Men On A Mission Film Theater: The Green Berets (1968)

144165.1020.A-1John Wayne was pissed. Those pinko Hollywood commies weren’t supporting the Great Amuuurican Police Action In ‘Nam by aping the good ol’ days and releasing a flood of patriotic war films. Every Gawd Damn film was about Vietnam in one way or another, and Wayne passed on THE DIRTY DOZEN — after all, our boys weren’t psychotic killers! He would show those Reds that audiences were hungry for a stirrin’, rip-roarin’ lesson in Cong ass-kickin’…And he would star and co-direct it as well..Fill your hands, you Mao sonofabitches!

Ballad of the Green Berets CD CoverUsing the number one hit song by SSgt Barry Sadler to provide emotional ballast, The Duke had a long road trying to get this film made. Ostensibly based on the best-selling non-fiction account by Robin Moore, the Pentagon wasn’t happy with the book since they plausibly denied the Berets did what the author — and former Beret — claimed they did. Shocking that. Wayne personally wrote to Lyndon Johnson seeking the full co-operation of the US military and despite even his unassailable patriotic credentials, the top brass rejected script after script until it was diluted to the most simplistic plot imaginable, not that it ever would have been clouded by subtlety.

In a nutshell, the A-B-C plot deals with your typical left-wing MSM journalist (David Janssen) following the travails of The Green Berets, led by Colonel Mike Kirby (Wayne) into the heart of Cong territory t_19815where only a few brave hearts and minds dare to journey. We’re introduced to your stock 1940’s World War II cast of characters, slightly updated for the 60’s. The actors must rely on whatever personal charms they have since the script isn’t there to service character. Aldo Ray plays Master Sergeant Muldoon, the gravelly voiced tough guy determined to stop “worldwide Communist domination” and sadly, this would be the tragic Ray’s last big studio film role before alcoholism doomed his career. Ex-heartthrob Jim Hutton supplies “comedy” relief as a clumsy but dedicated soldier determined to prove himself in battle while becoming reluctant surrogate father to one “Hamchunk” (thas right), the movie’s archetypal Vietnamese grating little boy-symbol.

Wayne shows his democratic side by including Raymond St. Jacques as the black medic plus Jack Soo and George Takei as bad-ass South Vietnamese fighters. The great Bruce Cabot is in there as well, still in supporting actor career mode long after KING KONG (1933) and there’s Luke Askew, one year before hippie immortality as the Nameless Hitchhiker in EASY RIDER. The screenplay makes sure that each character is nothing but the finest cardboard stock, with no conflict as to the war or the mission. Only the cynical journalist is allowed a change of heart, not to mention joining in the combat, and just you try to guess what change that is, pilgrim.

Renata Adler of the New York Times launched the most critical offensive on THE GREEN BERETS when it was released, and her opine reflected the majority of the scathing reviews:

“…a film so unspeakable, so stupid, so rotten and false in every detail that it passes through being fun, through being funny, through being camp, through everything and becomes an invitation to grieve, not for our soldiers or for Vietnam (the film could not be more false or do a greater disservice to either of them), but for what has happened to the fantasy-making apparatus in this country. Simplicities of the right, simplicities of the left, but this one is beyond the possible. It is vile and insane. On top of that, it is dull.”

032207wayne_closeupAnd she’s right. As directors, Wayne and Ray Kellog have the taste and depth of Spam. Filmed in Georgia due to the availability of free military helicopters, the production looks like it was shot on a Hollywood backlot in 1957, just switch wars and add some of that New Cinema brutality — the Vietnamese spike traps are used to particularly gruesome effect as is some nifty burning of Cong bodies along with general bloodletting. Apparently, Bruce Lee was the film’s Action Director (utilizing Chuck Norris), and though I’ve read scant info on this awesome factoid, the fight staging is quite good though limply shot. Still, the jingoistic propaganda is so upfront it’s startling at first, then laughable, exactly as Adler suggested. I do get choked up when Hutton rescues Hamchunk and never underestimate John Wayne as THE GREEN BERETS took in 11 million dollars, one of the top hits of the year. Good panoramic action packed poster too.

I try to watch the film from the viewpoint of my dad, who served in Vietnam. I don’t think he even liked this one if our movie watching youth had any relevance (he prefered DR. STRANGELOVE and THE GREAT ESCAPE). I can appreciate Wayne wanting to honor the troops, who always seem praised most but served least by our government, but when I watch these cinematic aw-shucks leaders then think of Agent Orange and other toxins that infected our soldiers, then flash on Major Calley’s My Lai slaughter of men, women and children and I call “Bullshit.” THE GREEN BERETS ends with one of the most derided shots in film history, with Sergeant Kirby and Hamchunk walking hand-in-hand against the Vietnamese sun wrongly setting in the East as he tells him, “You’re what this is all about…” It’s the only visual poetry in the film and so politically ludicrous you can’t but admire Wayne’s uber-American fervor: kind, naive, arrogant — and destructive.

12 Responses to “Men On A Mission Film Theater: The Green Berets (1968)”

  1. When you said you were gonna look at this for Men on Mission week, I thought “Christian, can surprise me, but there is no way in Hell he’s gonna attempt a defense of this.” Berets was my first Wayne movie, I was pre-teen (12ish) and even then the picture was simple and ridiculous for me, and it took me a while to give Wayne another retrospective chance, legacy or no legacy.

    I’ve seen many of the key and not-so key Wayne movies now, and I’m still not that huge of a fan. I respect his place, but his aw-shucks pardner crap grates me. I’m more of a Robert Ryan kinda tough guy guy.

  2. christian Says:

    If we had leaders like John Wayne in Nam, we woulda cleaned up, pardner. Not the biggest Duke fan, but he represents something pure, albeit simplistic, in American Film. I watched STAGECOACH for the first time a couple years back and I was pleasantly shocked at how GREAT it really is, and as I’ve stated before, Wayne has the most star-making entrance in movie history (next to Connery in DR. NO). And he’s good.

    Even watching this gawd damn reediculous movie, you WISH there were men like Wayne out there. He almost makes you want to rush a Cong hut and get blowed up, if only to have him make some sort of epitaph over your corpse: “Private Divine was one of them libuuurals, but he took his body blows like a MAN. Now get me a shovel.”

  3. Obviously, Mr Wayne’s attempt to curb the spread of communism hasen’t been very successful, as those pinko Hollywood commies are still as thick as fleas, writers, such as yourself, are held up as hero’s, our new President is as left as one can be, as he attacts our free enterprise system, and, our returning troops are considered terrorists by some. . . But, the other shoe has not dropped !

  4. christian Says:

    Thanks Chester for that thoughtful analysis. Considering I saw how the government ignored my dad’s Agent Orange Exposure along with the others until they were dying, your words mean a lot to me.

    And our free-enterprise system has been attacking our citizens for a long time now, but then, you put your trust in those Wall Street Socialists who fucked this nation and who George Bush bailed out last year.

    And when you invade a foreign nation under the auspice of a lie (“There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has Weapons Of Mass Destruction”) then some of those troops rape and murder a family, while Cheney and trial lawyers oversee torture and murder for those not granted any trial….

    Yeah, I miss The Duke too.

  5. thanks my friend

  6. $0.02:

    Pres. Obama argued in favor of –and voted for– the cited bailout, and furthermore has pushed a few of his own. I’d be interested to learn more about your second point (re: “free-enterprise attacking” ). I don’t get this but have an open mind. I realize this thread is intended to film related. You can hit me up by other means (FB/email) if interested.

  7. christian Says:

    I’m being ironic it when I call them Wall Street Socialists obviously. My point is that these lottery behind the scenes baron are the first to bleat about the free market while robbing it blind. See Lay, Ken. Or any other dozen examples. We need regulation and oversight, the exact things the GOP argue against. To our collective woe. Bail em out if need be, but let’s get real.

  8. There must be careful balance between regulation and free market forces. You’d think we’d forever be moving closer to this mark as scoundrels are out’d and rules to avoid future trouble are put into place, but this lofty scenario assumes the regulator and regulatee are cut from different cloth. I used to think so but no longer do.

  9. Christian,

    I may have been a little hasty in saying negative things about you. Very few people had any idea what President Eisenhower meant when he suggested that we should beware of the military/industrial complex. That same ignorance helped get us into the Vietnam War. John Wayne, a very patriotic American, tried to do what he could (from his perspective) to help win that war. Unfortunately, the powers that be had no intention of winning that war until, like blood-sucking leeches, they had had their fill of blood from the American victim. John Wayne was part of another production that not many people know of, called No Substitute for Victory, a documentary about the Vietnam War asking the question, “Why don’t we seem to be winning?” Few people were aware that the same internationalist financiers’ ships were in both DaNang Harbor and Hanoi Harbor, so there was no way that we would be mining the North Vietnamese harbor. It might have started to cut into the profits. I personally am a Vietnam veteran, and just like John Wayne, was “misguided” into trying to help the South Vietnamese remain free. Unfortunately, after draining this country financially, and killing over 60,000 men, maiming another couple of hundred thousand, the leeches gave us a little slack until our current escapade in Iraq. Most people get caught up in a Democrat vs Republican battle, but in reality the leadership in both parties cow-tows to whatever the internationalists want. Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush are going to do exactly what they are told, while these internationalists consolidate their control over our country and the world. A sad state of affairs, to be sure, but I suspect more and more people are beginning to understand.

  10. “‘The Green Berets’ wasn’t Vietnam, it was Malibu.”
    – Michael Herr, “Dispatches”

  11. christian Says:

    Chester, I agree fully with Eisenhower’s prophetic ignored warning. And I’m always of the mind that our nation should help other nations in times of aggressive genocide. But we’re so damn selective. Darfur ignored. Iraq razed. And yes, the corporations took over long ago, filtered through media propaganda. I have no doubt there were soldiers who wanted to help the South Vietnamese, it was just a mistake in insight and operation, led by a ridiculous fear of communist domination of the world via a tiny place like Vietnam. But the residue remains and that’s the filter I can only view THE GREEN BERETS. Thanks for restating your position. And thank you for your service.

  12. christian Says:

    Bob: LOL

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