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A WWII film set on a Pacific island. Japanese and allied forces occupy different parts of the island. When a group of British soldiers are sent on a mission behind enemy lines, things don't go exactly to plan. This film differs in that some of the 'heros' are very reluctant, but they come good when they are pursued by the Japanese who are determined to prevent them returning to base. Written by
Too Late the Hero is directed by Robert Aldrich who also co-writes the screenplay with Lukas Heller and Robert Sherman. It stars Michael Caine, Cliff Robertson, Henry Fonda, Ken Takakura, Denholm Elliott, Lance Percival, Ronald Fraser and Ian Bannen. Music is by Gerald Fried and cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc.
Lawson (Cliff Robertson) is an American naval officer who specialises in Asiatic languages, thus he is sent to a Pacific island to assist a group of British soldiers on what seems a routine mission. The mission is to simply knock out the Japanese army's key transmitter, but as the men get deeper into the jungle terrain it becomes obvious that the odds of survival are minimal at best. With inner fighting escalating and a hostile enemy closing in fast, it's a time for heroes to be born and friendships to be laid bare.
Often, and wrongly, considered a weak attempt by Aldrich to cash in on the success of his Dirty Dozen movie three years earlier, Too Late the Hero had been written some ten year previously. Although some way away from the gutsy grandeur and bulging biceps of The Dirty Dozen, TLTH is still a potent war movie. Often claustrophobic in mood and acerbic in war character observations, film holds narrative attention from first reel to last. Bursts of violence drift in and out of the plot to keep things on the boil, but it's the excellently drawn characterisations of the major players that stops this from merely being another run of the mill "insanity of war" movie. It's also nice to find the Japanese are portrayed as an intelligent foe, and not the irksome machine gun fodder so rife in other films of the ilk. It helps to have Takakura turning in a stoic performance as part of the latter, too.
Some other astute reviewers has given this film a tag line of it being a unique war film, not a truer line has been typed on the internet forums. This film, tho not bringing anything new by way of the psychological aspects of men under duress, always remains a thoroughly engrossing picture. Helmed by the criminally undervalued Aldrich, film boasts a ream of excellent performers making it unique by bringing to life a screenplay that's not pandering to any conformity's of the genre, it relies totally on strength of dialogue and character formations to capture our interest. Really the only charge from dissenters that might stick here is that it's arguably just another Vietnam allegory that the 70s seemed intent on giving us. Arguably, mind.
It's a bloody suicide mission!
That the cast list contains Michael Caine (brilliant here with gritty swagger), Cliff Robertson, Denholm Elliott and a barely used Henry Fonda is of obvious interest from the start, but the ace card in Too Late The Hero's pack is with its supporting players, Ian Bannen, Harry Andrews, Ronald Fraser and a serious turn from comedy specialist, Lance Percival, where all of them in the sweltering confines of the Phillipines location manage to pull the viewer into the mix and fully realise the crispness of Aldrich's excellent screenplay; aided superbly by Biroc who manages to convey via his photography some apt sweaty jungle madness. Yes! This is not a film for those wanting guns a blazing at every turn, it's simply not that type of Gung-Ho picture, those bursts of action, while hitting hard, are swamped by the focused action of the human mind at work, the kind where greed, mistrust and a basic survival instinct are the order of the day.
The set-up of the two opposing armies on this island is a bit daft, so some suspension of logic is needed from the off, while there's no escaping the fact that there are a number of war movie clichés within. Yet this is still potent stuff, a film with things to say and corrosive in its telling. Making for once, the negativity of such material, still a rewarding viewing experience. 8/10
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