REVIEW OF THE REGION 1 MGM DVD Rarely does a low-budget film make a major impact on one's life. If one watched "Beach Red" and walks away unaffected, then I must say the fault lies with the viewer not the film. With haunting images and unflinchingly honest dialog, director Cornel Wilde drops a great big bomb on the audience. "Beach Red" tells a straightforward story of an American Marine company which assaults a Pacific island, held by fanatical Japanese troops. The main characters include Captain MacDonald (Cornel Wilde), a former lawyer who hates the war he's forced to fight, and loves his wife and simply wants to return home. He struggles with holding the lives of men in his hands and being responsible for their deaths. Sgt. Honeywell (Rip Torn) is a career soldier, whose only goal is to kill Japanese and get his platoon through the war alive. Pvt. Cliff (Patrick Wolfe) is a minister's son who is not prepared for the horrors of war; and his only friend, Pvt. Egan (Burr de Benning), is an uneducated southerner who spends his free time flashing back to sexscapades. Rounding out the group is Colombo (Jaime Sanchez in a non-stereotypical performance), an insecure, somewhat cowardly veteran who chooses to conceal his fear with excuses to avoid criticism. Wilde fleshes out these character using two rare techniques: the first involves brief flashbacks, often told with still frames shot in surreal colors, set to soft, soothing music while the character in question narrates the action. Characters may be conversing, but they're really talking to the audience. Each of the leads also has a number of voice-overs, which put the viewer inside their head. These voice-overs are simple and match the way a character would talk out loud; unlike the 1998 version of "The Thin Red Line", in which voice-overs were deeply philosophical, these thoughts are haunting and simple. Wilde uses the same techniques in scenes involving the Japanese, which breaks down the barrier between the "good guys" and "bad guys". These are just ordinary men on both sides of the battle line, involved in a war they don't want to be fighting. Yes, there is definitely an enemy, but they are not demonized and stereotyped as in other war films of the period. The Japanese are a formidable, foe, yes but ordinary men with lives and families just like the main American characters. Wilde uses color cinematography ceaselessly and perfectly. The opening beach assault takes place on a sunny day, and characters bleed and die on a beautiful tropical beach and, later, in the middle of a lush jungle. The atmosphere doesn't appear deadly at first, and it's quite sad to see war ravaging and destroying such a stunning landscape. The combat sequences are superbly staged. The first half of the film focuses on an inch-by-inch assault on the beach, encounters with snipers and machine-gun nests. Wilde fills the screen with action at all times. Even though the focus is on one or two main characters, we can always see dozens often hundreds of extras in the background. As they crawl through tall grasses, we can hear rustling and heavy breathing. Men scream in pain when they get shot and the dialog is often lost amidst the deafening roar of explosions. All of the actors look like soldiers in the middle of a pitched battle: they wade through chest-deep water with forty-pound rucksacks and don't wear any makeup. They're genuine soldiers in the middle of a genuine battle. The on-location shooting in the Philippines really gives the battle scenes a look of authenticity not often found in similarly-themed films of the same time period. Wilde doesn't sanitize the graphic nature of war, either. Unlike many films of the 1960s, he uses graphic violence quickly and shockingly to help illustrate his themes. Quick, graphic moments are used only to shock and are not dwelt on or eulogized. One character has his arm blown off on the beach and we see a close-up of him staggering about in a delirious stupor, bloody stump gushing and severed limb lying on the ground. Close-ups of bayonet and knife stabbings are also pretty gruesome. There's another, tense scene in which the American infantrymen must storm a bunker complex and use flamethrowers to drive out the Japanese within; the aftermath is more-than-effective. These shots of death and destruction are shocking and rapid; then the focus moves on. Wilde makes his point with one or two frames, a line or two of dialog, or just a facial expression. He doesn't need to dwell on it. We get the message. Wilde's film is a moving statement about the futility of warfare. The final foxhole scene, in which two enemies sit wounded facing each other and share cigarettes and water as they lay dying, is poignant without being an overstatement. The pain and sadness on each character's face is real as they realize that the only difference between them is skin color and uniform. At heart, they're both innocent kids, caught up in a conflict they don't want to be in. They should be at home with their girlfriends and families, not sweating, bleeding and dying in the midst of an inconsequential tropical island. "Beach Red" is simply one of the great unknown war films. The ensemble cast never misses a beat, the battle scenes are grim and expertly staged, and the scenery is captured perfectly. This is easily the best fictional film about an island campaign to date, and one of the best war films ever made.
Drama / War
Drama / War
As a US marine unit fight against the defenders of a Japanese held island, both sides are haunted by their own thoughts and memories.
October 28, 2020