Dean Hess, who entered the ministry to atone for bombing a German orphanage, decides he's a failure at preaching. Rejoined to train pilots early in the Korean War, he finds Korean orphans raiding the airbase garbage. With a pretty Korean teacher, he sets up an orphanage for them and others. But he finds that to protect his charges, he has to kill. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Most of Philip Ahn's dialogue is dubbed by another actor. See more »
Old Man, Lun-Wa:
But, Colonel, you seem troubled.
Col. Dean Hess:
There's nothing so terrible as war. I killed today.
Old Man, Lun-Wa:
Yes, war is evil. I see what is in your heart. Colonel, may a poor, old carver of ivory babble for a moment? Understand that this is no more than babble and may not have more worth than a handful of sand. In times like these can a man of good conscience ask others, 'Protect me, kill for me, but do not ask me to stain my hands?' What must one do when a choice between two evils is all that is offered? To accept ...
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With all the controversy surrounding End of the Spear where openly gay actor Chad Allen plays a Christian missionary, I was reminded of Battle Hymn where Rock Hudson plays a minister who goes to war. If Rock Hudson were alive today and open about his sexuality, the same kind of controversy would be surrounding this film.
Battle Hymn is based on a book by the Reverend Dean Hess who after service in World War II as an Army Air Corps flier enters the ministry. It seems as though he accidentally bombed an orphanage in Germany, killing several children.
In an effort to redeem himself he enters the ministry, but he feels himself going through the motions of his faith at the church he's assigned to in Ohio. When the Korean War starts, the newly formed Air Force needed not only pilots for combat, but pilots to train the newly forming South Korean Air Force. Hudson takes leave of his church assignment and goes to Korea.
Once there and quite by accident he gets involved with the littlest victims of war, the orphan kids of Korea who know no politics, only that their world is being destroyed. And when the North Koreans start to push the South Koreans and their allies into the Pusan perimeter Hudson organizes a march and then an airlift of over 400 children south to an orphanage.
Rock Hudson had really come into his own as an actor having received an Oscar Nomination for Best Actor for Giant. He brings to Dean Hess an infectious sincerity. As Hess both as minister and Colonel USAF he feels the responsibility of command and faith more clearly than he could ever have been just pastoring a church. In his scenes with Anna Kashfi and Philip Ahn on the march and airlift with the Korean orphan kids, he's just great. And his acting high point comes when he comforts the dying Don DeFore who was his friend in both wars. Hudson really reaches some sublime levels there.
Dan Duryea normally playing some of the nastiest villains ever on the screen shows the good side in his role as the tough Air Force sergeant who helps Hudson in his mission. And James Edwards who for some better breaks could have been the first black actor in leading roles instead of Sidney Poitier, is just great as the pilot who himself machine guns some children while on a mission. Hudson's scene in revealing himself to Edwards and urging to seek divine forgiveness is also touching and compelling.
Were we ever a silly people at times back in the day. If Rock Hudson had been open about his sexuality in 1956 he would have had no movie career. If Battle Hymn were made today it would probably be the subject of as much controversy as End of the Spear. As if love and compassion and care for orphans can only be the products of the straight people in this world.
One other note. Originally offered the role was Robert Mitchum who was turned down by the real Dean Hess because of his marijuana bust in 1948 as not having the proper image to play a minister. How ironic indeed.
Battle Hymn is a fine film, probably belongs on Rock Hudson's top ten list. Catch it if it is ever shown on TCM or AMC.
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