The War Teacher
What a mixed bag of a movie "Halls of Montezuma" is with a storyline which ends up often uninteresting counter balanced by characters which have depth yet the characters are also cliches and the depth is often over emoted by a group of actors with a hell of a lot of talent. It probably didn't seem that way when released back in 1950, I would imagine that many were impressed by a war movie which attempted to give recognizable characters meaning but watching it now 60 plus years after it was released these issues are now prominent. That doesn't mean that "Halls of Montezuma" is not entertaining, any movie which has a cast lead by Richard Widmark and featuring Richard Boone, Karl Malden, Skip Homeier and Jack Palance amongst many other recognizable names is not going to be dull but those issues are always there.
A group of marines lead by Lt. Anderson (Richard Widmark) land on a Pacific island held by the Japanese with a mission to take the island, not that simple when they discover that the Japanese have rockets. As they move across the island we learn all about the friendships, the characters and Lt. Anderson who despite crippling migraines continues to lead by example.
In many ways "Halls of Montezuma" is a typical 1950s war movie as we watch these marines land on an Island and advance, sometimes brutally killing the enemy with the use of flame throwing tanks other times capturing them. The fact that they discover that the Japanese have rockets gives them something to do but in truth doesn't make their mission that much more interesting. It is still entertaining and the mix of action and drama is good even now over 60 years after its release with the quality of the image being surprisingly impressive.
But then in truth "Halls of Montezuma" is not so much about the invasion of the Island but about the characters from the battle toughened Anderson who had previously been a school teacher to Pretty Boy who has a burning anger in him thanks to the way he and his family were treated by others back home. Now this is where things get messy because many of these characters are cliches such as Pvt. Slattery who likes to drink or the wet behind the ears Whitney who has little war experience. Then there are those cliches with have some depth such as Anderson with his headaches, Conroy who had been one of his students when he was teacher, Doc who loyally looks out for Anderson. This depth makes these characters interesting especially with things such as friendships leading to turmoil when someone dies. But then for what ever reason these characters emote feelings in the most over the top way, big dramatic gestures which don't ring true and spoil the movie.
Now this is a bit surprising because "Halls of Montezuma" has a very good cast with Richard Widmark doing his usual solid job of leading things as the outwardly tough Anderson who inside is conflicted. But the likes of Jack Palance, Skip Homeier and Neville Brand all often deliver moments of over the top emotion which makes their cliche characters almost border on being caricature. Yet at the same time whilst there are these over the top moments of emotion all the performances are entertaining.
What this all boils down to is that "Halls of Montezuma" is still an entertaining and at times interesting 1950s war movie but when it isn't being overly dramatic it is just another war movie with a cast of recognizable faces.