Retreat, Hell! (1952):

The title is gung-ho Korean War myth, variously attributed but voiced here by Lt. Col. Frank Lovejoy -- "We're attacking in another direction," which ranks next to Kevin Kline's response to Vietnam in A Fish Called Wanda in jingoistic delusion ("We didn't lose. It was a tie!"). The exclamation has all but been taken away by the time it comes in Joseph H. Lewis' South Asia, far less visceral than Fuller's in its bayoneting, orphan-befriending storming. Richard Carlson has gone from WWII vet to family man, but now "a Marine, and don't you forget it," reminds Lovejoy; others headed to Inchon are Sgt. Ned Young and teenager grunt Russ Tamblyn, following in the family's military tradition with strangled-voiced gusto. The invasion is a miniaturized D-Day recreation, the frantic shelling oiled up with stock footage; afterwards, Lovejoy tries to comfort a couple of bombed-out local children with a single canned good before settling back with the grunts, his accepted family. A lateral pan prior to battle etches the older men's grim anticipation and the rookie's foolish eagerness, but the ideology is thoroughly conventional -- "The Halls of Montezuma" is the whistling theme throughout, yet even working within the worn arc, Lewis beats Milestone in his own game. Tanks burst out of dilapidated huts and bullets rain from snowy hills, and the filmmaker's predilection for the visual salutes back home (i.e., Carlson's last night with wife Anita Louise before shipping off) as well as at the front (Tamblyn scuttling across the rubble to take out a hidden commie sniper). A soldier likens Korea's civil war with the U.S.'s own North-South upheaval, though Lewis knows that, during wartime art, most acts of subversion have to be stylistic. With Lamont Johnson, and Robert Ellis, Peter Smith, and Peter Ortiz. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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