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Battle Hymn: Movie Review

BATTLE HYMN (1957) C widescreen 108m Dir: Douglas Sirk with Rock Hudson, Anna Kashfi, Dan Duryea, Don de Fore, Martha Hyer, Jock Mahoney, Alan Hale, James Edwards, Philip Ahn, Calr Benton Reid, and 25 children from the Orphans Home of Korea as themselves; the film is presented by General Earle C. Partridge who commanded the 5th Air Force in Korea. 

The true story of Army Colonel Dean Hess, who was both a chaplain and a flyer during the Korean War and tried to help Korean war orphans.  This is certainly not a typical Sirk film, but it's an interesting failure because of what it shows about his attraction for the "split" character of Hess. 

Sirk comments on Hess in Sirk on Sirk: "A flyer, and a preacher; a man trying to come to terms with having killed.  There's a book by Ward L. Miner [The World of William Faulkner, Durham, N.C.] on Faulkner, in which he quotes a passage from Light in August: 'Their escape is in violence, in drinking, and in fighting and praying.' And in praying: note the place of religion.  The juxtaposition of violence and praying forms Battle Hymn also. The whole saving of children comes out of killing children.  Because, you remember, he's bombed that orphanage in Germany and felt guilty.

"I had a lot of problems because he was on the set, hanging around, supervising every scene.  I couldn't bring out the ambiguity of the character as I would have liked." 

"[HESS] is dancing his rondo [when he leaves the church and goes to Korea]--going back to the other thing he could do well: being a flyer.  It is an almost cynical move, an escape--in the way Faulkner uses his word--an escape into patriotism, into fighting for his country.  Dying maybe, as well dishing out death.  A confused decision---as confused a decision as people would make in such a mental condition.  It is full of precise logic.  But in Korea he never quite came back to complete the circle.  He saw a chance to make good in flying in bucking danger, but through the saving of children.  He never flew another bombing mission after this had dawned on his goddam mind, and from then on he was preaching with his aeroplane, saving children.  I've been talking about dancing a rondo--look at him going back to finish the circle now, at the beginning of which stands the destruction of a children's orphanage on the island of Cheju." 

And Sirk also comments on Hudson: "Rock Hudson's talent made him cut out for an immovable role.  But here I had to cast him--and unfortunately gave him the part of a split character.  An actor like [Robert] Stack would have been much more fitting, I'm sure." 

"I…didn't succeed in bending Rock's talent to this type of broken personage.  The reason being his straight goodness of heart and uncomplicated directness.  Before the camera you just can't cheat.  The camera has X-ray eyes.  It penetrates into your soul.  You can't hide from the camera what you are---which I think is the great thing about cinematography…" 


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