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Saturday, August 15, 2015

RETREAT, HELL! (1952)

Those Halls of Montezuma get a real musical workout on the soundtrack, but there’s blessedly little triumphalism in this tight, mid-budget Marines-go-to-Korea tale. Standard-issue stuff in most ways, you’ll recognize the principals: tough-as-nails commander; green kid from a military family; reservist with his mind on his wife & kids, getting into trouble by playing things safe; grizzled number two; even comic relief double act doughboys. But the film does well by them with well-sourced combat footage to support some unusually clear action direction from B-pic expert Joseph H. Lewis, unfazed setting up logistically sound combat maneuvers or unyielding swarms of Chinese infantry. It helps that the basic story, from early in the conflict, is all about a failed campaign that barely scraps by to fight another day. There’s little false bravado. Plus, if you get too far ahead of things, you can play make-believe studio head and recast with A-listers: Karl Malden in for Frank Lovejoy; Glenn Ford for Richard Carlson; Tony Perkins for Russ Tamblyn; and Robert Wise to direct. It wouldn’t necessarily be any better, but it’d sure cost a lot more.

DOUBLE-BILL: How many big-budget Korean war films were made at the time? BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI/’54 and . . . what? Indie stuff like Anthony Mann’s MEN IN WAR/’57 & Sam Fuller’s THE STEEL HELMET/’51 were more typical.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Who came up with the ad copy on the poster? ‘ . . . a bunch of husky guys with star-spangled spunk.’ Yikes! Good grief!? Sure, it was a more innocent time, but not that innocent. Somebody must have been sniggering up his sleeve.

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