Battle Hymn (1957)

Battle Hymn (1957)

“There’s nothing so terrible as war.”

After accidentally bombing an orphanage while flying a plane in WWII, a minister (Rock Hudson) suffering from tremendous guilt leaves his profession to fight in the Korean War.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Airplanes and Pilots
  • Biopics
  • Dan Duryea Films
  • Douglas Sirk Films
  • Korean War
  • Orphans
  • Rock Hudson Films

The same year he released his film The Tarnished Angels (1957) — about a boozy reporter (Rock Hudson) who falls for the wife (Dorothy Malone) of a stunt pilot (Robert Stack) — Douglas Sirk made this adaptation (also starring Hudson) of a memoir by Dean Elmer Hess, known for his leadership in the “Kiddy Car Airlift” of hundreds of orphans from war-torn Korea. Given the current plight of Ukrainian refugees and the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan last summer, it’s especially harrowing watching dramatized footage of this operation:

… though it’s questionable how much of a role Hess himself actually played in the evacuation, given that (much to Sirk’s consternation) he was overly involved in the making of the film and the crafting of his image. The screenplay itself is pure Americana hokum of the 1950s, showing Hudson leaving behind a beautiful housewife (Martha Hyer):

… while also sparking (unintentional) romantic flames with an ethereally beautiful Korean-Indian woman (Anna Kashfi) who ends up caring for the orphans Hudson finds running around his base:

Perhaps most cringe-worthy is the inclusion of a bearded elderly Christian Korean (Philip Ahn) who dispenses pearls of wisdom to Hudson at just the right moments (“In order to save, at times we must destroy”):

At least Dan Duryea has a fun comedic role as a sergeant who gets to cleverly steal candy and gum from the Navy (!):

… and Hudson acquits himself nobly as the handsome pilot who “redeems” himself.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Rock Hudson as Col. Dean Hess
  • Fine Technicolor cinematography

Must See?
No, though Sirk fans will likely want to check it out.


One thought on “Battle Hymn (1957)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    A Sirk film that seems to be rarely mentioned – and it’s not hard to see why. Though not an outright embarrassment and not as “boring” as its reputation, it’s still the result of a true story that’s been tampered with and designed for impact. For example, as TCM tells us, “Perhaps discouraged by the wall of sanctimony around the real Col. Hess, historical critics waited over forty years to charge that he falsified his role in the evacuation of the orphans.” (Still, Hess maintained a genuinely pure motive: “Yet it is reported that Hess used his Hollywood fees to fund more charity work in South Korea.”)

    As well, there was no ‘threat’ of interracial love as, in reality, the woman Kashfi portrays was much older (and was not killed in the war, as depicted).

    Sirk succeeds overall in keeping the film from being at all as sappy as it might have been in other hands. And Hudson (even if he doesn’t always seem authentic in his tone) does his best to get through his performance without seeming to be overly saintly.

    Duryea does give the film a welcome lift, though he’s not around all that much.

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