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The Korean War saga, Pork Chop Hill (1959), was based on the eyewitness accounts of ex-soldier S. L. A. Marshall. It takes place during the final hours of peace negotiations between Korea and the U.S. and recounts the capture of Pork Chop Hill by American troops, an action ordered only to demonstrate to Communist negotiators that the U.S. would continue to fight if an agreement was not reached. Told with a hard-nosed style of harsh realism and fluid action, the film stars Gregory Peck and a bevy of up-and-coming actors, such as George Peppard, Martin Landau, Rip Torn, Harry Guardino, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Blake, and Woody Strode. But despite the presence of new talent in front of the cameras, it was the sure-handed direction of veteran Lewis Milestone that determined the impact of Pork Chop Hill.
Milestone had a long association with war, having enlisted in the US Army in 1917 during WWI. He was assigned to the photographic unit of the Signal Corps, where he learned about filmmaking by assisting on military shoots and the assembly of combat footage. After being discharged, Milestone headed to Hollywood in 1919 and eventually directed his first film in 1925. But it was Milestone's direction of the landmark anti-war drama about the First World War, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), that emotionally moved both crowds and critics. He would later turn his attention to the spectacle of war and the cohesiveness of men in battle in both A Walk in the Sun (1945) and Pork Chop Hill, which form an informal war trilogy with All Quiet on the Western Front.
The release version of Pork Chop Hill differed from Milestone's original conception. The film originally was to cut between the peace talks and the action of holding the hill but that idea was scrapped. Nevertheless, Pork Chop Hill was still cut by nearly twenty minutes, supposedly because the wife of star Gregory Peck felt that her husband made his first entrance too late into the picture. While that claim stands as unconfirmed, the film does show signs of post-production editing, with segments of several excised scenes showing up under the main title credits.
Collectors of movie trivia should know that William Wellman, Jr., the son of legendary director, William Wellman (Wings, 1927), and a familiar face in sixties drive-in fare like Born Losers (1967) and Winter-A-Go-Go (1965), has a small role as "Iron Man." Barry McGuire, the former lead singer of The New Christy Minstrels, also turns up as a minor character named Lt. Attridge. McGuire would go on to score a number one hit with the protest song, "Eve of Destruction," and then abandon the pop music scene for a career in Christian music.
Director: Lewis Milestone
Producer: Sy Bartlett
Screenplay: James R. Webb
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Editor: George Boemler
Music: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Gregory Peck (Lt. Joe Clemons), Harry Guardino (Pvt. Forstman), Rip Torn (Lt. Walter Russell), George Peppard (Cpl. Chuck Fedderson), Carl Benton Reid (American Admiral at Peace Conference).
by Scott McGee