Men In War

MEN IN WAR face their moments of truth in the opening days of the Korean “police action” in this aggressively gritty 1957 entry, directed by Anthony Mann, written by Philip Yordan, made for a scant $1,000,000. Cameraman Ernest Haller shot in spare black & white on unadorned southern California locations (Bronson Canyon, Thousand Oaks) making do for the rugged hills of South Korea, a small cast looking suitably ragged and stressed. Mann’s only war film was not a big hit ($4,300,000 gross, 51st place) but critics were well-disposed and the movie has a solid rep.

Sept.6,1950. The initial North Korean attack sends surprised U.S. troops reeling, including a platoon cut off from their outfit, ordered to link up after seizing a particular hill. ‘Lt. Benson’ (Robert Ryan) and his men are joined by a surly sergeant named ‘Montana’ (Aldo Ray) and his mute, shell-shocked ‘Colonel’ (Robert Keith). Benson and Montana don’t see eye to eye on much, but the desperate situation takes precedence over clashing personalities.

Rugged work from Ryan, Ray and Keith is augmented by a good crew filling out the ranks: Phillip Pine, Nehemiah Persoff, Vic Morrow, James Edwards and L.Q. Jones. The acting is interesting enough to make up for the not very convincing action scenes, rough but illogical. To its credit the script doesn’t indulge in sappy sermonizing, dopey flashbacks to gals back home or twiddling Big Picture exposition, keeping the focus on the exhaustion and disorientation¬† faced by men on the line. It does risk existentialist theatricality at times, a bit too on the nose with some of the confrontations, and the resolution has the whiff of pretense. Still, hard to lose with believable footsloggers like raw-boned Ryan and burly Ray, who both incidentally did their bits in one war that actually made some kind of sense—it wasn’t the one in Korea.

One year later much of the production team reunited for God’s Little Acre. Ryan, Ray and Morrow joined Mann, producer Sidney Harmon, writer Yordan (fronting for blacklisted Ben Maddow), cameraman Haller, composer Elmer Bernstein and editor Richard C. Meyer. 102 minutes.

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