Hell in Korea (1956)





Director:      Julian Amyes.

Starring:     George Baker (Lt. Butler),   Harry Andrews (Sgt. Payne), Ronald Lewis (Pvt. Wyatt),  Stanley Baker (Cpl.Ryker),  Stephen Boyd (Pvt. Sims), Victor Maddern (Pvt. Lindop),  Robert Shaw (LCpl. Hodge),  Michael Medwin (Pvt Docker),  Michael Caine (Pvt. Lockyer),  Percy Herbert (Pvt. Moon)

Country:      British film

U.N. patrol fights Chinese troops.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

0600 hours, May 10.  A United Nations patrol has been sent out with one British officer and fifteen British enlisted men.  The patrol has been sent out in order to establish if a certain hill is being held now by the enemy. 

At 1300 hours the patrol nears its objective.  Lt. Butler yells for Sgt. Payne to come to the front.  Corporal Ryker sees the wireless man, Wyatt, using part of the wireless equipment for a pillow.  He tells Wyatt to get his head off the wireless.  It's obvious that the corporal does not like Wyatt.  Butler and Payne look through the binoculars and see what looks like an abandoned village.  On top of the hill behind the village there is a temple.  Now the lieutenant and sergeant call for Kim, the South Korean soldier, to come to the front.  Kim confirms that the structure on top of the hill is a temple for Buddha.  He also says that on the other side of the temple there's more of a straight drop-off. 

The soldiers find two Koreans in the village, one of them an older man.  They are brought in to be asked a few questions.  The Koreans say that the Chinese soldiers are to the north.  Just how far, they say they don't know.  The two Koreans are released and they are seen running from the village, which arouses suspicion of the two.  Corporal Ryker follows them. 

A soldier named Matthews, a friend to Wyatt, busts a door down and goes into the house.  The lieutenant yells for him not to go in, but it's too late.  Matthews steps in and sets off a booby-trap explosion that kills him.  Wyatt is devastated at the lose of basically his only friend on the patrol.  Two shots are heard.  Then Corporal Ryker returns.  The conclusion is that Ryker must have shot the two Koreans.  Lt. Butler has just taken his first casualty with the loss of Matthews.. 

The patrol starts walking again, but they are stopped by two platoons in each of two columns of Chinese soldiers.  The British soldiers have been cut-off from moving forward.  Lt. Butler tells Corporal Ryker to take some men and go chop off some branches of a nearby tree. 

Lt. Butler and three men will set up by a burial mound.  He has the other men of the patrol go with Sgt. Payne to flank the enemy.  Lt. Butler and his men drag the tree branches along the dusty earth and raise up some clouds of dust.  The Chinese notice the clouds of dust and "go to ground".  

The Chinese send out a small group of soldiers followed by another group of soldiers.  The Chinese have to approach the four Brits over open ground with very few trees, but the soldiers have four machine guns and they are able to make the Chinese soldiers retreat.  After a short break, more Chinese are sent out to attack.  This time they are a little wiser and lay down at a certain point and start shooting at the British patrol.  But they eventually have to get up and they are mowed down.  Another line of soldiers attacks, but they also receive heavy casualties and run for it.  There are quite a few dead and wounded Chinese soldiers out in front of the British position.  Two enemy soldiers have grenades with them.  They suddenly jump up and start charging the Brits.  One is shot down quickly, but the other has time enough to throw his grenade, before he gets shot down.  The grenade kills Lance-corporal Hodge.  Lt. Butler has now had his second casualty.  Two of the men bury Hodge. Sgt. Payne and his men return. They couldn't get around the Chinese.

Lt. Butler uses the wireless to call in his problematic situation to the higher ups.  But no one receives the message.  So Lt. Butler decides that they will sneak out to a better position during the night.  At night the Chinese set all the village huts on fire.  Three men, one of them Sgt. Payne, are stranded for awhile, but the main body of the patrol sneaks away.  Lt. Butler says that Sgt. Payne may be in trouble.  He goes to take a look , but just then the sergeant and his two men catch up with the main body. 

The men are going to climb up to the Buddhist temple.  Wyatt has a hard time climbing because he has to carry the wireless. He soon tires of this and when no one is looking he jettisons the wireless down the hill.  When it comes time to use the wireless, Wyatt says the wireless came off his back and tumbled down the hill.    This doesn't fool Sgt. Payne and Corporal Baker and they say that Wyatt ditched the wireless on purpose.  This is a serious matter that threatens the patrol and the two non-commissioned officers want to inflict some pain on Wyatt.  Lt. Butler, however, will have none of this.

The men notice that some Chinese on horseback are coming up from behind them.   The patrol hides itself off the path saying they will let the Chinese pass peacefully.  It looks like they will pass peacefully by the patrol, but then Pvt. Sims moves and falls down.  The noise alerts the Chinese soldiers, but they are soon eliminated by the fire power of the patrol.  Sims has hurt himself in the fall so now Wyatt is assigned to help Sims walk the rest of the way up to the temple.

The soldiers approach the temple quietly.  They walk up the steps and into the temple itself.  Inside is a huge statute of Buddha.  The men sit down to take a rest.  Pvt. Moon disparages Lt. Butler's leadership for getting them into this mess.  A private named Jackie Rabin sticks up for the lieutenant. 

Corporal Ryker goes over to Wyatt to tell him that he is going to get him.  When Wyatt next turns yellow, Ryker will be behind him. 

Officer Butler calls the men together to make some comments on their present situation.  After the talk Lt. Butler goes to check on Sims.  He finds that the man is dead, the third casualty.  Wyatt says he did all he could to care for the man.  Butler is not so sure.  He tells Wyatt that all the men hate him and the reason is that they are afraid of him.  Afraid because they fear Wyatt will do something foolish and get everyone killed.  He then tells Wyatt to show some guts.  Wyatt says that he does have guts.  He was an amateur boxer back home.  The problem he says is that he's all on his own here.  He isn't like the other guys, he says.  

Men are placed in strategic positions to watch for the enemy, while the others play soccer.  Lt. Butler comes out and doesn't like the men playing soccer and tells this to Sgt. Payne.  Payne says he just thought it was a good way for some of the men to blow off steam.  Butler, however, wants to know where Wyatt is.   The sergeant says he put him on top of the building to watch for Kim's return. 

Three Chinese soldiers on horseback come to the edge of the open space surrounding the temple.  The Brits are supposed to hold their fire, but Pvt. Neill gets too jumpy and opens fire.  Corporal Ryker then joins in the fire.  They kill two of the soldiers, but the third one probably got away. 

The sounds of a tank are heard coming closer and closer to the temple.  The tank suddenly shows itself.  It is followed by a lot of infantrymen.  The tank, however, can't get up the steep rise at the top of the hill.  So the tank is basically stranded in one place.  Soon the tank starts firing away at the temple.  Sims and Ryker start running from their forward positions back to the temple.  Ryker gets angry that bullets are landing all around him, so he stops, turns and fires back at the infantry.  In the shootout Baker gets wounded and has to be retrieved from in front of the temple.  The Brits are able to kill the machine gunner on the tank at least.  The  anti-tank team of Docker and Lindop is now sent out with a bazooka.  Private Docker hits the tank three times and the tank goes up in a big ball of flames.  

Wyatt gives Corp. Ryker some water.  When Ryker opens his eyes he sees that it's Wyatt and he tells Wyatt to get his hand off him.   He grabs Wyatt by the shirt collar as if to hit him, but he falls back dead, the fourth casualty.   A little later Kim starts climbing up through the open area before the temple, but he is shot by the enemy, the fifth casualty. 

At night the U.N. patrol hears and sees a U.N. barrage on the Chinese in the area.  During the barrage Wyatt goes a bit crazy.  Butler grabs the man, but Wyatt just keeps saying:  "I got to go home."  Butler wants to teach him a lesson, so he tells him to take his shirt off and wave it like one would wave a white flag. Wyatt starts waving his shirt and shouting:  "Friend, Comrade, don't shoot!"   The only answer Wyatt gets is shots at him from the Chinese.  Butler urges him to repeat the performance, so he does, but the answer is the same:  shots fired at him. 

The next morning some of the guys are putting bayonets on their rifles to go out on a mission, but soon planes are spotted.  They are not sure if the planes are U.N. or Chinese, but soon the planes are dropping bombs on the temple.  And someone realizes that they are U.N. planes doing this.  In the bombing Lindop is killed, the sixth casualty. 

Following the bombing the Chinese soldiers attack.  Wyatt gets on the line with the other men ready to fire his weapon at the enemy.  Lt. Butler asks if he is okay and Wyatt says yes.  Just as the attack starts, it stops, because the planes are now bombing the Chinese soldiers.  Sgt. Payne says that Moon is still out there and asks permission to go and get him.  Permission granted.  The sergeant runs forward, but is soon pinned down by fire coming from a Chinese machine gun nest manned by three soldiers.  Wyatt suddenly runs out from the protection of the temple into the open area.  He is soon hit and killed, the seventh casualty.  Butler goes to check on Wyatt, but finds it's no use.  He's a goner. 

Butler gets mad and starts running forward.  He too is pinned down by Chinese machinegun fire. The lieutenant takes out a grenade and slides on his belly so he can get close to the machinegun nest.  Once he gets in range he throws the grenade into the machinegun nest killing all three of the enemy.

The soldiers praise their lieutenant now saying that he has brought them through this terrible situation.  Now they start walking down the hill to reunite with their Company B.

1800 hours, May 12.  The U.N.-British patrol fought for three days and two nights. 


I enjoyed watching the movie.  It's not a great movie, that's for sure, but I did get involved in the action.  I guess you could say the film is formulaic. It reminds me of a better Korean War film entitled  Fixed Bayonets (1951).  I haven't seen all the Korean War films, but they certainly don't seem to match either the World War II or the Vietnam War films in quality.  Maybe one reason for this is that, despite a couple of films on the Battle of Inchon,  there are virtually no films on other real battles of the Korean War.  And if there are so few films on the Korean War battles, it's no wonder people don't know much about the conflict.  Most of the Korean War films could have been set during World War II with no focus on real battles with real purposes.  (It's like all the Korean war films could say "Somewhere in Korea".) Michael Caine as Pvt. Lockyer has a very short part in the film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:

See Field of Honor (1986).


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