Hell Is for Heroes
Few directors were as good at crafting B-movie thrillers as Don Siegel. Trained as a montage editor, Siegel's sense of cutting made his work very punchy and brutal, in the same vein as Sam Fuller. And like Fuller, Siegel toiled for such a long time in the cheaper B-flicks that both directors had their sensibilities honed by the economy needed to complete them. Siegel's 1962 war film Hell Is for Heroes was born from this budget-movie mentality, if only because its brutal and unflinching attitude towards war wouldn't normally be offered in a more "mainstream" production. Near the Siegfried line in France, U.S. Army Second Company (including such familiar faces as James Coburn, Bobby Darin, and Fess Parker) awaits their return to America, but with the addition of one new soldier, a recently demoted Pvt. Reese (Steve McQueen), they're sent back out to fight. With the six men of Second Company meant to watchdog a small bay, they're unintentionally put into the thick of it when the area which they are meant to guard is located near a German machine-gun nest and troop. The six must then try to appear more fortified to safeguard their area and stay alive. Heroes is in the vein of such other war classics as 1934's The Lost Patrol and 1943's Sahara all have the classic stand-off / Ten Little Indians approach, but what separates Heroes from this pack and makes it so engaging is that it builds steadily, with none of patriotic fervor usually attached to war films, and by the last half-hour the tensions are so thick that little breathing room is left a quality helped by cinematographer Harold Lipstein, who shot the film in a crisp black and white that gives the tale the starkness it needs. McQueen who usually played likable leading men with rough edges is brutal here in a way he rarely portrayed, making his Pvt. Reese selfish and mean, but never cowardly or foolish. The only incongruous element of the film is provided by Bob Newhart (yes, that Bob Newhart), who essentially plays himself as an Army typist inserted into the film to provide comic relief. But even Newhart's light bumblings can't keep Siegel's harsh, taut war flick from achieving its pessimistic conclusion. A minor classic, Hell Is for Heroes deserves to be rediscovered with Paramount's DVD release, which presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and in its original mono soundtrack. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.