The Steel Helmet
|The Steel Helmet|
|Directed by||Samuel Fuller|
|Produced by||Samuel Fuller, Robert Lippert|
|Written by||Samuel Fuller|
|Music by||Paul Dunlap|
|Editing by||Philip Cahn|
|Distributed by||Lippert Pictures Inc.
Burbank Video (VHS)
|Release dates||February 2, 1951|
|Running time||85 min.|
|Box office||over $2 million|
The Steel Helmet (1951) is a war film directed by Samuel Fuller and produced by Lippert Studios during the Korean War. It was the first film about the war, and the first of several war films by producer-director-writer Fuller.
When an American infantry unit surrenders to the North Koreans, the prisoners of war have their hands bound behind their backs and are then executed. Only Sergeant Zack (Gene Evans) survives the massacre, saved when the bullet meant for him is deflected by his helmet. He is freed by South Korean orphan (William Chun), nicknamed "Short Round" by Zack, who tags along despite the sergeant's annoyance.
They come across Corporal Thompson (James Edwards), an African-American medic and also the sole survivor of his unit. Then they encounter a patrol led by inexperienced Lieutenant Driscoll (Steve Brodie). Contemptuous of the "ninety day wonder", Zack refuses Driscoll's request for his veteran help, but when the patrol is pinned down by snipers soon afterward, Zack returns and bails them out. Together with Sergeant Tanaka (Richard Loo), another "retread" from World War II, he spots and kills the snipers. Zack reluctantly agrees to accompany Driscoll on his mission: to establish an observation post at a Buddhist temple.
The grouping was "designed" by Fuller to be broadly representative of the Korean War-era US Army. Thus, there is an element of stereotyping in the characters. Among them are Joe, the quiet one (Sid Melton); the former conscientious objector (Robert Hutton); the "intellectual" (the officer); an African-American; the naive radio operator (Richard Monahan); and the Nisei Tanaka.
They reach the apparently deserted temple without incident, but Joe is killed that night by a North Korean major (Harold Fong) hiding there. The officer is eventually captured. He tries without success to subvert first Thompson, then Tanaka, by pointing out the racism they face in 1950s America. Sergeant Zack prepares to take his prize back for questioning, cynically looking forward to a furlough as a reward. Before he leaves, Driscoll asks to exchange helmets for luck, but Zack turns him down. Then Short Round is killed by another sniper. After the major mocks the wish the boy had written down (a prayer to Buddha to have Zack like him), Zack loses control and shoots the prisoner, who dies soon after.
Then the unit spots the North Koreans on the move and calls down devastating artillery strikes. When the enemy realize the artillery is being directed from the temple, they attack in large numbers, supported by a tank. The attack is repelled, but only Zack, Tanaka, Thompson, and the radio operator survive. When they are relieved, Zack responds to the question, "What outfit are you?" with the statement, "US infantry." As they leave the temple, Zack goes to Driscoll's grave and exchanges his helmet with the one marking the man's grave.
- Gene Evans as Sgt. Zack
- Robert Hutton as Pvt. Bronte
- Steve Brodie as Lt. Driscoll
- James Edwards as Cpl. Thompson
- Richard Loo as Sgt. Tanaka
- Sid Melton as Joe
- Richard Monahan as Pvt. Baldy
- William Chun as "Short Round"
- Harold Fong as The Red
- Neyle Morrow as First GI
- Lynn Stalmaster as Second Lieutenant
In October 1950, Fuller made his film in ten days with twenty-five extras who were UCLA students and a plywood tank, in a studio using mist, and exteriors shot in Griffith Park for $104,000. According to Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies, Fuller wrote the script in a week. The Steel Helmet grossed more than $6 million.
The Steel Helmet confronts American racism when a North Korean Communist prisoner baits a black soldier in conversation with accounts of American society's Jim Crow rules. Moreover, the Korean soldier makes the first-ever mention, in a Hollywood film, of the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II. The film infuriated the military who had provided assistance in the form of military stock footage. Army personnel summoned Fuller for a conference on the film. The U.S Army was upset over Sgt. Zack's shooting of a prisoner of war. Fuller replied that in his World War II service it frequently happened, and had his former commanding officer, Brigadier General George A. Taylor, telephone the Pentagon to confirm it. In contrast, the Communist newspaper, The Daily Worker condemned The Steel Helmet as a right-wing fantasy.
Fuller cast Gene Evans, refusing a major studio's interest in filming The Steel Helmet with John Wayne as Sergeant Zack. Fuller threatened to quit when the producers wanted Evans replaced by Larry Parks. Mickey Knox claimed to have been Fuller's first choice for Zack, but he turned the film down.
- p. 26 Server, Lee Sam Fuller: Film is a Battleground 1994 McFarland
- Low-Budget Movies With POW!: Most fans never heard of director Sam Fuller, but to some film buffs he has real class. Low-Budget Movies By EZRA GOODMANHOLLYWOOD.. New York Times (1923–Current file) [New York, N.Y] 28 Feb 1965: SM42.
- pp. 257–58 Fuller, Samuel A Third Face 2002 Alfred A. Knopf
- Fuller, Samuel A Third Face Alfred A Knopf (2002)
- The Steel Helmet at the American Film Institute Catalog
- The Steel Helmet at the Internet Movie Database
- The Steel Helmet at allmovie
- The Steel Helmet at the TCM Movie Database
- The Steel Helmet at Rotten Tomatoes