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During the Korean War, strong but worn and cantankerous Sergeant Zack is aided by a young, orphaned Korean boy. Together they encounter and join a small group of American soldiers. The group stumbles upon a Buddhist temple where they decide to hold up, believing it to be empty... Written by
Karl Engel <email@example.com>
I grew up with this movie, which was shown regularly on local television stations at a time when post-1949 films were scarce as hen's teeth on the tube. The film that put writer-director Samuel Fuller on the map, to the extent that he was ever there, it looks less impressive now, but I have a soft spot for it. It is the story of a group of infantrymen, many of them social misfits, during the Korean War, and their heroic efforts in defense of a Buddhist temple during a Communist-led attack. The major character in the film is Sgt. Zack, played to the hilt by a cigar-chewing Gene Evans, who never became a star but whose performance here is powerful and charismatic, flawless in every detail. I've never seen him in anything else where he's half as good as he is here. Evans carries the film like a super-star, and in Steel Helmet, for a short time, he is one. The others are good, too. Steve Brodie is less of a jerk than usual; James Edwards is very sharp, more assertive than in the previous year's Home Of the Brave, which he made with Brodie. As to the film itself, its qualities come from being a sort of tabloid journalist's work of art. It is weakest when preachy about race relations, strongest when men are arguing, shouting and competing with one another as if they had just stepped out of the pages one of those 'adult' comic books they used to have in barbershops. The movie's cheapness gives it a documentary look, and for once GI's in a film look dirty and unshaven. The scenes with the giant Buddha that dominates he temple's interior have an otherworldliness about them that seems serendipitous, not planned, and give the quieter scenes a background of serenity without which the picture might be intolerably violent and bitter.
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