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Beach Red

Beach Red
1967 / Color / 1:85 letterboxed flat, 1:33 flat full frame / 105 min. / Street Date April 19, 2005 / 14.95
Starring Cornel Wilde, Rip Torn, Burr DeBenning, Patrick Wolfe, Jean Wallace, Jaime Sanchez, Dale Ishimoto, Genki Koyama
Cinematography Cecil R. Cooney
Art Direction Francisco Balangue
Film Editor Frank P. Keller
Original Music Antonio Buenaventura
Written by Clint Johnston, Jefferson Pascal, Don Peters from the novel by Peter Bowman
Produced and Directed by Cornel Wilde

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 instincts.

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 ruminations.

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 60's California.

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:
Movie: Good
Video: Very Good
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 27, 2005

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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