The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)

The Bridges at Toko-Ri poster

James Michener’s Korean War novel gets a vivid interpretation by screenwriter Valentine Davies and director Mark Robson, with some impressive aerial photography and effects.  William Holden is the lawyer recalled to the Navy to fly bombs to support ground troops and his fear-filled ambivalence reminds commander Frederic March of one of his own sons killed in World War 2. Grace Kelly is only in the second quarter of the film, to see her husband on leave in Japan and there are nice scenes with their kids and her own scene with March who explains the dangers her husband faces to prepare her for potentially tough times ahead.  Mickey Rooney is the chopper pilot who’s pulled Holden from the sea so Holden returns the favour on shore leave when Rooney brawls with a love rival. He and Earl Holliman are a tight partnership who dig the pilots out of holes. But over it all hangs the mission:  a dangerous attack on strategic bridges and, well, it’s war. That never ends well.

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Battle Hymn (1957)

Battle Hymn poster

I love the films of Douglas Sirk because despite their largely being remakes of weepies he cuts through the sentiment with astringency and formal style. Usually. Not so here in an adaptation of a memoir by preacher Dean Hess. Hudson is full of remorse for having accidentally killed 37 children in a German orphanage in WW2 and signs up to train fighter pilots in Korea leaving wife Martha Hyer at home to brood (literally – she’s pregnant). He conceals his religiosity and newfound ministry from old buddy Don DeFore and his colleagues until he’s found out and they feel deceived. He puts his beliefs to good use in acts of atonement for local orphans who are being cared for by Anna Kashfi (the London Irish model who pretended to be Indian, even fooling husband Marlon Brando). She falls for him, unaware he is married and he participates in bombing missions and then tries to save DeFore after a disastrous outing and the orphans need to be saved from repeat attacks. This is in many ways a typical service movie but with added mawkishness rendering it close to intolerable even with Hudson acting his socks off and some more than decent aerial photography.