Beach Red (1967)


(director: Cornel Wilde; screenwriters: from Peter Bowman’s novel “Sunday Red Beach”/Jefferson Pascal/Don Peters/Clint Johnston; cinematographer: Cecil Cooney; editor: Frank Keller; cast: Cornel Wilde (Capt. MacDonald), Rip Torn (Sgt. Honeywell), Burr de Benning (Egan), Patrick Wolfe (Cliff), Jean Wallace (Julie MacDonald), Jaime Sanchez (Colombo), Dewey Stinger III (Mouse), Michael Parsons (Sgt. Lindstrom), Fred Galang (Lieutenant Domingo), Genki Koyama (Col. Sugiyama); Runtime: 105; UA/Theodora; 1967)

“This neglected war film is as rough and tumble as any Sam Fuller film, as poignant a reflection of the racial divides in the military as any WW11 film made before the 1960s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Beach Red” undoubtedly had a positive influence on two recent World War 11 films that had the same theme — Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line (98)” and Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan(98),” only Cornel Wilde’s film is the more powerful and impactful one. Spielberg’s film pales in authenticity even in its celebrated landing on the beach scene, which Wilde depicted in just as gory a realistic way. It should also be noted that Malick’s film suffered from too many pretentious moments of philosophizing.

There is an eeriness about this film that strangely brings you into its poetical rhythms and long silences the men experience as they cross the jungle and fight in a place called Beach Red. The men at war think to themselves how lucky they are if they don’t get killed or maimed by the Japanese fire raining down on them from the hilltop bunkers and pillboxes. The mission is to take a well-fortified Japanese held island.

The first causality that grabs the attention of the men is of the popular soldier called Mouse, who gets his arm shot off, as he winces in pain and the horrors of the war hit home for all his buddies thinking to themselves how they would feel about losing an arm. Some soldiers say they would rather be dead.

The film will work its way through all the action scenes by highlighting four soldiers, who generally are reflective of all the marine’s views. It uses the clichés about these men to push its story further than its clichés, to eventually show the bigger picture of why there is war. The men are heard thinking out loud in much the same way Malick used this device in his film, but here it seems more natural and was done some 30 years before he did it. Also, it doesn’t interfere with the battle scenes in progress but adds to the humanization of the soldiers, showing what they are thinking about in the middle of the war. What also helps give this film a very real look, is that the men come across as soldiers trying to act rather than actors trying to be soldiers.

Captain MacDonald (Wilde) is in civilian life a lawyer, happily married with a child, who has been called back to the service for the war. He is honor-bound to fight the right way which means to fight as hard as he can, even if he knows that he hates the war and only loves his wife. His one wish is to return safely to her. In his private thoughts, we hear how much he misses his wife and how much he cares for the men under his command. He has earned their respect with his excellent leadership and courage he shows in battle.

In contrast, career Sergeant Honeywell (Torn) is the platoon leader with a compunction to kill and fight to win anyway he can. On one patrol he captures a Japanese prisoner, bringing him back alive as ordered for interrogation. Honeywell is angered that the prisoner shot two of his men, and therefore he breaks both his arms before bringing him in.

The general feelings of the typical soldier is reflected in the two opposites who become best friends: Private Egan (Burr) is a 24-year-old uneducated Southerner from a town that had no flush toilets; the military seems like a better deal for him than what he had in civilian life; Private Cliff (Wolfe) is a 19-year-old minister’s son from a more sophisticated town, who wants to return to college and be a lawyer after the war and marry the girl he is sweet on. Through their private thoughts we see how they both have a woman constantly on their mind and how the more mentally developed Cliff, he’s the one with the more real relationship, is wondering about what kind of God would allow this war to go on where so many innocent boys get killed.

The most telling episode is when a four-man patrol is sent out to gather information about the Japs and the patrol leader Sgt. Lindstrom is severely wounded. Private Colombo (Sanchez) wants no part of this war, he is only concerned with his own safety. He tells Egan and Cliff that he is going back and will take Lindstrom to get medical help. Egan and Cliff decide to carry on with the mission even though they are both afraid to be alone, fearing that they are inexperienced. Meanwhile Colombo has thoughts about leaving Lindstrom and going back alone and other thoughts of getting a medal for rescuing him, as he wrestles with his conscience trying to decide which is the better thing for him to do.

This brilliant, subtle film that connects war with the everyday attitudes of mankind, as it penetrates the soul of those in combat. It does it better than most films of this genre. This neglected war film is as rough and tumble as any Sam Fuller film, as poignant a reflection of the racial divides in the military as any WW11 film made before the 1960s. It leaves a lasting impression that is both haunting and expansive. It strikes home in earnest when Cornel Wilde says, “That the trouble with killing, is that soon we forget why we are doing it.”