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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.
Ok, I've only seen three, but that does not change my standing.
The Steel Helmet tells of a group of infantrymen who have come together by literally running into each other by chance. They travel to a Buddhist temple to set up an observation post, but are soon surrounded by the Communist army. There is then a massive battle that is not exactly pretty for the Americans.
The story is good and moves along at a rate which will keep you intrigued, the battle scenes are very good, and I especially like the part where the medic takes off his helmet, rips off his Red Cross armband and fires the machine gun after the man that was operating it was killed. I wish this movie would come onto video or at least be shown on TV so I can tape it. 8/10
Tough, gritty war story of a ragtag American patrol in Korea that finds itself trapped in a Buddhist temple by a much larger Chinese force. Sam Fuller made this for cheapjack Lippert Pictures for little more than $100,000--the Chinese "tank" that attacks them was actually constructed out of plywood--but the low budget doesn't detract from it at all. From the opening sequence where Gene Evans' tough sergeant finds himself the only survivor of a POW massacre by Chinese troops, to the climactic battle in the Buddhist temple, the film is chock full of Fuller's bizarre little touches and great storytelling. Evans is first-rate, and there's a terrific performance by the great Richard Loo--the stereotypical oily Japanese villain (although he was actually Korean) in countless Hollywood World War II movies--as a laconic, war-weary Japanese-American soldier, the only veteran that Evans has in the patchwork patrol he puts together that he knows he can count on. Don't miss this one.
This movie feels a little dated but still powerful. Very evolved for a war movie of its time. Characters seem very real: the movie avoids stereotypes typical to war pictures. I thought the supporting characters were the strongest part of the movie. Manages to operate almost entirely independently of plot, focussing on character and situation instead. The very first scene is particularly arresting, and the abrupt beginning and partial ending are very effective at making the film feel real.
****SPOILERS**** Almost forgotten Samuel Fuller war classic about a
group of GI's together with a 12 year-old South Korean boy trapped
behind enemy lines in the Korean War. Relased at the time, early 1951,
when the US and UN forces were suffering a string of catastrophic
losses at the hands of the invading Communist Chinese forces, together
with their North Korean allies,the movie doesn't at all tap into the
audiences patriotism with flag waving heroic by the GI's but shows them
only as just wanting to survive the hell that they find themselves in.
Sgt. Zack, Gene Evens, with his hands tied behind his back and a commie bullet through his steel helmet is rescued by this young Korean boy, Willian Shon, whom he nicknames "Short Round". Zack had been captured by the Communist North Koreans and together with his fellow GI's summarily shot in the head but his helmet luckily deflected the bullet where he played dead until his failed executioners left the scene. A loner who's not interested in any human companionship Zack at first tries to go out on his own in the Korean hills and under brush but "Short Round" is so insistent, as well has having lost his parents in he war,that the tough old battle-hardened GI gives in and lets "Short Round " tag along with him.
In the course of the film Sgt. Zack and "Short Round" meet up with a number of GI's who were also separated from their units in the brutal and vicious fighting with the Korean Commies. The lost infantry squad makes it's way through the woods to this deserted Buddhist Temple and sets up an observation post, obviously against the Geneva War Accords, to direct artillery fire on the North Korean units in the area.
Director Fuller, this at a time when his country was at war, not only keeps any patriotic themes out of the movie about the great and wonderful ideals, like freedom and democracy, that the GI's in the film are supposed to be fighting for and how evil their enemy, the North Koreans and Comunist Chinese, are but actually brings out how Black and Oriental Americans are discriminated against by the very country that there now fighting and, in many cases, giving up their lives and limbs for the United States of America and does it with this sneaky and back-stabbing North Korean POW Major Harold Fung!
Fung tries to get black corpsman or medic Cpl.Thompson, James Ewdwards, and Japanese-American Sgt. Tanaka, Richard Loo,to turn against their country and fellow GI's by bringing out how their treated back home only to almost have, as Sgt. Tanaka told the Commie creep, his rabbit teeth smacked out of his mouth one at a time; it wasn't that what Fung was saying was wrong but that the two GI's that it was directed to, Thompson & Tanaka, saw through his so-called concerned for them and knew enough that no matter how bad things was for them and their fellow Black and Japanese-Americans back home the cause that Fung was fighting for would only make their lives even worse not better.
The North Koreans getting a bead on just where the US observation post, that's directing murderous artillery fire on them, is and start to move in on it with a series of wild and furious Banzai-like suicidal assaults on the Buddish Temple which by the time the movie is over results in the deaths of almost all of it's defenders including "Short Round".
Breaking through the inner perimeter of the Temple the Commies are then stopped cold by the last two persons who you would have expected in the movie to be gong-ho combat hero's, of the group of GI's trapped in it, US Army Medic Thompson and conscientious objector or Chaplin's assistant Pvt. Bronet, Robert Hutton. Sgt. Zack caught up with the horrific fighting and for once having heart-felt emotions for those fighting and dying in the temple along with him with his little friend "Short Round", whom he developed a genuine father and son relationship with, getting killed momentarily loses it thinking that he's back at Omaha Beach in 1944 instead of in Korean in 1951 with him mindlessly mumbling to himself "The only ones on this beach are either dead or about to die".
Sgt. Zack's commanding officer Lt. Driscoll, Steve Brodie, whom he never showed any love for takes over behind the machine gun nest from Pvt. Bronte, who was mowing down the attacking North Koreans, after he was hit and killed by a commie bullet and is soon also shot dead but only after he, and later Cpl. Thompson, courageously held off the surging commie hoards long enough for a US Army infantry squad to break through, the Communist North Korean encirclement, and rescue the remaining GI's.
Stumbling out of the battered Buddhist Temple and into formation together with Cpl. Thompson Pvt. Baldy( Richard Mohanan) & Sgt.Tanaka, the only survivors of this holocaust, Sgt. Zack tearfully replaces his bullet riddled steel helmet with that of Lt. Driscoll's on the graveside marker where he was buried; an act that he felt he owed him since he refused to trade helmets with Lt. Driscoll when he was still alive.
Powerful war movie that you never get tired of watching not just because of the many great battle action scenes in it but the message that it brings out to it's audience, like in the timeless anti-war classic "All Quite on the Western Front", that war isn't to be looked forward to or celebrated but to be avoided at almost all costs and only to be fought when it's absolutely necessary for the survival of the people nation and freedoms of those who have ,or volunteer, to fight it.
While maybe not the greatest of all war pictures, STEEL HELMET is the first film I remember seeing on TV as a kid! I don't know what year, or how old I was, but we didn't yet have a TV set, we were visiting a relative's house, who had one, and as the adults were in the main room playing cards and drinking, I lay on the sofa (still captivated by this new invention, imagine: Movies right in your house!,) watched Steel Helmet all the way through! Normally, as little kid, I would've fallen asleep, but for some strange reason, this film mesmerized me and captured my attention so well, I remembered it all through the years, and it became available on VHS, I snatched up a copy right away! Still Have it, and I'm looking to find a DVD version as well! Wow! What a memory! This would have been about '52 or '53 or '54!
Screw-ball film making by one of the bravest directors around. As A result of touching upon the racial issues of the day Hoovers F.B.I. launched an investigation in order to find out if the film had been financed by the communists. Sam Fuller, brave enough to walk into the line of fire with a hand held 16mm camera and awarded whatever medal it was for pulling wounded soldier after wounded soldier to safety during WW 2 accused of anti-americanism by the dawgs of the day. Remember Alf from Green Acres? He's in this film. Plays Joe the guy who won't talk to anyone yet when no one else is around he whispers happily into the ear of a gear carrying donkey. Screw-ball film making at it's best. One scene has "Buddah Head" Tanaka feeding "Baldy"(lost his hair through yellow fever) a line about massaging earth into the scalp to stimulate growth. This is a classic!
One of the earliest films to deal with the Korean War, Steel Helmet has
good action (on a limited budget, which shows in the largest battle
scene), well-drawn characters, and visits more than one contemporaneous
issue, including racism and manipulation of that issue by the Soviets
and their satellites during the Cold War.
I saw the film originally in its year of release and was riveted to the screen. For me, the best element of the film is Gene Evans' portrayal of Sgt. Zack, a hard boiled, but not cast-iron career soldier. I've not seen anything of Gene's to rival this portrayal.
Viewed as a document both for, and yet a little ahead of its time, Steel Helmet is a great lower budget contribution to the film literature of the Korean War.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"For Kubrick, as for Sam Fuller, combat was a metaphor for virtually
all forms of human endeavour. Consequently, Kubrick and Fuller made
more good, or great, war films between the two of them than the rest of
Hollywood put together." - C. Jerry Kutner
Lean, mean and angry, Sam Fuller's "The Steel Helmet" remains one of the director's finest films. Shot on a shoestring budget with a group of UCLA students over the course of ten days, the film was also one of the first films of the Korean War film cycle. Unlike it's successors, though, Fuller's tone is one of extreme cynicism. "Helmet" was the first Hollywood film to mention the internment of Japanese Americans in WW2 prison camps, and elsewhere Fuller deftly deals with racism, by including a North Korean prisoner who baits a black soldier into conversation with accounts of American society's Jim Crow rules.
There are other points of interest: a young Korean kid, dubbed "Short Round", who prove influential on George Lucas' "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", the film contains an appropriately tense sniper sequence, the film was one of the few from its era to deal with shell-shock, mental fatigue and war crimes, and of course Gene Evans, who plays Sergeant Zack, offers us a wonderful character. He's a gruff, bearish man. A seasoned veteran who has only one thing on his mind: personal survival. Indeed, most of the film's best sequences involve Zack and Short Round interacting. Zack teaches the kid how to survive in the physical, whilst Shorty schools Zack in appreciating the spiritual.Unsurprisingly a nice touch by Fuller - much of the film's violence takes place in a Buddhist temple; war in a sanctuary of peace, the strategically located temple prostituted as an instrument of pain.
The film's politics baffled critics upon release. The right viewed it as being an attack on the Korean war and accused Fuller of being a "commie sympathiser", whilst the left thought Fuller was a sell out, largely due to a last act sequence in which a North Korean soldier breaks the Geneva convention and ruthlessly kills our cute little South Korean kid. Commies are bad, see, so lets waste those ruthless child killers!
In truth, the film is simply naive (the US shouldn't have been in Korea, shouldn't have challenged the populaces wishes for unification and reforms, and indeed committed countless huge war crimes and only made things much worse), a tone which clashes with the beautiful pessimism of Fuller's writing. His scripts are typically fast paced, taut, efficient and masculine, and we see that here with "Helmet". Fuller writes like a pulp journalist, his jargon hard; a kind of blunt poetry.
8/10 Worth one viewing.
What could have been a flimsy, disposable b-movie in the hands of other, less competent directors, becomes an evocative war tale of grit, fear, loss and redemption in the hands of Sam Fuller. There's no abstract sophistication or sentimental pap though: this is raw and true film-making, unpretentious and stripped of all fat. Director Sam Fuller is a unique beast in the American underground: having worked both as a crime report for NYC newspapers before he enlisted as a soldier in WWII, it comes natural then that the Steel Helmet has the urgency and power of both of his pre-directorial careers. A reporter's sense of story and characters above all and the firsthand experience of a war veteran. True to itself, simple but never simplistic, with respect to the subject matter and without any flag waving, The Steel Helmet is better than it had any right to be. It is still a low-profile (in terms of stars and publicity or lack thereof) b-movie but shot with a conviction and passion few a-list movies can muster.
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