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Friday, January 20, 2017

Pork Chop Hill

What is the best film ever made about the Korean War? There haven't been too many of them. Some may say M*A*S*H, which really wasn't about Korea but Vietnam. The worst is probably Inchon, but the best may be Pork Chop Hill, a straight-forward battle film that manages to be very critical of wars operated for political reasons.

Gregory Peck plays a lieutenant in charge of a platoon that is told to take the title hill. The hill has no strategic value, and the last group that tried to take it suffered heavy casualties. The war is near the end, and negotiators are hammering out a peace treaty, but Pork Chop Hill becomes a pawn in their negotiating, completely ignoring the loss of life.

Peck's men take the hill, but realize they can't hold it unless they get reinforcements and they are not allowed to withdraw. Like the film and subsequent TV show of M*A*S*H, the insanity and futility of war is on full display.

The film was released in 1959 and was one of the last films by Lewis Milestone. It has a large cast of actors who would later become more famous. I was able to spot Martin Landau, Robert Blake, Norman Fell, and eventually Rip Torn, who of course looked or sounded nothing like his later character of Artie on The Larry Sanders Show, but I recognized his eyes. There are also brief appearances by Harry Dean Stanton, George Peppard, Harry Guardino, and Gavin MacLeod (whom I did not spot).

The cast was diverse, as the army had been desegregated, and Woody Strode plays a black soldier who exhibits cowardice (but there is another black soldier, played by Clarence Williams III, who is brave, so I guess they felt things were balanced)> A key role is played by George Shibata as a Japanese-American lieutenant (who was an actual soldier). He's great, playing a guy with a droll sense of humor. He is assigned to lead a bayonet charge, and says, "My people have a way with this Banzai stuff."

Almost the entire film is the battle, and it's done extremely well. It reminded me of playing with G.I. Joes when I was a kid. A first-class effort all the way round.

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