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HELL TO ETERNITY (director: Phil Karlson; screenwriters: story by Gil Doud/Ted Sherdeman/Walter Roeber Schmidt; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editors: Roy Livingston/George White; music: Leith Stevens; cast: Jeffrey Hunter (Guy Gabaldon), David Janssen (Sgt. Bill Hazen), Vic Damone (Pete), Patricia Owens (Sheila Lincoln), Richard Eyer (Guy, as a boy), John Larch (Capt. Schwabe), Bill Williams (Leonard), Michi Kobi (Sono), George Shibata (Kaz Une), Reiko Sato (Famika), Miiko Taka (Ester), Sessue Hayakawa (General Matsui), Tsuru Aoki (Mother Une); Runtime: 133; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Irving H. Levin; WB; 1960)
Earns its stripes by painting the Japanese-Americans during World War II in a positive light and for its relentless attack against racism.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Phil Karlson(“Kansas City Confidential”/”The Phenix City Story”/”The Brothers Rico”) in this low-budget war drama shot by Allied Artists tells the true story of a troubled punky East LA, Mexican-American, Guy Gabaldon (Richard Eyer, as a boy), whose widowed mom dies when he’s a boy growing up during the Great Depression and he’s adopted by his Japanese -American high school basketball coach (Kaz Une) and his kind-hearted family.

The engaging true story, shot in b&w, is based on a story by Gil Doud and is written by Ted Sherdeman and Walter Roeber Schmidt. It’s an overlong and sluggish biopic that earns its stripes by painting the Japanese-Americans during World War II in a positive light and for its relentless attack against racism.

After Pearl Harbor, the feisty 17-year-old Guy Gabaldon (Jeffrey Hunter), who speaks a fluent Japanese, joins the marines and serves in the South Pacific, while his foster family is imprisoned in a benign detention camp for being Japanese. During the bloody invasion of Saipan, Guy is able to convince scores of Japanese soldiers and frightened civilians to surrender by understanding their culture and is responsible for the capture of more enemy than any other American. For that he was awarded the Navy Cross and the Silver Star.

David Janssen co-stars as Gabaldon’s tough drill sergeant and singer Vic Damone is Guy’s ladies man boot-camp buddy. The legendary Sessue Hayakawa plays with relish the commanding officer of the Japanese forces and a pre-Star Trek George Takei (billed as George Takai) plays Guy’s adoptive brother George. Patricia Owen plays a stripper who attracts Guy’s attention.

The uneven patriotic film was a box-office hit and is noteworthy as one of the few films at the time to call attention to how the Japanese-Americans were discriminated against during the war.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”