Sunday, August 31, 2014

MEN IN WAR (1957- U.S.) Olive Films Blu-Ray

D: Anthony Mann.  A bleak, hard-boiled Korean war drama starring the always interesting Robert Ryan (ON DANGEROUS GROUND) as Lt. Benson leading a rag-tag battle-fatigued team of platoon survivors through enemy territory. All the men are paranoid and irritable as hell while traveling sniper infested terrain when they encounter a shell shocked, speechless colonel (Robert Keith) and his trigger-happy aid, Montana (Aldo Ray).  As the men continue on, the enemy  is rarely seen  and each man must wage battle with both the snipers and their own personal demons.  Post WWII  Hollywood films, starting with the Korean conflict and continuing with Viet Nam, became increasingly disillusioned, morally vague and apocalyptic.  Filmmakers like Mann and Fuller would further explore the darker psychological aspects as opposed to the triumphant, heroic and strategic victories of previous war movies. The film ends on a suitably strong but ambiguous note.

Originally released through United Artists, MEN IN WAR showcases a solid ensemble cast of rugged, weary faces including Vic Morrow (THE LAST SHARK), Aldo Ray (THE NAKED AND THE DEAD), James Edward (Kubrick’s THE KILLING), L.Q. Jones (THE WILD BUNCH) and Victor Sen Yung among others.  Ray is a stand out as a brute survivor who knows how the enemy thinks (“you shoot or you die“) much to Ryan’s horror.  Morrow was just a few years away from starring in TV’s COMBAT.  The Chinese actor Yung plays a Korean sniper and is best remembered as Charlie Chan’s son in the Sydney Toler run of the detective series.  Stark and psychologically grim, Mann creates a quiet, dusty and desolate vision of hell expertly aided by the dynamic monochrome compositions of veteran cinematographer Ernest Haller (GONE WITH THE WIND) and a sparse but powerful score by Elmer Bernstein (MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, ROBOT MONSTER).

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