|'); document.write(''); //-->|
The MGM Limited Edition Collection of DVD-R releases is reaching into new filmic territory, and my curiosity got the better of me. The Siege of Firebase Gloria is a late-1980s Australian mini-epic about the Vietnam War. It stars that madman of the screen Wings Hauser, along with everybody's favorite hardballs drill instructor from Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, R. Lee Ermey. The clincher was seeing that Firebase Gloria was directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, who happens to be one of the most entertaining commentators over at the Trailers from Hell page. Trenchard-Smith has the reputation of making ten cents look like a hundred dollars on screen, and I wanted to see one of his pictures for myself.
Just as the 1968 Tet Offensive heats up, Marines Di Nardo and Hafner (Wings Hauser & R. Lee Ermey) barely make it alive to Firebase Gloria, one of dozens of 'Fort Apache'-style outposts spread out in the Vietnamese countryside. Finding the C.O. babbling incoherently, stoned and naked in his tent, Hafner and Di Nardo knock him out of commission with a grenatde. Ranking officer Hafner then takes command. He puts the ragtag force into defensive mode in anticipation of the expected waves of Viet Cong. The VC are staging major attacks everywhere, including Saigon, where we see commandos wipe out an Embassy building. The Viet commander Cao Van (Robert Arevalo) abandons guerilla tactics and hits the base hard with direct assaults, taking heavy losses. But Hafner and his holdouts refuse to give up.
I worked as a trailer editor at Cannon Films in the late 1980s, and watched as that crazy company turned out one silly Viet combat film after another, often starring Chuck Norris. Not only were the movies bad, they were cheap, with minimal production values; large battles were staged mostly by intercutting close-ups with colorful fireballs, while the unimpressive Norris flexed his pecs firing two machine guns at the same time. The Siege of Firebase Gloria is so much better than the Cannon pictures it isn't even funny. It caters to the rough-tough action crowd that waited patiently through the talky parts of Oliver Stone's Platoon, to get to the "good stuff." I'd say that at least two-thirds of Trenchard-Smith's show is fighting, action and full scale combat. The direction is very good. I have a low tolerance for repetitive, generic combat action, but most of what we see here is staged with enthusiasm and excitement. Judging from the "go for it" attitude of Australian exploitation films, these jolly jungle filmmakers had a terrific time mounting all manner of bloody gore and mayhem.
What? The Siege of Firebase Gloria is not an anti-war film? It doesn't mope and maunder over the tragic circumstances of the war, if that's what you mean. The characters are fully immersed in their situation, a rare stand-up fight in a war mainly waged through ambushes and booby traps. Although scared out of their wits, they behave like pro soldiers as they throw themselves into a fight that may be un-winnable. The only hint of a moral attitude comes in some unnecessary voiceovers from Ermey's Hafner, restating what we already can see for our own eyes in the cutaways to the onslaught in Saigon. But most of the time the show couldn't give a damn about PC concerns. The soldiers throw derogatory words for Asians around without apology, act gross, and sometimes even use profane words. Yes, Gloria is an exploitation picture, but it is also refreshingly unpretentious.
William Nagle and Tony Johnston's script for The Siege of Firebase Gloria may lack in finesse and tact, but it makes sly comments about Vietnam movies from both ends of the spectrum, The Green Berets and Apocalypse Now. Nobody makes political speeches about the rightness of the war, as in John Wayne's practically obscene propaganda piece. Remember John Wayne's 'adoption' of a Vietnamese orphan, and telling him "You're what it's all about, kid"? In Firebase Gloria a similar orphan is taken in by Di Nardo, but in the final action is reclaimed by the enemy commander Cao Van. The enemy commander carries the kid tenderly back into the jungle. Firebase Gloria shows the enemy from a sane point-of-view, without making them into brainwashed fanatics. Cao Van is not happy seeing so many of his fighters massacred, but orders are orders on his side of the fence, too.
But the script also pooh-poohs Coppola's cosmic gloom over the suffering of women and children in wartime. A pair of attractive Viet women appear at the camp walls, offering to come in. Di Nardo wastes no time blowing them away. Both explode, as they're rigged with bombs. Firebase Gloria does more than feed the audience blood 'n' guts without the usual message-making. The Anglo-Australian filmmakers refuse to play the hypocrisy game of thrilling us with violence and then tacking on a meaningful lesson. Some of the action in the film may be exaggerated but the attitudes of the soldiers are not. They're desperate, exhausted and fully articulate in their hatred for the enemy.
The Seige at Firebase Gloria has fun with its own concept. Hafner and Di Nardo find an ally in a lady doctor (Margi Gerard) in the camp's hospital. After expressing dismay over their savage remarks, she finds herself in a gunfight when the VC overrun her tents and shoot nurses and patients alike. Ordered to stay put, some helicopter pilots break the rules to bring supplies to the beleaguered firebase. The script shows the Army command to be so FUBAR, the only positive action occurring is due to individual initiative.
Brian Trenchard-Smith gets an A+ for keeping this show on its feet. His camera is always moving and hid staging of the action makes full use of his resources. We don't get the feeling that the same twenty guys are getting killed over and over again, or that the action is limited to little bits of generic choreographed violence, to allow the film to be shaped totally by an editor. Ermey and Hauser seem a little old for their action-heavy roles, but they bark orders, shout racist epithets and cuss out underlings with enough believabilty to get by.
Gung-ho combat movie fans will have no problems with The Siege of Firebase Gloria, while viewers of any stripe checking in to see their political opinions reinforced will find little comfort. Like I say, at 100 minutes, my only complaint was that there were maybe two too many major frontal assault scenes. But Firebase Gloria delivers the bang-bang, boom boom goods.
The MGM Limited Edition Collection DVD-R of The Siege of Firebase Gloria is an acceptable enhanced widescreen presentation with fairly good color. The cinematography is better than average for the genre, and way above the standard for American combat exploitation pictures of this era. There are no extras and no English subtitles.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Siege of Firebase Gloria rates:
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics.
Also, don't forget the 2011 Savant Wish List.
T'was Ever Thus.