One Minute to Zero (1952)

 

 

 

Director:     Tay Garnett.

Staring:       Robert Mitchum (Col. Steve Janowski),  Ann Blyth (Mrs. Linda Day),  William Talman (Col. John Parker),  Charles McGraw (Sfc. Baker),  Margaret Sheridan (Mary Parker),  Richard Egan (Capt. Ralston),  Eduard Franz (Dr. Gustav Engstrand),  Robert Osterloh (Maj. Davis),  Robert Gist (Maj. Carter).

Black and white film.

a love story between a widow and a colonel set during the Korean War

 

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

"South Korea in the spring of 1950.  A gentle land whose people wanted only to live as one at peace with the world.  I know.  I was there.  My name doesn't matter.  I'm any wife, any daughter, any sister, mother or sweetheart. I was serving with the United Nations, not a big wheel, just a tiny cog in a huge machine.  Thirty-second assistant observer on a health and sanitation team.  But red storms were gathering in the north.  The South Koreans started preparing to defend themselves against invasion.  Their methods were primitive, their equipment pitifully crude.  But they were trying."

Col. Steven Janowski watches a training session of South Korean soldiers and it's not going very well.  The American sergeant only knows a few words in Korean and the Koreans know no English.  So Janowski decides to jump in and show the trainees how to kill a tank if it suddenly descends on your foxhole.  Janowski and the sarge rush out and jump into the foxhole.  They let the tank go right over them.  When the tank has passed them, they jump out of the foxhole, run parallel to the side of the tank, insert a rocket and fire at the tank treds.  The treds are blown off its wheels.  The trainees are impressed.

The American advisers hear a lot of chatter in French and Janowski says it's just those United Nations people yakking away.  But the woman staff member knows English too.  She calls the colonel over to her and tells him her name is Linda Day.  Linda says they are trying to conduct a survey on diet and inoculations, but Gen. Chin says that it's not safe to go into North Korea.  The colonel agrees with the general.  The North Koreans are mobilizing on their side of the border.  Linda doesn't like that response, but there's nothing she can do because the colonel now turns and just starts talking to the general about the bazooka. 

A siren goes off.  Bombers are approaching the area.  Bombs are being dropped.  The colonel says:  "War it is."  Col. John Parker is his roommate and he says the air force is probably being supplied by Uncle Joe Stalin of the Soviet Union.  The guys go down to the hotel lobby and find Linda there.  Steve starts brow beating her a bit, so she walks out of the hotel.  The two colonels follow her over to their jeep.  An enemy fighter plane starts strafing the area and Steve is able to save Linda from being hit by putting her into a little niche in the building and covering her body with his.  By the time the strafing is over, the colonel looks like he's been bewitched by Linda Day.  Col. Parker has to ask him if he is okay because he's acting like a stiff.  Yeah, he's alright, say Steve. 

The guys drive off.  They are affected by the sight of women in the street crying over the bodies of their dead or wounded relatives.

But Steve still keeps trying to boss Miss Day around.  She now finally tells him that her name is Mrs. Linda Day, not Miss.  And she says she has work to do and walks off.  She gets into her jeep and drives away. 

The Russian UN delegation was missing, so they could not veto a motion of the UN Security Council to render any and all assistance to South Korea.  The colonels run into Mrs. Day again.  She tells Steve to listen to the loud speaker as they announce the UN decision.  Steve hears it, but he still insists that his job is to remove all American citizens from Korea and that includes Mrs. Day.  Linda tells him she works for the United Nations and leaves.  Steve just can't seem to be able to dominate this feisty woman. 

Steve tells the Korean bellhop to sew up a tear in his jacket and, to make sure the guy understands,  he walks out into the hall to repeat his orders.  Either the door closes shut or his buddy John locks him out, but Steve can't get back into his hotel room.  And wouldn't you know it.  Mrs. Day lives right next door and she sees him in his skivvies.  She stops to ask Steve if he isn't a little out of uniform today?  Steve doesn't like her always coming out on top of their little interactions. 

Steve goes to the airport with John to watch him get on a plane to head to Tokyo, Japan.  The plane is a little late and it is without any fighter escort.  Steve is worried that the plane could be shot down very easily.  But Col. Parker is still getting on the plane.  Mrs. Day arrives in a jeep.  Steve goes over to and tells her this is the last plane taking Americans to safety in Japan.  She says she is still awaiting her orders and can't go now.  So Steve picks her up and carries her over to the airplane.  She hits him on his shoulders, but she's not a hard hitter.  Col. Parker receives the pass-off of Linda into the airplane and the door is quickly closed. 

Just as the airplane gets in the air, Korean fighters and bombers strafe and bomb the airport building where Linda would have been if the colonel had not put her on the plane.  She and Col Parker watch the attack from the air.  The sarge gets hold of the machine gun mounted on the back of their jeep and starts firing at a fighter.  He actually hits it and the plane goes down.  The jeep has been shot up, so the guys have to walk to where they are going. 

The American plane lands at the American Itazuke airbase in Japan.  The general there is going to send Col. Parker back to Korea.  He says they are in for a terrific 90 days beating, but there will be no repeat of Dunkirk, France.  The Americans are going to stay on South Korea no matter how small the toe-hold.  John tells his wife Mary to take care of the children.  She starts to cry and he says they've been through this before.  She answers that it seems to get worse each time.  Off John goes.

"The red attack pressed on leaving behind it burning towns, homeless people, destruction, death.  And for the outnumbered defenders it was hold and retreat, hold and retreat down the whole bitter length of South Korea."

Parker is working providing air support for allied troops.  He sends out one group of planes, but they can't find the North Korean tanks.  The pilots will have to settle only for targets of opportunity. 

Col. Janowski arrives at the area where the planes were sent to hit the tanks.  Captain Ralston says his orders are to hold the airstrip, so the colonel says then that's what they'll do.  The colonel decides that he will take charge of the bazooka since the men haven't had any luck with it so far.  A Russian tank is heading up the hill toward them.  On the colonel's second try, he disables the tank.  The North Koreans jump out of the tank and are shot down by a machine gun.

Col. Parker arrives by plane and Col Janowski is there to greet him.   Sixteen airplanes are headed now to take care of the tanks.  The pilots use bombs and rockets to hit the tanks.  One of the planes is knocked out and explodes on ground impact.  A pilot says they are nearly out of fuel and they are out of ammunition.  And he tells the guys on the ground that they are becoming surrounded by enemy troops.  The planes head back.  They are replaced by eight British fighter planes.  They will now tear up the North Korean soldiers on the ground.  It appears that they are dropping napalm bombs on the North Koreans. 

An American soldier walks right past a bunch of North Koreans in camouflage.  Col. Parker is about to take off on his planeed head back to headquarters, when Steve sees North Korean infiltrators coming toward them.  He shouts out a warning and starts firing away with his pistol.  The sarge fires off his M-1 rifle and and Parker fires his pistol.  They are knocking off a lot of North Koreans when one of the enemy throws a grenade that lands near Steve.  The grenade explodes and Steve goes down. 

Parker now takes off in his plane carrying Steve with him.  He will get him to a hospital.  Steve is a patient at Mercy Hospital in Japan.  The general comes to see Steve and then Mrs. Day comes in.  The general has heard all about Mrs. Day and he beats a hasty retreat.  Linda says thank you to Steve for again saving her life. 

Steve gets out of the hospital and goes over to see Linda.  He asks Linda where is Mr. Day?  He died in 1945.  Linda has cooked dinner for Steve.  After dessert Steve sings a song in Japanese.  Then Linda sings the same song in English. After the singing Linda says she has heard that they have a nice staff job for Steve here at the base, so why does he want to go back to Korea?  Steve is thinking about all those inexperienced troops out there who need advice and training. 

She goes to get the coffee and brings it in.  They kiss. 

A few of the women are out waiting by the airport.  Only three planes come back when there was supposed to have been four.  Three pilots come toward the airport.  Ralph is missing and his wife starts crying.  Col. Parker now shows up and is upset to hear that Ralph didn't make it. 

Steve has an engagement ring and tries to give it to Linda, but she says that they don't know each other enough.  Steve is hurt and starts to leave.  But she talks to him some more. She says she is afraid that one day there will be a knock on her door and she will learn that Col. Janowski has died in battle, like what happened to her first husband.  On the happier side, she does say she loves Steve. 

The general holds a briefing.  Parker and Janowski are there.  The general gets a call that commander Col. Slade has been killed in battle.  Janowski asks to take his place.  He gets permission to do so.  John will fly him back to Korea.  At the airport Linda comes to say goodbye to Steve.  She tells him that she too is being send back to Korea but to help with the refugees. 

Steve is back with his first sergeant Baker.  They both have to hit the dirt as a bomb lands.  When Steve gets up he's happy to see Major Ralston.  Ralton tells Steve they have been having a harder time dealing with the refugees than the communists. 

Linda learns that Janowski is stopping the refugees some 8 miles north of them.  Her immediate boss and Linda take a jeep ride up to see Janowski.  Meanwhile Janowski and his men are having a hard time sorting out the real refugees and the North Korean soldiers pretending to be refugees.  Sgt. Baker takes down what looks like a woman to most of the American soldiers, but the woman turns out to be a man, a North Korean soldier. 

From his plane Col. Parker reports to Janowski that the refugees are still pouring into the extremely long line of refugees.  Janowski has an idea.  He tells his men to move back about a block.   The Americans move and Steve has artillery fire shells onto the road a couple of hundred yards ahead of the horde of refugees.  They keep moving forward so Steve gives the order to move the shells down the road closer to the refugees.  The refugees are getting scared, but the North Koreans among them keep forcing them forward. 

Linda and her boss arrive and Baker motions to her that it's a bad time to approach the colonel. The order is to fire for effect until the refugees start breaking up.  Linda sees the bombs landing and her refugees being killed, but it does force the refugees back.  Linda runs up to Steve and hysterically starts complaining that he was killing the refugees.  He tells her to stop, but she can't, so he slaps her in the face.  She still can't be quiet, so Steve orders his men to take the civilians out of his area. 

Linda is taken over to the infirmary where the doctor says she is suffering from fatigue and shock and that all she needs is some rest.  She gets up and sits on the bench.  Her boss now wants her to sign a statement saying that as a witness to what happened, she fully approves of the actions of Col. Janowski.  She says she won't sign the paper.  Her boss tries to explain the situation, but she is too horrified by what happened to use logic at this time. 

Baker tells the colonel that the refugees have left.  He also says the colonel had to do it, but the colonel is in no mood to hear from Baker.  As Baker leaves, the colonel tells him thank you. 

Col. Parker runs into Linda and wants to talk about what happened between Steve and her, but she doesn't want to talk.  The colonel insists and he insists that she come over and see something with him.  He takes her to an area filled with the bodies of dead American soldiers, killed by the North Korean soldiers hiding amongst the refugees.  Linda is upset by this too.  Now she feels apologetic as one shock counteracts the first shock.  She asks Parker where is Steve?  Parker tells her he has gone back to combat.  Parker assures Linda that if he sees Steve, he will tell him what Linda wants to tell Steve.

Alone Linda prays that God will spare her Steve and send him back to her. 

Steve and the officers talk about bombing the main supply route.  Steve flies with Parker and they make note of where the the supply trucks are.  Parker sends one plane down to drop its bombs and it does so, but it also crashes into the ground.  Steve tells John not to send another plane down there.  He says the trucks are stretched too far apart to make the planes really effective.  They will have to try something else. 

Steve, John and the other officers talk about that something else.  Steve says he is going to blockade the road and by sunrise the trucks will be stacked up for a mile waiting to move.  Then the planes can take the trucks out.  And this should allow the allies to push the communists back farther.

Janowski leads a group of soldiers to where they want to establish a blockade.  They cut down a tree and make sure that it blocks the road.  A North Korean truck comes along and the driver stops.  He and his assistant driver get out to move the tree.  Two American soldiers kill the North Koreans with garrotes.  Then the Americans turn the truck over.  Another North Korean truck arrives and the process is repeated. 

By morning there is a big jam-up.  The planes come over the road and drop their bombs and fire their rockets knocking out one truck after another. The men in the trucks jump out and start coming for the Americans.  John says the enemy is too close to the American for the planes to drop bombs in the area.  Steve says he will consolidate his own troops so they can bomb the North Korean troops. 

A North Korean soldier puts on the uniform of a dead American soldier and mortally wounds one of the Americans alone in his foxhole.  His buddy returns and kills the North Korean.  The fighting becomes fiercer as more troops pour in on Janowski and his soldiers.  The general calls and says that the North Koreans are starting to pull back out. 

Parker at headquarters says that Janowski is in trouble.  He hopes his friend and his men can hold on until help arrives.  Parker has to leave early in the morning.  His wife pretends she's asleep. 

Parker leads three large planes that drop ammunition down to Janowski and his men.  Parker's plane gets hit and he bails out.  The enemy try to kill him as he descends in his parachute.  They manage to set the parachute on fire and Parker falls to his death.  Major Ralston jumps on a grenade and is killed. 

By the time help arrives the general finds that there are only four soldiers left alive:  Janowski, Baker and two other soldiers.  But the general does have some good news.  The men who died did not get to hear the news. MacArthur landed his troops at Inchon in South Korea cutting off the supply lines to the North Koreans in South Korea.  The general goes on to say:  "The landings at Inchon were a complete success.  Our forces are driving in on the enemy who was already reeling from our brilliant offensive on the Phusan(?) beachhead, where strong elements of air and ground led the breakout.  I wish they could have heard it.  Well, Steve, the tide has turned.  We're on the offensive."  Before the men separate, the general tells Janowski that he now has the rank of general. 

Steve goes by Linda.  His jeep is able to stop for just a little while.  She asks Steve to forgive her and that she wants to be his wife.  He says:  "You will be."  Before he leaves, she tells him he must promise to come back to her.  He tells her:  "I'll be back.  I promise."

Linda says a prayer that ends with:  "Oh, please, dear God, watch over them.  Protect and guide them.  Lead them to victory.  Spare them to know a lasting peace and in thy infinite mercy, dear God, bring them safely back to us."

 

 

It helps to know a little history about the Korean War to fully understand what's going on.  A good part of the film deals with the love affair between Linda and Steve, but there are some good battle scenes.  Robert Mitchum is very good as Steve and Anne Blyth is good as Linda. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 

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