I say from the outset that I’m something of a John Wayne fan, having been brought up on his particular brand of Western adventure. But,of the movies he made. This one isn’t a favourite though, and rather viciously exposes the extent to which he’d go to provide political support for the war in Vietnam.
As co-director and lead actor, he’s also instrumental in pushing the very pro-Saigon message, and avoiding providing any understanding of the communist perspective.
What he delivers is a rather long and meandering movie which is actually three stories loosely glued together, delivered in a rather anachronistic WWII war movie style for a conflict and era that was completely different.
There’s the training part at Ford Brag, then the main part of the movie which takes place in a forward position in Vietnam, and then a rather tacked on part where they go to kidnap a VC General supposedly in charge of the war in the south.
Released in 1968 during the height of the Tet Ofensive, it was a rather rash move to make a movie about a war that was still ongoing. And it arrogantly assumes a positive outcome for the US in this war.
The basic plot is that Colonel Mike Kirby (John Wayne) takes over command of The Green Berets in Vietnam and when he deploys journalist George Beckworth (David Janssen, pre-Harry O), goes with him to learn what the conflict is really about.
Beckworth represents the negative public opinion that the war had already generated by this point, and it’s through his experiences his views are changed. As window dressing to this exercise we got some of Wayne’s pals in cameos, such as Bruce Cabot, and an odd assortment of younger actors including the Duke’s son, Patrick and the excellent Jim Hutton.
The chosen Asian representatives are George Takei and Jack Soo, despite neither of them being remotely Vietnamese or even close.
I mentioned it has a distinct WWII feel, and for those who are fans of those movies many of the classic clichés are repeated here. Worst, by far, of these is the little kid who trails around after one soldier, who, by this very act won’t survive till the credits. But we also get the command officer/dying man scene, the traitor reveal, the wounded man who refuses assistance and the defeat that’s really a victory of sorts.
But what I’d actually forgotten about this 142 minute movie is how poorly paced it is. There is virtually no tension at all for the majority of the proceedings. This isn’t really helped by the fact that it’s at least 45-50 minutes in before the first shot is fired. But, actually, none of the action sequences have any great build-up or excitement about them.
In the defensive battle it’s all rather confused what’s going on, and when you see hundreds of VC rushing the defensive positions, you’re tempted to wonder why nobody is shooting them, as they’re all bunched conveniently enough.
However, this all pales into insignificance when confronted with the final cringingly awful scene, where Wayne tells the Vietnamese kid that his mentor Hutton isn’t coming back, although he gets to keep his beret (which, confusingly, isn’t green).
After watching this movie I was ready to join the VC, as, whatever atrocities they committed, making this wasn’t one of them.
In the early sequences I was pleasantly surprised how sharp this movie looks transferred to Blu-ray. The negative they used was very crisp and well colour-balanced. Some of the night scenes later on aren’t so brilliant, as it seems that they didn’t consider how the lack of light would reduce the depth of field. As a result, people often deliver lines from slightly out of focus locations in the shot.
The audio is Dolby HD, but, to my ears, there is virtually no stereo separation whatsoever in it. Not sure what happened there, but it doesn’t really exploit what audio technology is used.
One last note about the film for those that follow BBFC cuts. The impaling of a man on a tree sequence cut from the UK cinema release is included here.
In terms of extras, there isn’t much here to talk about. There’s a documentary and a trailer, that’s it. The trailer is unintentionally hilarious, as they decided to have a sergeant bark out the names of the actors as they appear. It’s nearly three minutes of utter weirdness.
The SD quality documentary is just over seven minutes long, and has a voiceover that is pure 60s marketing at its very worst. In it, we see some behind-the-scenes and production footage, but none of the principles are interviewed as such. It’s really a longer trailer, but without Sgt. Rock shouting “John Wayne!” like he’s won the lottery!
Overall. as much as I loved the Duke, The Green Berets is a movie I could survive not having in my collection.
The Green Berets is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.