Too Late the Hero (1970):

The interchangeable reds of the Stars and Stripes, the Union Jack and the Rising Sun growing tattered over the credits for Robert Aldrich, one last run in his guys-in-combat worldview. 'Nam is in everyone's mind, but this is on the surface the spring of 1942, Yankee translator Cliff Robertson located sunning by the beach by a languid tracking shot, then summoned to captain Henry Fonda -- an overhead ceiling fan is tilted in the future direction of Apocalypse Now, though the linchpin is the reteaming of the Best Man opponents, Robertson still stuck between Kennedy and Nixon. His mission awaits in a Japanese-held island in the Pacific, joining a disheveled British combat unit to detonate a radio transmitter. A football field's worth of sitting-duck land separates one side from another, so it's into the jungle for Robertson and a "bunch of limeys," held together by Michael Caine's cynical grunt. Ian Bannen goes in the right, mad spirit, skipping and singing as they march into enemy territory, and plenty of horrors are in stock for them -- commander Denholm Elliott has an irresponsible trigger, sergeant Percy Herbert lies with throat slashed and cig still smoldering in hand, while soldier Ronald Fraser machetes off a corpse's finger for the ring in it. A slow dissolve from a loudspeaker to the slogging expedition traps them inside its circular opening, the Japanese lent businesslike dignity via Ken Takakura's amplified voice, ringing throughout the foliage as Aldrich executes a disorientated circling pan. Less nasty but no less visceral than The Dirty Dozen, the movie both crystallizes and criticizes the director's view of life as sudden shifts of power in a battleground, more stinging than all the hipster's ball of Catch-22. "Getting ourselves killed isn't gonna make any difference to anyone except us," Caine tells his American counterpart, who asks of the casualties to result from his save-ass scheme. "They shouldn't have joined, should they?" Caine gets gut-punched for the thought, yet the final dash-to-death favors his cynical practicality. Heroism? In war? Too late, Aldrich answers. With Harry Andrews, Lance Percival, Patrick Jordan, William Beckley, and Martin Horsey.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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