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Go! Tell the Spartans
"Go! Tell the Spartans" is a tidy little late 70s offering tackling the subject of the US involvement in the Vietnam War that I'd make a safe bet in saying likely waned from the public mindframe following Coppola's epic "Apocalypse Now" a scant year later. Helmed by Ted Post, a veteran of both the big screen and small screen, "Go! Tell the Spartans" is a questionable two-hour offering that draws more on Post's stylings as a small screen director, taking cinematic endeavour such as the Vietnam War and honing in on the heart and soul of the futility of war through broad character studies. A film in the vein of Samuel Fuller's "The Big Red One", "Go! Tell the Spartans" anchors its saga around Major Barker (Burt Lancaster), an Army man through and through, tasked with commanding a motley crew of young men, each with a different journey leading them to Muc Wa, the film's home base.
Adapted from Daniel Ford's novel "Incident at Muc Wa: A Story of the Vietnam War", "Go! Tell the Spartans" never quite reaches the level of moralizing and grandstanding that "M*A*S*H" did in terms of questioning not only the US involvement in a war, but the futility of war itself. Barker's men range from a long time comrade, Sgt. Oleozewski (Jonathan Goldsmith, who you might recognize as the former Dos Equis "most interesting man in the world") who walks a fine line of sanity, to Cpl. Courcey (Craig Wasson), a volunteer, originally drafted but seems to have found some purpose in staying in the war. It's Post's handling of the diverse cast of characters that sets "Go! Tell the Spartans" apart from a rather mundane sense of production design and small scale feel. There are few battle sequences that even scrape the surface of being memorable, however, there are more than a handful of quieter more humane moments, where the toll war takes on the psyche is explored through humor, introspection, sadism, and sometime self-destruction.
Lancaster is the film's anchor through and through, offering sagely wisdom and a lifetime of experience, hoping to keep his men alive and in the process, provide them with a cautionary tale of a career and possibly life wasted. Lancaster's performance is even keeled, even in the face of the stark horrors of armed combat, capturing the world weary combat lifer in a way, that I wish the character could have been transplanted into a more fully realized film. If not for Lancaster's nuance, the film's more broad strokes in terms of storytelling and pacing would have surely left the picture even more forgotten than it already may be. As good as Post's character work is, he is lacking heavily in leaving viewers with a film that feels cinematic and not of TV miniseries caliber production.
While the film's final sequence and in particular its final scene are among its most lasting images, at the end of day, "Go! Tell the Spartans" remains a modest footnote in the pantheon on Vietnam War era films. It is in no shape or form a contender for making an essential viewing list and as the years go on, its aesthetic flaws and lack of true scope will only make it fair all the worse for wear. It is still an interesting diversion nonetheless, and has moments of beauty in its commentary on war's unyielding futility. A minor success at best.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is the first time "Go! Tell The Spartans" has seen a proper original aspect ratio release on home video. The print itself is of above average quality, with average to above average levels of detail and relatively clean source material. Colors are slightly (and thematically) muted, giving the film that timeless 70s "war film" look that sets it apart from true epics a la "Apocalypse Now". Contrast is consistent throughout and the darker scenes in the feature are handles appropriately.
The Dolby Digital English stereo audio is a little lacking overall; dialogue is consistent, albeit a tad aggressive compared to the score and effects. There's a little dynamic range, but for the most part, it's a front and center affair, with a few occasional instances of distortion on the high end. Overall, it's serviceable track, but the lack of technical bravado does slightly distract from the film at hand, making it feel a little more "TV movie" than "big screen" offering.
The disc hosts a bevy of interviews, all roughly clocking in around 15-30 minutes with cast members Marc Singer, Joe Unger, David Clennon, Jonathan Goldsmith, and director Ted Post. It makes up quite handedly for the lack of a feature length commentary track and provides a variety of insights into the filmmaking process.
Scorpion's release of "Go! Tell the Spartans" is a truly admirable technical presentation, for an otherwise forgotten film. With an overly restrained sense of scope, "Go! Tell the Spartans" begins to wear out its welcome before it can get to its punchline. Come for Lancaster and Post's handling of character matters; for those looking for an overall solid Vietnam War film, seek counsel elsewhere. Recommended.