Wednesday, February 16, 2011

FORGOTTEN GEM? "Beach Red"

    
     “Beach Red” is a war movie released in 1967. It is based on the novel by Peter Bowman. It was directed by Cornel Wilde and he stars in what was obviously a project dear to his heart. The timing of the movie during the Vietnam War was not coincidental. It is meant as a commentary on that war. It is very much a pacifist film.  I could be described as the antidote to John Wayne's "The Green Berets".

     “Beach Red” is set on an unnamed island in the Pacific in WWII. It was shot in the Philippines and the Philippine army provided soldiers to play the Japanese. It is supposed to represent any of the small islands we assaulted in 1943-1944.
"Don't clown my fake mustache!!"

     The movie opens with Marines waiting to board landing craft. We hear the men’s thoughts, which is the first indication that this will not be a traditional war movie. We also get the first of a recurring shot of a cock roach about to be stomped. (If you have to ask why, you just don’t get it, man.) Wilde is directing outside the box. The landing uses actual combat footage interspersed with Wilde’s action. There is lots of action and the actors are realistically sweating. However, this was pre-boot camp for war movie actors, so the actors look like actors playing war. We get the old school fake, bloodless deaths. Invariably, men throw their arms up in the air as they go down from bullet wounds. One guy loses his arm in a shot that supposedly influenced “Saving Private Ryan”.

     From the beach, they proceed into a grassy meadow that does not do a good job portraying a jungle. Doesn’t the Philippines have some jungle they could have used? They proceed inland with some clearly too-modern tanks (actually M41 Walker Bulldogs – post WWII). We continue to hear the thoughts of the men and see flashbacks to civilian life. The flashbacks are shown via still photos (WTF) and some home-movie like shots. Interestingly, the Japanese also get their time on screen, but without subtitles. The Japs stand in for the Viet Cong, apparently.

     The commander is a Capt. MacDonald (Wilde) who is a reluctant warrior type who is sensitive and humane. His subordinate Gunnery Sgt. Honeywell (Rip Torn) is the opposite. He growls lines like “That’s what we’re here for. To kill. The rest is all crap.” He chews the scenery as much as his cigar. Geneva Convention? What Geneva Convention? In one act, he breaks both arms of a prisoner.
     A group is sent out to capture prisoners. This results in some unrealistic hand-to-hand fighting. Later, a patrol is sent out to recon. They bring a spool of communications wire which they unspool as they twist and turn through the jungle! They find the Japanese planning a counterattack and head home. The Japs are wearing Marine uniforms. Can they do that? All’s fair in love and war. Of course, you have to wonder how in the hell they acquired the uniforms. MacDonald calls in an air strike so the Japanese are slaughtered by phony planes dropping nonexistent bombs. The Japanese commander commits hari-kari, naturally.

     Two BFFs – Cliff (Patrick Wolfe) and Egan (Burr DeBenning) – are featured in the movie. Cliff is a middle-class college boy type. Egan is a yokel who loves canned beans. Cliff must have a bad sense of smell. Did you know that opposites attract? At one point, they encounter one of the Japanese characters and there is a ridiculous fight scene to close the movie.

     I went to Rotten Tomatoes to check out the reviews. There were only three and shockingly they were all positive. One supposed movie critic actually claimed that “Beach Red” was a better movie than “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Thin Red Line”! Drug use is a bad thing. Another reviewer theorized that Wilde’s film influenced those other movies. That’s right, Speilberg and Malick copied Cornell Wilde! They are frauds.  For some reason, Speilberg and Malick did not borrow Wilde's idea of having a sappy song (see clip below) recur throughout their movies, go figure.

     This movie is laughably bad. Literally. It is a ridiculous blend of old school war movie with avant-garde gimmicks. It is unrealistic, inaccurate, and badly acted. When your third and fourth bills are Patrick Wolfe and Burr DeBenning, you know you are not in Oscar territory. If you insist on watching it, have a six pack at hand and take a drink every time someone says something stupid or something pretentious happens. You’ll be drunk soon and will enjoy the movie better. Afterwards, you can argue with your friends about how “Beach Red” is superior to “Saving Private Ryan”. “Screw you, dude, there never would have been a Thin Red Line if it hadn’t been for the genius of Cornel Wilde”. Swings punch, misses, falls over coffee table, arms up in the air, fake blood.

what should be done to copies of this movie


                                            

12 comments:

  1. I wonder occasionally how you can suffer through movies like this. Where the heck did you find this one? It sounds really insufferable. Some people will always try to make themselves seem more intersting by calling the most inappropriate movie good. I mean taste is one thing but saying this is better than Saving Private Ryan? And there were three who liked it even? What other movies did these film professors review, Three Little Pigs?

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  2. I suffered through it because I had heard good things about it, there are few movies on WWII - Pacific, and I wanted to review something obscure. I found the movie in my Video Hound book. It is not the worst movie I have reviewed - that would be "The Siege of Firebase Gloria" (which also got some shockingly good reviews).
    My biggest complaint with film critics is they see so many movies that they are impressed by movies that are different sometimes just because they are different. But there is "Pulp Fiction" and "Memento" different and there is "Beach Red" different. Those first two are "genius" different, Beach Red is "trying too hard to be a genius" different. Also, I find that many critics are judging movies on whether other critics or their film professors would like the movie, not whether your average movie-goer would find it entertaining.

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  3. Burr Debenning? No wonder that guy never made it big. I looked this one up out of curiousity in Leonard Maltin. He gave it 3 stars and a very brief summary: "Hard look at military life in south pacific; attempts to show ugly side of war." Now thats a brief synopsis for you. The title is kinda cool. Both military and symbolic at the same time.
    The only good movie i remember seeing Cornel Wilde in was called The Naked Prey. He spends the whole movie running (mostly naked) from some natives chasing him in british africa. A fringe history movie. The only movie i ever saw a man covered in mud and roasted. Cornel was one of the "pretty boy" actors in his day. About the acting chops of say Rock Hudson on a bad day.
    I been catchin a few unexpected war movies on that new THIS channel on cable. Out of Lake Charles i believe. Recently they showed Tony Curtis (another pretty boy who could actually act)movie set in the pacific called Beachhead. A Beau Bridges vietnam movie called Iron Triangle. It had that Haing S. Ngor actor that was in The Killing Fields. And of course on another note that classic What Did You Do In the War Daddy for Dick Shawn and James Coburn fans. And a very cranky, bushy eyebrowed Archie Bunker. "Ohhhhh, Captain Cash!" I never even realized till watching it again that it was directed by Blake Edwards. They even showed The Vikings with Kirk Douglas/Tony Curtis fighting over a hot Janet Leigh the other night. Very good Viking movie. Who better to play a viking then Ernest Borgnine?
    I wouldnt bet much money against this one appearing soon on THIS!

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  4. Don't mess with the Burr! Anyone who would not change a name like that for his acting career deserves respect. He had many roles over the years.
    Those are some good suggestions for my viewing, thanks.
    You might find the book "Beach Red" interesting.
    I had forgotten about "The Vikings" - we liked that movie as kids. Should be watched as a double bill with "The Long Ships".

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  5. The odd pairing of "old school war movie with avant-garde gimmicks" is what makes the film so interesting to me. That being said, it is certainly strange, clunky, and uneven--so I agree with a lot of what your saying just to wildly different degrees. In fact I think we would disagree on a lot of film criticism judging by this review (ie. on Pulp Fiction being all that "different" or "genius", on the responsibility that film critics have toward the "average movie goer", on the efficacy of special effects "realism", etc.). But anyway, even though it's almost 3 years old I'm glad to a review of this strange, off-beat war film, even if it is a negative one.

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  6. Interesting comments. I see where you are coming from. I happen to love "Pulp Fiction" and would never lump it with "Beach Red". There is competent strange and incompetent strange.

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  7. I find it strange that the movie is about the Marines on this pacific Island. As I read through the book there is no mention of the Marines but there is mention of the Army. The author , Peter Bowman served in the United States army. Most people have no clue that the Army was all over the Pacific during the war. Marines always seem to find a way to capitalize on the Army's glory.

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  8. This is a case where the Army should not complain considering how bad the movie is. My theory as to why the movie was changed from the Army to the Marines was the Marines might have been more willing to cooperate with the requests for help in the production. The Marines provided archival footage. I assume since the Army had less intersting footage. Another factor is the Philippine government provided their Marines. How is the book?

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  9. Don't think there were any Marines involved in "Beach Red" to hold accountable for changing the service from army to marines; it probably better-fit the screenwriters' or Wilde's (who co-scripted it under a pseudonym) dramatic needs. I thought it was a very good attempt to make an antiwar (anti-Viet Nam?) movie on a limited budget. Yeah, it had some clunky moments, but if you're not too anal, they're not hard to tolerate in the course of this before-its-time narrative experiment.

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    1. Thanks for calling me anal! LOL I don't mind avant garde, as long as it does not come off pretentious and silly - which of course is usually the case.

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  10. I just stumbled upon your war movie reviews and every one is great and spot on (i.e., I agree with you). I thought I would comment on this one. I caught it on television maybe ten or more years ago. I have to say it is the most unbearable film I have ever seen. I couldn't take another flashback to a 1960s polaroid that is supposed to be 1940s or another shot of that cockroach. I think I got half way through and turned it off. I suffered from PTSD for about a week. I will give them points for trying something new but it failed utterly and completely.

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    1. Thanks for the compliment. You and I are both flabbergasted that some critics consider it to be a classic.

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