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  Beach Red Hell In The Pacific
Year: 1967
Director: Cornel Wilde
Stars: Cornel Wilde, Rip Torn, Burr DeBenning, Patrick Wolfe, Jean Wallace, Jame Sánchez, Dale Ishimoto, Genki Koyama, Gene Blakely, Michael Parsons, Norman Pak, Dewey Stringer, Fred Galang, Hiroshi Kiyama, Michio Hamaza, Linda Albertano
Genre: WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The war in the Pacific, World War II, and an American troop ship is about to land on the beaches of one of the islands there to storm it and wrestle the control from the Japanese, but among those soldiers there is an understandable nervousness, even a simmering panic in some cases, that they may be about to meet their imminent demise. As if that wasn't enough, their potential final moments may be captured on newsreel film by a very persistent cameraman, but for the Captain, MacDonald (Cornel Wilde), he cannot show any weakness though he desperately misses his wife (Jean Wallace) and she is the only thing keeping him going. Then the island looms up, the landing craft hits the shore, and it’s time to go...

Beach Red was a fairly obscure war movie from the era when such subjects were growing ever more contentious as there was a far more controversial conflict occurring in Vietnam. There was no mention of any of that here, yet it would have been on the minds of everyone who watched it in 1967 since director and star Wilde was presenting the heat of battle in a manner that could not help but make the audience contemplate what it would actually be like to be fighting. As with many a Hollywood Vietnam war flick from then on, this was shot in the American productions-friendly Philippines, so there was another connection to have us ponder whether lives had been wasted in that particular turmoil.

In fact, when Beach Red was released it was not controversial for its parallels with current conflicts, but because it was depicting that with more brutality than had really been much seen on the big screen before, at least in Western movies, with limbs blown off and gory wounds to be confronted with. For that reason, among others, what had become a rather forgotten effort for most of its life between then and the late nineties suddenly became a genuine cult movie, because it had patently influenced two major motion pictures based around the Second World War, Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan from Steven Speilberg. The latter especially featured a lengthy opening that looked very like a template taken from this.

While the Malick had philosophical voiceovers and much the same setting, which though Wilde had adapted from the idiosyncratic novel by Peter Bowman, looked to have been a strong inspiration to the much respected director as well. Indeed, so similar to those two better known works was this that it is now impossible to discuss Wilde's project without making some reference to them both, which was a sign that he may have been premature in being aware of both the populist and arthouse audiences wanted from their war movies, but some very important talents caught up with him eventually. Nevertheless, though a fairly well know movie star, his move into directing didn't exactly set the world on fire when it was initially brought to the world, being regarded as another actor getting ideas above his station.

Yet Wilde was something more than that "but what I really want to do is direct" cliché that afflicts the reaction to stars who went behind the camera, as he had a specific, man of action point of view to his films containing an integrity that spoke to being aware there were situations in this life that were perilous and a huge test of the nerve, but that was what made us human, this ability to face up to these trials and tribulations. In this case, he settled on three characters to sum that up, his Captain persona and the young troops who become fast friends, Egan (Burr DeBenning) and Cliff (Patrick Wolfe); as with much of this, a certain earnestness was present which veered close to corny, despite its tempering from the violence, but with that came sincerity, and you felt Wilde was very compassionate towards not simply the Americans but the Japanese too, as we had their Captain (Dale Ishimoto) reminiscing about his own family as MacDonald did. Rip Torn was probably the biggest name in the cast now, a no-nonsense sergeant, but everyone acquitted themselves well. Maybe not a classic, but it had worth. Music by Antonio Buenaventura (the song Wilde's wife Wallace sings may not be to all tastes, and plants this in the sixties).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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