BACK-STORY: “Pork Chop Hill” is arguably the most famous and best movie about the Korean War. It was directed by Lewis Milestone of “All Quiet…” fame. PCH was his last war movie. It was released in 1959. The screenplay is based on the nonfiction book by the famous war author S.L.A. Marshall (SLAM). Gregory Peck’s character (Joe Clemons) acted as technical adviser on the film. Clemons was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for the battle. The movie is populated by many familiar actors from the 1960s and includes a small role by Barry McGuire of future “Eve of Destruction” one hit wonder fame.
OPENING: GIs are listening to a Chinese propaganda broadcast coming over a loudspeaker system. They are living in trenches similar to WWI. The Chinese broadcaster promises if they give up, the Chicoms will quit, too. Screenwords tell us we are at a reserve position near Pork Chop Hill which is seventy miles from the peace talks being held at Panmunjom. The year is 1953.
|King Company wondering why it's always King Company|
|Ohashi and Clemons|
|enemy in the trenches|
|Robert Blake as Pvt. Velie|
There is an awkward transition to daylight. Weirdly, they are now further from the Communist trenches than they were in the previous scene. The Chinese now give way too easily. The Chicoms launch a flank attack that fizzles for no apparent reason. King Company occupies the trenches tenuously having lost a large percentage of its men. They have a joyful reunion with the survivors of Easy Company who had taken refuge in a bunker. The reunion is cut short when an artillery round smashes into them. C’est la guerre.
|Catch, Yankee dogs!|
Things seem to be looking up when Clemons’ brother-in-law Lt. Russell (Rip Torn) arrives with George Company. The back-slapping ends abruptly with word that the rear has ordered George to withdraw because they don’t want to lose any more men on the hill! Clemons is left with only 25 men to defend the whole hill. One of those men is Franklin who is still a reluctant warrior and in a confrontation with Clemons threatens to shoot him. Clemons tries to shame the coward into fighting alongside his comrades. Gregory Peck + 1950s movie + black guy can’t remain a coward + redemption theme = Franklin mends his ways.
Acting - 8
Action - 8
Accuracy - 9
Plot - 8
Realism - 8
Overall - 9
WILL CHICKS DIG IT? No. It is totally a guy movie. In fact there is only one woman in the entire film. A Chinese woman brings a note to the propaganda dude. She's wearing a negligee. Not really.
HISTORICAL ACCURACY: The movie could have used more background, complete with maps. The action portrayed in the movie took place after the fall of a more strategic hill called Old Baldy. That loss left Pork Chop Hill sticking out like a sore thumb in front of the main line of resistance and dominated by higher hills. This information would have been cogent to the plot because attempting to hold PCH was strategically and tactically unsound. The defense was purely to make up for the loss of Old Baldy and avoid another propaganda debacle. This makes the final post script ridiculous.
The pre-battle situation and plan are accurately depicted. The attack itself is pretty close to the real deal which is to be expected given Clemons’ involvement as the technical advisor. They did cross the barbed wire on soldiers’ bodies. However, they were not under fire until they reached the trenches unlike in the movie. The discovery of survivors in a bunker and the subsequent short round did happen. The arrival of Love with only a dozen men and the later arrival of George led by Clemons’ brother-in-law are authentic. The withdrawal of George is correctly represented as brainless, but the movie does not make it clear that part of the fault was Clemons not mentioning the shortage of men when he begged for resupply.
There were many more grenades thrown by both sides than shown in the movie and the artillery was also short-changed. This battle involved more artillery fire by our side than almost any American battle in history. It was almost continuous through the two days. Speaking of weapons, the movie is outstanding in that respect. Even the Chinese are using appropriate weapons. The movie does a poor job of portraying the incredible exhaustion of the men. In fact, this plus the lack of water meant that before the final enemy assault the Americans did not talk due to parched throats. Hollywood could not abide with that!
|Hollywood loves fire|
CRITIQUE: “Pork Chop Hill” has been described as the best Korean War B-Movie. That’s not as impressive as it sounds considering the quality of those other Korean War B-Movies. (BTW why are almost all the Korean War movies low budget?) With that said, it is very good for what it is. The acting is solid. Not surprising considering the cast. Peck is Peck. Did he ever make a bad movie? Harry Guardino, Rip Torn, George Peppard, Robert Blake, the great Woody Strode. ‘Nuf said. The cinematography is a crisp black and white. The scenes are shot close. You seldom see more than a few men in the shot. The sound effects are realistic. The sound track is sparse and is not used to set moods. In spots, it reminded me of music from the series “Combat!” The sets are well done for a low budget effort. The dialogue is refreshingly cynical in its commentary on war.
|Fedderson and Forstman|
PCH is one of the best company level movies ever made. It is not a small unit dynamics movie ala “Platoon”. There is little dysfunctionality other than with Franklin (who is a fictional character). One fault of the movie is because it concentrates on such a small picture that some of the actions defy reality. Why do the Chinese who vastly outnumber the Americans give up so easily at times? It is hard to justify the American success given what we see on the screen.
The biggest strength of the film is its historical accuracy. It is one of the best movies covering a battle. Considering the war is known as the “Forgotten War”, it is nice that a typical battle gets the featured treatment. It reminds one of “Hamburger Hill” in its battles-can-be-futile theme. It also has a similar take on how command decisions based on political factors can result in unnecessary squandering of lives.
CONCLUSION: “Pork Chop Hill” is underrated at #39. It is one of the most realistic battle films and one of the best small unit movies. Considering when it was made and the budget, it is clearly a classic. It holds up very well and if it had been made with the modern sensibilities that allowed for the realistic violence and language in "Hamburger Hill", it would be superior to that movie. It also deserves credit for representing the “Forgotten War” well.
Chinese propaganda dude