All the Young Men (1960)

 

 

Director:  Hall Bartlett.

Starring:  Alan Ladd (Kincaide), Sidney Poitier (Sgt. Towler), James Darren (Cotton), Glenn Corbett, Mort Sahl

This is a war story with a racial overtone.  In battle the lieutenant dies and the black sergeant Sidney Poitier takes over command.  But Poitier has problems with overt racism and with the men following his direction, especially Alan Ladd.  

 

Spoiler warning:  the following tells the whole story.

O.k. movie.  October 11, 1950.  The movie starts with pictures of the shelling of Wan-San, Korea during the Korean War.  An advance marine unit of the successful invasion force, the 2nd Platoon, Baker Company, has a mission to find and hold a Korean farm house at the strategic pass north of Majonee, which is the lifeline for for the advance of the 3rd Battalion, 1,000 marines strong. 

The unit gets ambushed by North Korean troops.  They lose a great many men, including the lieutenant who is mortally wounded.  Before the lieutenant dies, he puts Sgt. Towler in command of the men.  The sergeant tells the lieutenant that it would be better to let the more experienced Kincaide take command, but the lieutenant insists that the sergeant be in command. 

After the lieutenant dies, the men start to ask Kincaide what to do next, but Kincaide cynically tells them to speak to Towler for the sergeant is in charge.  A southerner Bracken gives Towler a lot of lip.  When the sergeant tells Bracken to bury the lieutenant, the racist says that "where I come from the black man does the digging."  Towler confronts the man and makes him back down. 

The men walk the long distance to the strategic farm house manned by a woman and her mother and a boy.  There Bracken tries to stir up a rebellion against the sergeant by saying "he never commanded" and that blacks can't command, they just don't have it naturally within them.  They talk about the necessity of abandoning the farm house:  "we've got to get out of here."  Kincaide comes to their support and forces Towler to threaten the men with the shooting of any man who deserts his post.

As the enemy arrives, the unit starts taking casualties.  Kincaide is seriously hurt when a tank runs over his ankle and foot.  He has to have his left amputated and needs type O blood.  The only man left in the unit who has that type of blood is Towler.  Towler somewhat reluctantly agrees to the transfusion. 

When a string of enemy tanks arrives, the men decide to abandon the post and head out the back gate of the farm enclosure.  Towler is the last man out and he carries Kincaide out with him. The sergeant reaches a point where he is taking too much fire and has to jump into a foxhole and return fire.  (Kincaide finally starts to have a higher opinion of Towler.)  The situation looks bleak, but at the last minute the cavalry arrives in the form of a wave of aircraft that bombs and strafes the enemy troops. 

I guess the Marines in this movie did not receive any sensitivity training before the integration of that service.  Marine Bracken is an extreme racist who even uses the "N" word when yelling at the black sergeant Towler.  Not one man in the unit really sticks up for Towler.  Of course, there had to have been racism in the armed forces, but it really seems that combat is the wrong place to be divisive within the group  -- it might just cost a lot of lives.  It seems a little strange that Towler can't appeal to any higher purpose or values to silence his racist critics.  (Dr. Martin Luther King and his philosophy came later.)  Instead, Towler has to prove himself through his bravery and sacrifice.  The only problem with this is that racists just usually think "well, he's an exception," so they can go on being racists, while acknowledging the worth of one or a few blacks.  This is the only thing that really bothered me about the movie.  Sidney Poitier was very good in the limited role he had to play. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 


Historical Background:

See Field of Honor (1986).

President Truman was the first president to integrate the armed forces of the United States.  He commented that  "My forbears were Confederates.... But my very stomach turned over when I had learned that Negro soldiers, just back from overseas, were being dumped out of Army trucks in Mississippi and beaten."

1948 (July 26)   -- during the middle of the presidential election campaign, Truman signed a landmark executive order integrating the U.S. military.

1950  -- when the Korean War broke out, the US military had done very little integration.  Black soldiers served in segregated support units in the rear or in segregated combat units. But necessity forced integration on the army.  The North Koreans almost pushed the Allied forces off of the Korean Peninsula.  The shortage of white troops made it a necessity to accept black replacements in white units.

1951 (March 18)  --  all basic training within the United States are integrated.

1951 (April)  --  the head of all UN troops in Korea, General Matthew B. Ridgway requests that he be allowed to integrate all African-Americans into the armed forces command.

1951 (July 26)  --  all units in Korea would be integrated within six months.   

1953 (October)  --  95% of African-American soldiers serve in integrated units.

 

"Desegregation of the Armed Forces":

http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/desegregation/large/index.php?action=chronology#1950

 

 

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