Halls of Montezuma (1950)

Halls of Montezuma PosterTheir names roll off my tongue far easier than they ever had a right to: Tobruk, Corregidor, Guadalcanal. And even now after all these years, sometimes late at night when the house is at its quietest and I close my eyes, all I can see are the flares lighting up the night, illuminating the hellish place (probably a studio backlot) of dirt and rock and blood where I watched a bunch of actors dig in, praying that some Axis pillbox didn’t hit the jackpot, sending a telegram to our moms and dads that began “we regret to inform you.”

And if you think it’s all some kind of video game with bombs and machine guns then you never rolled around in the mud with somebody preaching their racist bile about the Fatherland or the supremacy of their beloved emperor, scrambling after the knife that lay just out of reach and hoping against all hope that your God was watching over you just a little bit better than theirs was.

One thing was for sure, Johnny Yank may not have wanted that fight, but you could damn sure bet he wasn’t about to walk away from it either. Didn’t matter where it was. Africa, Europe, or some no name rock in the middle of the Pacific that stood between us and Tokyo. If it was in the way of freedom, it had to be taken down.

So it was that I found myself in one of my most star-studded military adventures, grimly battling my way through a film featuring nests of enemy snipers that had to be overcome so the location of their rocket base could be rooted out before the bulk of our boys arrived in the big invasion.

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With no chance of the invasion being halted and only hours before it began, we had to succeed or our guys would be marching straight into a buzzsaw!

The leathernecks of the Second Marine Platoon, Company B, First Battalion weren’t about to let anybody down either. Though the back of the DVD lists them as Richard Widmark, Jack Palance, Robert Wagner, Karl Malden, Richard Boone, and Jack Webb, I remember them and the others as Lt. Anderson, Pigeon, Pretty Boy, Doc and Slattery.

OK, I really remember Jack Webb as Joe Friday, but I think we can all understand that. And Richard Boone was Paladin from Have Gun Will Travel. And, well, Robert Wagner will always be that guy from Hart To Hart. And is there any one of us that can not think of Jack Palance and recall his dopey one-handed push ups at the Oscars?

It doesn’t really matter what you remember this group of tough Twentieth Century Fox contract players for though. Most of them had some sort of personal situation back home (or “back in the world” to us guys that served or watched a lot of old war movies) that gave their characters a little more depth. (And padded the movie out to almost two hours.)

Widmark’s Lt. Anderson was just a simple chemistry teacher who was more concerned about helping a stuttering student overcome his fear of public speaking than he was about commanding a bunch of grunts. In fact, despite his cool, no-nonsense approach, he was just as scared as the rest of us.

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He suffered from fear-induced migraines that he could only control by popping painkillers that his buddy Doc procured for him. And Doc? All he could think about on the eve of battle is how he was just a simple farmer from Montana who just wanted to get back to his beloved cows.

Then there was the kid in the outfit who used to stutter. He was still a scared kid when it was time to hit the beach, but after his lieutenant, who used to be his high school chemistry teacher, took an interest in him and told him that all us soldiers were scared, he fought the fear down enough to make the mission.

And Pretty Boy wasn’t just another country boy with a pretty face. He was actually a deeply disturbed youth with no self-esteem, but a great deal of self-loathing.

Determined to be somebody and not have everyone in town laugh at him anymore about stuff like his sister running off and marrying a Japanese guy, Pretty Boy was obsessed with spinning his Luger around on his finger before snapping and attempting to kill a bunch of POWs.

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His best friend in the whole world was the ugly Pigeon. When this whole crazy war finally ended both of them were going back to the States where Pretty Boy would be Pigeon’s fight manager.

But sometimes that chemical imbalance in Pretty Boy’s head has other plans and Pigeon ends up doing the last thing in the world he ever wanted to. You know, Pretty Boy saved Pigeon’s life once upon a time. Funny how things work out sometimes, isn’t it?

Halls Of Montezuma doesn’t necessarily offer anything out of the ordinary from all those other war movies you love. Yet while it marches over familiar territory, it does so with enough action and emotion from the players to settle into the “solid but unspectacular” category that’s entirely acceptable for fans of the genre and/or stars involved.

You want your war stories rife with recognizable faces, nicknames, explosions, shootings, bombings, stabbings, untimely deaths, and uplifting speeches about why we fight? You want to see that the boys who fought are flawed, frightened kids who do it because it’s the right thing to do and not for any hope of glory? You want to see guys crack up and guys cry over dead buddies? You want to see grainy battle footage clumsily inserted into the scenes of our all-stars standing around looking tired and dirty? Then fall in line, soldier!

© 2015 MonsterHunter

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