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20th Century Fox presents
Halls Of Montezuma (1950)

"Alright, Conroy, repeat after me. Hope is the mother of all men."
- Lt. Anderson (Richard Widmark)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: November 05, 2001

Stars: Richard Widmark, Jack Palance, Reginald Gardner
Other Stars: Robert Wagner, Karl Malden, Richard Boone, Jack Webb
Director: Lewis Milestone

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (war violence)
Run Time: 01h:53m:05s
Release Date: November 06, 2001
UPC: 024543025443
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+BB C+

DVD Review

The 1950 release of Halls Of Montezuma is an exceptionally fine example of the better-than-average treatment by Hollywood of the American war with Japan. Long before the jaded cynicism of contemporary war films like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, movie audiences were generally treated to inspiring and gripping tales designed to instill patriotism. This effort is directed by Lewis Milestone, though it is no match for his brilliantly refreshing, and Academy Award® winning, direction of All Quiet On The Western Front (1930).

Marine Lt. Anderson (Richard Widmark), a former high school chemistry teacher, is the leader of a mixed squad of soldiers that are ordered to take part in a massive assault on a heavily fortified Japanese-held island. The U.S. forces are pinned down by enemy rocket fire coming from an unknown base, and it is up to Anderson and his ragtag group of men to locate the source.

The Michael Blankfort script adds another layer of drama to an already tense situation by having Anderson constantly plagued by head-splitting migraines. Anderson receives potentially addictive medication from his good buddy Doc (Karl Malden), and he seems to have developed an almost suicidal mind set. For some reason Widmark has always been a somewhat underrated actor, and his performance here is full of quiet rage. His character is a mass of anger and grief, and Widmark conveys that very effectively. In the opening sequence, he evens questions the validity of having to send more young men to die, which was a rather daring admission for the time.

The overwhelming success of Saving Private Ryan re-introduced audiences to the drama of America's involvement in the war with Germany. That film's opening scenes of the Normandy landing were brutally realistic, and served to literally hammer filmgoers over the head with dizzying imagery. While the U.S. enemy in Halls Of Montezuma is the Japanese, Milestone also features an equally memorable landing sequence, though for different reasons. As the Marines slowly head for the beach in their landing crafts, the camera lingers over each of their faces as they stare silently back at the relative safety of their massive warship as it gradually becomes more distant. The level of fear and anticipation is evident in all of the soldiers, and even though the sequence has some sadly dated process shots, the dramatic effect is not lost at all.

A Hollywood war film always features a colorful collection of soldiers, and Milestone loads the screen with a nice mix of familiar faces. Jack Palance, Jack Webb, Robert Wagner, Martin Milner and Richard Boone all contribute even, though somewhat predictable, performances so typical of the genre. Reginald Gardiner's fey but tough Brit Johnson, the only man among them who can speak Japanese, is the one of the film's few humorous characters.

As you might expect, there are plenty of good old battlefield sequences here, with gunfire, explosions, tanks and rockets. In between the chaos and death, there are a handful of moving moments that give Halls Of Montezuma something extra, something that an award-winning director can bring to the table. Early on there is a haunting nighttime sequence with the Marines lying in a foxhole, lit only by occasional flares, and they listen to the taunts of Japanese soldiers ("You Marines all die") in the distance. Each man has different reactions, and Milestone's use of the unusual lighting gives the scene a real edge.

War films, like westerns and romances, can often become nothing more than a series of paint-by-numbers situations. A skilled director, Milestone paints Halls Of Montezuma outside the lines, and he is able to not only provide a rallying and inspirational story, but one that dares to question to the validity of war.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in a 1.33:1 full-frame transfer, this 1950 color release actually looks quite good. The warmth and consistency of the color field had me forgetting at times that this film is over fifty years old. Some minor fluctuations in color saturation, especially during scene and reel changes, is generally minor. The image is free of any graining, though it does have an abundance of white flecks.

For it's age, Halls Of Montezuma looks terrific.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: An English stereo mix is the audio highlight. Though it lacks any real rumbling punch, the stereo track has a relatively wide range. For a film of this age, I found the sound field to be much fuller than I was expecting. The other options, a particularly flat set of English and French mono mixes, pale in comparison.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Guadalcanal Diary, Tigerland, The Young Lions, Men Of Honor, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Wing And A Prayer, War Trailer
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Fox has included a thematic collection of trailers for their other war titles, including Guadalcanal Diary, Tigerland, The Young Lions, Men Of Honor, Tora! Tora! Tora! and Wing And A Prayer. A special trailer highlighting three releases (Von Ryan's Express, Twelve O'Clock High, and The Sand Pebbles) is also included.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

This is one of the better war films of the era, with solid performances by Richard Widmark and Reginald Gardiner. Though the battle scenes are noticeably bloodless, this film reinforces the notion that war is hell.



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