Anthony Mann’s Men in War is one of the great war films, and one of the least known. Starring Robert Ryan as a platoon leader dedicated to saving his men, who are trapped behind enemy lines, and Aldo Ray as a gruff, ferociously competent veteran who only cares about rescuing his shellshocked commanding officer, it’s a stark, intimate film set during the Korean War and stands with Sam Fuller’s The Steel Helmet as one of the greatest films about the soldier’s experience. I write about the film for the Turner Classic Movies website.
“Tell me the story of the foot soldier and I will tell you the story of all wars.” This quote opens the only war film by Anthony Mann, one of the great American directors of westerns and helmer of the most muscular epics of the 1960s. In contrast to his expansive costume epics, with their lavish historical recreations and grand presentations of armies of men battling on massive battlefields, or the more personal conflicts of the westerns played out against the majestic landscapes of the American West, Men in War (1957) is combat in close-up. While the story of a band of American soldiers trying to survive a mission behind enemy lines belongs to the familiar platoon genre of war movies, it is a maverick film in all other respects. Like Sam Fuller’s equally provocative 1951 Korean War drama The Steel Helmet, it eschews patriotism and sentimentality for a portrait of war from the grunt’s-eye view: the harrowing, grueling experience of survival in the hostile landscape of an enemy battlefield.
Read the complete feature on TCM here. The film plays on TCM on Thursday, June 24 and then again in August.