“I’ve heard about you, Gifford. First you go get yourself a silver star, then you get busted to private. Oh, it’s a rough war, ain’t it?”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
— comes across as somewhat heavy-handed, given that the brief flashbacks to his life as a callous plantation owner (married to Terry Moore) aren’t lengthy enough to give us a really good sense of who Gifford once was (or why).
Much more effective is director Richard Fleischer’s ability to show us how the random brutality of wartime violence — starting with the death of his beloved father-in-law (Robert Keith):
— has a deeply powerful effect on Wagner’s psyche; the type of PTSD he experiences wasn’t explored nearly enough in other wartime films of the era.
Broderick Crawford is appropriately unhinged as a Kurtz-like commander slowly going off the deep end (with a weirdly homoerotic attachment to his two buff young henchmen, who often roam around shirtless):
My favorite performance in the film, however, is given by Buddy Ebsen as Wagner’s lower-class “buddy”, who quietly befriends him and helps him see the good in himself.
Much less fortunate is the casting of Harvey Lembeck as — what else? — an obnoxious wiseacre; fortunately, his role is relatively small.
Note Hugo Friedhofer’s Oscar-nominated score, which draws heavily — and to nice effect — upon the “dies irae” motif.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: