The Steel Helmet ★★★★

One of the few American war films of its period to uphold the uncompromising vision of violence and despair seen two decades earlier in All Quiet on the Western Front; not surprisingly, it was independently produced and incidentally the breakthrough film of Samuel Fuller. (It is also -- prepare to lose all hope for my credibility -- the first of Fuller's films I have seen.) Involving, direct and refreshingly minimalist across its 85 minutes, it's a Korean War story -- made while the war itself persisted -- that fluidly tracks the movements of a Sgt. Zack (Gene Evans), lone survivor of his outfit, who wakes from a daze and joins up with a young South Korean boy and a black medic, Cpl. Thompson (James Edwards), followed by an entire company attempting to set up an observation post in a temple. The performances given to bring these vibrantly drawn characters to life are brilliant, with complicated emotions and relationships (and societal implications) captured thoroughly and economically. Despite and maybe even because of the low budget, you get a real sense of being in the weeds; the film is ultimately as bleak as Paths of Glory from a few years down the line, yet it seems less operatic and more realistic than Kubrick's film.

As a rule I've never been much for war films, but this one never flagged for me for even a moment.