The narrative follows the 1954 battle of Indo-China's Dienbienphu, as the French try to prevent their fortress from falling to the indigenous Viet Minh.
Strictly as a war movie, the results are not very good. Outside of the stock footage, the small battles are not well staged. For example, there's that dreadful scene where three French troops dive into a Viet Minh foxhole, the battle being filmed more like a Three Stooges comedy than a matter of life or death. That's not surprising since director Butler's credits shows a distinct preference for comedy. Then too, the acting, particularly Van Eyck, is uninspired, to say the least. I agree with the reviewer who notes the movie's best parts are those in Paris. Also, note how brief the women's parts are even though they're given the kind of billing that misleads audience expectations.
All in all, it's not possible to discuss this nakedly propagandistic movie without a few observations. The Viet Minh are consistently vilified, while the French colonialists are consistently lionized (with one exception). Nowhere, however, does the film acknowledge the French as an army of foreign occupation, in service to what remained of the French empire post-WWII. Nor does the film distinguish between nationalism, anti-colonialism, and communism. Yet all three were in play among the Viet Minh. The political landscape was, in fact, much more complex than this simple-minded, reductionist screenplay acknowledges. As propaganda, the movie is clumsily obvious, at best. Too bad, we Americans had to find out the complex realities of Indo-China the hard way. At the same time, it's movie screed like this that helped grease the skids.
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