The Steel Helmet (1951) Poster

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Gritty To Say the Least
telegonus2 April 2001
I grew up with this movie, which was shown regularly on local television stations at a time when post-1949 films were scarce as hen's teeth on the tube. The film that put writer-director Samuel Fuller on the map, to the extent that he was ever there, it looks less impressive now, but I have a soft spot for it. It is the story of a group of infantrymen, many of them social misfits, during the Korean War, and their heroic efforts in defense of a Buddhist temple during a Communist-led attack. The major character in the film is Sgt. Zack, played to the hilt by a cigar-chewing Gene Evans, who never became a star but whose performance here is powerful and charismatic, flawless in every detail. I've never seen him in anything else where he's half as good as he is here. Evans carries the film like a super-star, and in Steel Helmet, for a short time, he is one. The others are good, too. Steve Brodie is less of a jerk than usual; James Edwards is very sharp, more assertive than in the previous year's Home Of the Brave, which he made with Brodie. As to the film itself, its qualities come from being a sort of tabloid journalist's work of art. It is weakest when preachy about race relations, strongest when men are arguing, shouting and competing with one another as if they had just stepped out of the pages one of those 'adult' comic books they used to have in barbershops. The movie's cheapness gives it a documentary look, and for once GI's in a film look dirty and unshaven. The scenes with the giant Buddha that dominates he temple's interior have an otherworldliness about them that seems serendipitous, not planned, and give the quieter scenes a background of serenity without which the picture might be intolerably violent and bitter.
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This is the best Korean War movie I have ever seen.
Trespassers Will20 January 2002
Ok, I've only seen three, but that does not change my standing.

The Steel Helmet tells of a group of infantrymen who have come together by literally running into each other by chance. They travel to a Buddhist temple to set up an observation post, but are soon surrounded by the Communist army. There is then a massive battle that is not exactly pretty for the Americans.

The story is good and moves along at a rate which will keep you intrigued, the battle scenes are very good, and I especially like the part where the medic takes off his helmet, rips off his Red Cross armband and fires the machine gun after the man that was operating it was killed. I wish this movie would come onto video or at least be shown on TV so I can tape it. 8/10
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Strong effort
David Austin12 November 1998
This movie feels a little dated but still powerful. Very evolved for a war movie of its time. Characters seem very real: the movie avoids stereotypes typical to war pictures. I thought the supporting characters were the strongest part of the movie. Manages to operate almost entirely independently of plot, focussing on character and situation instead. The very first scene is particularly arresting, and the abrupt beginning and partial ending are very effective at making the film feel real.
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The quintessential Fuller
frankfob23 February 2002
Tough, gritty war story of a ragtag American patrol in Korea that finds itself trapped in a Buddhist temple by a much larger Chinese force. Sam Fuller made this for cheapjack Lippert Pictures for little more than $100,000--the Chinese "tank" that attacks them was actually constructed out of plywood--but the low budget doesn't detract from it at all. From the opening sequence where Gene Evans' tough sergeant finds himself the only survivor of a POW massacre by Chinese troops, to the climactic battle in the Buddhist temple, the film is chock full of Fuller's bizarre little touches and great storytelling. Evans is first-rate, and there's a terrific performance by the great Richard Loo--the stereotypical oily Japanese villain (although he was actually Korean) in countless Hollywood World War II movies--as a laconic, war-weary Japanese-American soldier, the only veteran that Evans has in the patchwork patrol he puts together that he knows he can count on. Don't miss this one.
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"He's a corpse now, no one cares who he is"
chaos-rampant11 August 2008
What could have been a flimsy, disposable b-movie in the hands of other, less competent directors, becomes an evocative war tale of grit, fear, loss and redemption in the hands of Sam Fuller. There's no abstract sophistication or sentimental pap though: this is raw and true film-making, unpretentious and stripped of all fat. Director Sam Fuller is a unique beast in the American underground: having worked both as a crime report for NYC newspapers before he enlisted as a soldier in WWII, it comes natural then that the Steel Helmet has the urgency and power of both of his pre-directorial careers. A reporter's sense of story and characters above all and the firsthand experience of a war veteran. True to itself, simple but never simplistic, with respect to the subject matter and without any flag waving, The Steel Helmet is better than it had any right to be. It is still a low-profile (in terms of stars and publicity or lack thereof) b-movie but shot with a conviction and passion few a-list movies can muster.
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Worth Looking Into
dougdoepke12 July 2009
You've got to hand it to Fuller— by going to low-budget Lippert Pictures he got basically the unglamorous result he wanted. In the process, however, he had to sacrifice certain production values, but what he got in return was an unHollywood Gene Evans, a stunning statue, and an unconventional screenplay—all pretty cutting edge for the time.

Now, tough-talking, homely-looking army sergeants were pretty much a staple of the era, (think James Whitmore in Battleground {1949}). However, they usually took orders from a handsome leading man like Van Johnson, and so were clearly secondary, even if important, characters. Not so here. Sgt. Zack (Evans) leads the cast, takes orders only reluctantly, and deploys the patrol in combat situations like an officer. At best, he only tolerates his nominal superior, Lt. Driscoll (Brodie). I take it that Fuller is being as honest as possible about the often hostile relations between officers and enlisted men, especially intense (as I understand it) during WWII, which was Fuller's formative war experience. Driscoll may have the authority to give orders, but he has to earn Zack's respect -- an inspired use of the steel helmet symbolism.

Another major theme is Fuller's concern for racial equality, a touchy societal topic also ahead of its time. The concern for mutual help and understanding is obvious in the relationships Zack forms with the Korean boy (Chun) and the black corporal (Edwards). Zack doesn't pander to the black soldier, but he does treat him as just that, a medic and a soldier, no more and no less. Fuller also puts the needed equality in a larger, national context when the North Korean major (Fong) tries to drive a racial wedge between the diverse members of the patrol. In fact, communist propaganda was often successful in Third World countries when pointing out the widespread racial discrimination within American democracy. Thus, Fuller's implicit message was a bold and timely one for Cold War audiences.

It's also important, I think, to point out that Sgt. Zack is not particularly likable. He's ornery and unfriendly. Initially he tries to get rid of the kid, probably because he knows relationships in war can be risky. He doesn't want to get close to anyone. In fact, it's because he gets too close to the Korean kid that he makes a big military mistake by shooting the Red major. I like the way Fuller uses that blunder to bring Zack down a few notches. In effect, Driscoll expresses the officer's point of view by saying that because of his blunder, Zack is too dumb to be an officer. Whether true or not, the dressing down prevents Zack's character from being over-idealized, an important concession from a director clearly on the side of enlisted men like Zack.

Nonetheless, despite the quality of the story, Lippert productions remains a cut-rate affair. The outdoor action never gets beyond the tell-tale scrublands of greater LA, while the studio fog machine works overtime disguising the rickety exterior set. Still and all, the temple scenes are well mounted, and I don't know where they got that massive centerpiece Buddha, but it's impressive as all-get-out. The frozen smile remains a puzzle throughout the action, a fitting cosmic commentary, I guess, on the passing concerns of mortal men.

Speaking of Lippert, I felt a twinge of dread when I saw Sid Melton's name in the cast credits. He was responsible for much of that company's customary low-brow comic relief and I anticipated the worst. My guess is that Fuller okay'ed him for the film, but on condition he not be allowed to speak and risk his usual audience associations. After all, Pvt. Baldy (Monahan) is supposed to provide what chuckles there are. It's also surprising to see WWII's favorite sadistic Japanese officer, Richard Loo, in a sympathetic role for a change. Fortunately, it's one that also shows what a fine actor he was.

For all the movie's many merits, it still remains rooted in the cultural climate of WWII. Made at the outset of the Korean conflict, it betrays none of the ambiguities that would later surround America's involvement in that far-off land. The enemy is treated as straightforwardly wicked, and in a revealing piece of combat footage, mowed down in human waves. As a belated tribute to the dog-faces of WWII, Fuller pays his debt of respect and gratitude. However, this is a combat movie, and what politics there are reflect more about social conditions in the US than in Korea. Actual insight into the character of the Korean war only emerges later in such films as The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1954) and the much overlooked I Want You (1951). Nonetheless, Fuller proves himself here to be a doggedly independent filmmaker. More importantly, it also shows he's a filmmaker with something significant to say. And it's that important point on which his cult reputation rests.
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Great early view of Korean War
mayreh@att.net11 July 2005
One of the earliest films to deal with the Korean War, Steel Helmet has good action (on a limited budget, which shows in the largest battle scene), well-drawn characters, and visits more than one contemporaneous issue, including racism and manipulation of that issue by the Soviets and their satellites during the Cold War.

I saw the film originally in its year of release and was riveted to the screen. For me, the best element of the film is Gene Evans' portrayal of Sgt. Zack, a hard boiled, but not cast-iron career soldier. I've not seen anything of Gene's to rival this portrayal.

Viewed as a document both for, and yet a little ahead of its time, Steel Helmet is a great lower budget contribution to the film literature of the Korean War.
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If Ya Die I'll Kill Ya!
sol121814 August 2006
****SPOILERS**** Almost forgotten Samuel Fuller war classic about a group of GI's together with a 12 year-old South Korean boy trapped behind enemy lines in the Korean War. Relased at the time, early 1951, when the US and UN forces were suffering a string of catastrophic losses at the hands of the invading Communist Chinese forces, together with their North Korean allies,the movie doesn't at all tap into the audiences patriotism with flag waving heroic by the GI's but shows them only as just wanting to survive the hell that they find themselves in.

Sgt. Zack, Gene Evens, with his hands tied behind his back and a commie bullet through his steel helmet is rescued by this young Korean boy, Willian Shon, whom he nicknames "Short Round". Zack had been captured by the Communist North Koreans and together with his fellow GI's summarily shot in the head but his helmet luckily deflected the bullet where he played dead until his failed executioners left the scene. A loner who's not interested in any human companionship Zack at first tries to go out on his own in the Korean hills and under brush but "Short Round" is so insistent, as well has having lost his parents in he war,that the tough old battle-hardened GI gives in and lets "Short Round " tag along with him.

In the course of the film Sgt. Zack and "Short Round" meet up with a number of GI's who were also separated from their units in the brutal and vicious fighting with the Korean Commies. The lost infantry squad makes it's way through the woods to this deserted Buddhist Temple and sets up an observation post, obviously against the Geneva War Accords, to direct artillery fire on the North Korean units in the area.

Director Fuller, this at a time when his country was at war, not only keeps any patriotic themes out of the movie about the great and wonderful ideals, like freedom and democracy, that the GI's in the film are supposed to be fighting for and how evil their enemy, the North Koreans and Comunist Chinese, are but actually brings out how Black and Oriental Americans are discriminated against by the very country that there now fighting and, in many cases, giving up their lives and limbs for the United States of America and does it with this sneaky and back-stabbing North Korean POW Major Harold Fung!

Fung tries to get black corpsman or medic Cpl.Thompson, James Ewdwards, and Japanese-American Sgt. Tanaka, Richard Loo,to turn against their country and fellow GI's by bringing out how their treated back home only to almost have, as Sgt. Tanaka told the Commie creep, his rabbit teeth smacked out of his mouth one at a time; it wasn't that what Fung was saying was wrong but that the two GI's that it was directed to, Thompson & Tanaka, saw through his so-called concerned for them and knew enough that no matter how bad things was for them and their fellow Black and Japanese-Americans back home the cause that Fung was fighting for would only make their lives even worse not better.

The North Koreans getting a bead on just where the US observation post, that's directing murderous artillery fire on them, is and start to move in on it with a series of wild and furious Banzai-like suicidal assaults on the Buddish Temple which by the time the movie is over results in the deaths of almost all of it's defenders including "Short Round".

Breaking through the inner perimeter of the Temple the Commies are then stopped cold by the last two persons who you would have expected in the movie to be gong-ho combat hero's, of the group of GI's trapped in it, US Army Medic Thompson and conscientious objector or Chaplin's assistant Pvt. Bronet, Robert Hutton. Sgt. Zack caught up with the horrific fighting and for once having heart-felt emotions for those fighting and dying in the temple along with him with his little friend "Short Round", whom he developed a genuine father and son relationship with, getting killed momentarily loses it thinking that he's back at Omaha Beach in 1944 instead of in Korean in 1951 with him mindlessly mumbling to himself "The only ones on this beach are either dead or about to die".

Sgt. Zack's commanding officer Lt. Driscoll, Steve Brodie, whom he never showed any love for takes over behind the machine gun nest from Pvt. Bronte, who was mowing down the attacking North Koreans, after he was hit and killed by a commie bullet and is soon also shot dead but only after he, and later Cpl. Thompson, courageously held off the surging commie hoards long enough for a US Army infantry squad to break through, the Communist North Korean encirclement, and rescue the remaining GI's.

Stumbling out of the battered Buddhist Temple and into formation together with Cpl. Thompson Pvt. Baldy( Richard Mohanan) & Sgt.Tanaka, the only survivors of this holocaust, Sgt. Zack tearfully replaces his bullet riddled steel helmet with that of Lt. Driscoll's on the graveside marker where he was buried; an act that he felt he owed him since he refused to trade helmets with Lt. Driscoll when he was still alive.

Powerful war movie that you never get tired of watching not just because of the many great battle action scenes in it but the message that it brings out to it's audience, like in the timeless anti-war classic "All Quite on the Western Front", that war isn't to be looked forward to or celebrated but to be avoided at almost all costs and only to be fought when it's absolutely necessary for the survival of the people nation and freedoms of those who have ,or volunteer, to fight it.
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my very first movie
gary olszewski9 September 2005
While maybe not the greatest of all war pictures, STEEL HELMET is the first film I remember seeing on TV as a kid! I don't know what year, or how old I was, but we didn't yet have a TV set, we were visiting a relative's house, who had one, and as the adults were in the main room playing cards and drinking, I lay on the sofa (still captivated by this new invention, imagine: Movies right in your house!,) watched Steel Helmet all the way through! Normally, as little kid, I would've fallen asleep, but for some strange reason, this film mesmerized me and captured my attention so well, I remembered it all through the years, and it became available on VHS, I snatched up a copy right away! Still Have it, and I'm looking to find a DVD version as well! Wow! What a memory! This would have been about '52 or '53 or '54!
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Simple, Scathing and Extremely Realistic
Claudio Carvalho4 June 2011
In the Korean War, the prisoner of war Sergeant Zack (Gene Evans) and only survivor of his company is released by the South-Korean boy Short Round (William Chun). The walk together trying to reach the American lines, and they stumble with other survivors, forming a ragtag platoon.

When they reach a Buddhist temple, they learn that it is abandoned and they camp there, transforming it in an observation outpost. When they realize that they are under siege of the communist army, they have to battle to survive.

"The Steel Helmet" is a simple, scathing and extremely realistic film by Samuel Fuller. The behavior of the soldiers and the battle scenes battle scenes are extremely realistic. But the stronger part is the sharp critic to the racism in America, through the dialog of the North Korean POW and the Afro-American soldier first and the Asian descendant soldier later. As an effect of the McCarthyism, Samuel Fuller had problems with the FBI because of these scenes. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Capacete de Aço" ("Steel Helmet")
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This ain't your grandpappy's sort of war picture!
MartinHafer2 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"Where's your C.O. (Commanding Officer)?" "Fertilizing a rice paddy with the rest of the patrol."

"...half his head is gone."

This is the sort of gritty and realistic dialog that abounds in this ground-breaking Korean War film. Ground-breaking not just because of it's newer and more realistic language (complete with lots of racial epithets that would cause the politically correct types out there to have strokes) but because this picture managed to be the first Korean War film--being made while the war was still in its early days. And, to get this film out quickly, it was filmed in only 10 days--a shooting schedule typical of Sam Fuller's early films. It was also ground-breaking because the film tackled such topics as the treatment of Black-Americans and Japanese-American internment--touchy subjects that were virtually absent in films until years later. This film definitely marked a radical departure from WWII war films. Even excellent and realistic war films as BATTLE CRY and BATTLEGROUND didn't come close to the style in this film. Much of this realism is due to Fuller's own service in the front lines in the infantry in the previous war and the film seems like an ode to these brave men.

The only strikes against the film are an over reliance on stock footage towards the end--with some of it appearing to be WWII footage! Plus, while I enjoyed the scenes, apparently the folks at home weren't particularly pleased with scenes showing a prisoner being killed as well as a medic throwing off his red crosses and manning a machine gun! Realistic, perhaps, but not quite the same heroic vision of soldiers from previous films.

Still, overall this is a tense and exciting war film--perhaps the best of those made about the Korean War. Oh, and by the way, I checked. The tune for "Auld Lang Syne" really was the national anthem for Korea at one time. Also, read up on what IMDb says about the production--especially the number of extras and where the film was made. That Sam Fuller was a genius at getting the most out of minuscule budgets.

PS--Gene Evans, the tough sergeant from this film really had been a sergeant in the army.
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First we eat - then we bury them
danielj_old99921 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is a scarce classic, well worth the search for the VHS ( was released on Timeless Video). Incredibly great sardonic dialogue which does not speak down for the benefit of those who are not in the "military know"; Sam Fuller does not care whether or not you understand every reference, and while the script is occasionally hard to follow the film turns out, as is usual in such cases, to benefit from this,as the characters are allowed that extra measure of dignity ...wonderful human interest subplots back up a textbook example of how to make a realistic action picture for almost no money. Fearless exploration of controversial racial issues which haunt us to this day; as Fuller says, "There is no end to this story." Gene Evans gives as fine a film performance as you are ever likely to see - anywhere. All the actors are fine, and the beautifully directed film has a truly startling sense of realism. It is a crime that this film is not better known.
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Brilliant low budget war flick by Sam Fuller
tieman646 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"For Kubrick, as for Sam Fuller, combat was a metaphor for virtually all forms of human endeavour. Consequently, Kubrick and Fuller made more good, or great, war films between the two of them than the rest of Hollywood put together." - C. Jerry Kutner

Lean, mean and angry, Sam Fuller's "The Steel Helmet" remains one of the director's finest films. Shot on a shoestring budget with a group of UCLA students over the course of ten days, the film was also one of the first films of the Korean War film cycle. Unlike it's successors, though, Fuller's tone is one of extreme cynicism. "Helmet" was the first Hollywood film to mention the internment of Japanese Americans in WW2 prison camps, and elsewhere Fuller deftly deals with racism, by including a North Korean prisoner who baits a black soldier into conversation with accounts of American society's Jim Crow rules.

There are other points of interest: a young Korean kid, dubbed "Short Round", who prove influential on George Lucas' "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", the film contains an appropriately tense sniper sequence, the film was one of the few from its era to deal with shell-shock, mental fatigue and war crimes, and of course Gene Evans, who plays Sergeant Zack, offers us a wonderful character. He's a gruff, bearish man. A seasoned veteran who has only one thing on his mind: personal survival. Indeed, most of the film's best sequences involve Zack and Short Round interacting. Zack teaches the kid how to survive in the physical, whilst Shorty schools Zack in appreciating the spiritual.Unsurprisingly – a nice touch by Fuller - much of the film's violence takes place in a Buddhist temple; war in a sanctuary of peace, the strategically located temple prostituted as an instrument of pain.

The film's politics baffled critics upon release. The right viewed it as being an attack on the Korean war and accused Fuller of being a "commie sympathiser", whilst the left thought Fuller was a sell out, largely due to a last act sequence in which a North Korean soldier breaks the Geneva convention and ruthlessly kills our cute little South Korean kid. Commies are bad, see, so lets waste those ruthless child killers!

In truth, the film is simply naive (the US shouldn't have been in Korea, shouldn't have challenged the populaces wishes for unification and reforms, and indeed committed countless huge war crimes and only made things much worse), a tone which clashes with the beautiful pessimism of Fuller's writing. His scripts are typically fast paced, taut, efficient and masculine, and we see that here with "Helmet". Fuller writes like a pulp journalist, his jargon hard; a kind of blunt poetry.

8/10 – Worth one viewing.
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Steel Helmet is a story about GI's. A human interest piece worthy of the name.
Anthony O'Neill22 April 2005
"Steel Helmet" is a movie I saw when I was eleven years old. It attracted me the same way that "A Walk in the Sun" (I rate as 10 out of 10)(WWII) and "Fixed Bayonets" (I rate as 9 out of 10)(Korea) also attracted me. It's a story about a small number of men (more than 2 and less than 20) interacting with one another.

The general plot and "shoot 'em ups" are the same for all of these "type" war movies (and, thank God, there were no girls to gum up the works with the icky kissing, hugging and crying stuff-ya gotta remember how old I was then), but the central theme, in my opinion, is the story of how each man reacts to "meeting the elephant". the story also tells how all of characters interact with each other. You can see and hear the grab ass, bitching', whining, moaning, cussing, poking fun and joking that GIs do; no matter which "war" (hot or cold) that soldier, Marine, Sailor or Airman is engaged. The story also show American Soldier's big heart for the defenseless, especially the children.

I also found out what a "short round" was and why. See the picture for yourself and find out.

This picture tells that story, eloquently and beautifully. It told me where I wanted to be when I got older and had to be in the service, and it told me what I wanted to be doing when I got there.

I did not see many "War Movie" stories that I liked as well as these three until I was much older when I saw three more great movies, which I also rate a 9 out of 10 ("The Big Red One", "Saving Private Ryan" and "Band of Brothers") and a TV Movie (The Lost Battalion).

If I'm too talkative here guys, sorry. Just wanted to link up my goodies for you and the reader.

Tony O'
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Classic That Works on Many Levels
pylgrym14 March 2005
I too have fond memories of waiting for this movie to come BACK on TV so I could savor it again. It has lost none of the power and evokes many memories as i watch it with my kids and their friends now. A neighbor friend of my son's, whose parents strictly control the TV, has raved about this movie. Why" Because it speaks to children as well as to adults. I 'get' the Milspeak now, and enjoy the banter among the principals because I am a Vietnam and Desert Storm vet (Infantry and Artillery). I only answer the questions my boys have, tho'; I don't try to explain what they wish to keep to themselves, i.e. the Korean boy's scenes. As a kid I wondered what I would do if the Commies attacked my neighborhood, and often played 'guns' that way, against an imaginary enemy. My sons have seen Spielberg's "PVT Ryan", but Sam Fuller's movie is on top of the pile. Looking now for a copy of another one I haven't seen in forty years: Sam Fuller's "Fixed Bayonets". Any help?
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Hardly a classic but a good war drama nonetheless
grantss12 November 2015
Hardly a classic but a good war drama nonetheless.

Set in the Korean War, a grizzled veteran sergeant is the sole survivor of an American patrol that has been ambushed, taken prisoner and massacred. He links up with a medic and a South Korean child and, ultimately, a US infantry squad. The squad set up camp in an abandoned temple that had strategic value as an Observation Post...

Decent, but not great. Fairly gritty and realistic but also quite clumsy. Dialogue and sub-plots are a bit lame at times.

Performances vary too. No real standouts, though Gene Evans is solid as Sergeant Zack. William Chun is very unconvincing as the Korean kid, though, at least is not irritating (unlike many child characters).
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"There is no end to this story"
MisterWhiplash22 September 2007
Samuel Fuller's first great hard-boiled war movie doesn't seem to strike up the same controversy that it apparently did back in the 1950s. Maybe an extra fifty-five years of the United States becoming more liberal in certain stances, such as where black people can sit on a bus or if the Japanese internment camps were such a good idea, has changed the film in a certain respect. But what hasn't changed is Fuller's immediate sense of danger and drama, of the tough bond between soldiers in combat, and what it means to be patriotic in the face of the grittiest odds. I also found it a fascinating feat, especially this early in Fuller's career, to set up not only a quasi-prototype of the Fuller bad-ass that would continue on in many of his films (one definitely would see a form or two of this in the Big Red One), but criticizing this figure. And meanwhile Fuller pumps up his war film with a staggering showcase of horrific war violence which, up until the climax, is largely off-screen with only the sound effects of bullets streaming fast meant for emphasis, and the camera acting as a real presence in the room during the temple, acting as exclamation pointer and a tool for the suspense.

The Fuller figure in the film, which ends up becoming the central one even amid the ensemble, is Sgt. Zack, with his scruffy beard, hard talk, and odd principles ("best in the infantry", Zack says, as you either live or die). But of all things, Fuller uses a little Korean boy, who sings the entire Korean national anthem- also Audl Yange Syne- and has a deep belief in Buddhist traditions. It's not any kind of little gimmick to garner the audience's sympathies, however, and by not calling too much attention to it there's strength in Zack's very subtle change by the end of the film. He's still going to be a bit of a brutish guy who may let his emotions get the better of him, and charges onward even when thinking he's the only real tough guy in the army. But Fuller seems to not be making him a real true-blue hero in the John Wayne sense: he's a lot more of a complicated tough-guy protagonist, who played by Gene Evans plays him convincingly as a man who's principles of strength on the battlefield get mixed up when his conscience enters into things. He remains one of Fuller's coolest and a benchmark in B war movie characters.

What's so strange about the Steel Helmet ends up being how it uses so much on a minuscule budget. Shot in ten days, Fuller structured the script mostly as if it was a stage play; 2/3 of the film is set in the temple, as the characters stay low, get a run-in with a North Korean infiltrator, try and fix a radio, and generally have a lot of talks about what it is to fight in war and whatnot. It's never boring for second, even as one might wonder when, like in Night of the Living Dead, the ominous forces of the outside will come in and break up the monotony of suspense. I loved little moments like when the one soldier thinks his grenade is about to explode right on his belt if he stands up, or when Zack describes who he'd let wear his helmet based on an insane D-Day story, or when the radio operator started growing hair. Even dialog that should be dated when the North Korean asks the black soldier about discrimination in America comes off as interesting. And then, suddenly, Fuller will whip up the camera and editing into a sharp frenzy when it comes time for battle, or make it as something to almost keep the soldiers themselves on their toes. And it's something to admit as fearless to have only a hand-full of extras and a handful of special effects to make a battle scene just as great as anything in the Big Red One- which are some of the best war battles in film history.

A real 'guy' movie that doesn't kid its own nature about men from varying cultures all plopped together in an insane conflict, with quick flashes of humor and sudden, unexpected violence, and a final message on the title card that will resonate long as men carry big guns and wear those helmets.
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The War Zone
sol-26 September 2016
Rescued by a young South Korean lad, the sole survivor of a massacred platoon huddles with other stranded soldiers at an abandoned Buddhist temple behind enemy lines in this powerful Korean War drama directed by Samuel Fuller. The film is gripping right from the opening close-up shots of lead actor Gene Evans cautiously looking over a bunker while 'the enemy', viewed only from the waste-down, approaches. Fuller does a great job visualising the film throughout though. Especially notable is how low camera angles are initially used to portray the temple as a mystic place of wonder when Evans and his fellow soldiers first arrive -- shots that have an eerie contrast against the daunting high camera angles Fullers later opts for when it is revealed that there is a sniper hiding there. With less dialogue (and none of that haunting voice-over), 'The Steel Helmet' is less philosophical that Fuller's follow-up Korean War pic 'Fixed Bayonets!', however, the sparse dialogue still amply portrays the mood and unease of the soldiers as they contemplate why they are fighting and dissociate dead bodies from those who were only recently alive. Evans is remarkable in the lead role too; initially he seems cynical and hateful towards everyone, but as the film progresses, we see beneath his thick skin. War truly affects even the more hardened men out there. It is thoughtful stuff, and the fact that the majority of the grisly action occurs at a place of worship is a bitter irony if there ever was one. Nothing is sacred in war and there is no sanctuary for those fighting.
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Non-stereotypical and poignant
jarrodmcdonald-11 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
When viewing The Steel Helmet I had to keep reminding myself that this was made and shown to audiences while the Korean War was actually in its earliest stages. Writer-Director Samuel Fuller smartly depicts the relationship of an American soldier and a Korean boy in a non-stereotypical, yet poignant way. Needless to say, it is devastating when the boy is killed in the line of fire.

There are some loose ends in this picture, though, that leave the viewer with unanswered questions. For example, it may have helped to know more about what led one of the characters, a conscientious objector, to eventually join the military. Also, viewers would probably like to know what it was like for the black medic to get drafted. His lines regarding segregation and sitting on the back of the bus give us a unique window into another culture. He has come upon foreign land with the hope that civil rights are not only valued back home in the U.S., but also in an Asiatic battlefront threatened by the encroachment of communism.
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One of the grittiest war films of the era
zetes31 August 2009
The first movie ever made about the Korean War, filmed only a few months into its start, this film is very much influenced by director Fuller's own WWII experience. Gene Evans stars as a cigar-chomping, hard-bitten last survivor of his regiment. He joins up with a small Korean boy, whom he nicknames Short Round (obviously Spielberg and Lucas took the name for Indiana Jones' little Asian sidekick in Temple of Doom), and they eventually find a bunch of other survivors. The group holes themselves up in a Buddhist temple and create an observation post. Soon, they are surrounded by the enemy. This was obviously cheaply done, but it's extremely well done for the price. The climactic battle scene does become a little silly, though. Evans in general is good, but his prickliness and know-it-all-ness started to get on my nerves after a while. Still, very good.
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The Film That Made Fuller
Theo Robertson30 April 2014
Samuel Fuller was a film maker who lived up to the word " auteur " . He started off in Hollywood in the mid 1930s by writing original screenplays of his own and doctoring/polishing other peoples screenplays . Already established in Hollywood when America entered the second world war in 1941 Fuller enlisted in the infantry , a rather noble effort on his part all things considered and saw front line action where he was decorated for bravery . This experience served Fuller well and he's best known for the war films he directed . You could claim that nearly all his movies were nothing more than second feature B movies and while there's a lot of truth to this his skills ensured that his films seemed much more than mere B movies . Ironically enough his one big studio picture THE BIG RED ONE is one of his weakest

THE STEEL HELMET is the film that established Fuller as a director . It was the first film produced on the Korean war . One thing that is problematic about the Koran war is trying to make a film that is unique to that conflict and one that couldn't have easily have taken place in the second world war . The British film A HILL IN Korea ( A film that gave Michael Caine his screen debut ) suffered from this but THE STEEL HELMET doesn't . Despite the later debacle of Vietnam one thing military historians universally agree upon is that the worst military performance of the 20th Century of the American military was the early stages of the Korean War that saw the longest military retreat of American forces which happened on the Korean peninsula in the Summer of 1950 . This film tells of that retreat

One criticism about war films of any era is that they're jingoistic flag wavers where Uncle Sam kills lots of enemy soldiers with hardly a single American suffering a scratch . Not so in THE STEEL HELMET where the film starts of in a down beat way with a lone American survivor waking up surrounded by the bodies of his dead comrades and finding that things might just be about to get worse and the story develops in the same gloomy manner and makes the cogent point that in this conflict not all the combatants wear a uniform . It also makes a point about the absurdity of war with little touches that while it's okay to drop bombs and kill people Holy shrines are untouchable . It also shows American servicemen in a rather unheroic light and considering this was produced when America was fighting a war with a very uncertain outcome this alone elevated THE STEEL HELMET to mini-masterpiece status
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Grit and War
Michael_Elliott12 September 2009
Steel Helmet, The (1951)

*** (out of 4)

Fuller's grim Korean War drama follows Sgt. Zack (Gene Evans) and other rugged men as they take shelter in an abandoned Buddhist temple where they have time to reflect on what they're going in the war. Filmed in a reported ten days, this is one of those rare films that takes place during the war which it is showing. The movie doesn't really take a stance on either side of the line, although there's no question that Fuller wants to get his own ideas across. One of the best scenes involves a black man who is asked how he feels about having to fix these men up yet in the real world he wouldn't be able to sit at the same table with them. There's a lot of racial slurs thrown around at various people but this comes off very realistic as does the rest of the dialogue. You can listen to these men and actually feel like you're in the trenches with them as you'd be hearing this type of conversations. Another big plus is that the movie never paints a pretty picture, which was the type of thing we were use to seeing in war pictures from Hollywood. It's clear Fuller is doing things his way and he didn't care about criticism, which eventually came to the film. Evans delivers a fine and realistic performance as does the rest of the cast. The one negative thing was all the stock footage used at the end but the low budget probably required it. This isn't your typical war film but you can watch it and feel as if you're seeing an original. The influence on movies like FULL METAL JACKET, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and Tarantino's recent are pretty obvious.
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Operation Shoestring.
Robert J. Maxwell25 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This was shot on a minuscule budget in ten days. It's not an insulting movie or a bad one, but the headlong and inexpensive rush shows.

This was one of Sam Fuller's first big hits. It's about a squad of infantrymen manning an isolated observation post during the Korean war. Fuller had been a Chicago newspaperman and he wrote and directed this effort as if rattling off a story under a deadline. Bing bang boom. The point is made and the story rolls along. Sometimes it rolls along even if the point fails to be made. I used to read equally cogent stories of the Korean war in comic books when I was a kid.

There are no bankable stars but most of the cast are believable. It's good to see Richard Loo, a Hawaiian-born Chinese, playing a Japanese again, only this time on our side. A North Korean prisoner gets to needle him about the relocation camps. James Edwards, an African-American, gets needled too, but he's as stalwart as ever.

It's an ensemble film but primus inter pares is the bearded, funky, cigar-chewing, ugly Gene Evans as the tough top sergeant who dislikes officers, conscientious objectors, charming young Korean boys, and -- let me see, who else exists? Evans is an actor whose appeal has always eluded me, although his home town, Holbrook, Arizona, was always a comfortable little outpost in the middle of the desert, until recently when it was engulfed by sprawling malls. The cultural center of the tiny place used to be the Dairy Queen, located where the through road, which no one of discernment would call "a highway", makes a dogleg.

Anyway -- where was I? -- anyway, Evans has one glorious moment on screen. In the midst of the final battle, with bullets whizzing and shells exploding, men being blown to bits, and everything wreathed in smoke, Fuller shows us Gene Evans hammering away at the enemy from behind a machine gun. Then -- with no warning whatever -- Fuller cuts to a close up of Evans' face as he stops firing. Evans' eyeballs widen and he seems for a moment transported. His face seems to glow by means of some inner mechanism. He stumbles to his feet and amid the carnage wanders around hallucinating -- "Did you hear the colonel?" What a scene! A huge and somehow ominous statue of the Buddha appears to play an important role in this movie but I don't know what it is. The one thing I'm sure of is that Fuller's experience as an combat infantryman in the First Division shaped the remainder of his life. He never forgot it or rather he never got over it, and he'd been no longer a kid. He was thirty-four. For years afterward he woke up at the slightest sound. But none of this stopped him from the kind of reckless enterprise that this movie represents.
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Grim story of an infantry patrol held up in a Buddhist temple
bux18 October 1998
An early directorial effort by Samuel Fuller, this is one of the first movies made about the Korean War. Evans is magnificent as the hard-boiled, grizzeled Sergeant Zack. It is obvious that this is a low budget movie, but the superior supporting cast, Fuller's direction, and a good story-line manage to overcome these shortfalls. Considered one of the best to come from the Lippert organization.
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