Monday, May 23, 2011

Steel Helmet

I watched Steel Helmet this weekend.

Made in 1951, it's a 'WWII movie' set in the Korean conflict.  Know what I mean?  It has that feel to it.  Like Hollywood had the whole war movie thing down from the previous war, so to make a new movie on the latest war on the Korean peninsula, they just replugged tab A into slot B and ran with it.

A lost squad runs across a grizzled old warhorse of a top sergeant and a tag along South Korean kid (named 'Short Round') on the way to establishing an OP at a Buddhist temple.  They fend off the enemy there until relieved.  

The enemy acted like WWII movie Japs, sniping from trees and skulking about and such.  The weapons were mostly WWII types.  Ok, Korean war weapons were mostly WWII types, but you could tell that the studio hadn't had a chance to upgrade it's prop armory.  There were several Tommy Guns and no Grease Guns is what I'm noticing.  And no M2 Carbines.

It''s clearly filmed in California, but that's OK, because Korea and Californian topography are actually pretty close to each other.  It was one of the advantages of the state when they filmed all those seasons of MASH. 

One of the updates to reflect modern times (a mere 6 years after the end of the previous war) is an integrated Army.  There is a black medic and a Japanese sergeant/bazooka-man.  A North Korean prisoner even tries to sow discord in the squad by working the "your country doesn't appreciate you, you aren't white" angle.  And the lieutenant is mentioned as not trusting his Japanese sergeant because he is Japanese and that's how the squad got lost in the first place.  Wrestling with this issue on the silver screen only 3 years after Truman ordered integration. 

There is also a subplot not perfectly explored about a conscientious objector and how he comes around to become a hero manning a machine gun against human wave attacks.

That was another nod to later post WWII tactics.  The human wave charges with oodles and oodles of enemy.  Americans had faced charges before, naturally, but the 'oodles and oodles' part was a new thing to see.  And that war happened at a fast pace, relatively.  It started in late June of 1950 and the beginning of 1951 the Red Chinese had already entered, pushed the UN forces back south of the 38th parallel, and the war was settling into a hard slog of trench warfare, so the makers of this movie were up to speed, releasing this movie after the war had become pretty static.  

A bit ham-handed in spots, but still a good movie to see. 


Bubblehead Les. said...

Excellent Flick! I've had it for years. Directed by Sam Fuller, who later went on to do "The Big Red One". Sam was also a WW2 Combat Vet, so even though most of his movies never had a huge budget, he always brought a sense of Realism to his Battle Movies. A piece of movie trivia: Sam lost a buddy named Griffith during the War, so in honor of his Fallen Buddy, there was always someone named in "Griff" in his Combat Films. Hard to go wrong with a Sam Fuller film.

Hunter said...

One of my favorites. Opening sequence was good, and the matter-of-fact delivery later, "...its just another dead American..." felt right on.
More trivia: Spielberg so liked Sam Fuller's movies that the youngster in one of the Indiana Jones movies was named "Short Round".