Published on January 20th, 2010 | by Chris0
The Green Berets (1968)
Well, I finally got around to watching 1968's The Green Berets again. It's been a long, long time, and parts of it were just as I remembered, I found myself thinking much differently about it. Age and experience, plus a few years of writing this site I suppose, but here's the skinny.
To my knowledge this is really the only mainstream movie about the Vietnam War, made during the Vietnam War. What's interesting though is the tack this film takes on the situation.
On the one hand, it seems to be some what of a propaganda piece as to "why we're fighting this war." Of course it wasn't the case at all and we know that now, but between the obligatory "red menace" bit and the "they want us here" bullshitsiness this aspect just comes across as, well, bad.
On another hand, its interesting from a cinematic perpsective. Starring AND directed by (in part) John Wayne, and co-starring war movie staple Aldo Ray, the entire picture feels like it was meant to mirror the classic war movies of the 40's and 50's. It's just a vibe you get. From the pacing, the writing, the action scenes.... It's like somebody said, "Hey! Let's make a formula WWII picture, only about Vietnam! Yeah!" And the even stranger part is, that it sort of kind of works. Almost.
Then there's the elusive third hand. The fact that even in '68, they actually *did* get a lot of stuff right. Much of that I think comes from the apparent access the military gave them. The flight lines at (presumably) Da Nang or a reasonable fascimile, the aerial prisoner pickup, the spy in the ranks, the precursor to the AC-130 (a little help here?), and of course the forward firebase and the brush clearing, etc. etc. etc. Not bad stuff.
And the obvious fourth hand, the WTF stuff. The strange spring loaded booby traps, the blatantly bogus trail patrols. The stuff they threw in to try and support the 2nd hand points. And who can forget the scene where they actually used a sound reel from the westerns' shelf, complete with the attacking Indians whooping it up...
Oh, the plot! Well, to the film's detriment, its rather long. They could have (should have) made this half the movie they did. Once the firebase fight was over, and the reporter got his taste of what the war is (supposedly) about, that should have been it. No, we've got to go on a politically motivated prisoner hunt. OK, maybe that part might actually be more accurate than we'd like to admit, but it really makes the film twice as long as it needed to be, and takes away a lot from the first half. A lot.
Acting? Well, its 1960's war movie fare. Wayne and Ray are themselves, as are most of the supporting cast. George Takei is oddly cast as the South Vietnamese commander, but still manages to do a fair job, considering how little truth would have been known, at least I'm guessing. I dunno, I guess I really can't flaw anyone here.
Yeah this is getting a little long winded. I guess I'm trying to convey that The Green Berets is somewhat of an enigma. Its great and terrible all at the same time, if that makes any sense. Historically interesting, cinematically interesting, but ultimately dating itself severely... I still have to give it 7/10. I just can't help it.
Amazon: The Green Berets
Here's the trailer, if you hunt around, you'll find more....
Summary: The Green Berets is somewhat of an enigma. Its great and terrible all at the same time, if that makes any sense. Historically interesting, cinematically interesting, but ultimately dating itself severely...