Halls of Montezuma (1951)

Halls of Montezuma (1951)

“The question is, where are the rockets — where?”

On a Japanese-held island in the Pacific during World War II, a migraine-suffering lieutenant (Richard Widmark) relies on a corpsman (Karl Malden) to supply him with pain meds as he leads a group of Marines — including his former student (Richard Hylton), handsome Private Coffman (Robert Wagner), disturbed Private ‘Pretty Boy’ (Skip Homeier), alcohol-loving Private Slattery (Bert Freed), Sergeant Zelenko (Neville Brand), young Private Whitney (Martin Milner), Pigeon Lane (Jack Palance), and a Japanese-speaking British linguist (Reginald Gardiner) — on a mission with a journalist (Jack Webb) to discover where Japanese rockets are stashed.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Jack Palance Films
  • Jack Webb Films
  • Karl Malden Films
  • Lewis Milestone Films
  • Neville Brand Films
  • Richard Widmark Films
  • Robert Wagner Films
  • Soldiers
  • World War II

Twenty-one years after helming All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) — and six years after making A Walk in the Sun (1945), set in WWII-era Italy — Lewis Milestone directed this Technicolor homage to both the bravery of U.S. Marines and (once again) the insanity of war. Because this particular company is tasked by their Lt. Colonel (Richard Boone) to take Japanese prisoners rather than kill them, we get to see a slightly different approach to their attack — one which includes interrogating Japanese soldiers who possess diametrically different ideas about the value of life and death.

Widmark is well-cast as a no-nonsense yet caring leader who suffers in private, but keeps going, while British character actor Gardiner gives perhaps the most nuanced supporting performance as a keep-calm-under-all-circumstances translator who plays a pivotal role in the proceedings (and won’t give up his fancy cigarette holder, thank you very much):

Meanwhile, we see many other familiar Hollywood faces showing up, including handsome Wagner in his first credited film role (albeit only for a short while):

… Brand playing a tough sergeant (but not a bad guy):

… and Palance playing (no kidding!) a nice guy who faces a sincerely tough dilemma:

Made with extensive cooperation from the U.S. Marine Corps (and purportedly used as a recruitment tool), the film looks as authentic as can be, with California’s Camp Pendleton turned into a convincing simulation of a tunnel-ridden island in the Pacific:

Less successful are the flashback sequences littering the film’s first half-hour:

… though these thankfully come to an end, thus allowing us to become fully immersed in the exciting action at hand.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Richard Widmark as Lieutenant Anderson
  • Reginald Gardiner as Sgt. Randolph Johnson
  • Fine Technicolor cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look.


One thought on “Halls of Montezuma (1951)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    A respectable WWII flick overall – though it does also tend to feel somewhat routine.

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