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Paramount Studios presents
Hell is for Heroes (1962)

"You mean the six of us have to hold this section by ourselves?"
- Sergeant Larkin (Harry Guardino)

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: June 14, 2001

Stars: Steve McQueen, Bobby Darin, Fess Parker, Bob Newhart, Nick Adams
Other Stars: Harry Guardino, James Coburn, Mike Kellin
Director: Don Siegel

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (war violence)
Run Time: 01h:29m:48s
Release Date: May 22, 2001
UPC: 097360611649
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Hell is for Heroes is an taut, entertaining war movie that focuses on the actions of a platoon in a narrow slice of the war, with one objective: survive. The soldiers have heard rumors that they are being relieved and would soon be returning to the States. Little do they know that not only are they set to return to the line, but command has made a mistake and they will be forced into an impossible situation. The film was made by veterans of TV production and often seems like a good quality episode of The Twilight Zone or Combat. The most interesting aspect of this drama is the cast, featuring a group of actors at various stages of their respective careers. There is quite a mix of styles and personalities with these actors who were bouncing around in the television and movie studio system in the late 1950s, looking for a breakout role.

Hell is for Heroes features Steve McQueen, just on the brink of the run of movies that would make him an international star. At this point in his career, he had a TV run on Wanted: Dead or Alive and an appearance in The Magnificent Seven under his belt. This same year he made The War Lover and then, the next year, one of his most famous performances as "The Cooler King" in The Great Escape. Here McQueen is Private Reese, a misfit soldier who finds his satisfaction only in battle and fears the possibility of returning home, making him the only soldier glad to be returning to the front line. This type of anti-hero is the essence of McQueen's cool. Unable to follow the rules, at odds with his comrades and trouble for command, he is still the kind of man you would want fighting beside you... a man with no fear, and a peculiar but serious sense of honor. All the hallmarks of McQueen's laconic, economical acting style are on display.

A bit of stunt casting brings Bobby Darin into the mix. Darin was known as a pop singer and had hits in the late 1950s with Splish Splash and Mack the Knife. He later was accorded an Academy Award® nomination for his performance in Captain Newman M.D. in 1964. Here he is Private J.J. Corby and does a creditable job by bringing to his role the talent that made him an entertainer. He is a big part of the comic relief in the movie and has a refreshing naturalness to his role of the platoon's wheeler-dealer.

In a fairly small part, Fess Parker was one of the more well-known actors with his fame as Walt Disney's TV sensation Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. (If you are of a certain age, there is a song going through your head right now....) Parker never caught on as a movie actor outside of Disney's realm, so in 1964 he returned to television to star in the popular Daniel Boone series. His Sergeant Pike has a few scenes early in the movie, especially one with Pvt. Reese, but then disappears until the end.

James Coburn's career is studded with over 100 roles and was capped in 1999 with his Oscar® win as Best Supporting Actor in Affliction. One of the most respected character actors in Hollywood, he has always been entertaining in whatever grade of movie he appears in. Like McQueen, Coburn turned in a memorable supporting role in The Magnificent Seven and made a solid appearance in The Great Escape; but he never achieved the type of stardom that McQueen was to enjoy in the 1960s. Here, Coburn is the small but pivotal character of Corporal Henshaw, who is a talented mechanic, forced to assume command of the platoon.

Another piece of stunt casting has comedian Bob Newhart making his film debut in a role that certainly must have been written to take specific advantage of his popularity. He performs one of his standard schticks on a telephone, acting as if he is in communication with headquarters, for the benefit of the listening enemy. This bit is somewhat amusing and will no doubt be interesting for people who know him as the "Hi Bob" of long-running TV sitcoms.

The story of Nick Adams is a tragic one in Hollywood lore. He rose to fame as Johnny Yuma in The Rebel TV series after movie appearances in Rebel Without a Cause, Our Miss Brooks and No Time For Sergeants. He was often cast in roles that were reminiscent of the troubled youth that James Dean pioneered. His career peaked in 1965 with an Oscar® nomination for his role in Twilight of HonorFrankenstein Conquers The World and Die, Monster Die! before dying of an accidental drug overdose in 1968. In Hell is for Heroes, Adams is very appealing as the young Polish refugee who attachs himself to the platoon and wants to accompany them back to the States.

Harry Guardino is a very familiar character actor with dozens of television and movie appearances, usually playing a police officer. One his most memorable roles was in the first two Dirty Harry movies with Clint Eastwood where he often said, "Dammit Harry!" Guardino portrays Sergeant Larkin here and is a solier's soldier faced with an impossible task.

The small part of Private Kolinsky is played by Mike Kellin. I mention him as an actor in this movie who, although he had a long career with dozens of film and TV roles, never achieved the name or face recognition of his fellow cast members.

Director Don Siegel was at a midpoint in his long, successful career. He worked as a director and editor in the 1940s and specialized in montages that can be found in Blues in the Night, Casablanca and All The King's Men. He moved to directing and was known for making smaller films with a spare, straightforward style and some television work. He is best remembered for his science fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956. In the late 1960s, Siegel teamed up with Clint Eastwood for a run of very successful films including Coogan's Bluff, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry and Escape from Alcatraz.

The work by these men make this an interesting film beyond the fact that it is, in itself, an entertaining war picture. The story doesn't reach too far, is very suspenseful and the actors each bring their own particular style and talent to their characters they play.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Hell is for Heroes is presented in a very solid anamorphic widescreen format and is a pleasure to watch. Blacks are deep and rich. There are occasionally patterns and artifacts but, overall, the picture is very clean and crisp. Much of the film takes place at night and some sequences are difficult to see well, but this is obviously a difficulty originating with the source.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The sound appears in English and French Dolby mono. It doesn't do much to alleviate the TV-ish feeling of the production but is generally very clean. There were some moments when it was difficult to make out whispered conversations, but this seemed to be inherent in the style of the source.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Disappointingly, the only extra on this disc is the mildly entertaining theatrical trailer. But, it seems like a little more attention could have been paid to the central assets of this, the actors who made it and director Don Siegel.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

This entertaining little film should find a place among the collection of any war movie aficionado. With great performances by a fascinating assortment of young actors led by Steve McQueen, Hell is for Heroes tells a solid, suspenseful story of American ingenuity and bravery with great aplomb.


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