Movie Mirrors Index

The Steel Helmet

(1951 b 85')

En: 7 Ed: 7

Written and directed by Samuel Fuller, an experienced sergeant, a South Korean boy, and a black medic join an American patrol during the Korean War.

         A steel helmet is seen to have the face of Sgt. Zack under it. His hands are tied behind his back, and he crawls up a hill. The South Korean boy Short Round (William Chun) cuts him loose and asks to go with him. According to Buddhist tradition Zack’s heart is in his hands because he saved his life. Limping Zack tells him to grab a helmet and boots and lets him tag along. A couple behind an outdoor shrine shoots at them, and Zack kills both of them.

         In the foggy forest Zack finds that Short Round has Buddhist prayers inside his shirt. They come upon a black soldier, the medic Corporal Thompson (James Edwards), who treats Zack’s wounded leg. An American patrol led by Lt. Driscoll (Steve Brodie) and Sgt. Tanaka (Richard Loo) finds them. As they continue, snipers shoot at them. Zack figures out they are up in the trees. He and another soldier sit back-to-back and kill them. Zack talks to Baldy (Richard Monahan) who is carrying hair oil. Zack agrees to guide them to their destination for cigars.

         After a cart is searched, Zack admits to Lt. Driscoll that he is not an officer who is always right. Zack is skeptical of the inexperienced lieutenant. A soldier finds a dead American, and Lt. Driscoll orders him to get his dog-tags. They see the explosion that kills him, and Zack notes that dead bodies can be booby-trapped.

         Zack approaches a Buddhist temple ahead of the others. Short Round removes his boots, goes in, and lights two candles. Lt. Driscoll orders them not to deface it. Zack finds Joe (Sid Melton) outside, but Joe says nothing. Lt. Driscoll is saved from having his grenade go off. Zack asks Bronte (Robert Hutton) to play his organ, and Short Round sings the Korean national anthem to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.” Short Round prays for Baldy’s hair to grow, and Sgt. Tanaka gives him a scalp massage.

         At night Joe is stabbed in the back. Zack wakes up Baldy because his breath whistles like incoming artillery. They discover Joe and search again. Zack finds the North Korean major they call the Red (Harold Fong). Thompson treats his wounds, and the Red asks him about sitting in the back of the bus. Thompson says some things take time.

Baldy gets the radio to receive but cannot send. Sgt. Tanaka admits to the Red that he was in an internment camp and fought in Europe for America. Short Round writes a prayer and prepares to leave with Zack, who says goodbye. Lt. Driscoll asks to trade helmets with Zack, who refuses and tells of an order on the Normandy beach. Short Round goes outside and is shot. Zack says to bury him. The Red reads his prayer for Zack to like him and calls it a stupid prayer. Enraged Zack shoots him. Lt. Driscoll reprimands Zack. Thompson treats his wound. The Red prays and dies.

Baldy gets the radio working, and they guide the artillery. They are attacked and shoot back. Bronte is killed. Thompson starts shooting. Zack thinks he is on the beach. Lt. Driscoll is shot.

         After the battle the Allies arrive and tell them to come out and follow them. Zack trades helmets at the grave of Lt. Driscoll.

         This war drama reflects the current Asian war that is contrasted to the peacefulness of the Buddhist religion, but it seems to be playing out the same habits as in the previous war without its purpose.

Copyright © 2007 by Sanderson Beck

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