All the Young Men
At the beginning of the war, Hollywood rushed a couple of films into production, falling back on the conventions of the World War II film. Samuel Fuller's The Steel Helmet (1951), the first film about Korea to be released, featured a platoon of diverse types representing different ethnic groups who bravely tackle their almost impossible assignment. Fuller attempted to portray the madness of war to offer a less simplistic view of combat than in most World War II films, but Steel Helmet's short shooting schedule and low budget exposed the backlot look, undermining any efforts at gritty realism. As the Korean War progressed, revealing the lack of clarity regarding its purpose or goal, a pessimism seeped into the few films produced about the conflict, including Retreat, Hell! (1952) and The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954). The former may be the first war drama to visualize American troops in retreat, while the latter focuses on the futility of war. Yet, the films never depicted the soldiers as anything less than courageous and determined to do their duty no matter how pessimistic the tone. Any criticism of the war was aimed at the politicians, not the military. After the Panmunjom truce (not a treaty) was signed in July 1953, Hollywood showed little interest in the Korean Conflict, undoubtedly because the situation ended in a frustrating stalemate, whereas after WWII, the film industry had revisited that war over and over.
With a few notable exceptions, Hollywood consistently portrayed the military in a positive light until the early 1960s. Around this time, a few war dramas about the Korean War resurfaced, using that war to criticize U.S. policy or to comment on social institutions. Pork Chop Hill, released in 1959, was based on an actual battle that was fought during the final hours of the truce negotiations. It was staged to demonstrate to the Communists that the United States was willing to continue fighting even if an agreement was not reached. When the truce was signed, it rendered the sacrifices of the American G.I.s who fought to take Pork Chop Hill meaningless. As directed by Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front, 1930) and produced Sy Bartlett (The Outsider, 1961), the film version of the battle was intended as an antiwar statement. However, in depicting the soldiers as courageous and dedicated heroes in the faces of a futile, politically motivated mission, Pork Chop Hill suffered from conflicting messages. Many viewers and critics saw little difference between it and previous Korean War dramas that had lauded the military but criticized politicians.
The following year, All the Young Men (1960) offered a less romanticized view of the American G.I. in a story that is set during the Korean War but is not really about the war. Instead, All the Young Men uses the war genre to take a stand on racial integration.
Sidney Poitier stars as Sgt. Eddie Towler, who is part of an advance Marine unit assigned to find and secure a farm located in a strategic mountain pass. When the unit is ambushed by Chinese troops, casualties are high, with the officer in charge mortally wounded. Before he dies, he leaves Sgt. Towler-the unit's only African American-in charge of the few survivors, though Sgt. Kincaid, played by Alan Ladd, has more military experience. Once the depleted unit reaches the farmhouse, Towler orders the men to hold their position until an advancing battalion reaches them, a mission made more difficult by marauding Chinese troops and Sgt. Kincaid's objections to the plan. The tension escalates when Pvt. Bracken, a Southern bigot played by Paul Richards, taunts Sgt. Towler, makes trouble among the restless men, and tries to sexually assault one of the women in the farmhouse. A final push by the enemy rips into the unit, allowing Towler to prove himself as a capable and courageous leader.
All the Young Men serves as a pro-integration statement at a time when integration had yet to be fully achieved. Its message was not only timely but controversial. While the film was in post-production in February 1960, four black college students walked into a drugstore in Greensboro, North Carolina, and sat down at the whites-only lunch counter. The waitress refused to serve them, though the manager did not force them to leave. The next day, 20 more black students joined them. Two days after that, white students from a nearby women's college arrived to become part of this historic sit-in. The incident sparked a move to integrate lunch counters across a very tense South. Later in the year, sit-ins at department stores and bus terminals continued the drive toward full integration, while President Dwight Eisenhower passed the Civil Rights Act of 1960 in May amidst much criticism from certain sectors of the country.
Like his mentor Stanley Kramer, producer-director Hall Bartlett had a strong social conscience, and he wanted to produce a film that reflected his ideals. Just as Kramer's The Defiant Ones (1958) presented a pro-integration message in the form of an action drama to avoid being overtly preachy, so Bartlett decided on a war film to do the same, setting the story during the Korean War, the first military action to use integrated fighting units. By showing Sgt. Towler to be a good leader during the heat of battle, the moral center of a military unit with less-than-admirable members, and a courageous soldier willing to sacrifice his life for another, All the Young Men presents a strong argument for the value of integration. The point is underscored in a scene in which Towler gives his blood to Kincaid in a transfusion, which saves his life-with the fusion of blood as the ultimate symbol of the value of integration.
Sidney Poitier worked constantly during the late 1950s and early 1960s, peaking as a movie star with In the Heat of the Night in 1967. Given his status as Hollywood's only black star at the time, Poitier was in great demand. Bartlett wrote the script for him, offering him $100,000 and a cut of the profits, but he had to wait until his star completed a historic run on Broadway in A Raisin in the Sun before shooting could begin. Though individual figures like Kramer and Bartlett were using popular film to fight social ills, Hollywood as an industry was far less enlightened. Finding a studio to release All the Young Men proved difficult, with Columbia the only studio willing to put up a portion of money for financing and distribution. However, Columbia wanted Bartlett to build up a costarring role for a white actor, because they were afraid to bank on Poitier alone to carry the film. The producer-director agreed, expanding the character of Sgt. Kincaid. Finding a star to accept the role of Kincaid proved more difficult than Bartlett anticipated, perhaps because actors feared their appeal to Southern audiences would suffer if they starred in a pro-integration drama. Jeffrey Hunter and Stuart Whitman were among those who turned down the role before an ailing, depressed Alan Ladd agreed to costar and coproduce through his Jaguar Productions. Three and a half years later, Ladd would die after taking a combination of liquor and sedatives.
The rest of the cast of All the Young Men consisted of a diverse group of actors playing a melting-pot of a military unit. This is both a convention and a strength of the classic war drama. Teen heartthrob James Darren plays a naïve young soldier who sings while the unit is holed up in the farmhouse; Mario Alcalde portrays a Native American who sacrifices himself for the sake of his fellow soldiers; boxer Ingemar Johansson shows off his physique as the immigrant soldier who wants to do his part for his adopted country; and comic Mort Sahl adds comic relief with his one-liners and wisecracks, most of which he wrote himself. The twist to this convention in All the Young Men is Bracken (Paul Richards), who, instead of being the Southern farm boy or colorful character from Dixie, is a hate-mongering bigot-definitely not a positive reflection of the military as an institution.
Columbia mounted two different ad campaigns for All the Young Men, one for white audiences and one for African Americans. Black publicists were hired to target African American newspapers, radio stations, theaters, and social organizations. Exhibitors in the North and West declared this ad campaign, which exploited the image of a black star defying a white star, to be a success. The poster for the black campaign showed Poitier gripping Ladd by the collar, along with the line, "Spit out what's on your filthy little mind and then take your orders from me." Interestingly, that bit of dialogue does not exist in the movie, nor is Ladd's character the bigoted villain.
Producers: Hall Bartlett, Alan Ladd, and Newton Arnold for Jaguar Productions
Director: Hall Bartlett
Screenplay: Hall Bartlett
Cinematography: Daniel Fapp
Editor: Al Clark
Art Director: Carl Anderson and Bud Brooks
Music: George Duning
Costume Designer: Ted Tetrich, Gordon Dawson, and Edna Taylor
Cast: Sgt. Eddie Towler (Sidney Poitier), Sgt. Kincaid (Alan Ladd), Cotton (James Darren), Wade (Glenn Corbett), Corp. Crane (Mort Sahl), Maya (Ana St. Clair), Bracken (Paul Richards), Casey (Dick Davalos), Hunter, "the Chief" (Mario Alcalde), Torgil (Ingemar Johansson), Lt. Earl D. Toland (Charles Quinlivan).
by Susan Doll