In the Autumn of 1950, things looked grim for Allied Forces in Korea. Fresh out of the West's victory in WW2, the Communist regimes in the Soviet Union and China were vying to take over the Korean Peninsula. Historically, Korea had been involved in a protracted civil war until Japanese occupation in 1910. No sooner had Japan abdicated Korea in 1945 than the internecine strife broke out afresh: with the combatants rebranded as Communists and Republicans. American forces joined as part of an international expeditionary force sent by the UN to put a stop to Communist aggression.
But the Communists were better-prepared than expected. In a blitzkrieg attack, they drove the UN forces into full retreat. Eventually General MacArthur's daring achievement at Inchon reversed the tide of battle in our favor. This weekend's film recommendation is a dramatization of the heroism of an American unit during those dark hours of 1950: Men in War.
The story opens with the remnant of a platoon overrun and cut off from its division by Communist forces. Lt. Benson (played by Robert Ryan) discovers that among his survivors he has no radio, no transportation, and no supplies. Benson decides to lead his men back to Hill 465; the last known position of their divisional HQ.
En route, Benson stops a jeep containing Sgt. Montana (played by Aldo Ray) and his shell-shocked colonel. This colonel was a hero to his men and Montana is desperate to get him to medical attention. Montana is an experienced but maverick soldier and he and Benson must form an often uneasy alliance as they make their way back to the Hill.
Their progress is subject to all kinds of enemy attacks and a testimony to what American troops endured in Korea. The team faces snipers, minefields, and ambushes on their way to a point that already may have been captured by the Communists.
Men in War was filmed in Malibu, California with a budget adjusted for inflation of around $9 million. In 1957, the movie did not do well in America but was a huge hit in foreign theaters---enough to make a substantial profit for Security Pictures. It initially suffered from lack of promotion; but its reputation among action-film aficionados has grown steadily over the years since.
And its reputation is well-deserved. Men in War is more than simply a war film: it is a portrayal of what men can accomplish---even when they are odds with each other---when they work toward a common purpose. It's especially interesting to note the feeling of brotherhood between Sgt. Montana and the Colonel. There is one poignant scene when Montana says to the colonel (whose shell-shock has made him incapable of speech): "I sure wish that you could talk, Sir. You always knew what to do. Most of all, I miss hearing you call me 'son'. Maybe it's because nobody ever called me that before."
Our cynical crop of postmodern snowflake and hipster-men would sneer at sentiments like these. But we wonder how long any of them would have lasted in 1950 Korea.
As an interesting side note, Vic Morrow---who played Sgt. Chip Saunders in the TV series Combat! and L.Q. Jones---who played Chuck Norris' mentor Dakota in Lone Wolf McQuade---played the parts of Cpl. Zwickli and Sgt. Davis in this film.
Men in War is sometimes found under foreign-market titles The Day Without End and Hill 465. Whatever you call it, it's great viewing. And it gets
⍟⍟⍟⍟ 4 Stars.