WAR HUNT(director: Denis Sanders; screenwriter: Stanford Whitmore; cinematographer: Ted D. McCord; editors: Edward Dutko/John Hoffman; cast: John Saxon (Private Raymond Endore), Robert Redford (Private Roy Loomis), Charles Aidman (Capt. Wallace Pratt), Gavin MacLeod (Private Crotty), Tommy Matsuda (Charlie), Tony Ray (Private Fresno), Sydney Pollack (Sgt. Van Horn); Runtime: 81; TD Enterprises; 1962)
“It had the same gritty feel to it as Sam Fuller’s The Steel Helmet.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A crisp telling of the last days of the Korean conflict during 1953, as a company of infantrymen engage the enemy. It marks the debut for Robert Redford who plays the do-gooder Private Loomis, a new replacement in a company of war-weary veterans. The film was shot in 15 days on a budget of $250,000. It featured a young cast, hungry to make its mark. Not listed in the credits is a very young Francis Ford Coppola, who plays an ambulance driver. This surprisingly realistic war drama caught a dark side to the war in a very personal way that very few war films have captured. It had the same gritty feel to it as Sam Fuller’s “The Steel Helmet”, but the emphasis here is more on a psychological nature than Fuller’s cultural.
Pvt. Raymond Endore (John Saxon) is the psychotic protagonist, who voluntarily goes out at night on solitary patrols behind the enemy lines. It is never explained why he’s willing to do this, as we just see him act with a thirst for blood. Endore stays out all night never participating with the other men in the regular patrols. He’s allowed to work on his own because he brings back valuable information, which he dutifully reports to Captain Pratt (Aidman). But Endore never talks about the soldiers he slays. We see him sneak up on an enemy soldier as if he were invisible and knifes the soldier in a ritualistic manner while standing over his body, as if he were presenting the body to the gods.
Endore is a loner; the other men are wary of him even though they consider him to be valuable to the company. The young Korean orphan, Charlie, is the company mascot. He has a special relationship with Endore, who promises to take him along one day when he goes behind the enemy lines. Endore also promises to stay with him in Korea when the war is over, vowing to never let him go back to the orphanage where they have ridiculous rules for everything. Endore is one of those people who can’t live by the rules, considering them to be mostly unnecessary.
The much older captain has a paternalistic relationship with his prodigy who went on his own behind the lines, bringing back so much valuable information to help the war effort that the captain lets this unusual practice go on without official approval. Though, he put in a recommendation for Endore to receive a medal for valor. But Endore was in it for the kill only, his mind was past the reasonable stage of a soldier doing his duty or in acting out of patriotism or for personal glory.
The battlefield conflict is shown in one devastating battle; there are enough causalities to realize that this unexplainable U.N. action has exacted a large toll. This film is mostly concerned about those caught in the middle ground between the idealistic Loomis and the psychopathic Endore; those who cheer when a cease-fire is declared not caring who won, and would have welcomed a diplomatic solution.
On a personal level, the psychological affects of the war are seen through the conflict between Loomis and Endore. The prize is the Korean orphan, whom Endore befriends and expects to be attached only to him. Loomis expresses friendship to the kid and concern that the child should be back in the orphanage, going to school and being with friends his own age. Endore tells him to mind his own business, threatening him with a knife to his throat.
The sheer black-and-white photography caught the expansive mood of the troops in the battlefield and its grainy quality helped the viewer see the war in a personalized way, as in the scene where the idealistic Loomis is fighting for his survival in a hand-to-hand fight with a Chinese soldier. The difference between him and Endore is that the later had to kill, while Loomis kills when he doesn’t have to.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
The film concludes as a sniper kills Private Fresno just when the cease-fire is announced and the soldiers react by firing back, until the captain tells them let’s not do anything to prevent the war from ending and from us going back home. But for Endore his mind is set for a permanent war, and he disobeys orders and goes out on a night patrol after the cease-fire was declared; but, this time taking Charlie with him, preparing to never come back.
This is a wonderfully maddening film. John Saxon turns in a brilliant performance as the killer who is valuable only during wartime, but loses his value when the war is over; while Robert Redford was marvelous as the rational one, who is prepared to live in peace once the war is over.
REVIEWED ON 8/28/2000 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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