with Rock making like Ingrid Bergman. You may gag once or twice, some of it is laid on plenty thick, but Sirk had a way with melodramatic over-statement and the damn thing is better than it has any right to be. His tremendous technical command, including some remarkably clean action stuff, goes a long way to tide off all the heart-tugging.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Like Sophia Loren with Vittorio De Sica, Hudson wasn’t so much a better actor under Sirk, but a different one. Sharing some of the heavy religiosity of their MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION/’54, the film that ‘made’ Hudson, this one hasn’t that film’s rep. But without the narrative coincidences & creepy cult of good works society of OBSESSION, this lower profile pic is much easier to swallow.

DOUBLE-BILL: Inevitably, THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS/’58, also fact-inspired, with Bergman leading umpteen kids in umpteen verses of THIS OLD MAN on a march out of war torn China.

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