Hell Is for Heroes [1962]

Don Siegel brings his tough worldview and crisp, no-nonsense direction to this quintessential World War II drama of an undermanned American platoon in France holding off a German advance through sheer bluff and bravery. Steve McQueen is curt and surly as the insubordinate loner whose tactical skills and soldiering savvy make him indispensable to his new unit. His reputation precedes him, but commander Fess Parker is in no position to be choosy when he learns that his tired platoon will not be shipping home as rumored, but tossed into a ragged new offensive. Harry Guardino costars as the soulful Sarge; James Coburn is the slow-talking, forever-tinkering mechanic; Bobby Darin is the scavenger with a small fortune in trinkets; and Nick Adams is the Polish orphan and unit mascot. Bob Newhart makes his feature debut as a hopelessly lost typing clerk drafted into the undermanned unit and re-creates his nightclub shtick making phony phone calls near a Nazi listening post in the pillbox. Like Pork Chop Hill, this film is less a patriotic flag waver than a "war is hell" drama that frames the battle not in its tactical importance (which is negligible) but in its cost in human life. McQueen's taciturn performance as a ruthlessly effective soldier and Siegel's tough, lean direction make it a modest classic of the genre. --Sean Axmaker

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