The Korean War (1950 – 1953) has not featured on the big screen too many times and is an unknown conflict for many outside of those who fought in it. Korea, and the seas around it, may be the main location for this 102 minute movie but a sizeable amount of time is actually spent in Japan.
For a film made in the fifties, it has to be said that it really does look visually impressive at times but it’s just a shame that the story doesn’t match such levels. It’s all fairly flat and non-eventful for about three-quarters of the movie and by the time it gets to the conclusion most viewers have probably stopped caring about anything other than when the end credits will appear!
Warning: Contains spoilers!
The U.S. Navy co-operated with the making of it and that is probably why it looks all so nice and colourful with lots of planes and ships amidst the beautiful blue sea and skyline. The sequences of jets landing and taking off are plentiful and may be interesting if you’re watching a documentary but the overly bearing and painstaking details of such activity is really unnecessary.
Having served in WWII, Lieutenant Harry Brubaker (William Holden) is reluctantly recalled from his comfortable job as a lawyer in Denver to serve his country in war-torn Korea by going on a dangerous mission to drop bombs on a series of heavily defended bridges deep in enemy territory.
Given that the so-called action scenes are fairly lame and disappointing, it’s the character focus which is the more intriguing part of this romantic war drama, and rightly so with support to Holden coming from such big names like Grace Kelly, Frederic March and Mickey Rooney. The latter’s role is merely comic relief for a film of such serious note. He is the helicopter pilot who is never far from a bout of fisticuffs in the wake of his Japanese girlfriend Kimiko dumping him for another serviceman.
Among the scenes of planes coming and going is a rescue of the main character which sets up his undying gratitude to his saviour later on once the action moves to Japan. The Savo Island ship parks up on the shores of Kanagawa Prefecture and Holden gets to have some family time. His wife is played by Grace Kelly but for such a star of the time, she is criminally underused.
One of her scenes is the most interesting and fun though. Whilst on shore leave, Harry’s spirits are briefly lifted when he stays at the Fujiya Hotel in Hakone with his wife and kids. There is a lighthearted moment when they are bathing in the hotel’s bathhouse and are suddenly interrupted by a Japanese family of four who go in the adjacent bath. Harry’s initial protestations that they reserved it exclusively fall on deaf ears due to the language barrier. However, they soon overcome those moments of panic and embarrassment and become friends. It’s a nice moment and shows post-war old enemies getting along or maybe it’s more popular just because a young Grace Kelly is “naked” (I think she’s wearing a beige bikini!) in an onsen bath!
Of course none of the stuff set in Japan really matters too much. It’s almost just filling time until Harry is back on board the ship ready for the serious mission regarding the climactic attack on those bridges. In order to bomb them, the pilots have to successfully run a gauntlet of enemy fire as they navigate their way through a canyon towards their target. It is a scene that somewhat reminded me of the Death Star assault in the original ‘Star Wars‘ (1977) film.
There’s no happy ending for the bold trio which was a brave decision for a character-driven movie of that time but I was really hoping for a more interesting build-up to the bridges being blown up and just didn’t find it too engaging. All-in-all it’s all a bit of a hollow war film which at times feels more like propaganda than entertainment.
Tokyo Fox Rating 4/10