In 1959 a movie starring Gregory Peck came out about the Korean War. In that same year another movie that became legendary was released that concerned World War II about the submarine warfare of in the Pacific. It starred Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable while also launching the film career of comedian, Don Rickles. I suppose "Pork Chop Hill" was overshadowed by a typical Hollywood glorified war movie with two well known leading men using the traditional all-American formula of hero worship was going to overcome realism and it did. The American audience had had its stomach full of war and what it had cost so many families in terms of young men and the sacrifices made at home so movie makers wanted to stay away from meaningful issues and just make another entertaining feel good war movie even though "Run Silent Run Deep" was not necessarily your everyday formula war movie. However, Pork Chop Hill starring Gregory Peck and introducing a number of unknown supporting actors, two of them being Rip Torn and Harry Guardino was an all together different animal.
The gradual transformation
For years Hollywood made war movies that were more about positive propaganda and supporting the war effort while maintaining the morale of the American public rather than later films that centered around exposing the harshness of war while demonizing the American soldier. John Wayne, the long respected leading man of war movies once said during the Academy Awards that blood, gore and realism wasn't the kind of stuff of entertainment. The audience wanted to feel good when they left the movie theater. However, sooner or later the movies were going to begin to reflect a new critical attitude toward wars fought by US service men and they weren't going to be so glorious unless there was a political agenda Hollywood supported.
A different angle
Predating more bloody and realistic movies such as "Hamburger Hill" "Saving Private Ryan" and "Platoon" movies centered around some history revision and attacks upon American soldiers for their conduct under the horrors of battle, "Pork Chop Hill" centered itself around a type of realism that called into question the sacrifice of our soldiers for political purpose and featured a weary USMC field commander, Gregory Peck, enduring impossible orders with not enough men, not enough ammunition, and not enough logistical support from his superiors at HQ. The film is in black and white and without the unnecessary images of intestines hanging out of a man's abdomen or a soldier looking at his own shoulder to see nothing but a broken off bloody bone where his arm once was, still the terrible toll among the soldiers is portrayed brilliantly by the director who, no doubt, had excellent military consultation to make the re-enactment historically accurate.
Test of wills
One can almost feel the desperation mounting, the exhaustion of the commander as he is further and further driven to almost madness as each promised reinforcement is withdrawn from his fighting unit as Communist and American negotiators hammer out cease fire talks and play chess with the lives of outnumbered US Marines forced to take a hill that has no strategic value, but must portray the will of the American forces to hold on and convey a message of defiance against Chinese Communists who think nothing of sacrificing thousands of their men like so many chickens ready for the poultry processor! One begins to understand how diplomacy can be a pathetic excuse to consider human lives of no more importance than being expendable!
One has to remember that historically President Truman began the practice of tying one of the American military's arms behind their back as conflicts like Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East drained our nation of its finest resource, the lives of our young men and women, because of the greed and ambition of those who would exploit life over their personal ambitions. The maneuvers, the assaults, the constant bombardment, the terrain, and the misery of men fighting for their lives and realizing their leaders may be selling them out are all portrayed in the movie, but without political agenda.
As it goes, once the beleaguered Marines capture Pork Chop Hill against all odds, they must now defend it against reinforced Chinese troops willing to retake what they just lost. At one point Gregory Pecks assistant officer, a South Korean, mentions that while taking the hill they are having to resort to World War One bayonet charge tactics. Something they had been assured would never happen again in modern warfare! So, as the Marines run out of ammunition and the enemy is now storming the slopes they begin to take up their last position in a bombed out command post shot full of holes from mortar shells and gunfire. Gregory Peck orders the remaining sharpshooters to retreat into what looks to be a tomb for the surviving defenders.
A certain end
The US Marines immediately begin sandbagging the walls as the Chinese troops bring in a flamethrower and begin trying to burn out the Marines. Desperately piling bags of sand against the onslaught of the fiery tongue of the chemically activated flames! Suddenly, one of the soldiers hears something and for the first time their enemies halt their incessant assault upon the weary Marines. It is the sound of battle cries of American reinforcements storming the hill and driving the Chinese and North Koreans off the slopes with their rifles blazing! Gregory Peck and his men convinced that they were facing certain death, are now saved. They laugh and embrace while pulling away the sand bags that would have been their tomb. The point finally being made that the negotiations success would not hinge upon men who had been abandoned and allowed to be slaughtered just to attain an enemy dictated peace agreement. A lesson we should have learned years later in a place called Saigon.
Why is this movie important to me? All the years I sat alongside my Dad watching these old war movies as a little kid not realizing what my own father had gone through as I viewed these good old red blooded patriotic Hollywood films dismissing the true horrors and lost lives for a new plot or another angle on how to get an audience to come back for more! it was not until years later after my mother had passed away from cancer and my Dad was in his final years that I found out that his artillery unit served right next door to Pork Chop Hill, one of the bloodiest battles of the Korean War where even the South Korean troop support for his outfit deserted and the his men were left totally exposed. He served 2 tours of duty there. The movie does have a certain value of recognition and realism to it that war films before lacked. There are some other really excellent war movies that have been made, but this one for me especially stands out. We as Americans should never forget what our brave sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, and even women went through so that we could remain free and our allies could count on us too. They say that those who have seen the worst of the action talk about it the least. I have found that to be very true.
Thanks Chris always nice to have your support!
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