ONE MINUTE TO ZERO is a pretty good Korean War movie elevated by a fine cast.
Robert Mitchum plays Colonel Steve Janowski, serving on the front lines in the Korean War. The men serving alongside him are played by a group of excellent actors including Charles McGraw, William Talman, Richard Egan, and Alvin Greenman.
Col. Janowski also finds the time to fall in love with Linda Day (Ann Blyth), a United Nations worker aiding refugees.
The film's pacing feels a bit disjointed at times, switching from extremely grim combat footage to romance. The movie does a good job placing the viewer right in the middle of the Korean War, particularly in a stunning sequence involving guerrillas hiding among a column of refugees, but I confess I found the combat sequences rather exhausting by movie's end. The film definitely brings home the horror of war; I'm particularly having trouble forgetting the scene where someone meets a brutal end due to a bazooka.
I was more interested in the relationship of Steve and Linda, as well as Col. Parker (Talman) and his beautiful wife Mary (Margaret Sheridan). These scenes are all extremely well done and touching, whether it's Linda telling Steve of her first husband's death or Mary pretending to be asleep as her husband kisses her goodbye.
There's also a charming scene where Mitchum sings "Tell Me Golden Moon" in Japanese, followed by Blyth singing the English lyrics, and there are a couple of amusing scenes as well. These moments provide both the characters and the viewer with a needed respite from combat.
Personally, this viewer would have liked a little less of the brutal war footage and a little more Mitchum and Blyth. They're both wonderful, with their relationship developing very naturally and believably. I was particularly struck by the ease with which Blyth was able to play women of different ages and maturity levels at this stage of her career; the widowed Linda is a far different personality from sweet young Sally of the same year's SALLY AND SAINT ANNE (1952).
One of the very interesting things about the movie is that the film's theme music, composed by Victor Young, later became the standard "When I Fall in Love." Some of the earliest singers to record it in the '50s were Doris Day and, of course, Nat King Cole. As it happens, I mentioned another of Young's beautiful compositions, "Stella By Starlight," in an earlier post today.
ONE MINUTE TO ZERO was directed by Tay Garnett and photographed by William E. Snyder, with Colorado standing in for Korea. The movie runs 105 minutes.
Warner Archive DVD, which includes the trailer. It can be rented from ClassicFlix.
The movie will be shown on Ann Blyth Day during the Turner Classic Movies Summer Under the Stars festival, Friday, August 16, 2013.
The trailer is on the TCM website.
Last month Raquel posted a thoughtful review of this film at Out of the Past.
ONE MINUTE TO ZERO isn't a perfect film, but it's a good one, and a must for fans of Mitchum, Blyth, and McGraw.