The Naked and the Dead


2h 11m 1958
The Naked and the Dead

Brief Synopsis

A green lieutenant comes up against incompetent officers and a sadistic sergeant during World War II.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Aug 1958
Premiere Information
New York opening: 6 Aug 1958
Production Company
RKO Teleradio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Cameron,Panama; Panama; Hawaii, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer (New York, 1948).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 11m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

After sustaining severe losses in the Pacific during World War II, American military strategy focuses on taking islands held by the Japanese one at a time. Marine general Cummings is placed in command of capturing the island of Anopopei and begins his campaign by assigning the sadistic Sgt. Sam Croft to lead a reconnaissance mission. Bitter over the infidelity of his wife, Croft is calloused and brutal, and during the initial landing does not hesitate to personally execute a Japanese prisoner, to the surprise of the platoon, made up by young husband Gallagher, Jewish friends Goldstein and Roth, Southern corporal Wilson, older soldier Red, unstable Minetta, Baptist medic Ridges, cocky Brown and Native American scout Martinez. At a subsequent officers' briefing, Cummings introduces former playboy Lt. Robert Hearn as his newly appointed aide, then describes his ambitious plans for securing the island. Later that night in the mess tent, Hearn criticizes Col. Dalleson's gloating description of eating meat pilfered from the enlisted men. Cummings summons Hearn afterward and chastises him for the remark, then cautions him against treating the soldiers humanely and urges him to accept that war means killing and death. Cummings suggests that Hearn instill fear and hatred in his men, but the lieutenant rejects Cummings' notion as immoral. Over the next few days, the American forces struggle to gain control of the island and Cummings believes that with appropriate naval and air support they will succeed in a week. Between the heavy fighting, the soldiers battle boredom, offset in part by Wilson's attempt to make moonshine. Gallagher is devastated to learn that his pregnant wife has died in childbirth. Cummings invites Hearn to his quarters to play chess, but cannot change Hearn's idea that the individual matters during war. When Hearn makes a disparaging observation about Cummings' private life, however, the general becomes angry and orders Hearn to take charge of keeping his private quarters clean and supplied daily with flowers. Over the next few days, Cummings chafes at the lack of support needed for his plan, which stalls despite orders from his superiors to proceed. Upon learning that Cummings has been telling the men that Hearn is presenting him with flowers, Hearn leaves a crushed cigarette butt on the floor of the general's quarters. Meanwhile, Cummings orders a platoon to the unoccupied southern part of the island to set up an observation post on the highest mountain peak, Mt. Anaka. While Dalleson orders Croft to prepare his men for the mission, Cummings summons Hearn, having taken note of the refuse in his quarters. Cummings tells Hearn that in this moment of great destiny for America the only morality is power. Cummings adds that insubordination within the chain of command must be squelched, then drops a cigarette on the floor and threatens Hearn with imprisonment if he does not retrieve it. Hearn complies but asks for a transfer. Cummings refuses and instead returns the lieutenant to active duty, placing him in command of Croft's platoon. The platoon is taken by boat to the southern part of the island where they return to the jungle, wary of enemy patrols. At a river crossing, a soldier, Wyman, is bitten by a poisonous snake and dies quickly. The platoon continues, unaware they are being trailed by a Japanese patrol. Upon discovering the patrol, Croft orders an attack using a barrage of grenades, which ignites a firestorm that burns the Japanese alive. The men proceed throughout the day, then arrive at a mountain pass flanked by a grove of trees. Hearn splits up the platoon and leads half toward the pass while Cross remains behind with the others. When Hearn's group is fired upon from the grove, Wilson is wounded. Despite Croft's protest, Hearn orders him to be taken back to headquarters, but the corporal dies moments later. The platoon pulls back to the trees opposite the grove and Hearn tells Croft not to countermand him again. As night falls, Hearn decides to send a man to reconnoiter the pass. Croft recommends their expert scout Martinez, then orders Martinez to report to him and not Hearn. When Martinez returns some hours later, he tells Croft about running into a Japanese patrol, but the next morning the sergeant lies to Hearn that the pass is clear. While leading the men back to the pass later, Hearn is shot and Croft immediately orders Brown, Goldstein and Ridges to take the lieutenant to the boat at the shore. Meanwhile at headquarters, Cummings grows increasingly frustrated by the lack of backing given his regiment and, after ordering Dalleson to respond to any enemy movement aggressively, flies out to demand aid. During the long hike back to the beach with the delirious Hearn, Brown repeatedly calls for the others to abandon the dying officer, but Goldstein and Ridges staunchly refuse. Croft leads the platoon around the pass and up toward the cliffs of Mt. Anaka. During the dangerous climb, Roth sprains his ankle and then later freezes in fear on a narrow precipice. Intending to spur Roth on, Croft calls him a "lousy Jew," causing the soldier to bolt and fall to his death. As the men near the peak, Red angrily confronts Martinez about providing incorrect information regarding the pass and concludes that Croft intentionally allowed Hearn to walk into the Japanese position. Fearing Croft will lead them to their deaths, Red challenges him, but backs down when the sergeant threatens to kill him. At the peak, Croft investigates the other side of the hill alone only to be shot and killed by another Japanese patrol. The men hold off an attack with grenades while Martinez investigates and discovers the Japanese have landed heavy guns, tanks and a division on the far beach. Minetta attempts to contact headquarters and reaches a ship that passes the news on to Dalleson, who orders a full scale assault. In the midst of requesting assistance, Cummings is told about the attack and ordered to return to Anopoei to take charge. Back on the island, urged on by Gallagher, the remaining platoon members head back to the beach. Arriving at the shore with Hearn, Goldstein, Ridges and Brown are dismayed to find the boat has gone, but moments later it returns. When the pilot insists on departing immediately, Hearn demands they wait for the rest of the platoon who soon arrive. Cummings returns to his command and is about to berate Dalleson when he receives a report that the assault has broken the enemy line and routed the Japanese entirely. With the island secure, Cummings visits the recovering Hearn in the infirmary a few days later. Hearn tells the general that Ridges and Goldstein's dedication saved his life and bolstered his belief that man's innate decency will survive the viciousness of war.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Aug 1958
Premiere Information
New York opening: 6 Aug 1958
Production Company
RKO Teleradio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Cameron,Panama; Panama; Hawaii, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer (New York, 1948).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 11m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

The Naked and the Dead


Long before he won Pulitzer Prizes for such universally acclaimed literary works asArmies of the Night (1969) and The Executioner's Song (1980), Norman Mailer spent two years serving in the Philippines as a rifleman for the Marines during World War II. His tough, gritty experiences there were later transformed into his first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948), generally considered to be one of the finest American novels ever written about World War II.Ê RKO Pictures took on the enormous task of bringing the prestigious book to the big screen in 1958 and with an expert craftsman like Raoul Walsh (Objective, Burma! (1945), Battle Cry, 1955) at the helm things looked promising. The real challenge, however, was how to remain true to Mailer's artistic vision and literary masterwork.

The biggest obstacle was adapting the lengthy novel - 721 pages! - into a commercial film with an acceptable running time. The essential storyline from Mailer's book remained intact: Marines stationed in the South Pacific struggle for survival against the enemy as well as their own platoon leader, a sadistic sergeant named Croft (the underrated Aldo Ray plays the menacing Sergeant Croft with gusto). Croft's abusive nature toward his men is at odds with the command of the highly moralistic Lt. Hearn (Cliff Robertson) who tries to reason with Croft; however, his efforts are undermined by General Cummings (Raymond Massey), who is convinced that soldiers will fight harder if they hate their superiors. Despite the strong premise, the truncation of the novel to fit a two-hour film sadly compromised Mailer's ideological portrayal of war and the abuse of power. Another problem was that the book's rough but realistic language had to be diluted considerably (four-letter words simply werenÕt allowed by Hollywood's Production Code at the time) and this robbed the film of the rawness that made Mailer's work so celebrated. Worst of all, the studio tried to make the screen adaptation more commercially appealing by adding a few ill-conceived slapstick set pieces (including an obligatory barroom brawl) and some unnecessary romantic subplots involving a striptease artist Lily (Lili St. Cyr) and a prostitute named Mildred (Barbara Nichols).

Still, if one is willing to adjust their perspective, The Naked and the Dead has its merits. If you view it as a war drama, and not an adaptation of a major literary work, it works splendidly on a pure action level. The major sequences, such as the open beach landing on a Japanese-held bay, the field of high grass burning during an attack, or the intense hand-to-hand combat scenes, are all spectacularly staged by Walsh. Cinematographer Joseph LaShelle perfectly captures the seductive but deadly jungle atmosphere, complete with sweeping vistas of lianas, orchids and elephant ears, all presented in vivid color.

Originally Producer Paul Gregory was going to use first the Philippines, then Hawaii, and finally a Hollywood set for exterior scenes until he discovered a more cost effective location while peering out the window of a DC-6 in a flight en route from Jamaica to California - the Panama Canal. Not only was the lush, mountainous terrain ideal, but stationed at Fort Kobbe on Panama were 250 troops, many of whom were Japanese-Americans from Hawaii and Guam. For the film, many of these soldiers were recruited as extras to play the "enemy".

Producer: Paul Gregory
Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: Denis Sanders, Terry Sanders, based on the novel by Norman Mailer
Art Direction: Edward S. Haworth
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Editing: Arthur P. Schmidt
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Aldo Ray (Sgt. Croft), Cliff Robertson (Lt. Hearn), Raymond Massey (Gen. Cummings), Barbara Nichols (Mildred), William Campbell (Brown), Richard Jaeckel (Gallagher), James Best (Rhidges), Joey Bishop (Roth), Lili St. Cyr (Lily), Jerry Paris (Goldstein), L.Q. Jones (Wilson).
C-132m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Michael T. Toole
The Naked And The Dead

The Naked and the Dead

Long before he won Pulitzer Prizes for such universally acclaimed literary works asArmies of the Night (1969) and The Executioner's Song (1980), Norman Mailer spent two years serving in the Philippines as a rifleman for the Marines during World War II. His tough, gritty experiences there were later transformed into his first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948), generally considered to be one of the finest American novels ever written about World War II.Ê RKO Pictures took on the enormous task of bringing the prestigious book to the big screen in 1958 and with an expert craftsman like Raoul Walsh (Objective, Burma! (1945), Battle Cry, 1955) at the helm things looked promising. The real challenge, however, was how to remain true to Mailer's artistic vision and literary masterwork. The biggest obstacle was adapting the lengthy novel - 721 pages! - into a commercial film with an acceptable running time. The essential storyline from Mailer's book remained intact: Marines stationed in the South Pacific struggle for survival against the enemy as well as their own platoon leader, a sadistic sergeant named Croft (the underrated Aldo Ray plays the menacing Sergeant Croft with gusto). Croft's abusive nature toward his men is at odds with the command of the highly moralistic Lt. Hearn (Cliff Robertson) who tries to reason with Croft; however, his efforts are undermined by General Cummings (Raymond Massey), who is convinced that soldiers will fight harder if they hate their superiors. Despite the strong premise, the truncation of the novel to fit a two-hour film sadly compromised Mailer's ideological portrayal of war and the abuse of power. Another problem was that the book's rough but realistic language had to be diluted considerably (four-letter words simply werenÕt allowed by Hollywood's Production Code at the time) and this robbed the film of the rawness that made Mailer's work so celebrated. Worst of all, the studio tried to make the screen adaptation more commercially appealing by adding a few ill-conceived slapstick set pieces (including an obligatory barroom brawl) and some unnecessary romantic subplots involving a striptease artist Lily (Lili St. Cyr) and a prostitute named Mildred (Barbara Nichols). Still, if one is willing to adjust their perspective, The Naked and the Dead has its merits. If you view it as a war drama, and not an adaptation of a major literary work, it works splendidly on a pure action level. The major sequences, such as the open beach landing on a Japanese-held bay, the field of high grass burning during an attack, or the intense hand-to-hand combat scenes, are all spectacularly staged by Walsh. Cinematographer Joseph LaShelle perfectly captures the seductive but deadly jungle atmosphere, complete with sweeping vistas of lianas, orchids and elephant ears, all presented in vivid color. Originally Producer Paul Gregory was going to use first the Philippines, then Hawaii, and finally a Hollywood set for exterior scenes until he discovered a more cost effective location while peering out the window of a DC-6 in a flight en route from Jamaica to California - the Panama Canal. Not only was the lush, mountainous terrain ideal, but stationed at Fort Kobbe on Panama were 250 troops, many of whom were Japanese-Americans from Hawaii and Guam. For the film, many of these soldiers were recruited as extras to play the "enemy". Producer: Paul Gregory Director: Raoul Walsh Screenplay: Denis Sanders, Terry Sanders, based on the novel by Norman Mailer Art Direction: Edward S. Haworth Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle Editing: Arthur P. Schmidt Music: Bernard Herrmann Cast: Aldo Ray (Sgt. Croft), Cliff Robertson (Lt. Hearn), Raymond Massey (Gen. Cummings), Barbara Nichols (Mildred), William Campbell (Brown), Richard Jaeckel (Gallagher), James Best (Rhidges), Joey Bishop (Roth), Lili St. Cyr (Lily), Jerry Paris (Goldstein), L.Q. Jones (Wilson). C-132m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The following written statement appears in the closing credits: "The producers are indebted to the Government of the Republic of Panama for permitting the exterior portions of this picture to be photographed in its country."
       Norman Mailer, a Harvard graduate and World War II veteran, based his first novel, The Naked and the Dead, on his experiences as a sergeant in the South Pacific. The book, which was published in 1948 when Mailer was twenty-five, was considered shocking at the time, with its coarse language, sexual frankness, graphic battle scenes and aura of pessimism, but received much critical acclaim, being called one of the finest, most authentic novels about war. A September 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that playwright Lillian Hellman and Kermit Bloomgarten intended to produce a stage version of Mailer's best-selling novel in 1949, but the play was never produced.
       In August 1949 Norma Productions, the newly formed company of producer Harold Hecht and actor Burt Lancaster, purchased Mailer's novel for a Warner Bros. release with Lancaster set to star. A biography on Lancaster states that he had intended to play "Red Valsen," and that he and Hecht assigned the script to writers Philip Stevenson and Joseph Mischel, both of whom were later blacklisted. Mailer, a friend of Lancaster, was given script approval, but doubted that a faithful screen adaptation of his book could be made. By December 1950, the project was canceled and the rights returned to Mailer. The Lancaster biography indicates that the actor did not think an anti-war film would succeed at that time.
       An April 1954 Hollywood Reporter item reveals that producer Paul Gregory had acquired an option for the novel and, along with his partner, theater circuit owner William Goldman, had set a $3,000,000 budget for the film. In October 1954, Daily Variety announced that Robert Mitchum would star and Charles Laughton would write and direct the Gregory-Goldman production. Mitchum and Laughton had just completed work on Gregory's production of The Night of the Hunter (see below). A February 1955 Los Angeles Times item indicates that Lloyd Nolan was under consideration for the role of "Gen. Cummings." The following month another Los Angeles Times article noted that filmmakers Denis and Terry Sanders, who had made an Academy Award-winning featurette on the Civil War, A Time Out of War, were to assist Laughton on the production. According to a June 1955 Hollywood Reporter item, Walter Shumann was set to write the musical score. An October 1955 Los Angeles Times column stated that Laughton's script was three-hundred pages in length and featured seven major male roles and a December 1955 Los Angeles Times casting item reveals that Gregory hoped to sign Anthony Perkins for a role. A December 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item includes John McTaggart in the cast, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
       In January 1956, Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column asserted that Gregory wanted out of the production, but that Goldman wanted to proceed. A biography on Laughton states that he reported to Goldman that it would take another year for him to edit the script down to a workable length. The additional time and the lack of financial success of The Night of the Hunter persuaded Goldman and Gregory to withdraw from the arrangement with Laughton, who never directed another film. The Laughton biography indicates that the Sanders brothers re-wrote the script entirely.
       In October 1957, a Variety article noted that the film, partially funded by RKO Radio Pictures, was to receive distribution by Warner Bros. John Farrow is mentioned in the article as the "original" director when the production was slated to go before the cameras that previous March. The piece also noted that considerable background footage was shot in the summer of 1956 in Hawaii.
       A February 1958 New York Times article described the film's production in Panama, indicating that more than 250 American soldiers at a U.S. base that protected the Panama Canal appeared in the film as extras. About a dozen Hawaiian-born American soldiers of Japanese decent played Japanese soldiers. Director Raoul Walsh is quoted in the article as saying the film would not stick too closely to the novel, as many of the incidents that were considered shocking at the time of the book's release had already appeared in other films. The female characters, Red's wife "Mildred" and "Hearn's" numerous girlfriends, only appear in brief flashbacks during the film. The flashbacks featuring Hearn also sharply contrast his cavalier civilian playboy behavior with his serious consideration of moral issues while a soldier.
       Among the major changes from the book to the film is the more affirmative ending of the film. In the book, the idealist "Hearn" is killed and the sadistic "Croft" survives. Upon the film's release, Variety called it a "disappointment...bear[ing] little more than surface resemblance to the hard hitting (and foul-mouthed) Norman Mailer novel....It catches neither the spirit nor the intent of the original yarn...and becomes just another war picture." The New York Times review offered more praise, but admitted it was no more than a "surface recounting" of the book's drama. In 1963 Mailer filed suit against RKO Teleradio Pictures and Warner Bros. seeking reversion of all rights to The Naked and the Dead. The suit was dismissed.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer July 1958

WarnerScope

Released in United States Summer July 1958