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A minister resists turning to violence while trying to help orphans during the Korean War.
In 1950 in Westhampton, Ohio, Reverend Dean Hess feels that he is continually failing to inspire his congregation. After one service, he admits to his wife Mary that he cannot get past the guilt he feels from World War II, recalling the incident that haunts him: Dean is a colonel in the Air Force and is nicknamed "Killer" for his perfect flight bombing record. One day, however, his bomb does not detach on time and hits a German church that his mother used to attend, killing thirty-seven children in the neighboring orphanage. In the present, Dean decides he must apply to be recalled into service for the Korean War, and although Mary fears this will only worsen his remorse, he is quickly accepted to lead a squadron in training Korean pilots to fly bombers. In Seoul, General Timberidge gives Dean his orders to take control of the slipshod training unit currently camping at an abandoned airfield, and warns him never to risk their few planes by entering into a combat situation. Dean arrives days before the Korean officers and immediately shapes up the slovenly company, which includes his World War II buddy, Capt. Dan Skidmore. When their work clearing the airfield is slowed by a lack of tools, Dean takes his right-hand man, Sgt. Herman, into the closest town. There, although almost everything has been destroyed by bombers, an English-speaking young woman, En Soon Yang, directs them to an antique road-scraper. With the new machine, the airstrip is quickly finished, just in time for the arrival of Major Chang and his eager officers. Over the next weeks, training goes smoothly, and when Major Moore spots enemy planes close by, the pacifist Dean reluctantly allows the planes to carry ammunition as a protective measure. Thanksgiving arrives, and while the men enjoy a feast, local orphans sneak into camp and raid the garbage cans for scraps. As soon as Dean sees the mess sergeant chasing the kids away, he orders that any refugee will be fed, and soon the camp is overrun with hungry orphans. One day, while leading a few planes in training, Skidmore is asked by a nearby Army troop to take out approaching enemy tanks. Against orders, he and Lt. Maples attack the line of tanks, but Maples is devastated after he mistakenly strafes a truckload of nurses and babies. Dean discovers the attack and grounds Skidmore, who accuses his old friend of becoming too soft for war. Dean visits Maples to console him, but instead finds comfort in the lieutenant's conviction that every action is part of God's invisible plan. Soon after, Chang discovers that one of the refugees is a spy, and Dean realizes he cannot allow civilians in the camp. He loads the kids into a jeep and, on the way to town, spots a ruined Buddhist temple. Inside are En Soon and a few sick children, and Dean quickly convinces her that, with his help, they can transform the temple into a safe haven for the orphans. En Soon agrees to stay and is soon joined by an old Korean man, Lu Ahn, who carves Christian religious figures in ivory. Dean commissions Maples to help with the kids, and sends Herman in search of candy, which the wily sergeant finagles from a nearby Navy supply station. When he opens a cartload of chewing gum, one young orphan, Chu, quickly swallows the whole pack. With the cooperation of the whole Air Force camp, the temple is soon made livable, and almost 400 children fill the rooms. One night, En Soon reminisces to Dean about her home in Cheju-Do, a neutral island where she and the kids could be safe. Later, mail arrives at the camp, and after Skidmore spots a letter addressed to "Reverend Dean Hess," he worries that his commander will not be able to lead them in combat if there is an emergency. The letter reveals that Mary is pregnant and an overjoyed Dean races to headquarters, where he manages to tell Mary how much he loves her before the phone connection is cut. Only En Soon, who did not know Dean was married, is saddened by the news, but graciously offers him a pine branch, the Korean symbol of eternity. A few weeks later, the Chinese ambush the area, and Dean is forced to lead his company in a counter-attack. When Maples is almost killed by an enemy gunner, Dean fights his conscience and takes out the Chinese plane. Later, his guilt is assuaged by Lu Ahn, who counsels Dean to let God judge the cause, not the action. That night, another squadron of enemy tanks approaches, but it is raining so heavily that the airstrip is packed with mud. Dean bravely volunteers to make the trip, and Skidmore, regretting ever doubting his friend, insists on joining him. The two make a heroic liftoff and successfully attack the tank line, but a cocky Skidmore is shot. Dean talks his buddy into hanging on through the flight home, but Skidmore is mortally wounded, and in the sick bay, asks Dean to help ease his fear of death. Feeling truly inspired for the first time, Dean describes death as a door from darkness into light, and as Skidmore slips away, he thanks his newfound spiritual guide. Soon, Dean receives new orders, and when he visits En Soon to say goodbye, Chu, who has come to love Dean like a father, cries upon learning that he is leaving. Dean arrives at headquarters, but as soon as he hears that his old airfield is about to be attacked, he jumps into a jeep and returns to the orphanage, where Herman and Maples are trying to evacuate the kids. With no planes available, the whole group begins a slow walk toward safety. Ten miles to the nearest airstrip, Dean rushes ahead in the jeep, only to find that the last plane has just left. As he races to a nearby Naval port, a sergeant at the airstrip calls General Timberidge to inform him of Dean's whereabouts. At the port, there are no ships available for civilian use, and a discouraged Dean returns to help En Soon gather the children at the old airfield. There, Chinese planes strike, and En Soon is killed protecting a young girl. Anguished, Dean holds a small funeral and places a fir branch on top of her grave. Suddenly, five transport planes, big enough to fit all the children, appear in the sky, courtesy of General Timberidge. Months later, Dean brings Mary to the new Orphans Home of Korea, in Cheju-Do, and reads to her the plaque in front of the building: "Dedicated to En Soon Yang, 1950."
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||Premiere Info:||Los Angles opening: 20 Feb 1957|
|Release Date:||1957||Production Date:||
|Color/B&W:||Color (Technicolor)||Distributions Co:||Universal Pictures Co., Inc.|
|Sound:||Mono (Westrex Recording System)||Production Co:||Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.|
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David Putman 2014-05-24
Many years ago (was it about 10?) TCM played the movie Battle Hymn during the Memorial Day weekend. Since then I have been disappointed every Memorial Day...