Hell Is for Heroes (film)

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Hell Is for Heroes
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Directed by Don Siegel
Produced by Henry Blanke
Written by Richard Carr & Robert Pirosh
Starring Steve McQueen
Bobby Darin
Fess Parker
James Coburn
Bob Newhart
Nick Adams
Music by Leonard Rosenman
Cinematography Harold Lipstein
Edited by Howard A. Smith
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s)
  • 1962 (1962)
Running time 90 min
Country United States
Language English

Hell Is for Heroes is a 1962 American war film directed by Don Siegel and starring Steve McQueen. It tells the story of a squad of U.S. soldiers who, in the fall of 1944, must hold off an entire German company for approximately 48 hours along the Siegfried Line until reinforcements reach them.


Montigny, Meurthe-et-Moselle 1944: Squad leader Sgt. Larkin (Harry Guardino) and his men are getting ready to take a well-deserved rest after being on the front line for several weeks. During an interlude at a church and later at a tavern, the senior non-commissioned officer, Technical Sergeant Pike (Fess Parker), happens upon John Reese (Steve McQueen), a former sergeant who is now a private. Reese is the quintessential troubled loner, managing to alienate himself from almost everyone in the squad right from the beginning. The company commander, Capt. Loomis (Joseph Hoover), is worried because Reese goes crazy when there is no fighting, but Pike comments that he is a good soldier in combat.

Sgt. Pike informs the men that they will shortly be going back on the line. After much complaining, the men get ready to move out. The remaining members of 2nd Squad include con-man/thief Corby (Bobby Darin), the mechanic-who-can-fix-anything Corporal Henshaw (James Coburn), the easy-going, somewhat-naive kid, Cumberly (Bill Mullikin), and family man Kolinsky (Mike Kellin). The squad has their own mascot, a Polish displaced person Homer Janeczek (Nick Adams), who is not a soldier but stays with the squad in order to get to the United States. The morning after they arrive at their appointed post and dig in, the men realize they are spread so thin that any reconnaissance by the Germans will quickly reveal how weak the American defenses are.

One stroke of good luck is the sudden and mistaken arrival of an Army company clerk, Private First Class James Driscoll (Bob Newhart in his first film role). Larkin quickly puts Driscoll’s jeep to use by having Henshaw rig it to backfire and sound like a tank. Driscoll himself is put to use improvising misleading radio messages for a hidden microphone left by the Germans in an abandoned pillbox (Newhart was noted for his telephone conversation skits in his stand-up comedy routines).

A German raid results in Cumberly's death, but Reese manages to kill three Germans in close combat. So wound up by the combat that he can barely stand still, Reese recommends hitting the German pillbox on the other side of a field filled with mines and barbed wire to make the enemy think the Americans are at normal strength. Larkin decides to go find some help and see if he can get permission from Pike for the attack, but is killed in an artillery barrage. Reese decides to proceed without orders and persuades two others to go along. The attack fails, when Henshaw sets off an S-mine and is fatally burned by his exploding flamethrower tanks, and Kolinsky dies screaming from shrapnel through the back and abdomen.

Reinforcements do arrive soon thereafter, along with Sgt. Pike and Capt. Loomis, who berates Reese and decides not to court-martial the insubordinate private only so he can be at the front of the American assault at dawn. The pillbox fires on the advancing Americans. Reese throws a satchel charge into the pillbox. When it is tossed out by the defenders, he grabs it and, by now gravely wounded, carries it in, blowing up the fortification and himself.



Writer Robert Pirosh, was a former Master Sergeant with the 35th Infantry Division in World War II. He gained quite a name for himself after writing the script for the 1949 film Battleground, about the American 101st Airborne Division glidertroopers’ defending of Bastogne, then writing and directing Go for Broke! a 1951 war film about the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Soon after Hell Is for Heroes, he created the World War II TV series Combat!. Originally, Pirosh was also to have directed and produced the film, but he walked away from the project after trouble with McQueen.[1] Pirosh's screenplay was originally entitled Separation Hill but the title was changed by Paramount's publicity office as being too close to the 1959 Korean War film Pork Chop Hill.[2]

Many of the cast were angry over the studio's budget restrictions, which resulted in phony looking props, malfunctioning firearms and the same German having to be killed three or four times. In the last battle scene McQueen can be seen experiencing multiple failures firing the M3 Grease Gun. These malfunctions were due to problems with the blanks used.

McQueen was reportedly furious with his agent for having induced him to sign onto the film and not securing the fee that he had been promised up front and for passing on another movie that McQueen wanted. Thus his angry, detached "loner" look may not have been entirely due to his method acting. Columnist James Bacon visited the set and said that "Steve McQueen is his own worst enemy". Bobby Darin overheard the remark and replied, "Not while I'm still alive."[3]

Parker, Coburn and others in the cast were doing other projects during the making of the film and would repeatedly show up in the nick of time and do their lines without makeup and little or no rehearsal. (Coburn also appeared with McQueen in The Magnificent Seven and another World War II film, The Great Escape).

Due to the intense heat of the 1961 summer in Cottonwood and Redding, California, many of the scenes were shot at night for the comfort of the actors.[4]

During the production Newhart's comedy albums were selling unexpectedly well, resulting in higher-fee offers for stand-up comedy nightclub appearances. As a result, he sought ways to have his character killed off so that he could leave the production. The director consistently told him that he would be in the film until the end.[5]

Technical adviser Major William Harrigan Jr was an acting company commander in the 378th Infantry Regiment, 95th Infantry Division and was awarded a Silver Star.[6][7]

Both Newhart [8] and Parker[9] recalled that the film ended abruptly due to Paramount shortening the production of the film for financial reasons.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine[edit]

Several of the guest characters in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Siege of AR-558" are named after characters and actors from this film. These include Patrick Kilpatrick's character Reese, Annette Helde's character Larkin and Bill Mumy's character Kellin (named after the actor Mike Kellin). Other unseen characters to be named after characters from the film include Capt. Loomis and Commander Parker. The episode has a similar plot, where Starfleet troops have been holding off multiple attacks from enemy forces for five months.


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