Take the High Ground!

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Take the High Ground!
Take the High Ground.jpg
Directed by Richard Brooks
Produced by Dore Schary
Written by Millard Kaufman
Starring Richard Widmark
Karl Malden
Elaine Stewart
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography John Alton
Edited by John Dunning
Distributed by MGM
Release date
  • October 30, 1953 (1953-10-30)
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,166,000[1]
Box office $2,855,000[1]

Take the High Ground! is a film about the Korean War, starring Richard Widmark and Karl Malden as drill instructors who must transform a batch of everyday civilians into soldiers. The film was directed by Richard Brooks.


In May 1953, a new group of Army recruits at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, encounter their drill sergeants, Sgt. Laverne Holt (Karl Malden) and the tough-as-nails Sgt. Thorne Ryan (Richard Widmark). After Ryan's caustic appraisal of the recruits, Holt vows to make soldiers out of them during their sixteen weeks of basic training. Ryan, a combat veteran who resents his stateside duty, repeatedly applies for a transfer back to the Korean front.

One night, the men cross the border to Mexico for recreation. In a bar, Ryan and Holt see a beautiful woman, Julie Mollison (Elaine Stewart), buying drinks for a group of soldiers. Later that evening, the two sergeants escort the inebriated Julie to her apartment, and Ryan finds himself drawn to her.

Training begins. Ryan exposes his men to tear gas to prepare them for the harsh conditions of battle. Ryan and Holt return to the bar one night, and find Julie sitting alone. When the crude Sgt. Vince Opperman (Bert Freed) insults Julie, she runs out of the bar in tears, and Holt comforts her. Ryan and Opperman fight, and Opperman reveals that Julie was married to a soldier who was killed in Korea shortly after she left him.

One day, recruit Lobo Naglaski (Steve Forrest) visits the camp chaplain to confess his murderous feelings toward Ryan, but comes to see that the sergeant has very little time in which to do a tough job. Tensions arise between Ryan and Holt, both over Ryan's callous treatment of the men and Holt's relationship with Julie. Ryan puts his men through increasingly tough drills, and during a bitter confrontation one day, Holt slugs Ryan and walks away.

Later, Ryan calls on Julie at her apartment, and they fall into a passionate embrace. When she resists his further advances, however, Ryan becomes insulting, casting aspersions on Julie's virtue and chiding her for having left her late husband.

One day, during a field exercise, recruit Donald Quentin Dover IV (Robert Arthur) runs away. Ryan tracks him down and gives the young man a second chance, confessing that his own father had been a deserter.

As the training period draws to a close, Ryan returns to Julie's apartment and discovers she has moved out. He finds Julie and Holt at the train station. After Holt leaves, Ryan apologizes for his behavior and asks Julie to marry him, but she sadly replies that he is married to the Army. Outside the train station, Ryan and Holt silently make their peace. The men finish basic training, and as the new soldiers march by during their graduation exercises, Ryan proudly points them out to a fresh group of recruits.


According to a pre-production Hollywood Reporter news item, James Arness, Ralph Meeker, James Whitmore, William Campbell, and Richard Anderson, were cast, but they were not in the film.



The film was originally to be shot at the U.S. Marine boot camp in San Diego, California, under the title The Making of a Marine based on an original by Millard Kaufman.[2][3] It was later asserted that "the Marines refused to cooperate because they did not want to stir up old controversies over the toughness of their training program."[4] The Army, however, cooperated fully with the studio, and location filming took place at Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas.


According to MGM records the film earned $1,968,000 in the US and Canada and $887,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $244,000.[1]


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ Schallert, E. (1952, Jun 18). Dore schary to produce story of U.S. rangers; 20th slates 'solstice'. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/166386944?accountid=13902
  3. ^ http://issuu.com/boxoffice/docs/boxoffice_111751/76
  4. ^ http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=1504&category=Notes

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