Tuesday, October 18, 2016

LIVE: The Siege of Firebase Gloria

       Note:  Ever since my original, less than complimentary review of “The Siege of Firebase Gloria”, I have gotten considerable grief from fans of the movie.  Some of these complaints have come from people I respect.  This has encouraged me to give the movie a second look.  This relook has taken the form of one of my “Live” reviews, which means it consists mainly of snarky comments as the movie unfolds.  Basically, the less snark, the better the movie.

                Credits include:  “And Albert Popwell as ‘Jones’” -  who the Hell is Albert Popwell and why does he merit a “shoutout”?  //  a crawl gives background to the Tet Offensive and informs us that several American units got cut off – the movie is dedicated to those isolated units;  at least it doesn’t claim it is a true story  //  a Long Range Patrol led by Sgt. Hafner (R. Lee Ermey – a good reason to keep watching no matter what) moves into the village of An Lap – they find enough impaled heads to keep a budget-minded props department busy for a while  //  Hafner’s rotten kid brother from another mother Dinardo (Wings Hauser) befriends the lone survivor – a little boy that he named Pee Wee (since Short Round was already taken);  who needs a dog?  //  On gazing at a pile of kids, Dinardo:  “This is insanity.”  Hafner:  “This is effective.  Charlie has the valley by the balls.”  //  Dinardo discovers a VC cave hideout.  Hafner goes in armed only with a machete and rescues a tortured prisoner.  //  The squad approaches some Vietnamese who they strongly suspect are VC, and yet they bring the wounded grunt and the kid with them.  Naturally, a firefight breaks out with all the enemy killed (none wounded) and none of the Americans get even a scratch.  //  They are picked up by a chopper which proceeds to get shot down, but conveniently crashes in Firebase Gloria.  //  The defenders are all either smoking dope or drinking beer.  Just like “Platoon”!  Hafner and Dinardo meet the CO who happens to be the biggest druggie of them all.  Plus he’s naked.  His interview to avoid being fragged does not go well.  //  Suddenly, Hafner is in charge and kicking ass.  ( I would not be surprised if the same thing did not happen between Ermey and director Trenchard-Smith.)  //  Here comes Sgt. Jones from a one man recon mission.  Hey, Popwell is Clint Eastwood’s go-to black badass from his “Dirty Harry” films!  He did not “feel lucky” in “Dirty Harry” and he does not feel lucky to be in FBG.  I am watching a movie where the arrival of Albert Popwell significantly ups the entertainment value.   //   Hafner visits the aid station and finds that this obscure firebase has a contingent of nurses doing “field exercises” (or at least that is the excuse we are given for having round-eyes in the movie).  //  Speaking of chicks, two Vietnamese girls approach the camp but before they can say “me so horny”, Dinardo fires at them and they blow up.  It’s his idea of safe sex.  //  We meet the VC leader who seems like a worthy opponent.  We can empathize with him because he is being pressured by his bosses to wipe out the Yanks or the NVA are going to take over the war.  Those northern pricks!  His brilliant plan is to channel the WWII Japanese and launch a full frontal attack on the fort.  Only not at night like those pansy Japs.  // Banzai I -  think “Starship Troopers”, but with more theatrical deaths;  not a single soldier changes clips (in the entire movie);  the VC retreat after enough have been killed to sate the audience  //  After the battle, Dinardo sends some men out to finish off the wounded – not that there are many of them.  This must be the scene that the movie’s supporters claim makes the movie grittily realistic.  And some would say implies that American soldiers routinely committed atrocities and war crimes.  //  In a similar vein, Dinardo tortures a prisoner for information.  // Dinardo, Short Wave, and Murphy infiltrate the enemy camp at night to position some Claymores (without wires).  (Hey R. Lee, how about a “Mail Call” segment on how a Claymore works?)  These blow up later for some unexplainable reason other than the movie needed some more explosions.  //  Murphy talks about his upcoming nuptuals and Short Wave has only 17 days left in country.  I wonder if the movie will have a post script where Short Wave attends the wedding?  And Dinardo gives away the bride.  //  Banzai II  -  still daytime;  Dinardo shoots from the hip and uses a machete;  Hafner uses his bayonet;  some blood, but limited number of squibs so most deaths are clean;  the firebase is small and yet the Americans keep dropping back to their next line of defense – if this keeps up, the grunts will be defending on the outside of the wire  //  film throws in a hot shot chopper pilot named Moran (Gary Hershberger – the poor man’s Gary Busey) who gets the movie’s cheesiest lines besides the usual “yee has” and “shit yeahs”;  this character also gives the movie the chance to rain down death from above  //  Hafner and Dinardo discuss the war;  Dinardo:  “Fucking war.  They call it a police action.”  Hafner points out that the term refers to the Korean War – just kidding.  Hafner:  “This has dick to do with dinks.”  (how can you hate a movie with a line like that?)   I hope to remember that line instead of Hauser’s painful portrayal of a Marine tormented by the death of his brother.  I seriously consider shooting myself in the foot to get out of this scene.  //  While they are expostulating, the dinks sneak into the camp and behead a machine gun crew (these are the same guys who insist on daylight frontal attacks).  Hafner walks around with two severed heads and gives a speech.  (Just like when R. Lee would wake up his kids at home.)  //  Banzai III -  the VC leader leads this assault so he can have a duel with Hafner;  when the VC break into the aid station, the head nurse machine guns several (so much for pacifism!);  the VC commander shoots Dinardo as he rescues/kidnaps Pee Wee;  Dinardo gets his big death scene and Hafner gets to send him off like a man and ahead of a court-martial for war crimes  //  Pee Wee ends up with his own people instead of a psychotic American – boo!

ANALYSIS:  Trenchard-Smith went on to direct “Leprechaun 3 and 4” as well as James Belushi in “Sahara”.  Speaking of Belushi, the acting in “Firebase Gloria” is James Belushi-esque.  Only Ermey (and Popwell, of course) don’t deserve to be fragged.  Ermey, who apparently wrote the screenplay, hogged all the good lines for himself.  He plays himself and makes sure it’s not his character that sets up the Claymores.  Without him, the movie would not be the great Vietnam War movie that it is (according to its fans).  Hauser, who is inexplicably top-billed, acts like the kind of guy that would go on to write “Uncommon Valor”. But let’s face it, no one watches this movie for the acting or the plot or the proper use of weapons.  They watch it because it is combat porn.  And there are three big set piece battles.  Sure, they are redundant, but who can get enough of gook slaughtering?



  1. I watched Siege of Fire Base Gloria (again) a few days ago on a movie channel. As Michael Lanning said in his 1994 book, Vietnam at the Movies, "the film is as bad as the dialogue."

    One of the things seen in several ("Apocalypse Now" for another example) Vietnam films is the fire base which doesn't have anybody in charge.

    Lee Ermey takes command when he arrives.

    It jumped out at me when Hauser/Dinardo said "They call it a police action." This term was NEVER used about Vietnam.

    To me, it's worse with each successive viewing.

    1. Agree. I do not know why some people think it is a good movie.

    2. It's horrible. To be honest, a firebase where nobody is in charge was an occasional occurrence. Today, in fact, I finished reading Abandoned in Hell (about Firebase Kate, an actual firebase) and the author, who took command from another officer, said that even though they were within artillery range of a NVA training camp in Cambodia, nothing was done before he arrived to prepare the base for possible attack (the base as actually built to draw the NVA into attacking). And in combat areas it was common for one commander to hop off an incoming helicopter and the outgoing commander to hop in at the same time - no briefing or debriefing, just getting the hell out of Dodge.


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.