The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tank Battalion

It has been called the Forgotten War.  The Korean War wasn't as clear cut a victory as WWII and wasn't as epic a failure as Vietnam, falling somewhere in between.  So for a forgotten war, how about a forgotten, pretty awful B-movie?  It's a story that could have just as well been set in WWII in the Pacific, and other than an early title card there are no clues that it is a Korean War movie.  A B-movie if there ever was, 1958's Tank Battalion.

Made out of AIP Studios, this is a movie that represents everything wrong about a B-movie and serves as a good example as why many moviegoers groan when they even hear a mention of a B-movie.  Extremely low budget, small cast, and stock war footage highlight the general cheapness, not to mention so many characters making stupid decisions because the story requires it.  This is not a movie readily available on VHS or DVD -- having few redeeming qualities makes that easier -- so I'm basically going to give anything and everything away I can about this movie.  So be forewarned, epic SPOILER alert, Tank Battalion is about to get it.

Their tank damaged in battle, Sgt. Dunne (Don Kelly) and his crew return to base so the tank can be fixed.  From his crew, there's young, naive Private Collins (Robert Paget), ladies man and goofball Skids Madigan (Frank Gorshin, later the Riddler), and smartass Cpl. Corbett (Edward G. Robinson Jr.).  Dunne is reunited with his long-lost love, nurse Alice (Leslie Parrish), Skids meets a bitchy nurse (Regina Gleason), and Collins falls for Nikko, a Korean waitress (Barbara Luna).  Right when things seem to be perfect, the tank is fixed and Dunne's crew must join in on an offensive.  It's not long before the tank comes under attack and again is knocked out of action.  Trapped behind enemy lines, Dunne and Co. must find some way to safety.

Where some war movies have a message and others are content to be action-packed, 'Battalion' falls in that middle ground that doesn't do either.  This is a flick that's just there without serving any real purpose.  As a love story, nothing really develops and the only relationship that is even moderately interesting is Collins and Nikko.  Of course, that's left up in the air.  As an action movie, it's almost entirely stock footage.  The rest looks like producers rented a tank for an hour or two and drove it around, spinning the turret occasionally.  The "battle scenes" has 3 North Korean soldiers "harassing" the tank with a machine gun.  That's about it in terms of action.  Once the tank does start rolling again, it drives around a corner and up a hill.  Movie over, see you next time.

I included a fair number of cast links in the plot description, and if you look at their filmographies you will see that most of the cast never amounted to much.  Gorshin went on to play the Riddler in the 1960s Batman TV show, and Luna was in a handful of movies and made a lot of guest spots on TV shows, but that's about it.  The one cast member to leave a positive impression is Kelly as Sgt. Dunne, mostly because the tough but fair sergeant is always a good character.  Gorshin hams it up with impressions, Robinson Jr. mopes around, and Paget defends the honor of his girlfriend.  Fascinating stuff all around from War Movies 101.

Enough of that, let's get to the ending.  For most of an hour, we've been forced to endure Paget's Collins being annoying, naive, and generally a pain in the butt.  Translation; the young hero we're supposed to root for.  He ends up having to run for help to save the pinned down tank and is shot down so unceremoniously I was sure he was faking it, trying to deceive the North Korean gunners.  Well, nope.  He gets picked off running.  Then Robinson Jr -- who disappeared for much of the movie with no romantic interest -- steps up into the hero role, runs in ridiculous fashion to find help, dodging snipers the whole way and ends up saving the crew.  Then the tank starts, someone throws a grenade, and the large force of 3 North Koreans blow up.  Talk about a buzzkill ending to a lousy movie.

My favorite might have been the interiors of the tank which look like the four actors sat down inside a cardboard box with sharpies and wrote some directions on the wall like 'CARBINE' and 'AMMO.'  I've never been inside a tank, but I feel safe saying that's not what it looks like inside.  Just the capper on a real stinker of a movie, B-movie or not.

Tank Battalion (1958): */****

No comments:

Post a Comment