Halls of Montezuma (film)

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Halls of Montezuma
Halls of Montezuma Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Produced by Robert Bassler
Written by Michael Blankfort
Starring Richard Widmark
Richard Boone
Jack Webb
Martin Milner
Neville Brand
Jack Palance
Reginald Gardiner
Robert Wagner
Karl Malden
Music by Sol Kaplan
Cinematography Winton C. Hoch
Harry Jackson
Edited by William H. Reynolds
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
January 4, 1951
Running time
113 min.
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2.65 million (US rentals)[1]

Halls of Montezuma is a 1951 World War II war film starring Richard Widmark, Richard Boone, Jack Palance, and Karl Malden. The film, which is about U.S. Marines fighting on a Japanese-held island, was directed by Academy Award-winner Lewis Milestone. It also starred Robert Wagner in his first credited screen role. Real color combat footage from the war in the Pacific was incorporated into the film's cinematography.

The film, like Darryl F. Zanuck's 1949 production Sands of Iwo Jima, was filmed on location at Camp Pendleton, California, with the full cooperation of the USMC. Its title is a reference to the opening line from the Marines' Hymn.


During World War II, a Marine battalion prepares to land on a large Japanese-held island in the Pacific. Lieutenant Colonel Gilfillan (Richard Boone) warns the men that it will be a tough mission, and that they have been ordered to take prisoners in order to gain information about the Japanese fortifications. Below deck, veteran Lieutenant Carl A. Anderson (Richard Widmark), a chemistry teacher in civilian life, questions his former student, Corporal Stuart Conroy (Richard Hylton), who complains that he is ill and cannot fight. Anderson assures him that he has shown courage before and can do so again. In the landing boat heading to shore, Navy corpsman C. E. "Doc" Jones (Karl Malden) is worried because Anderson has been suffering from "psychological migraines" for months. Anderson and his platoon have been fighting since Guadalcanal, and now only seven men remain of the original platoon. Although Doc urged Anderson to seek treatment in the United States, Anderson refuses to leave his men and has been relying on Doc to supply him with painkillers.

The men hit the beach and successfully dig in, despite an initial burst of resistance. As four days pass, the seven old-timers in Anderson's platoon, including Pigeon Lane (Jack Palance), Sergeant Zelenko (Neville Brand), Slattery (Bert Freed), Coffman (Robert Wagner), and the unstable "Pretty Boy" Riley (Skip Homeier), grow weary of the constant threat of hidden Japanese snipers. One day, the men try to take a ridge of hills, but are beaten back by Japanese rockets, which come as an unpleasant surprise to the commanding officers. When Coffman (whom Anderson saved from drowning at Tarawa) is killed, Anderson is forced to take some more of Doc's pills.

Anderson meets with other officers at battalion headquarters, where Gilfillan recounts the troubles they are having capturing prisoners and getting information from them. Sergeant Randolph Johnson (Reginald Gardiner), a Japanese linguist who uses psychology in interrogating prisoners, questions a POW who has been dubbed "Willie". As Gilfillan receives orders to stop the rockets within nine hours, before the next assault on the hills, Willie informs Johnson that the Japanese soldiers holding a cave stronghold are willing to surrender. Accompanied by Johnson and war correspondent Sergeant Dickerman (Jack Webb), Anderson leads a patrol with the six remaining old-timers and replacement Whitney (Martin Milner) to the cave, but they are ambushed and Zelenko is blinded.

The men capture the remaining Japanese, including a wounded officer, four laborers and a shell-shocked, elderly civilian. Anderson finds a map on the wounded officer. On the return trip, a sniper shoots at Pretty Boy, who kills him during hand-to-hand combat. The confrontation further unbalances him and he attempts to murder the prisoners. Lane then accidentally shoots and kills Pretty Boy while attempting to stop him. Doc also dies from a wound in the shoulder, but not before giving Dickerman a message for Anderson.

Anderson takes his prisoners to headquarters, where the wounded officer commits hara-kiri with a knife he had stolen from Johnson. While map expert Lieutenant Butterfield works on a Japanese map overlay found in Pretty Boy's personal effects, Anderson and Johnson learn that one of the POWs is actually an important officer pretending to be a private. From his prideful statements, Johnson deduces where the rockets are located. When Anderson and Dickerman make there way back to the platoon,he learns that Conroy has been killed from Slattery. Anderson takes the news hard and is ready to give up. Dickerman reads aloud Doc's note, however, and Anderson, inspired by Doc's appeal for him to be strong for the sake of those whom he survives, throws away his painkillers and again leads his men into battle. Then, as the film closes, U.S. Corsairs fly in and smash the Japanese position, leading Anderson to scream to his men: "Give 'em Hell", which they echo in unison.


According to a January 1949 Los Angeles Times news item, Dana Andrews, Anne Baxter and Paul Douglas were originally set to star in the picture.

U.S. Marine Corps assistance[edit]

The film used various locations around Camp Pendleton and the adjacent Pacific coast for the landing scenes. The USMC also provided accurate military equipment, such as weapons, tanks and uniforms, as well as providing the manpower to create the logistics of a wartime U.S. Marine battalion.

Serving U.S. Marines and Second World War veterans attended the film's premières in New York and Los Angeles. The proceeds from the premières were donated to various charities associated with the United States Marine Corps. The studio also allowed the USMC to use the film for recruitment purposes. On January 11, 1951, the Hollywood Reporter noted that a full company of Marine recruits were to be sworn in at the film's première in San Francisco.

Additional notes[edit]

This movie was the last American-made World War II film for Lewis Milestone. After this film, he made other films, from European films to the caper movie Ocean's 11. The final war movie he made was the acclaimed Korean War film Pork Chop Hill, starring Gregory Peck. Of the Montezuma stars, three went to TV: after he played Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters, Philip Ahn played Shoalin Master Kan on the TV show Kung Fu. Jack Webb went on to produce and star in Dragnet, and Martin Milner did different TV shows after doing film. He appeared on Route 66, Adam-12, and The Swiss Family Robinson.


  1. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952

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