Hell is for Heroes (1962)
Director: Don Siegel.
Starring: Steve McQueen (Reese), Bobby Darin (Pvt. Corby), Fess Parker (Sgt. Pike), Harry Guardino (Sgt. Larkin), James Coburn (Cpl. Henshaw), Mike Kellin (Pvt. Kolinsky), Joseph Hoover (Capt. Loomis), Bill Mullikin (Pvt. Cumberly), L.Q. Jones (Supply Sgt. Frazer), Michele Montau (Monique Ouidel), Don Haggerty (Capt. Mace), Nick Adams (Homer), Bob Newhart (Pvt. Driscoll).
film later re-made as When Trumpets Fade (1968)
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Montigny, France. A rest area near the Siegfried Line, 1944.
Sgt. Larkin is the sergeant for the second squad. He reports to Sgt. Pike. In the second squad is Cpl. Henshaw, who likes to fix things; Pvt. Corby, who acts like a black marketer; Pvt. Cumberly, who never lets anything bother him; and Private Kolinsky, who speaks Polish. And then there is a Polish Displaced Person who wants to fight alongside the second squad in order to earn his way to go to the United States. Private Reese is the new replacement for the second squad. He is a very unfriendly fellow and awfully grumpy. (He was at one-time a master sergeant.) The fellows in the unit try to be nice to him, but he tells them to beat it or to get lost. Sgt. Pike visits with second squad and says he already knows Reese.
At night Reese heads to a French bar. The woman bartender tells him that they are not allowed to serve soldiers at this time of night. He ignores her and gets his own liquor from behind the bar. She tries to talk to him, but he is cynical and sarcastic. Evidently, the woman likes bad boys, because she flirts with him. He tells her that she probably was just as nice to the German soldiers that used to drink here. She replies that she doesn't like Germans. But in the banter back and forth, she slips up and says something in German. Reese catches her slip-up and she tries to hit him with the liquor battle. He stops her by grabbing her hand just at the time that Sgt. Pike comes into the bar. He tells Reese to get back to the squad. All Reese does is grab two glasses and another bottle and pours the liquor in the glasses. Sgt. Pike has one drink and then insists that they leave the bar. He tells Reese to keep it under his hat: they are going back on the line.
Captain Loomis sees Reese return to his squad and demands from Sgt. Pike to know the name of the man coming back from town. Pike tells him it's Reese. Reese won the Distinguished Service Cross in Northern Africa. Pike vouches for Reese by saying he's a damn good soldier in a pinch.
Pike tells everyone that they are going back on line, but he tells Homer that he cannot go along with them. Homer turns to Reese for help, but Reese only tells him: "You show up on the line, I'll blow your head off."
The unit is replacing another one that was on the line for a long time. Pike goes to command post company "L". Captain Loomis needs six more truck for the company. Loomis tells Pike that they are pulling out already. They are moving ten miles north to be battalion reserve. They expect a German counterattack. The unit will be leaving just one platoon behind.
The next morning Reese realizes that it is too quiet. He starts to investigate. He tells Sgt. Larkin that they are open on both ends. Sgt. Larkin just realizes the situation and wants to know where is everybody. Apparently, he didn't get the message that the unit was pulling out. One of the soldiers is almost hit by machine gun fire. There is a German pill box 500 yards away or so. Sgt. Pike shows up and he tells Larkin that he will just have to hold the entire section with just six men. He knows they are spread very thin, but that's the way it is. Larkin puts Kolinsky and Henshaw on the left flank; Corby and Cumberly on the right flank; and Reese in the middle. Reese tells Sgt. Larkin that if the German make a push, they are dead.
Artillery shells land in the area. An American soldier driving wildly in a jeep comes into the area. The artillery explosions shake him and he crashes the jeep into a tree. Sgt. Larkin decides to commandeer the jeep. The driver, Private James Driscoll, explains that this is his major's jeep. And the only thing he has ever done in the army is type. He is not a real soldier. Larkin tells him: "Sorry Driscoll, we're taking your jeep." Henshaw will rig it up to sound like a tank, including the backfires. Henshaw makes the modifications and drives it around with the jeep backfiring all the time.
Reese tells Larkin that if the Germans don't hear any noise, they will know they don't have enough men to sent out a patrol. So Larkin takes three empty ammo boxes. Each of three soldiers take the ammo boxes attacked to a line of wire out into no man's land. The boxes are hung up on tree branches and filled with stones. When the men get back to the line they start pulling the lines and rattling the boxes. This draws German fire in the direction of noise.
All of a sudden, Homer show up. He hitch-hiked and walked he says to be with his "buddies". Larkin tells him he can't stay, but Corby says they accepted the typist. Why not Homer? Larkin gives in and lets Homer stay.
A German patrol attacks the American line. Cumberly gets shot in the back and dies. Two German soldiers jump into foxholes. To get rid of them, the Americans use a fire extinguisher. One of the men runs off covered in flames. This scares the other soldier and he surrenders. They take their prisoner, and a wounded German soldier, to an empty pill box and throw them in there.
Reese tells Larkin that they have to knock out the German pill box. Larkin wants to do it, but he says he needs Sgt. Pike's approval. He leaves the unit to find Pike. When Larkin gets back he tells Reese that he couldn't find Pike. Larkin is then killed by an artillery shell explosion near him. Now that Cpl. Henshaw is in charge he agrees to do what Reese suggested. At night Reese goes out first crawling his way through the mine field. He is followed by Henshaw and Kolinksy. They have a 40 pound satchel of explosives with them. Meanwhile, Sgt. Pike and the unit has returned. He asks where Larkin is. Dead. Where's Henshaw? Out with Reese and Kolinsky.
Making their way through the dark, Reese just misses finding one of the mines. When Henshaw reaches the mine he sets it off, which kills him and sets off the liquid in the flame thrower on his back. The explosion lights up the area and the Germans open fire on the men. The two survivors run like hell, but Kolinsky gets hit in the gut. He screams about the pain in his gut. Reese helps him back to the line, but Kolinsky dies there.
Captain Loomis goes to Reese and asks him who ordered the mission. Reese says he did. The Captain is furious. He got Henshawn blow up and Kolinsky killed. He's a private; he's supposed to take orders; not give them. The Captain promises to have Reese court-martialed once they are off the line. The few survivors of second squad are put in with first squad. They will be attacking the German line.
American artillery opens u for awhile and then the attack begins. When they reach a mine field, the mortars blow them a path through the field. When the mortars stop the men charge again. Reese wants to make up for his mistakes. He is out ahead of everyone else in the attack. He finds the 40 pound explosives satchel. Corby grabs a flame flower and uses it. The smoke helps provide a cover for Reese as he pushes closer and closer to the pill box. He reaches the side of the pill box. He sets off the fuse on the satchel and then throws it inside the pill box. As he runs away he is shot in the back. The Germans throw the satchel backed out the window. Reese uses his last bit of strength to grab the satchel and throw it back through the window. He then rolls his body next to the window to prevent it being tossed out again. He is killed when the satchel explodes.
Other soldiers fire into the window and blast it with the flame thrower just to make sure everyone inside is dead.
Good movie. My wife liked it more than me. I liked When Trumpets Fade (1968) a lot better. She liked the personal dynamics among the men. There was a lot of action given that the second squad only had six soldiers to cover a large area. I thought McQueen's character Reese was a little too over the top. But maybe he was suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). And there certainly wasn't that much history in the movie.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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