Steel Helmet, The (1951)

The Steel Helmet (1951), written, produced and directed by Samuel Fuller.

This has one of the best openings I've seen in a war film: a steel helmet with a bullet hole, resting on the ground. Then we see a man is wearing the helmet. He moves very cautiously and we find that his hands are bound behind him. As he crawls forward we discover the rest of his unit has been executed and he is the sole survivor.

After that it's a combination of the hardcore and sappy, callous and sentimental, patriotic and cynical. There is no doubt that the communists in Korea must be fought, but great skepticism about how it's being done and the competence of the leadership. Some social commentary and a big two-way massacre at the end when the GIs are besieged in a Buddhist temple.

The low budget soundstage work tends to make it look cheap, but we have great tired and grubby faces: Gene Evans (the dad in My Friend Flicka) is the gruff Tech Sergeant. Richard Loo, who usually played the insidious oriental, is here an American soldier. James Edwards, the pioneering black actor, did a lot of good work in the 1950s and often had soldier roles. I see at least four more of his Korean War films at the IMDB: Men in War (1957), Battle Hymn, Pork Chop Hill and The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

This is said to be the first Korean War film, and the first to mention internment of Japanese Americans during WW2. According to the wikipedia, Fuller, a decorated soldier, had definite ideas about the film he wanted to make:


The film infuriated the military, which summoned Fuller for a conference on the film. The U.S Army was upset over Sgt. Zack's shooting of a prisoner of war. Fuller replied that in his World War II service it frequently happened, and had his former commanding officer, Brigadier General George A. Taylor, telephone the Pentagon to confirm it. In contrast, the Communist newspaper, The Daily Worker condemned The Steel Helmet as a right-wing fantasy.

Taylor is quoted in the film as the guy at Omaha Beach who said:


There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let's get the hell out of here.

Criterion Eclipse DVD. Optional subtitles but no menu control for them.