Retreat, Hell! (1952)
Director: Joseph H. Lewis.
Starring: Frank Lovejoy (Lt. Col. Steve L. Corbett), Richard Carlson (Capt. Paul Hansen), Anita Louise (Ruth Hansen), Russ Tamblyn (Jimmy W. McDermid), Nedrick Young (Sgt. Novak), Lamont Johnson (Capt. 'Tink' O'Grady), Robert Ellis (Shorty Devine), Paul Smith (Andy Smith), Peter Ortiz (Maj. Knox), Dorothy Patrick (Eve O'Grady), Morton C. Thompson (Capt. Kyser), Joseph Keane (Lt. Ortiz).
US marines land at Inchon and head north
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
The Pentagon, Washington, D.C., at the outbreak of war in Korea. A group of high-ranking military officers are told that their task is to get as many fighting units over to Korea as fast as possible. The Marine Corps can provide one division. Messages are sent to Marine Detachment U.S.S. Coral Sea, to Marine Barracks; Naval Base, Balboa, Canal Zone; Naval Base, Kodiak, Alaska; Others go to Fleet Marine Force, Pacific and Lt. Col. S. L. Corbett, USMC, Asst. Naval Attaché, US Embassy, Belgrade, Yugoslavia. A Marine gets on the Orient Express train.
A young fellow named Jimmy W. McDermid walks down the street whistling the Marine Corps Hymn. He goes into his house that has a sign: "This is a Marine Family."
Naval Marine Corps Reserve Training Center. A husband comes out and gets in his car next to his wife. He tells her he has to leave in ten days. He has been out of the Marine Corps for five years. His names is Captain Paul Hansen. At Camp Pendleton, USMC, the Captain and his wife go to live in a Quonset hut. His neighbor is Capt. 'Tink' O'Grady. The Captain goes to see his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Steve L. Corbett. Corbett tells Hansen that he will be leading a rifle company. Hansen objects that his reserve training has all been in electronics and communications. Corbett says his file states that he was a good platoon leader and, therefore, should make a good company leader. The Lt. Col. introduces Hansen to Sgt. Novak, who, Corbett says, will be of enormous help to him.
Hansen goes for a talk given by the Lt. Col. O'Grady comes over and introduces Hansen to Lt. Ortiz and Capt. Kyser, the latter in command of Charlie Company. O'Grady has Able Company. Corbett arrives and tells the officers and non-commissioned officers that at 0500 hours tomorrow they will be headed 20 miles away into the hills and they will stay there until they are all in tip-top shape. Hansen is upset because he has to say goodbye to his family.
After the talk Hansen asks Corbett if he can't drive home every night in his car and return early each morning. Corbett refuses the request. The marines have to be combat ready and part of that readiness is to have all the men present all the time.
The next day the companies move out and into the hills. The men start bayonet training. Jimmy W. McDermid is so gung-ho that he starts tearing up the bayonet stations with multiple jabs. Then at grenade throwing practice, McDermid tells Sgt. Novak all the details on tossing a grenade, but when the sergeant tells him to go ahead and throw it, McDermid throws it without removing the pin in the grenade. The sergeant makes him run out into the field to retrieve the grenade and redo his toss. Next comes training in ju-jitsu followed by war games.
At the end of the training Hansen gets permission to be with his wife and family. They are loading up to ship out tomorrow. At night Hansen and O'Grady and their wives dance to some music. Hansen goes in to check on the children. His wife tells him to come back; he has to come back. Hansen says: "I will."
Corbett is upset with Hansen because the captain doesn't know the names of all his men yet. The Lt. Col. tells him he should know all his men even by the back of their heads. O'Grady tells Corbett that Hansen just hasn't found himself yet. Corbett replies: "Hansen's got a wife and two children. He's going to play it safe -- too safe."
Hansen now calls his company into his office one at a time so he can study their faces and review their records. He even has the men turn around so he can see the backs of their heads with and without their caps.
Corbett announces on ship that they will be part of an amphibious landing at Inchon in South Korea. This is a bold move by MacArthur to come in behind the successful North Korean soldiers. The naval gunners get ready to fire on the beach. The firing begins. Airplanes start bombing the beach. The men get into the landing craft. Hansen's landing craft hits up against some rocks. The men use a ladder to climb up and over the rocks. McDermid is so scared he is shaking.
Corbett is soon mad at Hansen because he has held his men up and requested naval bombardment of a hill up ahead. The Lt. Col. goes to tell Hansen to move out. He says: "You can't play it safe here, Captain!" The men move out, but McDermid is too scared to move. After his company takes over a North Korean position, McDermid comes walking in later with his head held down. Sgt. Novak doesn't say anything to him.
The plan is to move out at 0700 hours to capture terrain between them and Seoul. The men will capture an airfield and move across the Han River. They will approach Seoul from the high ground. In Seoul their objective is the area near the capitol building. Corbett says he will go with Baker company (Hansen's company).
Hansen speaks to McDermid. He thinks his brother is in the area. McDermid says he's not ready yet to see his brother.
The next day Baker Company starts walking down a city street. A machine gunner opens up on them. McDermid moves up closer to the machine gun position. A sniper tries to kill McDermid but he keeps finding cover for himself. Sgt. Novak kills the sniper. McDermid moves up some more. He gets underneath the first-floor window right below the second-floor machine-gun position. He tosses a grenade through the window, destroying the machine gun and the men there. Hansen walks by McDermid giving him a big grin. This cheers up McDermid.
Corbett drives up in a jeep and says that Hansen did a good job. Now his men can hold up here for awhile. McDermid now asks Hansen for permission to go see his brother. Permission granted. Hansen now sits down for a rest. O'Grady comes over and drops a letter from Mrs. Hansen onto his lap.
Corbett and Hansen start getting to like each other better. Together they go down to division headquarters in a jeep. Along the way, they pick up McDermid and give him a ride. At division headquarters, McDermid asks a couple of men where Lt. McDermid can be found. The second man tells him he'll find his brother around the corner. McDermid goes around the corner to discover that the dead are gathered here. Corbett and Hansen finish their business and go around the corner to get their jeep. They see McDermid kneeling over the covered body of his dead brother.
The men start moving up into the mountains on narrow roads. Some South Korean soldiers come marching along the road. In his jeep Corbett stops to greet them. They tell him they heard that Gen. MacArthur told them they would be home for Christmas. Corbett is not so sure of that.
The column is fired on by an enemy tank. Three bazooka men are sent forward to try to knock it out, but North Korean soldiers shoot them all down. Corbett tells Hansen to get that bazooka. Hansen, McDermid and another man go out to get the bazooka. They retrieve it and McDermid hits the tank, blowing it up. Now the marines zero in on the North Korean soldiers, who have to hurriedly retreat to save themselves. Corbett promotes McDermid to corporal and makes him his personal driver/runner. McDermid is happy.
Corbett checks some of the dead enemy soldiers and discovers that they are Chinese. Hansen asks what the heck are they doing here in North Korea? Corbett doesn't know.
The weather has turned cold and the ground is covered with light snow. It's 28 days to Christmas. Hansen goes to hear Corbett tell the officers about the plans. They are near the Chosin Reservoir, 60 miles south of the Yalu River and the Manchurian border. They are also 65 miles northwest of the sea. The only supply line is over one mountain road. There are enemy troops in the area and the marines' position is a precarious one, so Corbett wants his officers and men to be on alert.
Corbett calls in McDermitt. He is sending the young man home. He is the sole surviving son and his mother requested that her son be send home to her. McDermid doesn't want to go home. Corbett says he's sorry, but he has to go home. McDermid gets permission to be with his buddies from Baker Company on his last night in North Korea. Hansen and Novak examine the ride line in front of them looking for Chinese soldiers. Everyone is put on 100% percent alert.
Bugles sound and the Chinese come pouring over the ridge. The marines fight hard to avoid being overrun, but there are just too many Chinese. Corbett calls his superiors for help, but he learns that all the marines are surrounded and every one needs help. As Corbett is on the phone, Chinese soldiers slit his tent and comes in firing. Corbett and some others are able to kill the Chinese.
Baker company has run out of ammunition. They can only fix bayonets now. Corbett hopes for the arrival of the planes. The planes arrive and drop ammunition for the marines. Some of the men run to get the ammunition. Now other planes arrive to bomb and strafe the Chinese positions. The marines get their ammunition and start killing the Chinese soldiers again. The Chinese bugle sounds retreat.
Corbett checks on the wounded. O'Grady is shot up pretty bad. Corbett asks the doctor how soon can he get the wounded onto trucks and get them out of here? The doctor asks where are they going? The marines have been ordered to withdraw. The marines in the tent ask if the marines are retreating? Corbett says: "Retreat, hell! We're just attacking in a different direction." They have a 65 mile walk ahead of them and with over 100,000 Chinese soldiers in the hills above them. The colonel also says that no marine will be left behind.
The marines start pulling out. Chinese are in the hills watch them move out. The Chinese start shooting at the marines and the few marines in the hills start killing them. Novak checks the men for frost-bitten feet. Those with frost-bite ride in the trucks. Corbett says they have 10% percent wounded and 20% frost-bitten. The Chinese are whittling them down and the weather will get the rest. The Chinese attack in force. Sgt. Novak gets stunned from a concussion grenade. The Chinese have to retreat again. But the marines lose more men from snipers. The British Royal Marines arrive to help the Americans. Some of them volunteer to help Hansen and his volunteers retrieve some American wounded. Chinese fire on the rescue squad. The Brits and Yanks return fire and the few surviving Chinese retreat.
Corbett gets wounded in the shoulder while sitting in his jeep giving instructions for evacuating the wounded at a nearby airstrip. They reach the airfield and put the wounded into airplanes to be carried out. Hansen and the men return with the wounded, including McDermid. Corbett is glad to see Hansen. He tells Hansen that they are going to make it all the way to the sea. And they are coming out fighting.
A sign says: "Port of Hamhung 4 miles. Follow arrows to embarkation area." The men make it out.
Corbett says: "Retreat, hell!"
Good war story. Nothing exceptional about it, but just good story telling with lots of action. And it was quite an achievement for the marines to get out of those mountains of North Korea that were now filled with Chinese soldiers. The Allies were caught by surprise by the Chinese who came rolling over the Yalu River into North Korea. The Chinese forced the U.S. Eighth Army to make the longest retreat of an American unit in history. The Allies had to retreat all the way back to the 38th parallel where the Chine tide was finally stopped. Still to this day the dividing line between North and South Korea is the 38th parallel. Russ Tamblyn (as private/corporal Jimmy W. McDermid) did a good job of acting. Also good were Frank Lovejoy (as Lt. Col. Steve L. Corbett) and Richard Carlson (as Capt. Paul Hansen).
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
Return To Main Page
Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)