13 July 1999 | stryker-5
"My Money's On The Chink"
It's 1951, and the Allies are on the retreat from the Yalu, with massive Chinese forces pursuing them south. A small unit of British troops is sent to reconnoitre a Korean village, and gets caught by two advancing Chinese battalions.
For all the formulaic treatment of soldiers maintaining a chirpy stoicism in adverse combat conditions, this film does have a certain gritty realism. George Baker as the rookie lieutenant burdened by command, and Harry Andrews as the tough old sergeant, are first-class. Don't blink, or you'll miss a very young Michael Caine as Private Lockyer, lamenting the death of Corporal Ryker (Stanley Baker).
The film works as a simple narrative of men under fire, but it certainly has some shortcomings. The narration which launches events may save the time and effort of explaining the plot, but would it not have been better for this information to emerge naturally out of the drama? When the hut explodes, there is a very obvious jump-cut. During the interval needed to get the actor out of the danger area, someone jolted the camera! Would the Chinese soldiers, even with their advantage in limitless canon-fodder, attack so recklessly across open, flat ground? At one point, close-ups are inserted to enhance the human reactions of the soldiers, but the trouble is, the lighting conditions do not match those of the master shot. Once the British soldiers retreat to the temple on the hill, the whole proceedings become totally studio-bound, with Shepperton fibreglass passing for buddhist architecture. The air strike relies too heavily on monotonously-repeated library footage of American planes. When the ending comes, it is a surprise in the wrong sense - the resolution is unconvincing, almost as if the film-makers didn't know how to extricate the soldiers. Surely a few bombs wouldn't clear the Chinese away for miles around?
Ronald Lewis plays Wyatt, the misfit who didn't want to be a soldier and who gets everything wrong. This character is needed in one sense, because there has to be some internal tension within the British camp, but Wyatt is not well done. His apostasy is overly-dramatic, and his immolation utterly unbelievable. This attempt to inject gaudy emotion into a basically stiff-upper-lip story just doesn't come off.
Verdict - Interesting 1956 British 'take' on recent war which ultimately succeeds, despite its flaws.