BATTLE HYMN, from 1957, is not a good movie, of note only for the wrinkle of assorted threads into its gaudy quilt. (1) it’s another glamorize-the-Air Force saga, popular roughly 1952-63. (2) it further cheats on its righteous-war angle by tossing in religion to amp up the overcome-guilt-and-start-blastin’ factor. (3) it teams Rock Hudson with director Douglas Sirk for the seventh of nine gigs that built both careers. (4) it was a boxoffice success.
Fans of the German emigre/auteur Sirk might wish to elevate this gussied-up story of Dean Hess, a WW2 bomber pilot-turned-pastor-turned-Korean War-pilot, who saved a bunch of orphans from the Reds (paging The Inn of The Sixth Happiness, Blood Alley, Satan Never Sleeps). Sirkists best stick with the colorful camp of All That Heaven Allows, the fun trash of Written On the Wind or the heartfelt A Time to Love And A Time To Die.
As to felt, this one doesn’t get hard to stomach, it starts that way, with some Air Force general telling us (in the awful don’t-miss-a-stomped-vowel line readings we’ve come to know and love from Brass reps on camera) how great Hess was to Our Way of Life (and—coincidentally, the Air Force budget). Bring on the wisecracking sarge (Dan Duryea), the hot shot young pilots, the cute orphans—will the cutest one make it? Roger in two or three minutes of jaw-muscle anguish over strafing the holy shit out of anything that moves.
You, in the balcony! Yeah, you with the ducktail! Get your mitts off Mary Lou and make with the program, teen angel: there are still a lotta Commies to vaporize. With Anna Kashfi, who was marketed to the world as being from India, except she was actually Joan O’Callaghan from Wales. Here, she’s ‘En Soon Yang’. Okay, sure. Don DeFore gripes annoyingly; Martha Hyer waits with a facsimile of concern back in the States; Alan Hale Jr. grouses; James Edwards is the token heroic black guy—see, this is a war for ‘everyone’ (pretty much all Hollywood could figure out for Edwards to do was ‘represent’, from Home of the Brave in 1949 to Patton in 1970).
Hudson didn’t care for this movie either, 108 minutes of Ross Hunter produced bull. Heaven-sent righteous irony rains down when you process that Universal originally offered the lead to Robert Mitchum. Bob’s decade-old marijuana bust lingering in the air, an incensed Col. Hess had a tizzy, choking “I cannot possibly allow a man who has been jailed for taking drugs to play me on the screen!” He was giddy to have Rock, unaware of Hudson’s hidden habits.
It did quite well, coming in 13th place, grossing $11,300,000. With Carl Benton Reid and a lineup of dependable Asian-American stalwarts: Philip Ahn, Richard Loo, James Hong, Teru Shimada, H.W. Gim.