January 1968, Vietnam, and the Tet Offensive is about to get underway, a turning point in the conflict though for the American troops on the ground, all it means is a further test of endurance. One platoon, led by Sergeant Hafner (R. Lee Ermey), is making its way cross country to safety, aware the Viet Cong could be hiding anywhere and ready to attack. Hafner's right hand man is Di Nardo (Wings Hauser) who he regards as the brother he never had, and with that bond comes an acknowledgement that the younger man can be a loose cannon, but once they arrive at a village to see every villager executed even Di Nardo is shocked. Then they hear a child crying - a survivor?
Yes, it's Dondi, he's in the wrong war! Ah no, it wasn't Dondi, but it might as well have been for one of those nineteen-eighties Vietnam War pictures which proliferated in that decade as the Americans came to terms with their defeat. Except this one had a difference, this wasn't soul searching from a Hollywood team, this was actuallly an Australian effort made in the Philippines, and Brian Trenchard-Smith was the man at the helm. His output may generate a mixed reaction to say the least, but he was one of those prolific directors who every so often would strike a chord with his intended audience and thus built up a fanbase of sorts. In the case of this, that fanbase was from war flick fans and those who had experience of the conflict.
Trenchard-Smith must have been proud to hear his work described as authentic by many of those who had been there, but then again on watching it this did have you wondering how accurate their memories were, because from many angles this looked like someone trying to update the template of the old World War II propaganda movies with a heavy dose of newfangled eighties violence. Indeed, although the battles we see are undeniably merciless in their intensity, no matter Ermey's credible script input they frequently lapsed into hoary old clichés which you would not have seen Francis Ford Coppola or Oliver Stone leaning on; Samuel Fuller appeared to be the touchstone in the script, a man who knew his way around combat, but these results were corny in comparison.
From guns that never run out of bullets to the audience being expected to cheer on the Americans slaughtering the wounded survivors among the enemy, there was something distinctly dodgy about The Siege of Firebase Gloria that went beyond the usual issues that you might have with war productions. Every so often they would throw up an interesting element, such as the nudist Captain in charge of the titular firebase whose mind has gone AWOL and is more interested in Playboy Centerfolds, but then we had to get sentimental with the little kid now remamed Pee-Wee who the gung-ho Di Nardo feels a connection to since - get this - he lost his own son recently, a detail which emerges when he's having a drunken heart to heart with Hafner.
Now, it could well be the case that clichés and stereotypes when it comes to the cinematic depiction of war become so for a reason, but unless you were fully invested in the siege we were watching for the most part this would leave you groaning. Whether it was the peace-loving nurse (Margi Gerard) who is forced to take up arms to the G.I. who rejoices when the action appears to be over only to be gunned down, arms aloft, just to illustrate the cruel ironies of war, you would get more depth in your typical war comic book. Culminating in an act of murder from one American to another which is somehow supposed to be noble after all we've seen, there was also a Vietnamese officer who we follow for presumed balance, but ends up staring at the devastated battlefield recognising that the Americans had really kicked the Viet Cong's asses, not in so many words but it did have you pondering these Australians were darn keen to paint the whole tragic conflict as somehow an American victory. Maybe they knew their market, but this didn't wish you to think that far. Tinny military synth music by Paul Schutze.