From his book Essential Cinema.
The Steel Helmet
It's the REAL Korean Story!
A ragtag group of American stragglers battles against superior Communist troops in an abandoned Buddhist temple during the Korean War.
Combat isn’t a poetic ballad but a blow to the head, says Samuel Fuller; his riposte to Milestone’s A Walk in the Sun opens with the audience already besieged by artillery shells. The body-strewn aftermath of an ambush introduces the mauled terrain of the Korean War, the bestial sergeant (Gene Evans) stomps through it like bundled dynamite wrapped in a beard, a deranged guide for a deranged conflict. He’s joined by a munchkin dubbed Short Round (William Chun) and an Army medic (James Edwards), then runs into a lost American patrol surrounded by Red snipers. Among the dogfaces is a fellow World War II survivor (Richard Loo), a conscientious objector (Robert Hutton) lugging a mini-church organ, a radio operator (Richard…
As always with Fuller, more textured, more intense, and more progressive than you initially expect. He uses the Korean War to introduce themes and tone that later Vietnam War pictures will attempt to replicate, but they won't do it as well. "There is no end to this story."
"If you die, I'll kill ya!". Fuller's supremely low-budget, shot in 10 days (though you wouldn't pick either) effort is a great war movie, of a genre I'm generally not too hot on. The eclectic group stuck together inside a Buddhist temple all bring complex and problematic ideas to the usually black-and-white world of Hollywood war, like the black medic, fighting for a country that discriminates him with Jim Crow laws in peace time. The performances are all solid and the action sequences well directed. A tight 85 minutes means there is little in the way of filler or dull moment, a real American war classic.
This war film from Fuller is better than his latter attempt with The Big Red One mostly because it is shorter in length because both are still similar in episodic story telling and style. What also benefits this one from the latter is a more realistic and serious approach to the matter at hand, killing and surviving during war. Also in this film, there are not very many settings and where the characters are normally (the jungle, the rice fields or the temple) all has a sense of claustrophobia and the camera is always close to the group making the viewer one of the soldiers. This enhances the suspense and tension as we are unsure of what danger lurks ahead…
Race, America, Men, Emotions, Friends, Bullets, Death.
Tough and cynical as I've come to expect from Fuller and mostly lean until the final battle sequence which goes on a little too long and shows just how little budget they had to make work. That Fuller is able to smuggle in talk about racism against blacks and the American internment of Japanese into the small talk among soldiers shows how acutely Fuller was observing the atrocities in war and back at home.
Easily one of the best and most underrated War films ever.
This was really good. Fuller presents an unromantic clear-eyed war movie that hits off on a ton of social issues without coming off as ham fisted in its commentary. It’s a low budget production, but the small scale brings an intimacy to the proceedings that suits the no-nonsense ground level viewpoint of the film quite well. Gene Evans is a perfect leading man for Fuller’s vision – gruff, rude unsentimental, and far from a traditional hero. (His cigar chomping makes me suspect there’s a bit of the director himself in the character.) Fuller also appears to have developed a more distinct visual style. He peppers the film with potent images and handles a marginally-budgeted combat scene with grace and excitement. This is easily the best of the Fullers I’ve seen recently, and it shows that he grew very quickly as a director over the course of his first three features.
This review reportedly contains spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Race, America, Men, Emotions, Friends, Bullets, Death.
Colorful story & cast filmed in black & white,
presented in dark gray and light gray,
this 85 minutes made me 85% more manly.
he story's about some gruff old dude who takes a Korean kid under his wing for a little while. He runs into some other soldiers (a black medic, a Japanese-American guy with this whole other unit). They hole up at a Buddhist temple while tensions of all sorts fill the air: primarily, racial. The film wastes no time in setting up those conflics - such as when the gruff old dude calls the Korean kid a "gook," but then gets quickly corrected. Or when a Korean POW talks to the black medic about how it makes no sense for him to fight for a country that doesn't even treat him like a full-fledged citizen. You can die for your country,…
This is a undoubtedly a Samuel Fuller movie: interesting characters, economical storytelling, and visceral direction. I don't think there was a moment where I wasn't interested in the characters, and what was happening to them.
Fuller is completely within his element here. He knew war. He was a soldier during the WW2. He knew people. Nearly all his life he was surrounded by fascinating characters, most of them from the underbelly of civilization. He used his knowledge of people to give life and nuance to his characters.
And he was a born storyteller. He got right to point, and didn't mess around with subtext. His text was his subtext. I don't think any of his films were subtle, and that…
at Aero Theater.
Gripping, almost cinema verte style war film. Sgt. Zack is one of the more compelling characters I have seen in a war picture. Shoot in and around California, the film is shot primarily in close-up to full shoot which traps the characters and audience in a small space. Low budget, but overall adds to the picture's gritty feel. Definitely need to do a re-watch.
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