The Marines attack a strongly held enemy island in the Pacific. We follow them from the beach to a Japanese rocket site through enemy infested jungle as their ex-school teacher leader is transformed into a battle veteran and his squad becomes a tight fighting unit. Written by
Derek Picken <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Arguably, it's one of the three or four best WWII movies ever made. A group of U.S. Marines race against the clock to find the source of enemy rockets that prevent them from taking control of a Japanese-held Pacific island. It's certainly a patriotic film. But there is also an undercurrent of despair, based on the human toll that war inevitably takes.
These Leathernecks are tough, but they are also subject to death from enemy fire. And the screen story puts a lot of emphasis on individual characterization. I don't recall a film that did such a good job of combining scene transitions with flashbacks to help viewers understand the motivations of the main characters.
Lt. Anderson (Richard Widmark) is the leader; he suffers from debilitating migraine headaches, but nevertheless pushes on to fulfill whatever dangerous mission he's assigned. One of his men is Conroy (Richard Hylton) who used to stutter, until Anderson helped cure him of it years earlier. Slattery (Bert Freed) is your typical Marine toughie, but he's got a sense of humor and conceals a portable still to make booze. Pretty Boy (Skip Homeier) is a pistol packing dude with a chip on his shoulder. Through the screen story's deep characterizations, viewers naturally become attached to these guys, and root for them as they enter into their dangerous mission. Of the dozen or so men Anderson leads, not all will make it out alive.
As in other battle films, viewers learn the importance of quick decisions, teamwork, effective communication, and keen awareness of one's surroundings. Life occurs moment by moment, in the here and now. Make a plan; execute it; dodge a problem; ignore pain and fatigue; persist. These are lessons applicable to anyone at any time, not just warriors on the battlefield.
"Halls Of Montezuma" is a quality production all the way. The color cinematography is fine, despite the fact that some of the techniques are dated. The ensemble acting is credible. The editing and scene transitions are just terrific. And, as the film's bookends, that rousing theme song: "From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli" gets the viewer in the right frame of mind.
I normally don't care for movies in this genre. Even this film, like other WWII films, is a tad too predictable, slightly manipulative, and contains some outdated assumptions. Nevertheless, as war movies go, "Halls Of Montezuma" is one of the best.
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