HELL TO ETERNITY did decent business in 1960 ($6,300,000) but has remained below movie-history radar since, except to WW2 buffs and action fanciers. It’s pretty tough (the ad campaign was not too subtle: “Guts! Glory! Gallantry for America’s hell-bent for victory Marines!“) and is punched across in-yer-face by director Phil Karlson.
With some of the usual liberties it tells the true story of Guy Gabaldon, raised by a Japanese-American family in L.A. When Pearl Harbor interrupts family life, they go off to internment camp and Guy heads to to the Marines and the Pacific. He becomes an extraordinary war hero, both in his ferocity as a vengeful killing machine and by his felicity for Japanese language, enabling him to capture eight hundred prisoners in one fell swoop during the savage 1944 battle on Saipan. Gabaldon did this single-handed.
Jeffrey Hunter plays Guy with his customary sincerity, David Janssen goes into rip-roaring mode as his pal, while crooner Vic Damone tries acting instead of singing and handles it okay. The movie had some notoriety for a lengthy sequence involving a drunken spree with some naughty dames in Honolulu. Despite cutting, it’s a pretty wild party for a 1960 movie, featuring Patricia Owens (screaming magnified wife of The Fly) doing a strip, her culminating bra-unsnap by Hunter segueing to salvos from battlewagons as the Saipan segment erupts. The action scenes were shot in Okinawa, using hundreds of extras and they’re reasonably furious, certainly amped up from the previous movie excursions to that no-mercy arena. Of course, they can’t stand next to the vivid recreations of HBOs The Pacific, but that was another fifty years down the realism spout.
Richard Eyer (The Invisible Boy pal of Robby the Robot) plays Gabaldon as a kid, a 23-year-old George Takei plays his adoptive brother, John Larch gets a break from his usual tough cops and thugs and is allowed to smile for a few scenes. Sessue Hayakawa does a Japanese general, this time with no river bridge to vex him, but up a creek all the same. Bill Williams and Miiko Taka are on hand.
Karlson, in 1973: “Forget the fact that I used five thousand Japanese and five thousand Marines that we were getting for nothing. I shot it in Okinawa in japan for under $800,000. I defy any company to make that picture for $5,000,000 today.” Better make that fifty million+.
The real Gabaldon was Mexican-American, and pretty much a hardass from childhood fights with street gangs, to war service (he claimed over 1,500 captives in all: there are people who cite both yes & no to that), to tireless self-promotion afterwards. Awarded the Purple Heart, Silver Star and Navy Cross, he married one Ohana Suzuki, moved to Saipan and ran a youth camp there for 20 years. He ran for Congress as a Republican in 1964, had nine kids and finally died in 2006 at age 80. As of now, lobbying for a posthumous Medal of Honor continues, from veterans groups, Hispanic organizations like La Raza and even the Mayor of Los Angeles. Enough for a mini-series. 131 minutes.