This must rank as one of the best all time war films. Not because of who is in it - although the performances from the likes of Michael Caine, Cliff Robertson, Denholm Elliott, Ian Bannen and Ronald Fraser are superb.
Its the gritty, no-nonsense storyline and action that does it for me. None of your infantile jaw-clenched heroic rubbish we're fed from time to time by a jingoistic film industry. This portrays war as it usually was, by people reluctant to put themselves on the line for country and idealism.
This is in some ways the UK's answer to the Dirty Dozen, with a British held Pacific outpost on the tip of an island garrisoned by surly, indifferent soldiers and men with attitude problems. Only the officers seem keen to take the fight to the Japanese who hold the rest of the large island. There's a long stretch of no-man's land mined and covered by machine guns so that anyone trying to get from one side to another has to run the gauntlet of fire.
This changes when Cliff Robertson turns up. He's an American languages expert sent in to take part in an ambitious Allied plan to confuse the Japs by taking hold of their radio transmitter in their main HQ and relay false messages. The British are to escort him there and make sure he delivers his message. The British officer in charge is Denholm Elliot, fuming at his family's death in a bombing raid back in the UK and eager to get to grips with the enemy (even though its the Germans who killed his family). But his character is brilliantly played and you know he's not quite right in the head.
Then you have the disaffected soldiers, led by cockney Michael Caine who has absolutely no respect for anyone and digs at anyone who is in his line fo fire - he refers to one of the leaders a 'Snow White'. There is the fantastic Ian Bannen, who can only be described as playing a looney armed with a Thompson machine gun, never a recipe for safety.
Also I enjoyed the various supporting characters played by Lance Percival and Ronald Fraser, Scottish soldiers who snipe at each other. One memorable line is Fraser snapping back at Bannen calling him a 'poxy Glasweigan queerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr'. That had me falling off my chair in laughter.
The Japanese are led by the excellent Ken Wanatabe and slowly but surely the Allied force is whittled away and I won't spoil the outcome but when the final survivors return to report an unexpected development, you're left guessing who it is who gets back until the final moment. A brilliant film, well shot in the jungle and definitely should be put up there with the best war films ever.
Even the greatest directors sometimes make weak films. Robert Aldrich was a GIANT of cinema and some of his films achieved immortality - think only of "Vera Cruz", "Dirty Dozen", "Attack", "Flight of Phoenix", "Ulzana's raid", "Emperor of the North" or "What ever happened to Baby Jane". This film however is, in my personal opinion, one of his weakest and I hardly managed to finish watching it and even had to fast forward some of the bits here and there... Some limited SPOILERS ahead...
So what went wrong? First, the story. It doesn't make much sense. Launching a kind of "suicide mission" across the Japanese lines to destroy a radio station? REALLY? As if it was not simpler to send a squadron of bombers to simply blow it to smithereens, especially considering that everybody in the whole Pacific seems to know where this radio shack is... But OK, that is only a minor point.
Then there is the question of length. This is a very long film in which people walk and fight and die a lot in a steamy jungle. So it should be an interesting war film - but for some reason, here it doesn't work. This whole film is simply BORING. I completely couldn't develop any attachement to anybody in it - in fact, convicted murderers in "Dirty Dozen" seemed to be nicer people than this bunch of permanently aggravated, depressed, bitching, moaning and very boring guys. Even Michael Caine and Cliff Robertson couldn't make their characters interesting or likeable. As for Henry Fonda, he appears just in a cameo and the whole purpose of his participation seems to be just helping the marketing by putting his name on the poster...
In fact, the only person who is somehow interesting in the whole film is Captain Hornsby, a slightly hapless but nevertheless extremely courageous commander of the whole mission behind the Japanese lines, a role magistrally interpreted by Denholm Elliott, who later played Dr. Markus Brody in "Indiana Jones" franchise... But he has not enough screen time.
The fighting scenes are poorly filmed, there is absolutely no comparison with the deadly gunfights in "Dirty Dozen" or the incredible confrontation of Jack Palance's character with a Tiger tank in "Attack". Jeez, the fights are actually worse even than in "Apache", a western which aged so much but still remains a better Aldrich film than this one...
Once the mission is accomplished and the surviving soldiers run for their lifes towards allied lines, this film could have been even better - but once again somehow it just doesn't work. The whole idea of Japanese soldiers chasing the British with giant camouflaged loudspeakers amused me greatly, but somehow I do not think this was the effect Robert Aldrich searched...
The final "running of the gauntlet", supposedly dramatic, made me frankly laugh - for Christ sake, didn't anybody have the idea of just hide in a hole in the jungle and wait for the NIGHT?
I feel bad when writing this review, because Robert Aldrich is one of my absolutely most favourite film makers and for 19 years he really ruled, from "Apache" in 1954 to "The Emperor of the North" in 1973. I was so impatient to discover this film, one of few by this director I didn't know yet - but my disappointment was cruel. So, even if it is with a broken heart, I simply can not give to this film more than two stars, because it bored me almost to death and made me waste a whole evening which I will never get back.
I've always liked the movies of Robert Aldrich and I bought TOO LATE THE HERO as soon as it was released on the DVD standard. Anchor Bay presents unfortunately only a trailer as bonus feature but the copy is alright. Cliff Robertson is the Aldrichian hero by essence ; he is not a coward but he prefers to enjoy the Pacific beaches rather than to take part in combats. He's a pessimistic hero in a pessimistic movie. The initial credits set extremely well the tone of the film with these at first flamboyant american, british and japanese flags that become little by little less colourful, less arrogant until they finally fade into the dusty reality. A DVD zone Big Bob.
This is one of those war movies that is seldom seen on TV or available to buy. I watched it again a few weeks ago with a friend on a poor quality off-air VHS tape and remembered why I taped it in the first place. The conflict between the allies and the Japanese almost appears secondary in comparison with the internal conflicts between the members of the team sent out to attack a Japanese communications site. Michael Caine in one of his lesser known roles utters a classic line which my friend and I always remember "... chop your bloody head off!" (in a cockney accent). Glad to see it finally coming to DVD, and in widescreen too.
This is a great war movie from director Robert Aldrich. The film sees a group of british soldiers led by an incompotent captain(Denholm Elliot) and a US Leitenant(who does not know what he is doing there) set off into the jungle to destroy a japaneses radio transmitter. The patrol is made up of great actors like Ronald Fraser and Ian Bannen all of whom play great characters. The patrol soon become demoralised by there captains inability to command and the patrol turns into a bit of a shambles. The best part for me is when Michael Caine finds Ronald Fraser to have stolen some ciggeretes from the dead Sergeant and all hell breaks loose. This film has been on TV quite often recently and is now available on dvd. If you like your war films you will love this one.
When I first saw this movie years ago in the cinema, it had me on the edge of the seat, and it still does, and I know the plot!.Plus being slightly deaf, the subtitles on the dvd are really superb. The story centers around a hapless reluctant American hero, who is ordered to 'accompany' a British patrol,led by a naive officer, on a dangerous patrol deep into an enemy infested jungle. He speaks fluent Japaneese(of course), but refuses to help the Brits. until at the end he....... I'll ruin it if I mention the ending, just watch and enjoy. Superb acting from all the cast, great ending, and who makes it back to camp...well just wait and see!.