Target Zero (1955): Breakdown by Kain424
A British tank unit, two mortar strikers, and an American infantry unit make their way through the Korean War front to join ranks with a stronghold of more American soldiers.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
Richard Conte is Lieutenant Tom Flagler
A stubborn man, Lt. Flagler is the glue that holds the unit together. Conte plays the role with a hardheaded-ness that suggests the stress of his responsibilities may just be pulling him apart. It’s not a spectacular performance, but I thought it worked. He’s rough, but plays a subdued vulnerability I haven’t seen too much of (if at all) in these early war films. It works for the movie because it makes him the only one of the bunch to possess more than one dimension as a character.
As far as his bad-assitude is concerned, Flagler is pretty hardcore. He never lets go of his gun and kills tons and tons of baddies before the picture ends. He earns his stripes.
Peggy Castle is Anne Galloway
Largely relegated to the background role which women usually found themselves in these movies, Castle’s presence here is actually a bit of a mystery. Perhaps she was hired to appeal to more of a broader audience, as the “love” sub-story she winds up in feels entirely tacked on. She spends much of the film as a nurse, hounded somewhat inappropriately by the Lieutenant and then ends the movie as a radio operator. Metaphor for female progression in the 1950s, perhaps?
Charles Bronson is Sergeant Vince Gaspari
We learn only of his family life and that “he likes to fish.” But Bronson seems to act as the strong man of the group, literally carrying a wounded soldier for miles on his back when the need arises. Still, as much of a bad-ass as he would become in later pictures, I found Bronson to be a bit underused in this film. He’s always around, but he’s never given much more to do than add emphasis to the Lieutenant’s orders and the occasional quip here and there.
Richard Wyler is Sergeant David Kensemmit
There for the sake of showing that the Korean War wasn’t just about America’s involvement, we have Richard Wyler (credited here as Richard Stapley) as the leader of a small tank unit. A frustrated man, he spends most of the film bitching about Americans (sincere, as opposed to his subordinates who view their colonial cousins as objects of amusement) but is able to redeem himself by the end of the picture when he mows down nearly the entire enemy force singlehandedly.
The North Korean Red Army
A largely faceless horde, these are droves and droves of Asian extras. They scream, charge up hills, shoot their rifles, and inevitably die. No characterization is given, nor is there even the slightest attempt made to understand the cause for which they are continuously dying for. I’d say it’s tragic, but the general lack of politicization of the film actually helped me enjoy it more.
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO:
There is nothing as overt as a group bathing sequence, but the soldiers in our little rag-tag squad often speak longingly and specifically of the “men” of “Easy Company.” Apparently, they have a fondness not just for the unit and it’s survival, but of the individual “men” who make it up. “Easy” indeed. And what happens when a woman enters their midst? Nothing. No one other than the Lieutenant bats an eye or makes the slightest move on her. These guys are perfectly content in their own “company.”
EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY:
Peggy Castle is an affront to women everywhere… at least in this film. Nurse and radio jobs sideline her for all the action. And though she speaks of handling men with her fists in retribution for trying to “get fresh” with her, she eventually tries to make out with Lt. Flagler, a man who’s been treating her like dirt since they met, proving that women just love to be neglected and abused.
Best of all, once Flagler begins to reciprocate and attempts to move on to second base, she refuses his advances and turns the other troops on him with her screams of “No. No!” Seconds later she takes it back, saying it’s all her fault for leading him on. Seriously, what the fuck!? Dames don’t belong in war movies. Damn little cocktease. Now he has to fight the Red Army with blueballs.
MURDER BY NUMBERS: [ 166+ ]
Holy shit. So many people died in this it was difficult to count. Airstrikes, hill raids, .50 cal. blasts into lines of enemy troops… it’s all pretty impressive. “The Reds” end up on the receiving end of most of it, with Wyler raking in most of the character kills by the flick’s end. Surprisingly, future Action hero phenomenon Bronson doesn’t even reach the double digits.
Still, the violence is rather exquisite for its time. It’s very hard to keep track once it passes the 100 mark. There are far away shots of bombs hitting squads of soldiers I didn’t/couldn’t even count. And by the film’s end, our heroes can only smile at the immense amount of death they have wrought upon this foreign land. Me too.
MOST SATISFYING DEATH:
At one point on the mission, with the tank running low on fuel, the troop holds up an enemy convoy line and steals all their truck fuel. One of the “Reds” breaks free, causing chaos among the soldiers and resulting in the deaths of two good guys and all the unarmed baddies. The fellow that started it all makes his way to a truck and attempts to break free.
He almost makes it, too, but for the quick reaction of our heroes’ tank driver, who runs over the poor bastard. His final, painful scream, as the tank treads crush him and his truck like a tube of toothpaste, is as awesome as it is gruesome.
[THE BEST OF THE REST]
For me, the best moment came when our heroes realized the short-cut they were taking was actually right through the middle of a mine field. They come up with a solution: drive the tank through the mines, with the troops staying on the treadline behind it. This simple scene was so well done and so tense, it had me at the edge of my seat for its duration.
One of the American soldiers named Felix is talking to another recruit, an Apache they’ve typically nicknamed “Geronimo”. The Native American informs the U.S. soldier that he’s really just joined the army to learn skills he can use against the white man on “Glory Day,” a day when the Natives will reclaim American and drive the white man “back into the sea.”
Naturally, Geronimo is just messing with our less-than-intelligent American boy, but the sad white man sulks off to talk to one of the British soldiers…
Felix: “He’s kiddin’! …Ain’t he?”
British Soldier: “Don’t worry, Felix. If they throw you out, we’ll take you back.”
In the 1950s, War Films began moving away from their typical propaganda value and instead began focusing more on the Action aspect of battle. Target Zero is one of the early films of this type, which would later become known as the “Men-On-A-Mission” sub-genre. While the movie retains the typical cliches of the era (small ethnically and nationally diverse group, inner-group conflict, noble sacrifices), its focus on the tension of pre-battle sequences, planning for encounters, and ultimately the fight itself somewhat separates it from the rest of the genre. In fact, I think it features some of the best battle sequences of the era outside of Back To Bataan.
But much of the focus is on the characters instead of the action. In this regard, I feel the movie ultimately fails. The people that populate Target Zero are one-dimensional at best. It’s clear they added in characters from different cultures and backgrounds to let their accents and skin tones hide the fact that the writers added no personality whatsoever to them. Sure, they can be made to serve up a snarky remark or a joke fit for juveniles, but what we want is more bad-assery if we are to follow these fellows through one dangerous situation after another. Instead we get petty arguments over the command structure of the group, hints at the stress endured by military leaders, stories of uncivil soldiers on leave, ethnic tension and blatant sexism. Most of this junk needn’t, and shouldn’t, be in a war movie at all.
Still, the three main action sequences are done well enough to satisfy me. Plus, any movie that features characters a tank the characters actually refer to by name (Phyllis) can’t be all that bad. And in addition to seeing a young Charles Bronson doing his thing, there is also some early work here by Peckinpah favorite L.Q. Jones and Chuck Connors (Lucas McCain on The Rifleman). Not necessarily worth trying to track down, but not a bad watch if you happen to find it on T.V. one night.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Every man (or woman) fights his (or her) own war.
[THE AOBG ACTION CHECKLIST]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor” [Chuck Connors]
[X] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[ ] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[ ] Factory/Warehouse/Castle
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[X] Heavy Artillery
[ ] Improvised Weapon(s)
[X] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[ ] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[ ] Manly Embrace(s)
[ ] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[X] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[X] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[ ] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[ ] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[ ] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[ ] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[ ] Torture Sequence(s)
[ ] Unnecessary Sequel
[ ] Vehicle Chase(s)
[ ] Vigilante Justice
[TOTAL: 09 outta 25]