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TAKE THE HIGH GROUND! (director: Richard Brooks; screenwriter: story by Millard Kaufman/Millard Kaufman; cinematographer: John Alton; editor: John Dunning; music: Dimitri Tiomkin; cast: Richard Widmark (Sgt. Ryan), Karl Malden (Sgt. Holt), Elaine Stewart (Julie Mollison), Russ Tamblyn (Paul Jamison), Carleton Carpenter (Merton Tolliver), Steve Forrest (Lobo Naglaski), Jerome Courtland (Elvin ‘Tex’ Carey), William Hairston (Daniel Hazard), Robert Arthur (Donald Quentin Dover IV); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Dore Schary; MGM; 1953)
“The fun is in seeing the changes in the genre over the years and how army life was depicted in a bygone era.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A typical flat basic-training pic that opens and closes with no-nonsense drill instructor Richard Widmark telling the draftee recruits at Ft. Bliss, Texas, in 1953, that “You guys will never be soldiers!” Richard Brooks (“Blackboard Jungle”/”Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”/”Elmer Gantry”) directs this goofy but uninteresting army training pic without conviction and as punishment deserves thirty pushups; it’s taken from a story by Millard Kaufman. The only thing that happens is what’s expected, the sad-assed recruits by the end of training under the sergeant’s tough love make the grade as soldiers. There’s also a tedious romance story thrown in involving Widmark with neurotic war widow beauty Elaine Stewart. The film is set during the Korean War. Compared with Stanley Kubrick’s brutal Full Metal Jacket (1987), this one seems tame. The fun is in seeing the changes in the genre over the years and how army life was depicted in a bygone era.

The film follows the 16 weeks of boot camp for a rag-tag group of recruits, who are under the charge of a gung-ho drill instructor, Sgt. Ryan (Richard Widmark), a hero in Korea in 1951, whose squad under his command took a strategic hill. Ryan’s sidekick assisting him is the more easy going Sgt. Holt (Karl Malden), who was with him in Korea and is his best friend. Holt believes in Ryan’s tough tactics but also takes time to hear the trainee’s complaints. Of the raw recruits, Jamison (Russ Tamblyn) stands out as a wise guy with a fresh mouth who must learn discipline and get into shape to be shipped out to combat. The others are the usual stock characters, a cross-section of stereotypes: among them there’s “Tex” (Jerome Courtland) from Texas, a scholarly African-American (William Hairston) from the inner city, a cowardly recruit (Robert Arthur) who in the last reel shapes up thanks to a few chosen words by Ryan.

How much one likes this spit-and-polish take on the military, depends on one’s sentimentality for such pictures. The only things that got me through this recruiting poster film was the stunningly beautiful Ansco-colored photography by John Alton and that I can watch Widmark in almost any film (… and this is almost any film).

It might be of interest to note that Widmark, who was born to play a role like this, was never in the military service, though he did volunteer for WW 2 but was turned down because of a perforated eardrum.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”