Thursday, October 13, 2005

HELL IS FOR HEROES (1962) - Don Siegel

In keeping with the Siegel style, I’ll try to keep my comments on Hell is for Heroes short, solid, and to the point. This is a great “little” WWII film. “Little” because it smartly keeps its focus narrow, detailing only one single mission for a squadron of soldiers who thought they were on the way back home but instead get left behind by their company on the line one last time. Now they now have to hold the German line with about seven guys instead of 700.
The soldiers are quickly and economically distinguished. Fess Parker’s the rugged, weathered Sgt. Pike. Harry Guardino’s the company man Sgt. Larkin. James Coburn is the resourceful Corporal Henshaw. Bobby Darin’s the wiseguy, New York hustler. Bob Newhart is the newbie desk clerk who stumbles onto the battlefield by accident. And last but not least, Steven McQueen is Reese, the prerequisite loner / alcoholic who doesn’t like anybody and doesn’t want to be there, BUT who you can safely guess by the end of the film will be the one who steps up when its time to throw the sack of cluster grenades into the Kraut bunker.
Heroes is very lean but not without its great moments. McQueen clearing out a French bar with all of three words so he can drink alone. Coburn driving a backfiring jeep around in circles so that the Germans on the other side think the unit has a tank. Newhart improvising a chatty call to headquarters so the Germans who’ve bugged the bunker think things are going swimmingly on the American side. Not to mention some great foxhole shoot-outs which I wager Oliver Stone must have screened before he shot Platoon.
Then of course, there’s the ending. I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say it’s a “hero moment” that for once doesn’t feel cloying or knee jerk but completely organic and entirely earned. Siegel takes the movie out with a BANG then quickly fades out while the fighting rages on. I’ll do the same.

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