The Naked and the Dead (1958) Poster

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Not enough naked...Plenty of dead.
Poseidon-329 April 2003
Reportedly, Norman Mailer's best-selling novel was distilled and sanitized for the screen (what book isn't?!) Many people blame this for the rather weak resultant film. The film IS fairly weak, but the adaptation can hardly be the sole cause. "From Here to Eternity" and "Peyton Place" are just two movies adapted from adult novels that were made around this time and were referred to as "unfilmable", yet the end results were magnificent. This film concerns hard as nails, embittered Ray as an amoral Sergeant who's currently in charge of a motley troop of men in the South Pacific islands during WWII. Massey co-stars as a stern General who thinks of men as little more than beads on an abacus as he tries to figure out the strategies and percentages of war. His assistant Robertson clashes with him on various points and, after one particular battle, finds himself on a deadly mission alongside Ray and his band of not-so-merry men. Ray gives an okay performance in the film, but lacks the sort of leading man magnetism that could have put this over better. Robertson is thoughtful in his part, but doesn't really shine. Massey has a strong part with many nice moments. Several well-known TV and movie actors can be found in the troop including the always reliable Jaeckel, Best (who would later make a fool of himself weekly on "Dukes of Hazzard"), Campbell (famous for a guest role on the original "Star Trek" series), the ubiquitous Jones (who has an embarrassing role as a lovesick soldier) and Rat Pack comedian Bishop (who actually gives a nicely balanced performance.) There are some horrible flashbacks featuring various women. Ray's details his ludicrously presented relationship with trashy Nichols who laughs loudly and inappropriately at the end of it. Robertson has a dream involving a pallette of society girls he apparently had dabbled with, sometimes two at a time. Real life stripper St. Cyr makes a none too impressive appearance in the beginning of the film, inspiring Jones tremendously. The worst fault the film has is it's pedestrian nature. There is very little excitement generated throughout, even when arresting events are occurring. The film suffers from tiresome shots of the soldiers marching, climbing, walking, skulking..... A lot of the momentum gets lost along the way. This is countered somewhat by several bouts of unfunny physical comedy, heated arguments among the men and moments of drunken loudness. There is just a general unfocused quality in the film, possibly caused by shifts in the direction of the plot from the novel. What's worse is that in two hours of film, most of the men don't take their shirts off at all and when a few do it's in long shots. Maybe that's what was missing! The music does little to enhance the film. Bernard Herrman (who did such miraculous things to Hitchcock films) flounders here with unmemorable work. It's not the worst war film ever made, but truly falls short of being a great one.
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Unbelievably Bad Film of Great Mailer Novel
Dan1863Sickles28 March 2005
I saw this movie after reading the book and my jaw was on the floor after about the first five minutes. They made a tough, subversive book into the most lame, formulaic, boring action movie ever! Every fuggin guy in the fuggin squad gets changed from an all right guy to some kind of fuggin robot.

HEARN -- in the book he's tough as hell, a Harvard football star and intellectual cynic with high society education who's used to fighting back and challenging authority. In this movie he's like Andy Hardy half the time, going "gee, General Cummings, let me just shake your hand!"

CROFT -- in the book he's ice, a stone killer like Tom Berenger in PLATOON (really just a hippie flavored remake of Mailer's book.) In the movie he actually gets weepy in front of the men of recon crying over his wife Janey! The real Croft would have shot himself first.

GALLAGHER -- in the book he's an ugly, stupid, cowardly anti-Semite who hates Jews and behaves like an Archie Bunker prototype. In the movie he's just a clean-cut guy with a pregnant wife.

BROWN, Wilson, MARTINEZ, ROTH -- in the book they all have rich pasts, complex characters, and they make believable soldiers and human beings. In the movie you can hardly tell one from another.

I cannot believe Hollywood did this to Mailer. I cannot believe Mailer let them do it! James Jones wasn't half the writer Mailer was, but FROM HERE TO ETERNITY looks like Shakespeare compared to this. Maybe the lesser books always make the best movies!
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Never read the book
Gangsteroctopus25 April 2003
And maybe if I had, I might like the movie less. (I read "The Thin Red Line" before I saw that movie and was, as I expected, disappointed despite the fact that that is a very fine film.) As it is, I like this film a lot. For one thing, it's got one of Bernard Hermann's best but least-known scores; I wish it were available on CD. The cast features an amazing array of '50s lead and supporting actors. L.Q. Jones is especially enjoyable as an amiable hillbilly (a role he specialized in) and Aldo Ray gives one of his finest performances as the hate-filled Sgt. Croft. Cliff Robertson is a little milque-toasty, but that's more because the role is underwritten. Raymond Massey is appropriately arrogant and high-handed as the general in charge of the campaign. If you can catch this film on TV, Turner Classic Movies is the place to see it because they letterbox it in its original 'scope aspect ratio, crucial to appreciating this film in all its widescreen glory. Trivia note: this was a favorite film of German auteur Rainier Werner Fassbinder.
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A Walsh jewel from his most confusing decade.
Delly31 March 2006
Raoul Walsh's films of the 1950's are uncharted territory, much like the South Pacific island where most of the action in Naked and the Dead unfolds. Many of the films aren't available or are rarely seen. Of those that are, I'm only familiar with a series of Clark Gable films serving mostly as an excuse for Walsh, through Gable, to flaunt his reactionary values, missing body parts, and old-sea-salt virility. In none of these films was there any indication that Walsh could deliver something of the scale and complexity of Naked and the Dead, which more than equals mid-period lulus like The Roaring Twenties.

Walsh was an arbitrary choice to film Norman Mailer's novel. Mailer wrote the book as a young man with a name to make and awards to win. In 1958 Walsh had nothing left to prove to anyone -- even when he was Mailer's age, I can't imagine him going for Mailer's bludgeoning tactics. Though I'm no Mailer acolyte, you do miss his chutzpah at first, as the movie has a laid-back feel more appropriate for a beach volleyball film. An amphibious landing that brings echoes of D-Day is carried out near the beginning of the film, during which we're told that 130 men have died, but we don't see a single limb get blown off. We just get a couple shots of smoke rising out of the forest as the ships land. You start to worry that Walsh, like in those Errol Flynn war films of the 1940's, has brought his crew down to Pasadena to film in a state park with three potted palm trees.

However, the interplay between the actors -- Walsh favors long-takes with eight or nine guys just shooting the s--t, stirring hooch and whining about their superiors -- is enough to keep you watching. Eventually it dawns on you that Walsh has seen much more of life than Mailer. He is long past the need to sadistically linger on the more dramatic moments of war. You can feel Walsh feeding off his group of actors, basking in their youth while lovingly depicting their trials of life, the same ones he underwent half a century ago. The approach is very much like Scorsese's in The Aviator in its tendency to concentrate on hope and promise, a refusal to wallow in the ugly. Right to the end Walsh resists the impulse to ratchet up the tension -- like a conductor guiding his music with a steady pulse, the movie just keeps plodding along, and a horrific death is given no more emphasis than a running joke about Raymond Massey's character getting a daily bunch of flowers.

In the final hour, his method pays off. The landscapes open up in spectacular fashion, just as each character moves inexorably towards an action that will define them within time like a pin in a map. An authenticity grips the movie and won't let go. The way Walsh has of letting major events happen offscreen begins to feel ominous and evocative of unseen forces, worthy of Jacques Tourneur, and the underpopulated battles take on massive grandeur in the imagination. A culminating sequence featuring rows upon rows of tanks and mortars battering an invisible enemy is what all directors want to achieve -- a moment that goes beyond words into an expression of pure cosmic power, millenia of sorrow and rage blending into a firework display for the gods.

Think of this as The Naked and the Dead, and you'll be disappointed. Think of it as what Terence Malick wanted to do with The Thin Red Line, and you will see exactly where he went wrong, and where Walsh succeeds. Walsh blows the world up good, but unlike the lords of war, he does it for love, not personal gain. And he takes us all out equally.
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A poor Hollywood remake of a classic novel.
Evilmike1 September 1999
I saw this movie on a local PBS station about the same time I was writing a Term Paper on the novel. I have already read the novel several times, but I still thought that the movie perspective might be helpful. Needless to say I was wrong. The movie turns a book about the futility of the individual's role in war into a boiler plate feel good war movie w/ a happy ending. One of the most important parts of the novel, where Hearn is betrayed despite his best efforts to be a "good" leader, is scrapped. Hearn not only survives, but the movie goes on the kill the ass hole, Sgt Croft. In the book we see a group of individuals who all want to singlehandedly make a difference and who all end up failing because modern war has grown beyond the control of the individual. In the movie we see a division of good guys and bad guys where where good guys win and the bad guys get what's coming. Finally I would like to point out that this movie is a waste of time or unpleasant to watch. If its going to be on TV by all means watch it, but if you've read the book brace yourself to be VERY disappointed.
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a little messy
SnoopyStyle8 August 2015
It's 1943. A group of men set off for a Pacific island in a campaign headed by General Cummings (Raymond Massey). He's dictatorial and wants his men to fear him more than the enemy. His aide Lt Hearn (Cliff Robertson) is an idealist living under the shadow of his legendary father. Cummings sends Sgt Croft (Aldo Ray) and his men into the jungle on a seemingly pointless mission to test a mountain pass that should be easily defended by the Japanese. Croft is a hard-nosed leader who kills prisoners and has his men dig gold from the dead's teeth. After a dispute with Cummings, Hearn is also sent on the mission. Cummings goes off to headquarters to argue for more troops to stage a big attack. However the small pointless mission may actually hold the key to the island.

This is based on Norman Mailer's novel which he infuses with some of his war experiences. First off, I don't like the start in Honolulu and the flashbacks. They take the audience out of the war experience. It feels melodramatic and old school like a bad 50s war movie. At its best, the movie has a feel of Malick's film 'The Thin Red Line'. The wide field of grass and shots that come out of nowhere give the movie a feeling of foreboding. The cast of characters get scattered in the mission. There is a message being delivered but it's a bit muddled. The movie needs to narrow the focus.
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Mailer's uncompromising novel, gets a bit compromised for the screen
bkoganbing6 November 2012
Though Norman Mailer wrote many other works like David O. Selznick with Gone With The Wind, Mailer never wrote anything as good as The Naked And The Dead. It must have been a source of some frustration to him in trying to top this literary masterpiece.

Coming to the screen The Naked And The Dead's impact was neutered somewhat with changes, most importantly the death of a main character was eliminated and that person allowed to survive. Still what you get here is a really rancid version of a military campaign in the South Pacific Theater, the kind that Hollywood wasn't showing up to that time.

There are three main characters. First Cliff Robertson who comes from wealth and privilege and clashes with his martinet of a commanding officer. For that breach of military etiquette, Robertson is assigned to lead a patrol behind enemy lines to gather valuable intelligence.

The commander he insulted is General Raymond Massey who likes being the martinet, but in the end gets showed up rather beautifully by an eager subordinate who took some initiative during a combat situation.

Thirdly there is Sergeant Aldo Ray who was probably no prize, but whose character was totally twisted by the unfaithfulness of his wife Barbara Nichols. Nichols is just great in a flashback episode as a woman who might just as well have had a sandwich board sign labeled 'floozy' all over her. In some ways her small part is the most memorable in this war film. He's been leading his squad without any officers over him and would like to keep it that way. But he knows his job.

Over 59 years later The Naked And The Dead while not totally true to Mailer's words and plot, still hasn't aged one single bit. I could see a remake of this one in the future.
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The Naked and the Dead is Pretty Barren**1/2
edwagreen4 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Norman Mailer's classic novel receives weak treatment in this film.

First, we see a bar in Honolulu where the cops raid the joint frequented by GI's in 1943. Then, we see newspaper clips of defeats suffered by our guys in the Pacific. Then, we get a movie. Where exactly in the Pacific is the action going on?

The weak writing still allows for 2 solid performances by Aldo Ray, as a vicious sergeant, who enjoys pumping bullets into his Japanese captors and Raymond Massey, as an army head who feels that he gets the best out of his men by being tough and cruel as well.

In flashback sequence, we see Ray married to Barbara Nichols, the dumb blond who knew occasionally how to turn in a good dramatic performance. Her acting here is amateurish at best. In fact, she sounds as she did on the old Ed Sullivan Show when she told the Romans that she begged Julie (Caesar) not to go to the forum. Not here, unfortunately! Flashbacks also bring us back to Robertson's civilian life where all he did was to cavort around lots of women.

Cliff Robertson is Massey's assistant, who soon falls out of favor with the latter when they disagree on Massey's philosophy. Robertson, who smokes heavily in the film, gets shot for his efforts and becomes very preachy at the final scene of this film.

There is plenty of anti-semitism to go around in this movie as well. Jerry Paris, as Goldstein, is coerced to his death by a fall over a mountain by being called a lousy J--. Joey Bishop has to fight an anti-semitic soldier as well. One funny scene is where Bishop throws away a sandwich when he finds out that it's made up of ham!
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Very disappointing
sobot1 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The novel "The naked and the Dead" is often considered impossible to adapt to a movie, and it certainly was in the 50s, when every other sentence spoken in the book had to be censored, and it was desirable to alter the ending, not just by killing "the bad guy" and allowing "the good guy" to survive, but also by changing the meaning of the ending from Meaninglessness to Heroism.

But this is not even the main reason why I dislike the movie. The main reason is that it completely destroyed the characters. In the book there are NO good guys and bad guys; you may hate Croft but you are aware that many characters are still alive just because of him; and Hearn is by no means such a perfect guy, just an ordinary one.

Many events from the book happen in the movie too, but without giving them any meaning or any accompanying emotions. For example, Gallagher receives the letter saying that his wife died. And - nothing of it; we don't even get to see his reaction. But in the book he keeps receiving letters from her, tormenting him into believing that she is still alive. Another example: we never get to feel the hardships of going through the thick jungle for a whole day, which occupy much of the book; it is much easier to include a snake bite instead to show us how the jungle is brutal.

Let us hope that once we will see a movie that will capture this great book more honestly...
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The enemy.
dbdumonteil29 December 2003
I have not read Mailer's book but I did see some Walsh Movies ("pursued" "white heat" "Colorado territory") and those movies feature touches of madness -the end of "white heat" is memorable-,this madness which emerges again in this war movie.

The key of the movie is given by the sarge telling his men that they are not part of the Army.He's arguably a lunatic but he did understand:the enemy is not the Japs -whom we barely see anyway-,but as Pottier wrote in "l'Internationale" our own generals.Cummings ' s attitude echoes to that:see him playing chess -an obvious metaphor- or "waging war" in front of a model.Cummings 's madness (which is true , the cigarette scene is revealing )matches the sarge's one.

Walsh,though his film is very harsh ,shows compassion,notably for the soldier whose wife died in child-birth . The final lines of the lieutenant ,saved by his men,are:they did not do it out of fear but out of pity.
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Very different, surprising non Hollywood movie way better than book
drystyx27 April 2008
This movie seems like one made because of a much hailed and overrated author, in which the director has the nerve to actually make changes to give a novel look at war and life.

The book is exactly like a Hollywood movie. Bullets cannot find bad guys, and if you're evil enough, you live forever. We get this from 99% of films. No wonder Americans bend over backwards to be sadistic. In short, that's about all the book is. Very Hollywood.

This movie gives a fresh look for the viewer. Instead of the mass depression we're used to, we get an intelligent look at war. The hero is caught between two equally vicious men, one higher in rank, and one lower. Much of the rest of the movie deals with the characters, like in the older war movies.

Not to give away the ending, but you will be shocked and surprised. The film still shows the horror and depravity of war without getting preachy, as many later films did.
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It's nakedly dead...
moonspinner551 February 2004
From Norman Mailer's celebrated book about kill-happy Army sergeant in the Pacific, 1943. In the lead, handsome Aldo Ray gets a chance to show his swagger portraying a man doing battle with the enemy as well as with himself and his own men; otherwise, this glum effort is War-is-Hell routine. Bernard Herrmann's score sounds suspiciously like the one he turned in for "Taxi Driver" in 1976. Hmmm....
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Don't Expect The Book and It's Decent
verbusen30 May 2018
The Naked and the Dead (1958), my rating 7 of 10. I see why this film has a middling score on IMdb after reading a synopsis of the book. If one comes to watch this film after reading the book and hope for it to be very faithful to the book such as a Cain Mutiny film did, you will not be happy. I watched the film without reading the book, which is considered by many to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, so I had no preconceptions of how the tale should unfold. For this reason, I'm happy I was able to enjoy the film on its own merits, I give it a decent score of 7. After reading a synopsis of the book, it contains much more personal information about the characters, especially pertaining to anti-Semitic bigotry and homosexual tendencies. Written in 1948, I bet this book turned some heads, it seems ahead of its time. 10 years later, America has fought in yet another war, and its appetite for war action dramas was changing to a more cynical side. The book mainly focuses on Aldo Ray's character along with some lurid domestic scenes involving soldiers and cheating wives and strippers. Aldo Ray is portrayed as a functioning psychopath, not really all that crazy but definitely a murdering sadist as he cold blooded murders a Japanese prisoner. Besides the Lieutenant/General conflict of Robertson and Massey's characters, two action supporting characters I personally like to watch had some decent screen time, LQ Jones and Robert Jaeckel. LQ's character is married to a stripper who sends him money (silly premise), I thought of a Z budget war film LQ was in, "Iron Angel" where he is in a strip club in Asia and there is a stripper there on the main stage up close and personal, with a very noticeable appendectomy or caesarian scar. Now that's a really good setting of a raunchy strip bar (although I think it had more to do with the film's low budget)! Richard Jaeckel gets some good screen time and shows his "I'm devastated" face he is usually called to perform in his films; hey he was a B movie action film guy and one of the few who consistently was called upon to show some emotion other than being angry. This was made by RKO Radio Pictures who was going out of business soon but the production values are decent. We see large military formations in the film, not just a squad. Perhaps the end footage was lifted from another film but I doubt it as the end says it was filmed in Panama and probably used our Canal Zone military units at the time for the large scenes. Purists may be dismayed that not much of the tank hardware is accurate but it looks better than the Battle of The Bulge and their newer tanks. Based solely as a war action drama and nothing more I am giving the film a 7 out of 10. If you are coming here after reading the book you may get about 40 percent of the character development (guessing) and I'm sure would not enjoy it as much. It should be remade now!
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The Naked Nutjob Jungle
davidcarniglia30 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This is kind of a 'split decision' for me: the second part of the movie is much better than what comes before. In fact, it might've been better to tell the lead-up to the fateful patrol in flashbacks. What we get in the Hearn vs. Croft vs. the Japanese vs. the terrain plot strands is a taut, captivating plunge into hell and back.

It's interesting that at the time that Hearn is injured, Croft has the men almost completely in his corner; but the tables turn quickly. The men detailed to take Hearn back to the beach grow to respect him; whereas Croft's men completely lose respect for him. In a way, Croft is a sort of low-life version of the general. Both men think they're always right, dominate those around them, and use the war to enhance their egos.

Both are shown to be essentially weak men. Hearn seems hapless, and almost everything goes wrong for him; but he perseveres, coming out of his experience stronger, and more self-assured. In short, his character changes, unlike the robotic general and sadistic sergeant.

There's quite a bit of chatter about the absurdity of war: the unexpected success of the patrol shows how chance plays such a significant role. Oddly enough, the very messiness of the patrol confuses the enemy into making a critical mistake; and encourages the colonel to mount the decisive attack.

By being absent, the general was shown up by a subordinate. And Croft, giving in to his reckless impulses, was eliminated. I'm aware that Mailer's story was altered significantly for the movie, which makes me want to re-read the novel. The movie stands on its own nonetheless.

Strictly as a war movie, The Naked and the Dead is very successful. The battle scenes are tense, exciting, and realistic. Ok, we have post-war tanks in several scenes, and the Japanese show up with our period-correct Shermans, but most war movies make-do like this.

I'll probably skip through the first part when I watch it again, but the second part is not to be missed.
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