***½/**** Image A Sound B
starring Richard Widmark, Jack Palance, Reginald Gardiner, Neville Brand
screenplay by Michael Blankfort
directed by Lewis Milestone
by Walter Chaw Released in 1950, Lewis Milestone's Halls of Montezuma is gritty and fascinating, free of a good deal of the jingoism that flavoured earlier WWII studio productions and as influential as they come within the genre. A haunting sequence set during a nighttime rocket attack and lit only by occasional strobes while an unseen enemy screams out at frayed Marines recalls a similar one from Coppola's Apocalypse Now, while Richard Widmark's reluctant Lt. Anderson (a quiet former schoolteacher beset by doubt and anger) and Neville Brand's Sgt. Zelenko are clearly the prototypes for Tom Hanks's Capt. John Miller and Tom Sizemore's Sgt. Horvath, respectively, in Saving Private Ryan. The film's most impressive to the war-movie vocabulary is its ambiguous philosophy: Halls of Montezuma is alive with the creeping suspicion that war may not be all it's cracked up to be--that it might in fact be hell. While there's certainly nothing shocking about that sentiment in our post-Vietnam, post-Korea psyches, that kind of philosophical dissention was rare in the pre-Korea 1950s, and in regards to the unflagging "popularity" of WWII, uncommon even today.