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 the 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, especially 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 soldier's back story with some admittedly overdone melodrama. We feel something for 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 (??)
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 a 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 group's 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.
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.