Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The word on Beach Red circulated through my high school like wildfire - it was said to be
an incredibly gory war movie "about the real thing." The title sounded like a variation on a
highway safety gore film, and
I always wondered how extreme it really was.
Cornel Wilde produced and directed this pacifist-slanted war picture on the heels of his successful
The Naked Prey, a fine film and his highest career achievement. Beach Red has
solid production values and follows through on Wilde's intention of showing that war is Hell. His
direction is okay but the film is really let down by a talky script and some weak acting; the
beauty of The Naked Prey was its almost total avoidance of dialogue.
Captain MacDonald (Cornel Wilde) leads a group of Army invaders onto the beach of a
Japanese-held island. His troops take terrible casualties while
pressing forward, with Sgt. Ben Honeywell (Rip Torn) aggressively pursuing the enemy. A small
patrol is cut down to just two privates who discover a large group of enemy soldiers preparing a
counterstrike. In the midst of battle, soldiers on both sides daydream about the women and children
they've left at home.
Beach Red today looks like a crude version of
The Thin Red Line. The story
is identical. A group of frightened soldiers takes a beachhead and as they undergo the horrors of
combat we hear their inner thoughts about fighting and life back home, complete with wistful
flashback images of loved ones. Wilde's heart is in the right place but he's much better at
directing action than he is with dialogue scenes. The endless conversations between privates Egan
and Cliff (Burr DeBenning and Patrick Wolfe) are really tedious. The script is a series of honest
observances on life and war that ring fairly hollow. Typical is the voiceover introduction given
Wilde's stern but wise captain: "If we had no clocks, would we still have wars?" If one
wants poetic effects to counterpoint the savagery of the fighting, one needs better literary
The soldiers are sketched types instead of full attempts to create rounded
characters, which would be a good thing if the acting were better and the types more interesting.
Rip Torn's sergeant is rather oversold as a tough guy and his performance pitched a little too far in
the direction of Sgt. Rock. Jaime Sanchez is good as Columbo, the G.I. looking for just the
right wound to send him home; I have to assume that this film made a good audition for the plum
role of Angel in The Wild Bunch the next year. Cornell Wilde is almost as good
as he was in The Naked Prey, but the character falls victim to the script's voiceover
In what was notable content for the time, frequent cutaways show Wilde's opposite number commanding
the Japanese as a caring, worried man. Both men have memory flashbacks to their families back home,
shown in motion and as stills. The Japanese images fare better, mainly because the images of Wilde's
real-life wife Jean Wallace make no attempt at a 1940s look. Wallace's long straight hair is pure
Wilde also flash-cuts stills and moving images to express the soldiers' panicky thought processes.
We cut several times from a fevered face to a repeated moment of violence or gore. Wilde apparently
wanted to be progressive but the effect comes off as artless. In his next movie, the bizarre
No Blade of Grass, he'd really pack in the subliminal cuts, both flashbacks and flash-forwards.
Beach Red makes no mention of Vietnam but came out in the same year as John Wayne's gung-ho
movie The Green Berets. Wilde seems to have wanted his movie to be gritty and anti-war, but it's
likely that the only strong audience demographic were the gung-ho types interested in combat action.
A heavy inspiration seems to have been an old Life magazine layout on combat artists (commemorated
in the docu
They Drew Fire). His title
sequence (backed by a weak pacifist tune sung by Jean Wallace) is made up of similar artwork. The
biggest influence must have been one artist's gruesome representation of a Marine in shock,
with one arm and part of his
face blown away. Wilde reproduces that image in his movie, along with a number of other gory-wound
closeup effects. By today's standards they're restrained but in 1967 there was nothing like them
outside of Herschel Gordon Lewis movies.
Beach Red was filmed in cooperation with the Philippine government, as there
are some mass beach assault maneuvers on a scale to make any filmmaker proud. Authentic stock
footage is cut in and works reasonably enough, even though the match is poor. The movie has one of
those unresolved endings that gives the impression that the battle will go on forever. The
only really odd sequence has several hundred Japanese soldiers try to sneak behind the Americans,
while disguised in American uniforms. I never heard of such a thing and suspect that the
story shoehorned the idea in for economic reasons. The Philippine army had plenty of G.I. uniforms
that came for free, while Wilde would have had to manufacture Japanese gear.
MGM's DVD of Beach Red looks fine, much better than the old transfers that looked dirty and
had frequent rough splices. The flipper disc has a full-frame transfer on one side and a matted
non-enhanced letterbox version on the other. The transfer is so good that the picture holds up
rather well when blown up to fill a widescreen monitor. The only extra is a gung-ho trailer.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Beach Red rates:
Video: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 27, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2005 Glenn Erickson
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