In honor of the HBO mini series The Pacific, this week’s pick goes out to the “devil dogs” of the United States Marine Corp with the 1967 release Beach Red, directed by and starring Cornel Wilde. Beach Red is a “Vietnam morale booster” which came out at a very critical time during America’s involvement in Vietnam.
The film centers around a company of Marines (commanded by Wilde) who storm a Pacific hell hole of an island to take it back from the Japanese. A majority of the film is told through a series of montages/narration by both American & Japanese who are tired of fighting, and of the war (very similar plot to Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers & Letters From Iwo Jima.) Captain MacDonald (Wilde) and Gunnery Sgt. Ben Honeywell, played ever so convincingly by veteran character actor, and one who confuses his home with a local bank Rip Torn, lead the cast.
The scenes involving the Marines invading the beach head are quite well done, even though a majority of it is stock footage that Wilde spent a considerable amount of money on in order for the deteriorating film stock to match up with his film. Many of the scenes are somewhat “Saving Private Ryan like” in which there are shots in the water, and jerky camera movements which show the disorienting nature of combat.
Spielberg may have shot those scenes in Saving Private Ryan as an homage to Wilde’s directing style. When the film was wrapped and it was shown to some high ranking officials in the USMC, they thanked Wilde for doing a great job at restoring the old combat footage and that they personally didn’t have to restore the footage themselves. I trust the money they saved went towards helping many veterans, and those still fighting in the jungles of Vietnam?
Wilde tried to get considerable technical support from the USMC but due to the escalation of the Vietnam War and more Marines being needed to lend support to the U.S. Army and the South Vietnamese, Wilde was forced to use Filipino extras and off duty Filipino soldiers as stand ins. According to IMDB.Com, certain scenes were shot which took a lot of careful planning and execution. In one scene, extras dashed out of camera sight because they weren’t in their Marine dungarees, but in jeans and sneakers.
Rip Torn does an absolutely amazing job as the Gunny, whose job as a non commissioned officer is to look out for the safety of the 180 or so men in the outfit. Other roles Torn had played in, most notably as an extra in the Korean War flick Pork Chop Hill (1958) have the same feel, yet are different due to the complexity of the character.
In one scene when the Marine company is moving inland to capture dug in Japanese defenses, Torn belts out a line (the best line) to his men which shows just what type of combat conditions the average U.S. Marine faced in the many island hopping campaigns in the Pacific during World War II. “I’m gonna bayonet ‘em, break their arms, so they don’t give me no more trouble! That’s what we’re here for…to kill…the rest is all bullshit!”
Beach Red wasn’t a very popular film which broke box office records, but it garnered a place among those who were veterans, and those who were now fighting under similar conditions in Vietnam. It was however, a film able to be considered for a 1968 Academy Award nomination for best editing by Frank P. Keller who served with Wilde for the production of the film.
Beach Red is available on DVD through MGM/United Artists and can be rented through Netflix.