Thursday, November 19, 2015

CLASSIC or ANTIQUE: War Hunt (1962)

                “War Hunt” is another mediocre Korean War movie.  I have to constantly remind myself that there are a lot of bad World War II movies, too.  In fact, I have a collection of 50 of them.  It just seems that the percentage of inferior Korean War movies is the highest of any war.  My theory is that most of the movies were produced during the waning days of Old School style.  This makes most of them seem stodgy.  The war itself did not help matters.  The war was not popular with the public and the studios realized this.  For this reason, they seem to have not put much effort into the movies.  Movies aimed at drive-ins are not going to be high quality. 

                “War Hunt” attempts to defy the stereotype by being provocative.  It was directed by Denis Sanders who had a reputation for taking chances.  As you can imagine, the studios were not that interested in his outside the box ideas.  He only had $250,000 for his budget and made the movie in only 15 days.  Much of the filming was done at night due to the budget.  No surprise that the filmmaker got no help from the Pentagon because the script was not exactly aimed at boosting recruiting or the military image!  This is in spite of the opening narration that mentions that the combat infantryman was the “tip of the spear”.  Unfortunately, the Army read the rest of the script.

                The movie is set in the closing months of the war.  A small unit is part of the U.S. effort to inflict pain to hurry along the peace negotiations.  This is actually a cogent analysis of the strategy of that time.  A replacement named Loomis (Robert Redford in his screen debut) arrives.  The unit is regaled by loudspeaker proclamations from Radio China and the Dragon Lady.  Loomis is introduced to the unit’s resident psycho serial killer named Endore (John Saxon).  Endore goes “AWOL in the wrong direction” each night.  He uses a knife to kill enemy soldiers.  The rest of the squad leaves him alone and the CO condones his actions because it’s a dirty little war.  Endore has adopted an orphaned little Korean boy named Charlie who is part of the fine tradition of “Short Round” from “Steel Helmet”.  Loomis decides to challenge Endore for the soul of the boy.  Things come to a head when the war ends and Endore is suddenly a murderer, not a dedicated warrior.

                “War Hunt” is a strange movie.  It plays like an American Playhouse drama.  This is especially evident in the lack of action.  This was undoubtedly due to the low budget.  There is a scene when Loomis is on outpost duty.  The Chinese attack.  The bombardment is not bad for a small movie and the sound effects are good.  Since it is necessarily at night. flares and lights are used effectively.  The assault is more of a human ripple than a human wave. but it’s not a bad effort.

                The best thing about the movie is the cast.  It includes Gavin McLeod, Tom Skerritt,  and Sydney Pollack.  Pollack and Redford began a friendship which led to collaboration in seven movies directed by Pollack.  Redford acquits himself well in his debut.  He definitely comes off as a future star.  Even then he had a clause in his contract that his hair could not be messed with.  Saxon underplays Endore effectively.  The movie uses eerie flute music and snare drums and some POV to depict how unhinged his character is.
                You have to give the movie credit for being different.  The theme reflects the fact that some Korean War movies anticipated the Vietnam War movies in their cynicism.  In this case, the statement is that killing is fine as long as there is a war on, then what?   



  1. Hello, i'm following this blog for over a year now.
    So, i compiled a list of the movies that you haven't reviewed here yet.
    1) 317 Platoon(1965) (French)
    2) A quite popular finnish 1989 film Talvisota(Winter War). I'm actually surprised you haven't looked it yet.
    3)Framom främsta linjen (2004) and a sequel
    4)Tali-Ihantala 1944 (2007). First film follows up a unit and the second one is more about a battle.
    5) Szwadron(1992).(Squadron). Interesting polish film telling about 1863 anti-russian rebellion from the russian dragoon officer perspective.
    6)The McKenzie Break (1970)
    And the french film about algerian war
    7)l'ennemi intime (2007)
    Hope you enjoy.

    1. Thanks. I have reviewed but not posted on 317 Platoon, The McKenzie Break, and Talvisota. I will see about the others.

    2. Also forgot about this one -
      Those finnish movies definitely have english subtitles available to them, not so sure about Squadron though. Are you going to post those three here? Interested in your opinion on them. For me, they all great, 317 Platoon especially. McKenzie Break is obviously a B-category but still a good one.

  2. Like to know what James Jones thought of War Hunt? In his 1963 magazine article I've referenced previously, he wrote (he was comparing it to Men in War):

    "Yet in comparison to the third Korean film I saw, it can at least be called a fairly serious effort. This third one, a recent (1962), highly advertised (again that big word: 'Realistic!') film called 'War Hunt,' is probably the most dishonest war film I've ever seen, The sorry thing is that it begins marvelously and contains some of the best-filmed episodes of what it's like to be in a modern war that I have seen. The first time I saw it, I thought excitedly for a while that here was the masterpiece which in our day and age would compare with 'All Quiet on the Western Front.' At one point a filmed barrage had me flinching and ducking in my seat. Unhappily, long before it was over it degenerates into the nothing story of a 'pathological killer' straight out of some first-year college psych textbook, complete with the full catalog of symptoms. It hardly deserved mention here, except that the second time I saw it I decided to try and study it to find out at what point in the story it went bad. Interestingly, I found that this point coincides exactly with the point where the moral issue is clearly stated and moral battle joined (the fight for the Soul of a little Korean boy) between the idealistic good guy and the bad-guy killer."

    "There is a scene in the trucks as they drive for the front line, and the little Korean boy goes with them, which rather archly but not without subtlety suggests there might be a homosexual relationship between the killer and the boy--though this is never even alluded to again. There is a pretty good battle. Then our hero tries to give a baseball glove to the boy and has it coldly returned by the killer, and everything goes to hell. The kid prefers his knife. Baseball equals healthy children; knives do not. Moral issue has been stated, moral battle has been joined."

    "The killer is mad; therefore what applies to other infantrymen does not apply to him. From here on out it's a kindergarten morality lesson, and there's no use staying to the inevitable, sickening end."

    "It's a shame things like this have to happen. Usually in a case like this, assuming the writer is a serious man and not just a hack, it is the director and/or the producer who for esthetic or business reasons of their own (and there is always the Code to watch out for!) attempt to impose upon material they do not really understand a preconceived morality symbol. But life will simply not be pigeon-holed like that--even by totalitarian governments. Coloring books with the drawings complete and the color areas numbered are for children, not for painters. And what might have been great films get ruined."

    1. Wow, that is awesome. Thank you so much. Makes a lot of sense, although I would have to say the homosexual theory is a real stretch. It is inconceivable that a movie of that time and that genre would even hint at that. Other than that, every thing he says is spot on.

  3. I like your profile and thanks for sharing this blog. War movies are really awesome based on almost true stories. Really love it.

    1. Thank you. I often think I shared too much in my profile.

  4. What did James Jones dislike about war films in general, circa 1963? Comparing The Guns of Navarone to reality:

    "Now how does this compare with death in actual war? Well, it doesn't compare at all. Most deaths in infantry combat are due to arbitrary chance, a totally random selection by which an unknown enemy drops a mortar or artillery shell onto, or punches an MG bullet into, a man he never has seen before--and perhaps never sees at all! Such a death is totally reasonless and pointless from the viewpoint of the individual, because it might just as well have been the man next to him. It only has meaning when it is viewed numerically from a higher echelon by those who count the ciphers. And for that very reason it is a much more terrifying death to the individual soldier, AND to an audience seeking "meaning." About the only good thing that can be said for such a death, really, is that the individual is generally so dehumanized already, and so dulled emotionally and mentally, that being killed doesn't really hurt him half as much as he may have imagined it would."

    "Why is that information not put into modern war films? It was certainly included in the original All Quiet on the Western Front long, long, ago, wasn't it? Today in the United States (as well as in Russia! where their war films are even worse than ours, despite the Eisenstein techniques) there is no such thing as an antiwar film. They all pretend to be: "nobody likes war"; but the true test of a TRUE anti war film is whether or not it shows that modern war destroys human character. None of these films does. Instead, they show that (for our side, if not the enemy) war develops and enlarges human character, through the exercise of personal courage. If All Quiet were produced in America today (or in Russia) about the American Army (or the Russian) of World War II, it would be labeled cowardly, defeatist, unpatriotic, even 'pro-pacifist'! Why? The quickest and easiest answer to give is that the mood of the United States today (and of course Russia!) simply cannot afford to admit that modern warfare (and I mean prenuclear war!) is, i.e., essential dehumanization; if it did, it's 'citizen' soldiers (heh, heh) would not be nearly so willing to become part of it."

    "And there may be some truth in this answer too."

    1. That all may be true, but don't forget that movies are predominately made to make a profit. I do not think there is a large audience for the type of movies you are encouraging. You could make the same points about most war novels as well so it's not just a cinema problem. Only some of the better memoirs do justice to the random nature of war. As far as dehumanization, I feel modern war movies have done a fair job on that. "Platoon" comes to mind right off hand.


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