Allied Artists, 1954, 83 minutes
Cast: John Hodiak, Barbara Britton and Bruce Bennett
Screenplay: John C. Champion
Producer: John C. Champion
Director: Lesley Selander
The end of WWII had left the United States and the Soviet Union as the two global superpowers, and Korea, a Japanese protectorate, was far down their respective lists of priorities. Pre-occupied with imposing control on Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union simply wanted to ensure that American troops were not stationed near its borders, so the 38th Parallel was selected as the dividing line between the Russian and American occupation forces. American support ensured that American-educated Syngman Rhee was elected president of the Republic of Korea (ROK), while Kim Sung-il, who had served with the Red Army during WWII, became the Soviets’ candidate in North Korea. Both Rhee and Kim wanted to reunify Korea by force and believed that the other side would fall easily. Aware that Rhee would provoke a war if permitted, the United States refused to provide the ROK army with planes and tanks. However, Stalin approved Kim’s invasion plan, supplying the North Koreans with generous quantities of planes and tanks. When the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) crossed the border on June 25, 1950, its large, well-trained army overwhelmed the unprepared ROK forces. Believing that remaining neutral would be interpreted as weakness by the Soviets, President Harry Truman won the support of the United Nations (UN) for the defense of South Korea.
In May 1950, Major Matthew Brady (John Hodiak) is assigned to train South Korean pilots. In an unfortunate coincidence, the Red Cross unit at the new base is run by Dr. Stephen Contrell (Bruce Bennett), the man who married his ex-wife, Donna Contrell (Barbara Britton), who believed that her husband was dead when she was with Brady, and went back to him when he turned up alive. Brady quickly whips the base into shape and cuts the training schedule in half. Meanwhile, despite their best intentions, the former lovers can not deny their love. Training becomes urgent when Brady receives a message that intelligence has observed heavy troop movements north of the border. Morale plummets when an exhausted pilot crashes after Brady forced him to fly, but an investigation reveals sabotage. When the invasion starts, it is initially unclear if the United States will commit its full forces to the defence of south Korea or merely evacuate its personnel. The situation rapidly becomes dangerous. A battalion was sent to defend the base, but was ambushed by tanks that moved around them. The training staff will fly to defend Seoul, but enemy fighters show up and know exactly where the planes are despite the camouflage, and destroy them all. After endless retreating, American fighter planes finally arrive, enabling the convoy to retreat safely.
The script works hard to show that the US was not caught off-guard. The ROK pilots have to be combat-ready by June 22, since air cover will be vital to ensure the evacuation of 7,000 US nationals if North Korea invades. No reason is given for the specific date, but it is three days before the actual invasion. Dixon (Jess Barker), a reporter, knew Brady in WWII, and is in Korea even though he has lost his press credentials, presumably for his criticism of the US. Dixon harshly criticizes the US military, accusing it of failing to defend either South Korea or its own people. However, he is proven wrong when American fighters arrive and destroy the tanks that are closing in on the convoy, saving the day.
In reality, both the ROK government and the American advisers had been completely surprised by the North Korean invasion. Many troops had been permitted to return home to help with the harvest. Since the attack took place on a Sunday, most South Korean officials were away from the offices, while the senior American military advisers were out of the country. Moreover, the American State Department had been caught off-guard because it had thought that Berlin, Iran, Greece or Turkey would be more attractive targets for the Soviets.
While both sides had launched cross-border raids before the invasion, the movie cranks up the danger to build tension even though the base is at Kongju, which is located in the middle of the country, near the western coast of South Korea. Nearby farms are attacked by terrorists prior to the invasion, and they often hear gunshots. After the invasion, a Red Cross convoy to the coast is ambushed by enemy tanks. The invasion was fast, but not that fast. However, the fate of the battalion that was shredded by enemy tanks that ambushed it during its retreat was far too common in the first few weeks of the war. The North Koreans’ preferred tactic was to distract the enemy with limited frontal attacks, and then send more troops to attack the flanks where they would form roadblocks to ambush withdrawals.
The acting is astonishingly wooden. Pretty much the only believable part of the script occurs when Brady admits that he is trying not to like his rival, but he makes it hard. Poor Dr. Contrell, he is the non-hero in a love triangle so you know he will die. Unsurprisingly, he is killed while taking care of the wounded when North Korean planes attack the base, enabling Brady to reunite with his now single ex-wife.
Producer/writer John Champion frequently worked with director Lesley Selander, but they both seem to be professionals without even a spark of creativity. The lack of fizz is likely due to the low budget provided by the studio, Allied Artists, formerly known as Monogram Studio, which churned out inexpensive films.
If ever there was a movie that is a waste of time and money, this is it. The sole positive aspect of the the film is that all the Korean roles are played by Koreans, and the ROK liaison officer translates everything into Korean, which you don’t usually see.
In addition, respect is due to the portrayal of the saboteur, who turns out to be a middle-aged Korean nurse with the Red Cross, but managed to radio information, sabotage planes and snipe at the base, while performing her regular duties. Those are praiseworthy time management skills.
For a movie about aviation, there is little air combat. Instead, retreat looks like victory.
Sigh, cheap crap.