Original film poster
|Directed by||Joseph H. Lewis|
|Produced by||Milton Sperling|
|Written by||Milton Sperling,|
|Music by||William Lava|
|Edited by||Folmar Blangsted|
|Distributed by||Warner Brothers|
|Box office||$2 million (US rentals)|
Retreat, Hell! is a 1952 American war film about the 1st Marine Division in the Korean War, directed by Joseph H. Lewis. It stars Frank Lovejoy as a career Marine battalion commander who is recalled from work at an American embassy, Richard Carlson as a veteran captain and communications specialist of World War II called up from the Marine Corps Reserves, Russ Tamblyn as a seventeen-year-old private who hides his true age to serve with the unit overseas and outdo his older brother, also a Marine, and Nedrick Young (credited as Ned Young). Also appearing in the film is Peter Julien Ortiz, a highly decorated Marine who served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and appeared in various films after retiring from the military.
A Marine battalion is assembled from various sources and sent to Korea. The film depicts the formation and training of the battalion, the amphibious landing at the Battle of Inchon, the advance through North Korea, and the Winter Chinese Communist Offensive sends the Marines into a fighting withdrawal to the staging area at Hŭngnam Harbor "...with rifles, grenades, bayonets, our bare fists if we have to" (quoting the battalion commander). The battalion includes many familiar faces, including Karl Malden.
Baby-faced Pt. McDiarmid (18 year old Russ Tamblyn) goes looking for his older brother and is shown a row of dead Marines. One of them, he discovers, is his brother. The battalion commander (Lovejoy) is supposed to send him home per a regulation covering the last survivor of a family. The Chinese Communist offensive puts this on hold for the moment, and he is nearly killed during the withdrawal in a snowstorm until saved by a joint American-British force. Upon seeing the British Royal Marines a southern-accented GI asks Corbett (Frank Lovejoy) "Who are they? And why are they all done up?"(meaning dressed up), to which Corbett (Frank Lovejoy) responds stoically, "They're marines! British royal marines!". Near the end of the film Corbett (Frank Lovejoy) tells them they're going to have to fall back in the face of human wave attacks by the communist forces, to which a private asks him "You mean retreat!?", Corbett (Lovejoy) responds by saying "Retreat hell! We're just attacking in a different direction!"
- Frank Lovejoy as Lt. Col. Steve L. Corbett
- Richard Carlson as Capt. Paul Hansen
- Anita Louise as Ruth Hansen
- Russ Tamblyn as Jimmy W. McDermid (as Rusty Tamblyn)
- Nedrick Young as Sgt. Novak (as Ned Young)
- Lamont Johnson as Capt. ‘Tink’ O’Grady
- Robert Ellis as Shorty Devine
- Paul Smith as Andy Smith
- Peter Ortiz as Maj. Knox
- Dorothy Patrick as Eve O’Grady
- Morton C. Thompson as Capt. Kyser
- Joseph Keane as Lt. Ortiz
With the U.S. Marine Corps's fight for life at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir against the Chinese Communist Forces offensive in the winter of 1950 being anxiously followed in the news of the day, Warner Brothers submitted a proposal on 7 December 1950 to the Marines to make a film about the events. The Marines approved the request, with former Marine Milton Sperling producing and co-writing the film for his United States Pictures division of Warners. The Marine Corps worked closely with Sperling on the script giving it their approval in August 1951 and agreeing to six weeks of filming at Camp Pendleton where the film crew bulldozed a road and sprinkled the area with gypsum to simulate snow. The Marines also created accurate Korean villages for the film. Commandant of the Marine Corps Lemuel Shepherd estimated the value of the Marine cooperation at US$1,000,000. The Hollywood Production Code Office originally refused to approve the title because of its ban on the word "hell", but changed their mind after requests from the Marine Corps. The film was also intended to showcase the diverse background of the Americans. Richard Carlson was a Norwegian-American from Minnesota, and so his character was given the last name "Hansen" (the most common surname in Norway), and Nedrick Young's character is given the name "Sergeant Novak", with Novak being a name of Slovak origins and Frank Lovejoy having the Anglo name Corbett. While the film uses fictional characters, it faithfully follows the true story of the First Marine Battalion's battles at Inchon and Seoul and is therefore ranked as one of the most realistic movies ever made about the Korean War.
Director Joseph H. Lewis had been hired by Warner Brothers after the success of his film Gun Crazy but had not been given any assignment until this film. During World War II, Lewis directed US Army training films about the M1 Garand rifle that were shown well into the 1960s.
Variety called it a "top-notch war drama" for the way it balanced tense action with a more human face of the war, anticipating film-making trends that would become more common twenty years later. The film did fairly well at the box office, but was proportionately boosted due to the fact that the film was heavily promoted in some locales where a number of drive in theaters showed it as their only option for several consecutive months. This was the case at a series of locally owned drive in theaters in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. As a result of this in the Wisconsin counties of Polk County, Barron County, Price County, Clark County, Marinette County, Oconto County, Shawano County, Waupaca County, Dodge County and Taylor County it was the only movie one could see in a drive in for multiple consecutive months. This was also the case in the Indiana counties of Kosciusko County, Whitley County, Huntington County, Adams County, Morgan County, Jackson County and Greene County. This was also the case in Ogle County, Illinois and Bureau County, Illinois. These same theaters showed Retreat Hell! as their only feature for several months until they switched over to showing One Minute to Zero as their only option for another several months beginning in July of the same year. These same drive in theaters would only do this again on one more occasion, which would be for the movie Tarzan and the Lost Safari which was released in 1957.
An oral history interview with Donald H. Eaton, a Korean War black veteran, includes a story where he says how he and several friends watched the film when it came out, and half of his friends ended up signing up for the Marine Corps. The Korean War (1950–1953) was the first war where United States troops were desegregated.
- 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
- Suid. Guts and Glory, p. 138.
- Suid. Guts and Glory, p. 139.
- Korean War Filmography: 91 English Language Features through 2000 By Robert J. Lentz pg. 298-300
- Jon Thurber (September 11, 2000). "Joseph H. Lewis; Acclaimed Director of B Movies in Hollywood's Golden Era". Los Angeles Times.
- The Frozen Hours: A Novel of the Korean War By Jeff Shaara pg. 507 (Afterword)
- Movies Under the Stars: A History of the Drive-in Theatre Industry, 1933-1983 by David Bruce Reddick, University Microfilms, 1989 pp. 27-28
- Suid, Lawrence H. Guts and Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film, University Press of Kentucky, 2002.
- Variety editors. Variety Movie Guide, Perigee Books edition, 2000.