BATTLE HYMN (director: Douglas Sirk; screenwriters: Vincent B. Evans/Charles Grayson; cinematographer: Russell Metty; editor: Russell F. Schoengarth; music: Frank Skinner; cast: Rock Hudson (Dean Hess), Anna Kashfi (En Soon Yang), Dan Duryea (Sergeant Herman), Don Defore (Captain Skidmore), Martha Hyer (Mary Hess), Jock Mahoney (Major Moore), Alan Hale (Mess Sergeant), James Edwards (Lieutenant Maples), Carl Benton Reid (Deacon Edwards), Richard Loo (General Kim), Philip Ahn (Old Man); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ross Hunter; MCA/Universal Home Video; 1957)
“At best it’s a serviceable war drama, that if it were not in Sirk’s capable hands would have probably suffered an even more disastrous fate.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Douglas Sirk (“Written on the Wind”/”Interlude”/”Take me To Town”) helms a conventional biopic, filled with wartime clichés, that’s based on the true story of Colonel Dean ‘Killer’ Hess (Rock Hudson), a pilot-turned-preacher. It’s written by Vincent B. Evans and Charles Grayson. At best it’s a serviceable war drama, that if it were not in Sirk’s capable hands would have probably suffered an even more disastrous fate.
Hess sold his life story to Universal through screenwriter Charles Grayson for $60,000, a sum he needed to repair the orphanage he supported in South Korea. He also acted as technical adviser to the film, a reason the aerial fight scenes are supposedly accurately depicted.
Hess is overcome with guilt at having been the pilot who bombed an orphanage in Germany during WWII, killing 37 orphans, and this guilt-trip leads him to become a minister back in his small-town Ohio hamlet. But he feels he’s not cut out for preaching after two years and after South Korea was invaded in 1950 by North Korea, he re-enlists to go back into the Air Force as an officer-in-charge trainer of fighter pilots in Seoul, Korea, despite his wife Mary’s (Martha Hyer) desire that he remain at home.
It follows in a routine fashion Hess building the rundown base from scratch to make it combat ready; meeting again his pilot friend from WWII, Captain Skidmore (Don Defore), who still fondly calls the mentally torn pilot “Killer;” and the amiable Sergeant Herman (Dan Duryea) who proves to be competent in getting things done by cutting through the red tape. When the Commies attack a bunch of orphaned Koreans, they conveniently show up on his doorstep wanting shelter and he obliges. The kids come with a beautiful Korean woman (Anna Kashfi), who helps Hess get them settled. When she falls for the married man, she’s conveniently killed-off in an enemy air raid.
Hess runs a capable Air Force base, using South Korean pilots along with his American pilots, and they bomb the hell out of the enemy. At the same time, Hess atones for his past sins by sheltering the innocent orphans. It leads to the evacuation of some 400 orphans in a challenging climactic airlift called “Operation Kiddie Kar.”
Though it might be inspirational in showing the fighting man’s courage and kind heart, as a movie it never amounts to anything too exciting except for the aerial battles with the P-51 fighter planes providing some welcome relief from the, dare I say, schmaltzy story.
REVIEWED ON 3/10/2007 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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