Colorful cast, weak script in routine Korean war film
If you're looking for a hard-hitting Korean War film made in the 1950s, something that illuminates the anguish, tension and hard command decisions made in the heat of battle, you'll do well to seek out Sam Fuller's THE STEEL HELMET (1951), Anthony Mann's MEN IN WAR (1957), and Lewis Milestone's PORK CHOP HILL (1959). Even Tay Garnett's ONE MINUTE TO ZERO (1952), starring Robert Mitchum, has its penetrating moments. If, on the other hand, you're looking for laughable dialogue and hoary clichés, then you're best left with Harmon Jones' TARGET ZERO (1955), about allied soldiersand a womanlost behind enemy lines and wandering rather aimlessly over a sunny American landscape doubling for Korea.
You can tell where the film is going right after the opening credits as a truck carrying two women, an attractive American blonde and an Asian woman in fatigues, is hit by North Korean mortar shells and goes crashing into a ravine. The blonde gets out, a little shaken and dazed but thoroughly unscathed, with hair and makeup intact, while the poor Asian woman is dead, having had about one line of dialogue and mere minutes after the actress's name (Angela Loo) appeared in the credits. The hot blonde is Annie Galloway, a "biochemist" with the United Nations health team, and she's played by Peggie Castle, a regular in westerns and Mickey Spillane adaptations of the era. She quickly hooks up with a straggling English tank crew led by a sergeant named David (Richard Stapley), all of whom are then joined by a lost American platoon seeking Easy Company. The Americans commandeer the tank to aid their search and recruit Annie to act as nurse to a wounded man (Strother Martin) whom they place on the back of the tank. After a few miles of this she complains that the bouncing of the tank in motion is hurting the wounded man, so they take him off and make one of the soldiers carry him on his back, as if that wouldn't hurt him even more! Even if that soldier happens to be Charles Bronson!
The ranking American officer, Lt. Tom Flagler (Richard Conte), soon starts putting the moves on Annie, making the uptight English sergeant very jealous indeed. Annie, in an unlikely turn of events, eventually responds to Flagler's rather crude charms. At one point, they're in a bunker and exchange this dialogue after a rather foreseeable tragic occurrence: Annie: "What's the matter with me, Tom? Why can't I cry?" Tom: "You've been at war, Annie. In here, death is like rain. Some days you have it. Some days you don't." Annie: "It's all so distorted. Nothing seems real or lasting." Tom: "We're real, Annie. You and me." That's what the script is like.
Unlike the Korean War movies cited in my first paragraph, no one here ever seems to take their situation seriously enough. There's a wisecracking southerner named Felix (L.Q. Jones) who jokes at every turn. There's an American Indian named Geronimo (Abel Fernandez) who tells Felix that the Indians joined the army so they can learn the white man's fighting skills and take America back from them. Later, Flagler approaches Geronimo as he's preparing to face down attacking "Reds" and asks him, "Whaddaya say, Injun?" Geronimo responds with "Now I know how Custer felt." It's that kind of film.
L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin both play members of the platoon and would later famously team up as the pair of scuzzy bounty hunters, T.C. and Coffer, in Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH. Chuck Connors (TV's "The Rifleman") turns up as radioman Moose. Aaron Spelling, the future TV mastermind behind "Charlie's Angels," "Fantasy Island," and "Love Boat," shows up as "Strangler," one of those annoying, obsequious little sidekicks you often saw in war movies. Charles Bronson is his usual earnest self. Richard Conte walks through his part with a casualness that's a pale echo of the studied unflappability he brought to his roles as infantry grunts in World War II movies such as GUADALCANAL DIARY and A WALK IN THE SUN ("Everybody dies").
The film was shot on the grounds of Fort Carson, a U.S. Army base in Colorado, and made use of the Colorado Air National Guard in the film's one impressive combat sequence, in which we see a team of four fighter jets attack the oncoming Reds as our heroes defend a hill called "Sullivan's Muscle." The jets do some stunning maneuvers and are seen in shots with the actors, including one startling bit where a jet appears from below and flies right over Conte's head. That must've required some heavy-duty persuasion.
In another comment here, the writer mentions "freezing winter conditions" and "the plight of civilians." He must have been thinking of another Korean War movie, because those elements are completely absent from this one.
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