Set during the Korean War, a Navy fighter pilot must come to terms with with his own ambivalence towards the war and the fear of having to bomb a set of highly defended bridges. The ending of this grim war drama is all tension.
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It is the Korean War and Lt. Harry Brubaker is a fighter-bomber pilot on the aircraft carrier USS Savo Island. A WW2 veteran and Naval Reserve pilot, he was drafted back into service from civilian life. This makes him quite resentful and cynical about the war. Now he has a dangerous mission to perform, and he is not sure he is up to the task.Written by
Writer James A. Michener wrote the story after spending time aboard the USS Essex. One of the pilots aboard the Essex at the time was Neil Armstrong. It is not known for certain whether any of the characters in the book or movie were based on Armstrong. See more »
The aircraft carrier on which most of the action takes place is referenced as the "Savo Island" in this movie as well as the book upon which it is based. However, in reality the aircraft carrier USS Savo Island CVE-78 was a much smaller ship, a Casablanca-class escort carrier, too small to be appropriate for an admiral to use as a flagship. Plus, Savo Island was decommissioned shortly after World War Two, several years before the story takes place. Instead the actual ship used in the movie is USS Oriskany CV-34, an Essex-class fleet carrier which really did participate in the Korean conflict. Several scenes clearly show her ship number "34" on the flight deck. See more »
For those who remember it, the war in Korea remains an enigma from murky beginning to wobbly close (1950-1953). It wasn't even called a 'war'. Instead politicians dubbed it a 'police action', which of course fooled no one (30,000 plus, dead Americans). Toko-ri stands as perhaps the only film to capture the popular uncertainty of that conflict. Some reviewers characterize the movie as anti-war, but it's not. Instead it reflects an American public's longing for peacetime following the horrific sacrifices of WWII and the fresh sacrifices of a new war they neither understood nor desired. In the movie, Fredric March's fatherly admiral makes the official case for intervention. In a key scene with a skeptical Grace Kelly, he lectures on communist aggression and the necessity of stopping them where they stand. In a routine actioner that would have been enough. It's not enough for William Holden's Captain Brubaker, however. And the fact that the Holden character continues to question his personal role reflects the mixed feelings of ordinary Americans, who continued to be torn between patriotic duty, on one hand, and the exotic nature of the conflict, on the other. To the film's lasting credit, the ending does not cop-out in a blaze of heroics that might have undercut the script's ambivalent message. And it is this message of moral uncertainty that makes Bridges arguably the most accurate memorandum from that long-ago war.
The movie itself remains an A-grade production with some fine aerial photography, shipboard action, and special effects. It's also one of Holden's best understated performances, superior to his Oscar role in Stalag 17. Not to be overlooked is the Mickey Rooney character which remains a revealing one. His buoyant hijinks and rowdy behavior amount to a holdover of a familiar WWII stereotype. Yet the clowning here fails to gel with the prevailing mood, and would vanish from serious treatments by the time Vietnam rolled around. Then too, by the time of the movie's release (1954), audiences were eager to get back to the certainties of WWII, and studios responded with a spate of popular WWII fare, such as, Mr. Roberts (1955), Battle Cry (1955), and Operation Petticoat (1959). Except for a straggler or two, Hollywood would make no more Korean war films. And so, the process of forgetting that "Forgotten War" had begun. But, in retrospect, this was one of the few films of the decade to foreshadow the Vietnam trauma that was to follow, while the final shot of Holden's Captain Brubaker proved to be far more suggestive of war on the Asian mainland than critics could have anticipated (Toko-ri was not well received). It's only now, many years later, that viewers can appreciate the prophetic value of that final image along with the peculiar merits of this 1950's Hollywood oddity.
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