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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The hate content in war films which had up to this point been reserved
mainly for the Germans was now temporarily re-channeled in the
direction of the Japanese, and the Pacific War was revived in
aggressive patriotism in films like Allan Dwan's "Sands of Iwo Jima,"
Fritz Lang's "I Shall Return, " Nicolas Ray's "Flying Leathernecks,"
and Lewis Milestone's "Hall of Montezuma."
The focus of Milestone's film is the capture of a site on which the enemy have set up rocket sites A Marine patrol is sent out, with orders to take prisoners and bring them back for interrogation
Much of the movie's appeal arises from its future ensemble cast There is Richard Widmark, a former schoolteacher who fights the war with his head in a vice; Karl Malden, the medical corpsman who knows what psychological migraine is; Reginald Gardiner, the British-born sergeant, who can speak Japanese; Robert Wagner, the young radio man who kept pestering his fellow soldiers; Skip Homeier, the hotshot 'pretty boy' who is in a hurry to get home; Jack Palance, the protective and grateful boxer who wants his pal as his future manager; Richard Hylton, the student who handled fear once; Richard Boone, the desperate colonel who insists on taking prisoners; Neville Brand, the strong sergeant blinded during a bomb attack; and Bert Freed, the best fighter man but before and after "the no-good money burnin', gin-drinkin' horsehead "
All the characters solved their hang-ups with bouts of heroism, and Widmark was on hand to lead the last attack with a rousing battle-cry "Give 'em hell!"
Halls Of Montezuma is a busy, Technicolored war film circa 1950, and was a big hit in its day. The story-line, such as it is, is convoluted and not really worth going into. Basically the film is about the psychology of war and its effect on human relations, especially those created by the war itself. A good deal of the film, as I recall, takes place in caves, ditches and deserted buildings. Unlike most war films this one emphasizes the fact the most soldiers, even Marines, are made, not born; they all come from someplace and would like to return there, preferably in one piece. Lewis Milestone directed the picture, and while it is a far cry from his classic All Quiet On the Western Front, this film is no shabby piece of work. Richard Widmark heads a cast of future stars, and they all perform well, if a bit too strenuously at times. The actors tend to be grouped together a good deal, maybe to ensure that no one can outshine anyone else, and this, plus the emphasis on isolated settings, succeeds in making the film strangely intimate. The color is bright and often glaring, and the Pacific island setting well-rendered. It's worth mentioning as a footnote that the studio that made the picture, 20th Century-Fox, would soon be switching over to making almost exclusively CinemaScope films, and would also soon be dropping Technicolor for the cheaper De Luxe color. Their post CinemaScope product is for the most part vastly inferior than what they previously had been doing, and Halls Of Montezuma, while not a great film, shows, even today, just how beautiful Technicolor could be. This, plus the use of the square, tidy space movies were limited to in those pre-wide screen days, makes for a depth in perspective that is at times almost seductive, even in so grim a film as this.
Many war movies just following WWII were of the John Wayne tough guy type. However, Halls of Montezuma, is refreshing in that it looks in depth at the psychology of the soldier. Really at how men change when laying there lives on the line. The cinematography was also well done when you consider this movie was made half a century ago. You won't see the blood and guts as in a Saving Private Ryan, but the movie may make you think twice before signing up for active duty.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
- Despite it's grand name, Halls of Montezuma is a small war film. What
I mean is that the movie focuses more on a small group of men and their
fears and problems than it does on a grand plan for Allied victory.
It's a very personal movie. We get to see these men up-close and we
begin to develop feelings for them. I wouldn't doubt that this is one
of the first films to show a U.S. Lieutenant so battle scarred that he
resorts to using pain killers just to function. Unlike other war films
of this era, not all of these men are going to make it to the end. War
is like that. It doesn't pick and chose people to live because we like
them. So in that regard, it's also more realistic than some other war
movies made in the 50s.
- To succeed as a small, personal war movie as I've described, the cast has to be able to act. This cast does not disappoint. Richard Widmark, Jack Webb, and Karl Malden are all excellent in their respective roles. I was especially impressed with Webb who has an acting style that can grate on the nerves. He's more subdued here and it works. But as good as these three are, Jack Palance is the highlight of the movie for me. He was undoubtedly the most believable. I could really picture him doing the things in real life that were called for in the script.
- I have no difficulty recommending Halls of Montezuma to fans of war films. It's a very welcome addition to my DVD collection.
My husband and I were particularly impressed by the camera technique used
transition from foxhole (or ship deck) to a scene in an earlier part of
soldier's life. We were so taken by Milestone's excellent direction and
film's incredible cinematography that the first time we saw it we just had
to rewind and watch it over from the very beginning.
Our only regret was that we did not watch the wide screen version.
One of the rare american war movies with a certain sense of
reality: Richard Widmark as a platoon leader conquering the
pacific island of okinawa. From the long waiting time before the
attack on the battleship, to the landing operation on the shores of
okinawa, to the painful losses of his men, we follow these serious
looking americans. Their faces seem motionless and two of the
officers, including Widmark, have psychosomatic war syndroms.
The killing is no fun in this movie, the dying is no fun to watch. All in
all, not very entertaining, but a lesson in war, much more realistic
than later US-movies on the same topic.
I first saw "Halls of Montezuma" on television when I was a kid, and even now, I think it is one of the best war films ever made. All of the actors were perfectly cast and each man gives an outstanding performance. Richard Widmark is particularly good in his role as Lt. Anderson, a tough Marine who is respected by his men, but who also has to suppress his own fear with pills. My favorite scene in the film is where the men are in their foxholes at night, listening to the taunts of the Japanese soldiers. Their faces are briefly illuminated by parachute flares floating in the sky as they talk to each other, waiting for the enemy to do something. It's one of the most realistic scenes I have ever seen in a war film. I think this was one of the first post-WWII films that actually portrayed Japanese soldiers as real human beings, not just simple-minded brutes. You can see some similarities with the combat scenes of "All Quiet on the Western Front", which Lewis Milestone directed 20 years earlier. Anyone who is interested in WWII films should also check out "A Walk in the Sun", another excellent war film directed by Milestone. Simply put, "Halls of Montezuma" is an excellent war film that is underrated by most critics. It should not be missed.
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
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.
A war movie that concentrates upon bonds formed between a Marine Lieutenant, a former High School chemistry teacher and the 7 men of his original Platoon. A tense drama that hinges on the Battalion that has only 24 hours to find the location of the Japanese rockets that will decimate all the marines who have to attack. Character development is excellent and the Lewis Milestone touch is evident in this stirring drama of the Pacific war.
At age 10, in 1960, I watched the "Halls of Montezuma" movie on television. In 1968, I found myself in the U.S. Marine Corps serving as a machine-gunner in the infantry. Sometimes, movies have a way of becoming true reality; and, because the movie gave me a little insight and understanding of the brutality of war, in some way, I owe a debt of gratitude to the movie.
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