Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Steel Helmet

The Steel Helmet, 1951
Dir: Samuel Fuller

This is kind of what I was expecting from Fuller, but I was not expecting to be so underwhelmed. I mean, it's "cool" and everything, but just kind of obvious. I know that the stuff that Fuller was saying was controversial and whatnot, but in cinema it really is about how you say it. Maybe Fuller thought that these issues could only be tackled by aiming his film like a gun at the American public, but that just kind of turns me off.

The Steel Helmet
is basically about Sgt. Zach (Gene Evans) who survives an execution by communist soldiers in the Korean War, is freed by a South Korean orphan (William Chun), who Zach nicknames "Short Round" (so that's where this comes from...), and then teams up with some other GIs to set up an observational post in a buddhist temple. They will see plenty of action along the way, and snappy dialogue will occur.

The beginning of the film, or at least until they get to the temple, is pretty interesting. You don't know what they are doing, just walking around foggy Korean forests trying to stay alive. After that though there is a pretty definitive dramatic thrust, and with Fuller's one dimensional characters each giving their own spiel about war, the entire weight of the film to starts getting pushed on you really hard.

You have to give the film some credit though. It gives major supporting roles to an African-American, a Japanese-American, and a tiny Korean kid. It was one of the first Hollywood films to talk about segregation with a progressive derision, and was probably the first film anywhere to talk openly about the Japanese internment camps during WWII. These things, along with the fact that Sgt. Zach shoots a POW in a fit of emotional rage, got Fuller in a ton of hot water with the Army. It was his intention to show war as it really is, and that deserves at least some respect. It's just the way he went about it that you can pick bones with.

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