The Naked and the Dead (1958)


(director: Raoul Walsh; screenwriters: from the novel The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer/Denis and Terry Sanders; cinematographer: Joseph LaShelle; editor: Arthur P. Schmidt; music: Bernard Herrmann; cast: Aldo Ray (Sgt. Sam Croft), Cliff Robertson (Lt. Robert Hearn), Raymond Massey (Gen. Cummings), William Campbell (Brown), Richard Jaeckel (Gallagher), James Best (Rhidges), Joey Bishop (Roth), LQ Jones (Woodrow ‘Woody’ Wilson), Robert Gist (Red), Barbara Nichols (Mildred Croft), Jerry Paris (Goldstein), Lili St. Cyr (Willa Mae aka Lily), Casey Adams (Col. Dalleson), Edward McNally (Cohn), John Beradino (Capt. Mantelli); Runtime: 131; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paul Gregory; Warner Brothers; 1958)

“Waters down Norman Mailer’s 721 page salty 1948 bestseller novel based on his own experiences during WW II in the South Pacific.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Raoul Walsh (“Gun Fury”/”Battle Cry”/”Sea Devils”) waters down Norman Mailer’s salty 721 page 1948 bestseller novel based on his own experiences during WW II in the South Pacific (he served two years in the Philippines as a rifleman for the Marines). The only thing Walsh delivers on is the action sequences, making the fighting in the jungle bring some reality to the film as the disgruntled soldiers hating the jungle, each other, the enemy and the war battle for survival. Screenwriters Denis and Terry Sanders keep things superficial, the dialogue trite and snip out the obscenities that made the novel not respectable and raw. Furthermore they toss out the important things Mailer was saying about the war and the abuse of power (sadistic treatment of the GIs approved by the brass). The filmmaker misses the spirit and intention of the book, as it becomes a routine war adventure about a Marine platoon behind enemy lines. Mailer is quoted as saying “One of the worst movies ever made.” In my opinion it was bad, but not quite that bad.

The stirring music is by Bernard Herrmann. The film was shot in Panama. RKO Pictures was set to release the film, but the studio closed down and the film was distributed by Warner Bros.

Aldo Ray, former Navy frogman, plays the menacing, frustrated, bitter and sadistic Sergeant Croft, the NCO in charge of the jungle Marine platoon, whose mission in 1943 is to secure a small island in the Pacific. His character faults are explained away as caused by his unfaithful stripper wife (Barbara Nichols). Cliff Robertson is the idealistic, upper-class, former playboy, Lt. Robert Hearn, the aide to the ruthless militaristic-minded Gen. Cummings (Raymond Massey). Hearn gets up enough moral courage to defy the amoral boss, who then assigns him to the frontlines in the jungle to supervise the out-of-control Croft as the climactic assault begins. But Croft resents the wet-behind-his-ears high brow officer and tries to get his loyal followers to kill him in battle.

The World War II film is faithful in most respects to the conventions of the combat genre, and only in sporadic moments gets to Mailer’s dark artistic visions and complex take on war. Action director Walsh was not a good choice to direct Mailer’s thoughtful book.