[box cover]

Halls of Montezuma

Strange tensions that keep the film a little off-kilter, along with a strong ensemble cast, fuels what little 1950's Halls of Montezuma has going for it. Directed by Lewis Milestone, who made 1930's Academy Award-winning All Quiet on the Western Front (which featured some of the greatest war scenes ever in an "anti-war" movie), Montezuma is a standard men-in-combat film with some nice touches. Trying to take the isle of Montezuma, the U.S. Marine Corps is hampered by Japanese rockets being launched from somewhere on the island. Thus, Lt. Carl Anderson (Richard Widmark) is sent on a mission to find a group of Japanese soldiers stuck in a cave, who are believed ready to surrender — and perhaps reveal the location of said launch site. Among Anderson's crew are Cpl. "Doc" Jones (Karl Malden), reporter Sgt. Dickerson (Jack Webb), ex-boxer Pvt. Pigeon (Jack Palance), troubled Pvt. "Pretty Boy" Riley (Skip Homeier), brutish Sgt. Zelenko (Neville Brand), and translator Sgt. Johnson (Reginald Gardiner). All are in a race against time, forced to find the launch site before their battalion lands. Milestone was an experienced war-film director, and in The Halls of Montezuma he effectively conveys the claustrophobia and panic of combat, as well as genuine danger during the mission. However, while Widmark usually is a strong lead, here he's a little bland, even though his character has an interesting malady: going into combat too many times has given him overpowering migraines, and he's a confirmed pill-popper. The bit players — particularly Brand and Palance — make for a good supporting cast, but with a picture like this everything rests on how much dramatic tension the director can get out of the material. Yes, there are some good moments, and some abrupt violence and strange narrative twists make the middle section involving, but overall the movie lacks a clear, tense narrative. Politically correct viewers take note: the Japanese are portrayed stereotypically throughout. Fox's DVD presents the film in its original full-frame aspect ratio (1.33:1) in a vibrant but occasionally scratchy transfer, with audio in both 2.0 stereo and mono. Trailers, keep-case.

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