Sunday, November 10, 2019

HALLS OF MONTEZUMA 1951





"The everlasting story of the everlasting glory of the United Stares Marines!"



    Released by Fox, this 1951 Technicolor war epic features a terrific cast many of whom were just starting out on long careers and while at first glance it does seem to be something that would have been made about 6 years or so earlier (one of the "why we need to fight" WWII pictures) it does attempt to get into a bit more into the psychological side of things and thanks to full corporation on the USMC it features scads of post WWII Marine armor and vehicles. Filmed in Southern Calif. around Camp Pendleton (along with a stop off at famous Bronson Cavern) the filmmakers were allowed the full corporation of the USMC which as a result along with the bunches of Marine hardware (for armor buff lots of Sherman tank & Amtracks) they had access to hundreds of Marines for use as extras.
   Although basically a 113 minute recruiting advertisement for the Marines with recruiting stations even set up in theatre lobbies, it was directed by Lewis Milestone who rather ironically had directed what is considered to be one of the greatest anti-war films of all time - ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT in 1930. Some shots in HALLS OF MONTEZUMA, espically the long tracking shots of lines of charging and falling soldiers, are very reminiscent of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. Although filled with gung-ho rousing action sequences as the Marine Hymn blasts away on the soundtrack as mentioned the story does attempt to get a little deeper into a few of the soldiers back story with some admittedly overdone melodrama. We feel something for the them and when the characters do die, they die an agonizingly slow death while dragging themselves heroically through the mud.
   The movie was parodied in Robert Altman's M*A*S*H* in 1972 as one of the PA announcements for an upcoming movie night using one of the actual (and rather embarrassing) tag lines for the movie "Only the screen could capture their story and their glory...cheer those lovable mugs with the wonderful mugs we now love more than ever". What the hell (??)




     Focusing on a Marine platoon during an unnamed WWII Pacific battle (it's based loosely upon Okinawa and it was titled as that in some overseas releases) the film features Richard Widmark as the Lt., Karl Malden as the medic, along with Neville Brand (EATEN ALIVE), Jack Palance, Skip Homeier (THE TALL T), Robert Wagner, Martin Milner (ADAM-12), Brett Freed (HANG 'EM HIGH) who as the tough Sgt. is constantly trying to build a moonshine still (and would in a few years would be replaced by Aldo Ray in this type of role) and Richard Hylton (FIXED BAYONETS!) as the remainder as the central group of soldiers that we're introduced to in the film's opening sequences. The remainder of the cast includes Richard Boone, in his big screen debut, as the command figure in the form of a Col. perpetually suffering from a cold, along with Reginald Gardner as an intelligence officer and Japanese interpreter (who also supplies a bit of comedy relief) and Jack Webb as a war correspondent.
     This ensemble (sans Boone) is sent on a mission to locate a hidden Japanese rocket battery that must be destroyed by a certain time in order for an offense to start. Earlier in the movie we were introduced to various members of the squad is flashback (which does stop the action-oriented narrative a bit) and how their problems such as Widmark's migraine headaches, Hylton's cowardice and Homeier's tough guy attitude play out in the upcoming plot as the groups numbers are whittled down and they become more desperate and disillusioned. It's interesting to see how it's mostly the younger actors who perhaps were newly under contract at FOX, receive the lion's share of the back- story sequences with Wagner, Homeier and Hylton each receiving a segment.
   The movie features some spectacular battle footage with actual color combat footage neatly worked in and once the action moves primarily to the island  and the "mission" begins the plot holds interest and excitement in spite of its rather long running time and as far as a war picture, you couldn't ask for a better cast.
    The film works well with giving all the individual marines distinct personalities and we feel a sense of loss as various members of the patrol are killed or wounded. There is also a realistic feeling and look to the men in combat as they become more disheveled, bloody and dirty as the film progresses and although filmed in Southern Calif. the scenery is well chosen and doesn't scream "California" like a lot of productions although film buffs will instantly recognize the Bronson Caverns setting from about a gazillion films.




    The entire cast is excellent with most looking impossibly young including dark-haired & slim Richard Boone (who as the commanding officer basically just stands around and yells at everyone) and Jack Palance (here right after his first major role in the wonderful PANIC IN THE STREETS) is already one those actors that you just can't take your eyes off of.
     It's always interesting to watch Jack Webb in his early movies as you swear you actually see the wheels turning in his head as he observes the creative process. He would later use Boone in the 1954 DRAGNET movie (where he would essentially play the same character as here) and with even more fortuity this would be his first meeting with a young actor named Martin Milner and there's an integration scene here with a captured Japanese officer that's eerily reminiscent of his later work in DRAGNET. Richard Widmark has always been a highly intriguing actor to me. He always seems to bring some depths (no matter how small) to every character he plays from the highly consciences and caring role here to his more evil portrayals such as in KISS OF DEATH.
    HALLS OF MONTEZUMA is available on a Fox DVD that's re-packaged every so often in multi-packs with other Fox war films, although a Blu-ray hopefully one day should look pretty spectacular.














6 comments:

  1. Thanks for joining the blogathon with this fab all-star-cast which immediately got my attention along with MASH as its parody. So agree about Widmark, I loved him in the Swarm. Anyway thanks again for joining and as always with one for adding to my to watch pile.! Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews

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    1. Thanks! It's a good watch and the cast is amazing.

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  2. great review. Love how Widmark goes from sniggering villain "Tommy" in "kiss of Death" (1947) and the weasel in "Yellow Sky" to the true-blue All American Hero in this one.

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    1. He's really good and he's one of those actors you makes anything worth watching. A really good later one that's sadly under seen is WHEN THE LEGENDS DIE.

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  3. Am a bit embarrassed to say I'd never heard of this film before reading your review - and with this cast, too! I'll be looking for it, so thanks in advance. (And here's hoping a Blu-ray release is in the works...)

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  4. I haven't seen this one yet. Thanks for the review! :)

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