Monday, May 10, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Battle Hymn (1957) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

BATTLE HYMN (1957) is a Korean War film starring Rock Hudson which was just released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Hudson plays Col. Dean Hess, a World War II veteran who's become a minister. Hess is haunted by the memory of having inadvertently bombed a German orphanage during the war.

Hess decides to go back into military service to train pilots for the Korean War. He unexpectedly finds an opportunity to assuage some of his guilt from the previous war when he works to provide a safe haven for a steadily growing number of Korean war orphans. As the enemy draws closer, Hess is able to arrange for transport planes to carry 400 orphans to safety.

This fact-based movie is a solid film with a good cast. It somewhat called to mind an earlier film set in Occupied Japan, THREE STRIPES IN THE SUN (1955), which portrays another U.S. military man coming to the aid of orphans. At times BATTLE HYMN plays just a little too much "by the numbers," never really doing the unexpected, but between the cast and the uplifting story, it's time well spent.

I'm a Hudson fan but I felt he starts out in this film just a little too wooden in his scenes as a conflicted clergyman. As the film goes on the character opens up more emotionally thanks to interactions with both his colleagues and the orphans, and Hudson's performance comes to feel more genuine; he has a couple of particularly moving scenes in the latter part of the film.

Dan Duryea plays Hess's rough-edged righthand man, Sgt. Herman, who soon finds himself just as involved with the orphans as his superior. There's fine supporting work from Jock Mahoney as a responsible major in Hess's unit; Don DeFore as brash Capt. Skidmore, who served alongside Hess during the previous war; James Edwards as a thoughtful fighter pilot; and Alan Hale (Jr.) as the mess cook.

Martha Hyer has a fairly thankless role as Hess's wife Mary, who is mostly relegated to reading letters from her husband. As a side note, it never fails to amaze me how men in '50s war films announce to their wives they're going back into the military without consulting her first -- STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND (1955) is another example -- leaving me wondering if that's the way things were then or if it's just the way movies were.

The supporting cast also includes Anna Kashfi, James Hong, Philip Ahn, and Carl Benton Reid.

This was one of several Hudson films directed by Douglas Sirk. Hudson also worked with cinematographer Russell Metty on numerous occasions. The script of this 108-minute film was by Charles Grayson and Vince Evans.

This Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a lovely widescreen CinemaScope print with excellent sound. Extras consist of the trailer, four more trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber, and a commentary track by Nick Pinkerton.

Rock Hudson fans can thank Kino Lorber for a number of Blu-ray releases with the actor, most recently the three-film Rock Hudson Collection; from that set I've reviewed SEMINOLE (1953) and THE GOLDEN BLADE (1953), with a review of BENGAL BRIGADE (1954) still to come.

Additional Rock Hudson films available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber which have been reviewed here include BEND OF THE RIVER (1952), TAZA, SON OF COCHISE (1954), THE TARNISHED ANGELS (1957), BLINDFOLD (1966), and THE MIRROR CRACK'D (1980). A review of HORIZONS WEST (1952) is coming in the next few weeks.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger barrylane said...

I like Hudson too, and Jame Stewart, but families then and now mostly discussed things. A dumb convention in order, I suppose, to create some phony film tension. It is a flop at that.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

When "BATTLE HYMN" came out on General Release at the cinemas in the UK my Mum took me to see it. Now, I was 10 years old, or younger, so it probably didn't grab my attention THAT much really but I suspect Mum was a secret Rock Hudson fan. I had also been taken to see him in "GIANT", which did capture my interest, so I think my suspicions are probably well-founded LOL.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for that feedback, Barrylane. I was kind of wondering if it was just a storytelling convention. I would be so flabbergasted if my husband announced he was heading back into the military, as Hudson and Stewart's characters do, without sitting down and having a discussion first -- especially when it means the husband will be leaving the state or the country for months at a time.

I was trying to remember if Dana Andrews also tells his wife he's re-enlisting in I WANT YOU (1951) or if they talk about it together first...I remember her feeling like it wasn't fair because he'd already done his duty in WWII. I'm due to revisit that one.

Jerry, what fun that you remember going to see this with your Mum, as well as GIANT. A special memory for you!

Best wishes,

11:44 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I Want You is a much better picture than either Battle Hymn or Strategic Air Command, principally because of Dana and Dorothy's work, but with many other players and moments, and as I recall, the entire scenario is about Korea and American involvement.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's surprising to me that I WANT YOU has never made it to DVD, given the cast. It had a VHS release, but I wonder if there are rights issues or something which have kept it from a DVD or Blu-ray release. As an RKO film I would expect the Warner Archive could release it, but there are other good RKO films they haven't released yet also, such as FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (1946). A pair of war-related films deserving of wider audiences.

Best wishes,

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Barry Lane said...

Our feelings aside, I believe neither I WAnt You for From This Day forward did especially well with either exhibitors/the public, or critics. unfortunate.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Interesting info, Barrylane. I wasn't aware of how they performed at the time of release. Thanks.

Best wishes,

10:12 AM  

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