The Naked And The Dead, 1958. 7/10

Film adaptation of Norman Mailer’s WWII novel. This is as much a character study as a war story, as a wily veteran sergeant fights a newly-minted lieutenant for leadership of a platoon. The other fight, of course, is with the nominal enemy, the Japanese Army.

This is kind of a ‘split decision’ for me: the second part of the movie is much better than what comes before. In fact, it might’ve been better to tell the lead-up to the fateful patrol in flashbacks. What we get in the Hearn vs. Croft vs. the Japanese vs. the terrain plot strands is a taut, captivating plunge into hell and back.

It’s interesting that at the time that Hearn is injured, Croft has the men almost completely in his corner; but the tables turn quickly. The men detailed to take Hearn back to the beach grow to respect him; whereas Croft’s men completely lose respect for him. In a way, Croft is a sort of low-life version of the general. Both men think they’re always right, dominate those around them, and use the war to enhance their egos.

Both are shown to be essentially weak men. Hearn seems hapless, and almost everything goes wrong for him; but he perseveres, coming out of his experience stronger, and more self-assured. In short, his character changes, unlike the robotic general and sadistic sergeant.

There’s quite a bit of chatter about the absurdity of war: the unexpected success of the patrol shows how chance plays such a significant role. Oddly enough, the very messiness of the patrol confuses the enemy into making a critical mistake; and encourages the colonel to mount the decisive attack.

By being absent, the general was shown up by a subordinate. And Croft, giving in to his reckless impulses, was eliminated. I’m aware that Mailer’s story was altered significantly for the movie, which makes me want to re-read the novel. The movie stands on its own nonetheless.

Strictly as a war movie, The Naked and the Dead is very successful. The battle scenes are tense, exciting, and realistic. Ok, we have post-war tanks in several scenes, and the Japanese show up with our period-correct Shermans, but most war movies make-do like this.

I’ll probably skip through the first part when I watch it again, but the second part is not to be missed. 7/10.

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