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Beach Red (1967)
Rated PG13

Starring: Cornel Wilde, Rip Torn, and Burr DeBenning

Rating:
****
out of
*****

Made in 1967 -- during the Vietnam War -- Beach Red has something that war movies lacked up until that time: a conscience. I might be wrong -- and I welcome any corrections -- but this may be the first war movie to concentrate as much on the fear of the soldiers and the absurdities of war as it does on presenting war action and violence.

Colonel McDonald (Cornel Wilde, who also directed and produced) must lead his batallion onto an island that has been taken over by the Japanese. The film follows his soldiers as they land on and then fight for control of the island. As they see more and more action, the soldiers pause and take individual time to reflect on their homelife and the loved ones left behind. These reflections take place in flashbacks with still photos and narration provided by the soldiers. Not all of the soldiers are horrified by their current situation. One -- Sgt. Honeywell (Rip Torn) -- seems to get off on inflicting pain on his adversaries.

Beach Red is notable for several reasons. First, is its anti-war stance. It provides plenty of action for war movie buffs but the action is tempered by the soldiers' thoughts of home, friends, recent memories of good times and simple pleasures. The memories and flashbacks are not just seen from the American point-of-view, but also from the Japanese soldiers as well. Secondly, the film's had obvious influences on modern war films like Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, both of which followed Beach Red by thirty years. While those films, especially the former, have garned a lot of attention, Beach Red has languished in relative obscurity.

Cornel Wilde's direction, while not spectacular, manages some effective moments that will likely stick with the viewer for some time. The editing by Frank P. Keller, which was nominated for an Academy Award, is also a key ingredient in the film's winning formula.

If the film has a fatal flaw, it's the lack of fully fleshed-out characters. However, this can also be seen as a true-to-life aspect of war. Before you get to know someone, they're dead.

Trivia: The film's title song was performed by Jean Wallace, who also plays Colonel McDonald's wife in the film. In reality, she was Mrs. Cornel Wilde. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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