Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Take the High Ground! (1953) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Richard Widmark and Karl Malden star in TAKE THE HIGH GROUND! (1953), a new release from the Warner Archive.

In this Korean War era military film, Widmark and Malden play Army sergeants who have 16 weeks to turn green recruits into polished, combat-ready soldiers.

As one might expect in this type of movie, there's a lot of yelling by the drill sergeants, who regularly inflict punishments of various sorts on the young men. The new soldiers hate their drill sergeants, until eventually realizing that what they're learning will hopefully keep them alive in a war zone.

The recruits are played by an interesting group including Russ Tamblyn, Carleton Carpenter, Steve Forrest, Robert Arthur, Jerome Courtland, William Hairston, and Maurice Jarra.

Tamblyn gets a chance to show off his acrobatic skills as the cockiest of the group, who seems unable to grasp military decorum. Forrest might be the most mature, but he eventually sees a chaplain (Regis Toomey) -- because he wants to kill one of the sergeants!

Hairston was a particular pleasure as a poetry-quoting black recruit in this integrated unit. It was his only film.

Beautiful Elaine Stewart plays a troubled war widow who attracts Widmark's interest.

There isn't much depth to any of the characters; Widmark and Stewart play the most complex people in the film, but so much time is spent on army drills that we don't get to know them as well as we'd like.

The extensive outdoor drill scenes, filmed at Fort Bliss, Texas, are fairly predictable and do start to get a little old as the movie goes on. Still, I found this 101-minute film moderately entertaining, thanks mainly to the good cast.

The movie was shot in Ansco Color by John Alton. I've read reports elsewhere that this new Warner Archive edition is the best the movie has looked since the year it was released, and it is indeed a crisp, clean print.

Unfortunately Ansco Color was a rather boring-looking process, and combined with the Texas setting, there isn't much chance for the man who photographed RAW DEAL (1948), REIGN OF TERROR (1949), and AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951) to show off his talent. There is, however, one scene which was strikingly shot, as Widmark and Stewart kiss and fight in the dark, punctuated with occasional bursts of neon light from a sign outside her window.

The movie also does a nice job showing off Widmark's beautiful blue eyes!

Millard Kaufman, who wrote the story and screenplay, received an Oscar nomination. The film was directed by Richard Brooks. Dimitri Tiomkin composed the score.

All in all, this film is a pleasant enough way to pass the time, especially for fans of the cast, but nothing particularly special.

TAKE THE HIGH GROUND! is a good-looking widescreen print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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