🎥 The Steel Helmet – 1951
The Story …
The opening credits roll on a U.S. Army steel helmet.
There is a bullet hole on the left side … it moves and the wearer peers out, then starts to inch his way up the steep grassy hill, past the bodies of other soldiers, holes in all their helmets.
He moves on his side because his hands are tied behind him. He freezes at the approach of a barefoot boy with a gun, who listens to his heart, flips him over, cuts his bonds and pulls him to a sitting position. The sergeant rapidly takes salt and water and uses sulfa on the wound to his left knee.
The boy gets more sulfa from one of the dead men …
The boy compliments him on his hard head, Removing the helmet and revealing a gouge on his scalp, Zack explains that the bullet went around the inside of his helmet and came out.
He is the only survivor of his unit, which was massacred in cold blood after surrendering to the enemy. Zack repays the South Korean youth by calling him a gook. An orphan, the child insists on following him, explaining: Buddha says that he who saves a man’s life holds his heart in his hands. Zack tells him to get lost, but soon relents, dubbing him “Short Round”, and telling him to get a helmet, a gun and a pair of boots from the dead.
They come across Corporal Thompson, a black 19th Infantry medic, also the sole survivor of his platoon. They encounter a patrol led by inexperienced 90-day wonder Lieutenant Driscoll, whose men say that Thompson is a “straggler” who intentionally separated himself from his platoon. The North Koreans only kept him alive to treat their wounded.
When the men are pinned down by a pair of snipers, Zack and Sergeant Tanaka kill the marksmen. Zack reluctantly agrees to guide the unit to a Buddhist temple, where it is supposed to establish an observation post. Over Zack’s objections, Lt. Driscoll orders a GI to collect the dog tags of a dead man. The soldier is blown to bits by a booby trap rigged to the body.
The men reach the apparently deserted temple without further incident, but that night a North Korean major hiding there kills a sentry. The major tries without success to subvert first Thompson, then Tanaka, by pointing out the racism they face in the United States and among their supposed comrades.
Sergeant Zack, whose unit’s last assignment was to bring back a prisoner for questioning, prepares to take the prisoner in, looking forward to a furlough as a reward. Before they leave, Lt. Driscoll asks to exchange helmets for luck, but Zack refuses. Then Short Round is killed by another sniper.
When the Korean major mocks the prayer to Buddha the boy wrote Zack; Zack loses control and wounds him. Driscoll upbraids Zack for failing to remain a “professional” soldier, and Zack demands that Thompson save the man’s life so that he can be interrogated at headquarters.
The unit spots a heavy concentration of North Koreans approaching and calls down an artillery strike. When the enemy realize the barrage is being directed from the temple, they mount an attack, led by a tank. The GIs repel the assault, but only Zack, Tanaka, Thompson, and radio operator survive. Zack suffers a flashback, imagining he is back on the beach during the D-Day landings in WWII, searching for his Colonel.
The men are relieved. As he leaves the temple, Zack goes to the grave of a soldier he had mocked relentlessly for having been a conscientious objector in World War II.
Because of a change in heart, the man enlisted to fight in Korea, postponing his plans to study for the priesthood. He died riddling the enemy with a .30 caliber machine gun. Zack swaps helmets and trudges on.
The men walk away from the camera, through an archway. The words “There is no end to this story.” appear on screen.
- Directed by Samuel Fuller
- Written by Samuel Fuller
- Produced by Samuel Fuller
- Cinematography : Ernest Miller
- Edited by Philip Cahn
- Music by Paul Dunlap
- Production Company : Deputy Corporation
- Distributed by Lippert Pictures
- Release Date : January 10, 1951
- Gene Evans as Sergeant Zack
- Robert Hutton as Private Bronte
- Steve Brodie as Lieutenant Driscoll
- James Edwards as Corporal Thompson
- Richard Loo as Sergeant Tanaka
- Sid Melton as Joe
- Richard Monahan as Private Baldy
- William Chun as “Short Round”
- Harold Fong as The Red
- Neyle Morrow as First GI
- Lynn Stalmaster as Second Lieutenant
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