In what might be considered the spiritual antecedent of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) or Terrence Malick’s “Thin Red Line” (1998), Samuel Fuller’s first war movie The Steel Helmet depicts men engaged in a struggle to survive the confusion and terror of war.
Fuller wrote, produced and directed this savage depiction of the Korean War in just 10 days, and only six months after the start of that conflict, but it remains a timeless statement. WWII veteran Gene Evans survives his unit’s slaughter, and, accompanied by a Korean boy who helped him escape sniper fire, joins up with a unit of untested new recruits. They withstand a withering assault and eventually seize a Buddhist temple and the North Korean officer defending it, but there is no sense of pride, heroism or patriotism.
In the confusion of war, connection means risk and death are random. This resonated with audiences familiar with the real costs of WWII and was a surprise hit when released, marking Fuller’s Hollywood breakthrough.
The Steel Helmet was the first American feature-length film about the Korean War. Fuller, who served in World War II, incorporated many of his real-life battle experiences into the script.
Cast: Gene Evans, Steve Brodie, James Edwards, Robert Hutton, Richard Loo, Sid Melton
Screenwriter, Producer and Director: Samuel Fuller
Director of Photography: Ernest Miller
Editor: Philip Cahn
Composer: Paul Dunlap
Art Director: Theobold Holsopple
USA / Lippert / 84 minutes / 1951