Pork Chop Hill (1959) Poster

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Gregory Peck, glorious black and white, and intense action--what more do you want?
Jay V.12 December 2001
I think when movies like Saving Private Ryan or Platoon came out people thought that these represented "new" insights on the war movie. Unfortunately, I guess they'd never seen a number of classic old films, such as Hell Is For Heroes (Steve McQueen), Sahara (Humphrey Bogart), or, indeed, Pork Chop Hill, starring Gregory Peck.

I've seen Pork Chop Hill three or four times. It is, from what I understand, a historically accurate account of one of the last fifty years' most famous battles, based on the book by famous military historian Gen. S. L. A. "Slam" Marshall. The scene is at the end of the Korean War. Negotiations between the combatants have stalemated. LT1 Joe Clemons (played by Gregory Peck) is ordered to take Pork Chop Hill, a basically worthless piece of territory to demonstrate to the Chinese and North Koreans that resolve had not flagged. So a night attack is ordered. Fog of war messes the whole thing up repeatedly and Clemons is left holding the bag, with his company of men stuck in the assault without the backup they expected to happen. The story is very human, particularly the interaction between Clemons and his second in command, Ohashi. You see men determined to win even though they know they might die (and for what?), men on the verge of breaking only to be rallied or not, the utter confusion of battle. The movie's got a lot of then-unknowns, but later stars, e.g., George Peppard, Rip Torn, etc.
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one of the best and one of the few about Korean War
jacksonc22 October 1999
Pork Chop Hill is to films about the Korean War (when more than 50,000 men die, it is a war, not a "conflict") what Go Tell the Spartans is to the Viet Nam War. Neither of them are artificially dramatic, both are understated, both tell the story pretty much as it was, or, at least, as close as Hollywood gets. This entire movie represents the Korean War very well including the posturing at the peace talks. Some people are now calling Korea "the forgotten war." This is regrettably true. More people should see Pork Chop Hill.
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"It's Value Is, It Has No Value"
bkoganbing24 June 2007
Take a look at the jagged line that represents the boundary truce line between North and South Korea on a map. You'll then have some idea of what Pork Chop Hill is all about.

While the armistice talks are going on in Panmunjom, both sides are jockeying for position on both sides. The truce line will be on a prescribed latitude parallel, but owing to various hills and valleys, adjustments are in order. Those adjustments are costing lives though.

While the talks are in their final stages the Communists prove intransigent about a particular piece of real estate called Pork Chop Hill that really has no significant value. But as Carl Benton Reid at the talks says it's value is it has no value. The Communists are just using it as a test of wills, filed for future reference.

Gregory Peck as Lieutenant Joe Clemons gets the dirty task of leading his men into battle for no real discernible reason. How he keeps his men going is the real story here.

Joe Clemons was a real army lieutenant who wrote a book on his real experiences on literally the last day of the Korean War. Peck is an inspirational Clemons and I'm sure the real Clemons must have liked it.

Scattered in the cast are such future movie and television names as George Peppard, Harry Guardino, Gavin McLeod, Robert Blake, and Norman Fell. But the best performance in the film without a doubt belongs to Woody Strode. He's fully conscious of the racism he's feeling at home just before the civil rights revolution and can't really come up with a reason to die for Korea or do time in the army stockade for desertion. His scenes with Peck and with fellow black GI James Edwards just crackle with heat and talent. I'm surprised no one considered Strode for Best Supporting Actor.

Lewis Milestone who directed THE anti-war film, All Quiet On the Western Front is at the top of his game in Pork Chop Hill. A really good film about a sadly forgotten conflict.
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accurate battle scene
ronmoss5 April 2002
Friend of mine who fought in that area during the korean war felt it was very accurately portrayed as to fighting conditions,landscape,confusion in battle. Believe it was the best war movie when it comes to depicting what it was like for a ground pounder in korea.
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intense movie
Jay V.29 April 2001
I love Gregory Peck and have seen many of his movies. He can't save a bad movie but he always adds a star in my book. Fortunately he does not need to save this one. I am also a fan of classic war movies (lately that's about all I've been watching as I slowly work my way through the local video store's collection). So I really liked this one.

The B&W filming was really gritty and captured the whole pointlessness of the battle that was Pork Chop Hill, right before the 1953 Armistice. We take it, the Chinese take it, we decide to take it back.... You really get a sense of the tactics employed by the troops on both sides and the tough job that is the infantryman's assaulting a hill, amid confusion, snafus, and the ever-present risk of death.
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All in all, a great war movie
sdscooper13 November 2004
I like this movie and while it lacks the realistic and detailed gore of modern war films, and it does have its glitches and goofs, it did not do a bad job for a 1959 production.The attention to detail given to King Company's organizational structure, and many other technical aspects of the platoon and company level combat operation portrayed was outstanding thanks to Captain Joseph G. Clemons Jr., the movies' technical director and actual commander of King Company during the battle. In addition, there was also an in your face, down in the dirt grittiness about the film that many other war films even to this day lack. One of my favorite parts of this movie was the on going confrontation between Lieutenant Clemons and Private Franklin. The way the conflict played out in the movie brought out the motivational traits from Clemons that makes a great leader and the final acceptance of Franklin of his obligation as a soldier and his willingness to share the fate of his brother in arms, what ever it may be; I love Woody Strode. As one living in the real world, I shaped my views of this film not from the anti-war intent of director Milestone, but from a war movie fan, and real life Grunt perspective. While it does have anti-war overtones courtesy of director Milestone and others, Pork Chop Hill was based on an actual Korean War battle, and book of the same title by U.S. Army historian S.L.A. Marshal, and the movie does contain many factual events such as the friendly fire incident at the command post. I like Pork Chop Hill for the Hollywood production that it is, and would recommend that its critics be ignored, and enjoy the movie.
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A great battle film in every way
waynec5019 February 2006
This is one of the greatest movies about a single battle. It stands alongside "Zulu" and "Hamburger Hill" as the best, in my opinion. An all-star cast of both established actors and future stars under the able direction of Lewis Milestone brings this desperate battle to life. Crisp black and white cinematography is used to great effect. Gregory Peck is outstanding as Lt Clemons, the supporting cast featuring Woody Strode,Harry Guardino, George Peppard, Martin Landau and Robert Blake is top notch. An added bonus is George Shibata, the first Japanese-American graduate of West Point, who plays Lt Ohashi. This film is well paced, building to the assault on Pork Chop hill by introducing the men and establishing their positions in the company. The movie also shows the tedious and frustrating talks to end the war. The men are presented as individuals, but not clichés. Gregory Peck's performance is Oscar worthy, he projects command presence and competence. Lewis Milestone is known for his great "All Quiet On The Western Front" and "A Walk In The Sun". This picture is easily on a level with both of them. The battle scenes are realistic, the emotions; fear, hope, frustration and determination are portrayed brilliantly. This is a must-see for war movie fans A 10 star movie!
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They don't make them like this anymore...
jlpicard1701E19 July 2004
War movie? Anti-war movie? For you to judge on this one.

Fact is that this is a crude depiction of what happened a bit everywhere in the Korean war.

Gregory Peck, a gentleman of an actor, delivers a very strong performance as an officer tasked to take that darn hill. His conflict goes both ways.

He has to order his men to "get out there and take the Hill at all costs" and at the same time he has to keep their spirits together before they totally crack-up.

In fact, you actually can feel the bombs and the mortars shelling you throughout the movie. Imagine how you would feel if you had actually been there...

This is probably a good companion to "M*A*S*H" (the Movie and/or the TV series). It's just on the other side of those Hills. It's these boys who were delivered on Hawkeye's operation table.

Never forget that!

It's honest, well played and has much less war-glorifying aspects than one would imagine or expect.

The DVD edition is a bit better than its VHS counterpart and is in the correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

Now, if some producer is still able to make a 90 minute movie with a similar gripping story nowadays, then you may call me Santa Claus!
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Fine antiwar drama from one of the genre's greatest directors.
Jonathon Dabell8 June 2005
One of the finest (anti)war movies ever made is undoubtedly the 1930 epic All Quiet On The Western Front, directed by the incomparable Lewis Milestone. 29 years later, Milestone once again turned his attention to the waste and futility of war with Pork Chop Hill. This powerful and well-made Korean War drama is not quite in the same league as Milestone's earlier classic, but it still paints a vivid picture of the harsh realities of combat, and conveys a palpable sense of the pointlessness of war.

Lieutenant Clemons (Gregory Peck) is a honest, dependable American soldier fighting in the Korean War. He believes in carrying out orders whatever they may be, but his attitude is put to the ultimate test when he is instructed to lead an attack on a tactically insignificant hill in the dying days of the war. Issuing orders which he knows will lead to pointless loss of life, Clemons leads his men up the titular hill into a maelstrom of enemy gunfire, looking on in horror and dismay as his boys are gunned down or blown to bits in their futile quest.

After the film had been shot, Milestone was somewhat irritated to discover that the studio had tampered with his intentions, adding a misleading last-scene voice-over which tried to suggest that the victory on Pork Chop Hill made a significant difference to the future of millions of Koreans. The film is at its best when delivering its anti-war sensibilities, especially the bitter scenes showing honest young soldiers losing their lives for no particular reason. In historical terms, the capture of Pork Chop Hill was both costly in lives and irrelevant in consequence. The performances are generally first-rate. Peck is excellent as the man who tries to justify the insanity of what his platoon have been ordered to do. He gives his best performance since Twelve O'Clock High a decade earlier. Giving memorable supporting turns are familiar character actors like Harry Guardino, Rip Torn, George Peppard and Martin Landau, all of them resisting the urge to appear as gung-ho heroes to add to the film's stance that war is a meaningless and expensive pursuit. There have been few genuinely worthy Korean War films but this one and M*A*S*H - released 11 years later - are recommended titles for anyone looking for authentic film treatments about the subject.
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What happened to the push button war we heard about?
Spikeopath6 December 2008
It's the Korean War, Lt. Clemons and his company are ordered to retake from the Chinese a ridge known as Pork Chop Hill, it's a futile exercise as the hill itself has no significant tactical worth. Disillusioned about their superiors and frightened to the hilt, the men must battle for the hill knowing they could well be killed just because the top brass want to save face.

Based on actual events and lifted from the story by S.L.A. Marshall, Pork Chop Hill is a poignantly effective drama that impacts hard about the grimness of war. Playing out (with some justification) as a paean to the wonderful infantrymen that fight the wars, it's an engrossing viewing that never feels preachy or self indulgent, a charge that sticks with many other acclaimed war dramas. Directed by Lewis Milestone (All Quiet On The Western Front), the picture benefits from a feeling of authenticity, a sense of desperation hangs heavy for those viewers willing to fully invest into the picture. Photography is expertly handled by Sam Leavitt, with the cast, led by a brilliant show from Gregory Peck as the compassionate Clemons, firing from the top draw. A powerful and memorable movie for sure and certainly an important one because the Korean War is largely forgotten these days, so Pork Chop Hill now stands proud for those that died during the conflict, for this is a wonderful testament to the brave fighting under stupid circumstances. 7.5/10
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A Fine War Film
ShotgunHemingway13 July 2005
One of the few classic films about the Korean war, Pork Chop Hill is a genuinely good specimen of a nitty gritty war film in the pre-blood and guts era. What the movie lacks in realistic language and violence it more than makes up for in intensity. Peck is amazing, as usual, as Lt. Joe Clemons, the man leading the charge on the hill. His performance of a man on the edge is very believable. Sympathizing with his plight to try and get reinforcements or the heck outta there is an easy task. The early civil rights-era film seems to also touch on some social issues, showing a camaraderie between all ethnicities. Overall, this is a fine example of a classic war film with one of the finest American actors of all time in the lead role...you can't go wrong.
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Fragile Victory
ewarn-125 July 2007
As much as I despised the television show M*A*S*H, with its fraudulent substitution of Vietnam War era attitudes and Korean War settings, that's nothing compared to the disappointment I have in the average American's total disregard of history. Movies like Pork Chop Hill, while not a masterpiece, sometimes emerge from obscurity as a singular reminder of forgotten sacrifice.

By the '70s, the media was confusing the Korean and Vietnam War,to the point where the average American saw the two conflicts as part of one big imperialist US government scam, designed to beat down the poor and oppressed and mislead generations of American citizens for reasons of pure rascality. In reality, Korea was a United Nations effort that should have had the support of even the most fanatical leftist.

In "Pork Chop Hill" Gregory Peck's character talks of the sacrifice American soldiers made. "Because of what they did, millions live in freedom today," he says. This is as true now as it was in the '50s. Just watch the news reports comparing the horrors of North Korea to the booming South Korean economy. It is all thanks to the American GI.

The action in this movie was as good as it got in 1959. The battle action was the best yet seen, though not on the same graphic level that we can expect today. However, the cast is much more interesting, mainly because we don't have the outstanding character actors now that we had then. Woody Strode, Harry Dean Stanton... They are all here, and they can't be beat.

This is a fast moving film that can be enjoyed on more than one level. The best line is the one spoken by Peck's lieutenant: "Victory is a fragile thing." In war, as in life, no statement ever rang more true. I believe this film should be seen as a tribute to the sacrifice of the 36,000 Americans who died in combat in Korea.
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A good film but not quite what the director had in mind
johno-2123 March 2006
This was one of my favorite war movies whenever it came on TV as I was growing up. One of the few Korean War films it's based on the true story of the fight for marginally strategic piece of land on the eve of the armistice that halted the conflicts combat. Realistic battlefield environment but in 1950's film style without graphic simulation. Gregory Peck is the commander of a company of 135 men who knowing that peace talks are being held and the fighting will soon be halted must still take charge of his command and follow his orders to take Pork Chop Hill. It shows the futility of war and how ground combat will become obsolete. Of course ground combat never did become obsolete. In the cast are Harry Guardino, Rip torn, George Peppard, Norman Fell, Martin Landau, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Blake, George Shibata and Woody Strode. Director Lewis Milestone made a career in war movies directing World War I films Two Arabian Knights and All Quiet on the Western Front for both he won Academy Awards and World War II films Those Who Dare, Halls of Montezuma, Arch of Triumph, A Walk in the Sun, The Purple Heart, The North Star and Edge of Darkness. Cinematographer Sam Leavitt photographs a dark and gritty look at war filmed in black and white. It's reputed that Milestone was unsatisfied with the creative control he was given with picture and the final cut was not what he intended. As Executive Producer Gregory Peck is said to have had the original 20 minutes of the film cut from the theatrical final version because he wasn't in it and felt too much time would be spent before the star of the film makes his on first screen appearance. The film envisioned by Milestone was also not to end with a voice-over saying how important the battle really was. This is a good movie and I would give it an 8.5 out of 10.
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" The value of Pork Chop, is that it has no value "
thinker16915 July 2009
Every now and then, a story emerges from Hollywood which affixes itself squarely on the pages of history. This is one such film. It's called " Pork Chop Hill." Amid the history of the Forgotten War, namely Korea, you will find this seemly insignificant event. While the North Koreans and their Chineese Allies, endlessly bickered with the American and their Nato forces, courageous soldiers fought and died by the truck load on the barren slopes of Pork Chop. This film, directed by Lewis Milestone convincingly captured the tragic tale on film. In it, we have a bevy of the finest actors ever to grace Hollywood, some of which have made memorable projects in their own right. In this movie, we have Gregory Peck playing Lt. Joe Clemons an officer ordered to take and hold the tiny hill known as Pork Chop. In his Company you will see Martin Landau, Harry Guardino, Rip Torn, George Peppard, Bob Steele, Woody Strode, Gavin MacLeod, Norman Fell, Harry Dean Stanton and a very young Robert Blake as Pvt. Velie. As impressive a line up as one can get. Everyone destined to become notable as this movie should have become. Except for becoming a Classic, the anti-war message was lost and it garnered few awards. Nevertheless, this film continues to ranks among the very finest of War memorials offered in tribute to American's fighting men. Recommended to all. ****
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Grim realistic war movie for the 1950's
tyrianacacia13 November 2005
Pork Chop Hill is one of a small group of films that deal with the Korea War realistically. The other two are Men at War and the Steel Helmet. Peck's character is carrying out orders to take a worthless hill with peace on the horizon. The movie shows that the fog of war clouds and confuses everything. They are reluctant warriors in a war nobody wanted to win or lose. Lewis Milstone's direction in the panorama of battlefield is his trademark. The cast was made up of familiar faces, Harry Guardino, George Peppard, Norman Fell, Rip Torn, Kevin Hagen, Robert Blake, Woody Strode. What makes the film more interesting is that the Korea War had only been over for six years and Peck's character was still alive.
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Unforgettable performance of the forgotten war
Since the Korean War, nothing has been said about it. Yes it is mentioned in history books but even then, the subject matter is skimmed over. No one really knows what happened during that time except for the individuals who took part in the battle. Unfortunately, not many are left to tell their story. Thankfully director Lewis Milestone had the ambition to make this film in honor of those who fought during that time.

Gregory Peck plays Lt. Joe Clemons, a tired soldier who is on the boarder of losing all his men because communication ties are running thin between him and headquarters. Along side Peck is Harry Guardino, George Peppard and Rip Torn. At first, it may seem a little difficult to see who's who, because the film is black and white but it doesn't take long before these recognizable faces come clear. What's nice though is how well each actor portrays their character. Each one has a specific background and when they talk about themselves, it reflects the time of the era very accurately.

Another great feature is the set design. Every piece of the set is like what it would be if the viewer were in the soldier's shoes. There's nothing comforting about warfare and that is what's in this film. Barb wire, bunkers, sandbags, flood lights, bayonets and dirt is all that will be seen; which is anything but cozy. Also the fact that the psychological aspect being inserted into the story makes things even more accurate. Trying to persuade the Americans to leave over a loudspeaker can make them very uneasy, which is understandable.

As for action, I suspect some viewers will be turned off that there's no blood and guts. But what could someone ask for from the era of conformity? Realistic gore was considered taboo at the time and probably would have freaked too many people out. Especially since the government didn't want the families at home to see what war was really like. For this element, the audience must suspend from their minds that gore just wasn't permissible at the time, and there for, omit it from affecting their judgment of the film.

For the few films that focus on the Korean War, this film shows the best reflection of what times were like. The actors perform well, and the set is accurately grimy which is all due to Milestone's direction.
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Great, Dark War Movie
TheExpatriate70023 August 2010
For a film made in the 1950s, Pork Chop Hill is incredibly grim in its approach to war. Focusing on a battle late in the Korean War, the movie emphasizes the futility of the fighting, which served no other purpose than to assert American resolve during peace talks.

The film's realism is complemented by a good performance from Gregory Peck as an officer in charge of the attack on the insignificant hill. Peck balances just the right amounts of determination and recognition of the futility of what he is doing. It stands alongside Tom Hanks's performance in Saving Private Ryan as one of the greatest performances in a war movie.

The film does suffer at the conclusion from the studio's insertion of a patriotic coda, as was typical for the era. Nevertheless, Pork Chop Hill stands as an accomplishment in war movie realism.
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An Accurate Account of Pork Chop Hill and a Great Movie
Bob_Zerunkel18 February 2009
This is a very well-written, well-directed, and well-acted movie. The faults are few, but real soldiers can find them. This was a horrific battle, but it would have been deadlier if the real soldiers faced open fire with the poor tactics used in the film.

This isn't a pro-war film or an anti-war film, although I can see why the fanatics on both sides would like to claim it. It is an honest depiction of what happened in Korea. Both sides wanted this hill, and both sides were willing to lose great amounts of men to take this hill.

Although most people miss it, there was a real reason for this battle, even though it happened right before the ceasefire. Both sides wanted to end the war, but they had not agreed on the terms. Both sides wanted to show that they were willing to continue to fight in order to secure the best peace agreement. Both sides wanted to show that if peace was not accepted on their terms, then the future terms would be worse.

Some people say that the Americans won because the North Koreans did sign the peace treaty shortly afterwards. Others say that the North Koreans won because they got better terms than they should have. Either way, the true battle was not over Pork Chop Hill. That was merely where the battle took place. The true battle was to see which side could suffer such huge losses and not back down.

Neither side quit. Nothing was gained. Damn fine movie.
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Victory is fragile and fleeting.
Michael O'Keefe24 May 2003
Excellent war drama and realistic account of a courageous U.S. infantry unit trying to gain control of high ground held by snipers and flame throwers in Korea on the edge of Armistice in 1953. All-star cast that features Gregory Peck, Rip Torn, George Peppard, Woody Strode, Harry Guardino and Bob Steele. Also look for Robert Blake, Martin Landau and Gavin MacLeod in this grim and desperate military action. Peck is rock solid and in command. Directed by Lewis Milestone.
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Anti-G.I. Joe (mild spoiler)
Angry_Arguer24 July 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Director Lewis Milestone has created several landmarks in the study of war and cinema. All Quiet on the Western Front remains his number one effort, but he has made other works on others wars (notably A Walk in the Sun) as time goes by. Pork Chop Hill, Milestone's ode to the Korean War, remains the best film ever made on the topic, superseding MASH as a depiction of life and death in the "Forgotten War".

The film itself is considerably well-made given the year of release. In many instances you can spot shots duplicated by Oliver Stone for Platoon: the slow pans around the littered battlefield, the awkward confrontations between squadmembers, and the lurking sensation between advances. While the film is nicely edited, the middle section lags terrifically, resulting in a botched jobs that requires the obligatory "Last Battle" to fix. Sound work is decent, but nothing to rave about (it is better than Patton, I will admit that).

There are people at IMDB who love to lambaste Saving Private Ryan for its use of "senseless, excessive gore and violence" or other flaws in its execution. Spielberg merely enhanced or lifted many aspects of Pork Chop Hill in making that movie. There is no gore in the movie, but there is a disturbing sense of violence mixed with the typical Milestone message of futility.

While I was not expecting a deep message from this movie, I was pleased that Gregory Peck remained the most resilient actor I have ever seen. His ability to stay in command is both obnoxiously monotonous and resilient. Other than that, the rest of the grunts, that's right "grunts", are given much of the stereotypical problems you'd expect in a 50s movie. Thankfully, the consistent presence of death by a largely faceless foe helps destroy any overt patriotism in them and keep any gung-ho shenanigans to a minimum. Even when they try, they only get killed or injured.

Overall, an interesting war film worth viewing once. People who liked Enemy at the Gates or Black Hawk Down should avoid this one, though. I felt the use of black & white was exceptionally gritty. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
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Non-stop action on a dusty Korean hill.
Robert J. Maxwell16 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This, despite its weaknesses, is quite a good movie. There is little sentimentality and no romance. It's all dust and death on both sides, the dwindling American force commanded by Gregory Peck and the Communist Chinese enemy.

It's based on S. L. A. Marshall's book of the same name, which focused, as does the film, on small-scale operations while not ignoring the larger picture. The larger picture is roughly this. Pork Chop Hill is a salient in the dividing line between two opposing armies and the cease fire is about to be signed at Panmunjom. In itself it is of no military importance, and all logic -- not just military reasoning but common sense -- dictates that the cease-fire line be straightened out and the hill ignored. Instead, both sides pour troops onto this insignificant little mountain, denuded of vegetation by long bombardment, a heap of rocky rubble laced with trenches.

It's sometimes said that Gregory Peck is a wooden actor and I guess I'd agree he's nobody's idea of Cary Grant when it comes to light comedy. His specialty lay in radiating an understated sincerity and leadership quality. He never pulled it off in a mechanical way either. There were always at least a few lines in which we recognized the human being behind the mask, and that's the case here. When he's handed an order that means he must send back his recently arrived, desperately needed reinforcements, he pauses and says quietly, "Well, they can't mean this," and we believe that he believes that they can't mean this. The rest of the cast has many familiar faces and none of them let the film down. One scene is perhaps the best that Harry Guardino has left on celluloid. The very air of the movie seems filled with fear, sweat, and dust.

But then there are the weaknesses. Marshall's book was unforgiving. When the higher echelons screwed up, Marshall noted it just as matter-of-factly as he noted the number of rounds expended by a given platoon during a given incident. In this film, somebody makes a mistake and turns on the searchlights at the wrong time. It's quickly corrected and the miscreants later explain that they mixed up Peck's unit with another -- and they apologize! And that's about it as far as errors on our side go. The later contretemps that deprive Peck of reinforcements and supplies are due to an unavoidable failure in communication, so it's nobody's fault.

Then there's the "Here comes the cavalry!" ending, which didn't happen, according to Marshall's book, if I remember it correctly. And sometimes the script spells things out in an unnecessary way. Guardino's friend is killed and Peck has to drag him away from the body, while he screams, "He was my BUDDY." Well -- we know that. It's already been demonstrated. So to whom is that line addressed? Audience members who don't know that stress generates fierce friendships?

And there's a final, even more unsettling failure to stand back from events and view them objectively, an unwillingness or inability to step outside the box. We see the Peace Talks taking place. The representative for our side explains to the Chinese, "According to the truce, Pork Chop Hill is right in the middle of the truce zone. You know it has no value so why don't you withdraw your men?" (The Chinese negotiator turns down his ear plug.) The Allied negotiators step outside and mutter angrily that the Chinese just don't want to lose the hill for symbolic reasons.

Well, what kind of cockeyed moral calculus is this? Isn't OUR side equally willing to sacrifice lives for the symbolic value of the hill? If the reasoning of the Chinese is wrong, isn't our reasoning, which is precisely the same, equally wrong? Soccer riots are better justified.

Enough preaching. This is one tough film. Despite the injections from Hollywood of the 1950s, we get a convincing picture of what combat is like. Death comes almost at random, and it's not always pretty. Bodies don't always have neat bullet holes through the shoulder. Sometimes they're visibly mangled, although the visuals aren't in any way offensive. And Peck does a superb job. So this is well worth seeing.
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better than average war flick
MartinHafer3 February 2006
This is a very well made war movie, though I've got to admit that this is a genre that usually doesn't do that much for me. What sets this movie apart is its strong desire for realism--instead of a Hollywood version of war, this WAS war as it really appeared. Fanatics who love realism will really be pleased about this. Plus, it focuses on the Korean War, a period in our history that is generally ignored in movies.

Gregory Peck does a fine job in the lead, though I thought he looked a little old to be such a fine career soldier and only a lieutenant. At his age, he could have easily been playing colonels or even a general.

The supporting cast are a lot of then unknowns who later went on to more visible careers. Watch the movie and see all the familiar faces.

About the only negative of this movie is its pace. It involves one engagement and seems a bit "claustrophobic" or static at times, as you have trench after trench and explosion after explosion. Still, it's pretty good stuff.
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Never As Anti-War As It Claims
Theo Robertson20 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
As I write this NATO has been involved in Afghanistan for twelve years . A political breakthrough almost came about this week when the United States were going to have peace talks in Qatar with the Taliban but due to anger from the Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai the talks were cancelled at the last minute . Even if the talks had gone ahead the talks probably wouldn't have gained much due . NATO will pull out of the country next year regardless of any settlement or political deal . There is a rather sad dimension to this and that is NATO soldiers will still die in combat between then and now and there's something much more poignant about dying in a conflict when the end - regardless of the outcome - is in sight

The battle of Pork Chop Hill was the last major battle of the Korean War and this film tells the story of the battle . The UN and communist forces were weeks away from signing an armistice but for reasons of not losing face and to hold bigger bargaining chips continued to commit thousands of troops to a battle that had no strategic value . This is patently absurd and the film tries to put a human and ugly face to this absurdity but never manages it

The film is directed by Lewis Milestone who won an Oscar for ALL QUITE ON THE WESTERN FRONT so he should in theory be the number one contender for making an anti-war movie . However the screenwriter is James R Webb who had previous and subsequent tradition in writing Westerns . Is there any genre that's more black and white than a Western ? This explains the rather sketchy characterisation of the soldiers involved , the a man's got to do what a man's got to do commanding officer , the reluctant hero , the malingerer etc . Even the climatic battle where the US forces are besieged and saved at the last minute resembles a Western cliché and negates any anti-war comment the film is trying to make . From a technical point of view it is a good war film but never becomes an anti-war film
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Milestone misses the point
tieman641 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This supposedly "anti-war film" is perhaps a textbook example as to how intellectually dishonest most war films are.

On June 25th, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. It did this, it insisted, in reply to an invasion of their territory by South Korea. In response, the United Nations sided with the South, demanding the withdrawal of all North Korean troops. Of course North Korea ignored the UN, and promptly went on to capture Seoul, the capital of South Korea.

Three days later, US ground troops entered the fray, determined to "halt the spread of the North Korean Communists". After a series of defeats, however, the US troops promptly fell back. As a result of these defeats, General Douglas MacArtur was appointed by the UN to lead the fight against the North Koreans, leaving no doubt that the UN was primarily functioning as an extension of US foreign policy.

Meanwhile, North Korea continued in its victories and by early August, both the Soviet Union and China were pronouncing that the North-South conflict was a civil war and that all foreign troops should withdraw. Days later, the US, through a UN representative, stated that this war was really a "police action" and that their aims were to "unify Korea", implicitly at the expense of the communist North. In other words, the North/South Korean border had become the location for a proxy war between the US and the Soviet Union, the West squaring off against the "ideology of communism".

China, of course, didn't want to be left out of the action, and so sided with the North Koreans, stating that they would not tolerate "their neighbours being savagely invaded!" By the end of the year, Chinese troops had crossed the borders and joined North Koreans in a major offensive against the UN and US. The war went back and forth for many weeks, neither side gaining an advantage, until cease-fire talks began and peace arrangements were made.

These peace arrangements promptly broke down, however, as both sides "interpreted the peace deals" as they saw fit. Thus, in June 1952, UN forces began bombing targets in North Korea, which in turn resulted in heightened North Korean violence, which in turn finally resulted in shaky cease fire agreements, the war finally ending weeks later. The result: Korea wasn't unified, communism didn't "spread" and the US and UN began erecting large forts and military emplacements along the North/South border. Over three million civilians were killed in the conflict.

Released one year after Kubrick's "Paths of Glory", Lewis Milestone's "Pork Chop Hill" essentially tells the same story, the film focusing on group of soldiers who die in vain for a strategically unimportant hill in the middle of Korea. Milestone (who famously directed the anti-war film, "All Quiet on the Western Front") points fingers at callous generals and politicians, condemning the faceless decision makers who wage war by proxy, but his script is heavy-handed and his dialogue at times too obvious.

What's problematic about "Pork Chop Hill", though, is the way that it makes no mention of the Koreans, and instead reduces the Korean conflict to a battle between Americans and Chinese on a hill. The film then goes on to depict the Red Chinese as snarling savages, a communist horde which rarely rises above the way the Nazis are portrayed in WW2 propaganda movies.

Given the time of the film's production and release (1958-9), this makes perfect sense. Partly because they sensed America's unbroadcasted failure in the war, Americans had swept the Korean experience under the rug, the Korean conflict promptly becoming the forgotten American war. It therefore would do nothing for the film's financial prospects to attempt to revive these memories. (US amnesia about Korea contributed to the next US war, where Americans felt they might erase their vague sense of defeat by succeeding in Indo-China where their predecessors, the French, had failed.)

But though Korea was wiped from the public's consciousness, the Cold War between the US and the "Reds" (ie Soviet communists) persisted. Thus, it is really to this conflict that "Pork Chop Hill constantly refers, with the Chinese filling in for their communist brethren, the Soviets. (In reality, China and Russia were only ever very volatile allies)

The film is therefore entirely contradictory, muddling together two diverse and inherently opposed agendas. On the one hand, the makers want to say something about how grunts are manipulated and sacrificed by distant generals and politicians. They wish to show war as horrifically out of the hands of those who fight and die in it. This aim, of course, predicts a pessimistic, even a tragic outcome and outlook.

On the other hand, the makers also want something else entirely. They want to curry the favour of 1959 audiences by invoking the fears of the Cold War, a "war" to which these audiences can directly relate, a procedure that needs to predict an optimistic, even a celebratory outcome and outlook. Since the substitution of the Cold War for the Korean War was deemed by the makers incapable of being acknowledged, the film's contradictory aims result in an ambivalence towards the entire Korean conflict and its consequences. It wants to celebrate the soldiers of the Cold War, a war which it sees as necessary, whilst also mourning the loss of those who died in the Korean conflict (historically a part of the Cold War). Celebratory vs Tragedy: it is in this fashion that most war films (even those which proclaim themselves to be antiwar) veer pathologically between antiwar statement and gung-ho propaganda.

7/10 – Like Milestone's earlier "Halls of Montezuma", the film uses a near-expressionistic tone for its battle scenes. It's in these wordless moments that the film works best.

Worth one viewing.
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