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The Steel Helmet (1951)

Approved | | Action, Drama, War | 2 February 1951 (USA)
A ragtag group of American stragglers battles against superior Communist troops in an abandoned Buddhist temple during the Korean War.

Director:

Samuel Fuller

Writer:

Samuel Fuller
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1 win. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Gene Evans ... Sgt. Zack
Robert Hutton ... Pvt. Bronte
Steve Brodie ... Lt. Driscoll
James Edwards ... Cpl. Thompson
Richard Loo ... Sgt. Tanaka
Sid Melton ... Joe
Richard Monahan Richard Monahan ... Pvt. Baldy
William Chun William Chun ... Short Round
Harold Fong Harold Fong ... The Red
Neyle Morrow ... First GI
Lynn Stalmaster ... Second Lieutenant
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Storyline

During the Korean War, strong but worn and cantankerous Sergeant Zack is aided by a young, orphaned Korean boy. Together they encounter and join a small group of American soldiers. The group stumbles upon a Buddhist temple where they decide to hold up, believing it to be empty... Written by Karl Engel <cassiel@ix.netcom.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

... it dares tell the TRUTH behind today's headlines!.. See more »

Genres:

Action | Drama | War

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | Korean

Release Date:

2 February 1951 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Steel Helmet See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$103,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Deputy Corporation See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Gene Evans, who plays Sgt. Zack, created an extension of the same character in Samuel Fuller's subsequent Korean War film, Fixed Bayonets! (1951), albeit under the name Sgt. Rock. See more »

Goofs

The stock footage used in the artillery barrage of the North Korean attack includes WWII-era footage of German artillery on the Atlantic Wall. See more »

Quotes

Sergeant Zack: What's that paper on your back for?
Short Round: Prayer to Buddha asking him to heal me if I am wounded.
Sergeant Zack: Oh, yeah? I thought you forgot to take off the pricetag.
See more »

Crazy Credits

and introducing Gene Evans as Zack See more »

Connections

Referenced in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) See more »

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User Reviews

Worth Looking Into
12 July 2009 | by dougdoepkeSee all my reviews

You've got to hand it to Fuller— by going to low-budget Lippert Pictures he got basically the unglamorous result he wanted. In the process, however, he had to sacrifice certain production values, but what he got in return was an unHollywood Gene Evans, a stunning statue, and an unconventional screenplay—all pretty cutting edge for the time.

Now, tough-talking, homely-looking army sergeants were pretty much a staple of the era, (think James Whitmore in Battleground {1949}). However, they usually took orders from a handsome leading man like Van Johnson, and so were clearly secondary, even if important, characters. Not so here. Sgt. Zack (Evans) leads the cast, takes orders only reluctantly, and deploys the patrol in combat situations like an officer. At best, he only tolerates his nominal superior, Lt. Driscoll (Brodie). I take it that Fuller is being as honest as possible about the often hostile relations between officers and enlisted men, especially intense (as I understand it) during WWII, which was Fuller's formative war experience. Driscoll may have the authority to give orders, but he has to earn Zack's respect -- an inspired use of the steel helmet symbolism.

Another major theme is Fuller's concern for racial equality, a touchy societal topic also ahead of its time. The concern for mutual help and understanding is obvious in the relationships Zack forms with the Korean boy (Chun) and the black corporal (Edwards). Zack doesn't pander to the black soldier, but he does treat him as just that, a medic and a soldier, no more and no less. Fuller also puts the needed equality in a larger, national context when the North Korean major (Fong) tries to drive a racial wedge between the diverse members of the patrol. In fact, communist propaganda was often successful in Third World countries when pointing out the widespread racial discrimination within American democracy. Thus, Fuller's implicit message was a bold and timely one for Cold War audiences.

It's also important, I think, to point out that Sgt. Zack is not particularly likable. He's ornery and unfriendly. Initially he tries to get rid of the kid, probably because he knows relationships in war can be risky. He doesn't want to get close to anyone. In fact, it's because he gets too close to the Korean kid that he makes a big military mistake by shooting the Red major. I like the way Fuller uses that blunder to bring Zack down a few notches. In effect, Driscoll expresses the officer's point of view by saying that because of his blunder, Zack is too dumb to be an officer. Whether true or not, the dressing down prevents Zack's character from being over-idealized, an important concession from a director clearly on the side of enlisted men like Zack.

Nonetheless, despite the quality of the story, Lippert productions remains a cut-rate affair. The outdoor action never gets beyond the tell-tale scrublands of greater LA, while the studio fog machine works overtime disguising the rickety exterior set. Still and all, the temple scenes are well mounted, and I don't know where they got that massive centerpiece Buddha, but it's impressive as all-get-out. The frozen smile remains a puzzle throughout the action, a fitting cosmic commentary, I guess, on the passing concerns of mortal men.

Speaking of Lippert, I felt a twinge of dread when I saw Sid Melton's name in the cast credits. He was responsible for much of that company's customary low-brow comic relief and I anticipated the worst. My guess is that Fuller okay'ed him for the film, but on condition he not be allowed to speak and risk his usual audience associations. After all, Pvt. Baldy (Monahan) is supposed to provide what chuckles there are. It's also surprising to see WWII's favorite sadistic Japanese officer, Richard Loo, in a sympathetic role for a change. Fortunately, it's one that also shows what a fine actor he was.

For all the movie's many merits, it still remains rooted in the cultural climate of WWII. Made at the outset of the Korean conflict, it betrays none of the ambiguities that would later surround America's involvement in that far-off land. The enemy is treated as straightforwardly wicked, and in a revealing piece of combat footage, mowed down in human waves. As a belated tribute to the dog-faces of WWII, Fuller pays his debt of respect and gratitude. However, this is a combat movie, and what politics there are reflect more about social conditions in the US than in Korea. Actual insight into the character of the Korean war only emerges later in such films as The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1954) and the much overlooked I Want You (1951). Nonetheless, Fuller proves himself here to be a doggedly independent filmmaker. More importantly, it also shows he's a filmmaker with something significant to say. And it's that important point on which his cult reputation rests.


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