BEACH RED has a plot that could not be simpler. World War 2, the Pacific. US Marines assault Japanese defenses in the Philippines. Fighting and flashbacks, for 105 minutes.
A guy movie with a message; directed, produced, co-written and starring Cornel Wilde, this furiously violent, large-scale combat flick as anti-war statement from 1967 made no box-office dent when it came out and soon fell into obscurity. Notably ambitious and sincere, markedly clumsy and cheesy, its recent rediscovery write-ups praise it all out of proportion. One of the ad tag lines was “It waves no flags and beats no drums. It just pulls the pin on a grenade and throws it – Catch!” Okay, as a veteran of many dozens of war movies, where does this one fall? Direct hit or lobbed bomb?
What’s on target? Heavy co-operation from the generously US-supplied armed forces of The Philippines give heft to the production, with lots of extras and a shitload of noise. Tropical location filming in that bantam ally helps considerably. Some bits and pieces in the plenitude of action scenes come off well, and the sound effects are a definite plus. There’s interesting background scoring, credited to Col. Antonino Buenaventura, a renowned Filipino composer. Wilde presents both sides, so the Japanese are allowed more fair play than usual. No attempt to glamorize combat or its effects, and it jumps the gun, by decades, on The Thin Red Line, having voice-over reflections from the men involved in the confusing carnage. It’s no flag-waver, unless it’s a figurative banner, with a peace-sign, soaked in blood. Credit Wilde for trying: his heart was in the right place (didn’t stop the Vietnam War).*
What backfires? Gee, the script is awful, the direction spotty, the acting is terrible, the flashback cuts to the girls left behind are choppier than a home movie. Wilde’s wife, Jean Wallace, is one of the cut-to gals, looking twenty years away from the 40s in hairstyle (she sings the plaintive title song as well).** The second-unit directors had a lot of guys to fill the screen with, but drew mixed results getting them to look like they know what they’re doing. Bunching up, handling props, falling down, not falling down: they too often muff what should be convincing war movie staples.
The sound effects and lots of explosions work hard to cover the hesitant pretend fighting. Cornel looks good at 55, rugged and thoughtful, but casually throws away his lines, which are lame to start with; Rip Torn gives the worst performance of his career as a chaw-chompin’ sergeant, overdone like a comic book. (Did Sean Penn ‘rip’-off Torn for what would be his worst-ever hamming, in Casualties Of War, as another sarge with an even bigger mouthful of gunk?) Supporting actors Burr DeBenning and Patrick Wolfe do themselves no favor, but then the words they’re saddled with would choke a python. It’s a jumble out there….
With Jaime Sanchez (shortly to recover, long enough to amuse ‘Mapache’ in The Wild Bunch), Dale Ishimoto, Genki Koyama and Gene Blakely. It was inexplicably Oscar-nominated for Film Editing, losing to In The Heat Of The Night. ***
* Someone might have told Wilde that it was the US Army, not the Marine Corps, who hit the beaches in the liberation of The Philippines. At the time he filmed, we had huge bases there at Clark Field and Subic Bay, helping paste large areas of Indochina into poisoned craters for democracy. 1967s other big, brutal WW2 movie, The Dirty Dozen, was a monster hit, an instant, enduring classic. Besides vivid action, it helped to have excellent acting, writing, direction and editing. Both used ‘safe’ WW2 to score points off the increasing maelstrom of Vietnam and gnawing doubts about military insanity in general. There was also the farcical groaner How I Won The War (John Lennon brashly mocking British WW2 films), the conventional, boring First To Fight, the conventional, splashy Tobruk. Vietnam’s generation-mauling thus got Hollywood venting peace feelers with pyrotechnics via the one war pretty much everyone recognized as just, if maybe not exactly Good.
Speaking of those Philippine/US bases, our idiotic/maniac ‘Asian Pivot’ is gearing those babies up again, so we can fight China over some rocks. Volunteers to parachute onto the Spratley’s? La-de-dada-dee, la-de-dada die.……
** Faith-in-Academy-Process-Shaken-Time—movies better suited for the Film Editing category that were bumped by plopping this hash on the plate: Bonnie And Clyde, In Cold Blood, Cool Hand Luke, The Good The Bad And The Ugly, The St.Valentines Day Massacre, The Graduate, Two For The Road and War And Peace. !!! Cease fire! I give up!
***Cornel Wilde was married to Jean Wallace for thirty years, during which he loyally gave her leading lady roles in six films he directed. The former showgirl couldn’t act worth a darn. Prior to Cornel, she did have an active scandal-plagued private life with a tempestuous marriage to Franchot Tone, two suicide attempts, a drunken car wreck on Christmas wearing panties and an overcoat (give her one for style), charges of molling with gangster Johnny Stompanato (must have boiled Lana Turner’s kettle). Do thy sordid Internet research, thou curiosity seekers. After she and Wilde split in 1980 she lived in Beverly Hills with her pets: two snakes, a Chihuahua, a parrot, two rabbits, a tarantula, and a duck, until the last curtain called at 66 in 1990.