In Halls Of Montezuma a group of US marines fight through a series of battles to discover the whereabouts of a Japanese rocket base that is preventing American troops moving forward. Richard Widmark stars as the commander of the men leading his command into battle across the Pacific Basin as they attack enemy camps to take prisoners for interrogation. With him are ex-boxer Jack Palance (here billed as Walter ‘Jack’ Palance), somewhat dumb Karl Malden, innocent recruits Robert Wagner and Skip Homeier and cynical sergeant Reginald Gardiner.
While the essential narrative of the film is the battles the soldiers experience as they attempt to achieve their objective, the film is also far more complex as it brings to the fore the strengths and weaknesses of each of the marines in their civilian life, so that every action they undertake in war is played against their characters and behaviour in peace-time. The film is also enhanced by director Lewis Milestone’s decision to intersperse the fiction of the film with footage of real warfare, and the dramatic staging of fictional battle scenes shot at Camp Pendelton in the US.
The film is given depth by the heights of acting reached by the cast. Richard Widmark plays every note in his character, from the hesitation the officer feels when faced by the difficulties of battle to his ability to inspire and support the men in his command. Similarly, Karl Malden indicates the essential intelligence of his character (Doc – a pharmacist’s assistant) by highlighting his inadequacy in understanding why the war is happening in the first place. This takes place against the performances of Jack Palance, who plays to the toughness of his character, and the determined alcoholism of Bert Freed, who builds a still in every foxhole going.
Variety says: “individual performances brought out by Milestone’s performance all click. Widmark is exceptionally good… Reginald Gardiner adds some lightness… Karl Malden stands out… Bert Freed is another registering as a tough fighter. Among many others giving most able accounts are Walter (Jack ) Palance, Robert Wagner, Richard Hylton, Richard Boone, Skip Homeier, Don Hicks, Jack Webb, Neville Brand.”
USA / 1951
Director: Lewis Milestone
Writer: Michael Blankfort
Cast: Richard Widmark, Jack Palance, Reginald Gardiner, Robert Wagner, Karl Malden, Richard Hylton, Richard Boone, Skip Homeier, Don Hicks, Jack Webb, Bert Freed,