Pork Chop Hill (1959) or The Best Korean War B-Movie?

Lewis Milestone’s Pork Chop Hill is based on the eponymous book by military historian S. L. A. Marshall and depicts the fierce Battle of Pork Chop Hill. Towards the end of the Korean War the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division and Chinese and Korean Communist forces fought for this strategically unimportant hill.

The year is 1953, while the Panmunjeom cease-fire negotiations continue, a company of American infantry was to recapture Pork Chop Hill from a larger Communist Chinese army force. Successful but highly decimated, they were ready for the large-scale Chinese counter-attack which they knew would overwhelm and kill them in hand-to-hand fighting.

This movie is bothering me quite a lot for many reasons. I can’t say I did not like watching it as that is not true. (Maybe I am secretly an infantry combat war movie buff. At least no questions about whether this is a war movie or not. That seems settled.)  Unfortunately there are a lot of questionable elements in it. I can still hardly believe that the very same man, Lewis Milestone, who did All Quiet on the Western Front did this thing too.

This was my first US movie on the war in Korea. I read articles and list and it seemed as if there are not so many great ones. Gray Freitas terms Pork Chop Hill the best B-Movie. Aha. Others call this one of the better ones…

I hated the end. This was not the battle that finished the war. I hated that we have no clue what it is all about. And I hated that they had to choose an African-American soldier to play the part of the treacherous coward.

I did appreciate the battle scenes. They way it was shown how battle takes its toll. Those soldiers were so tired… It captured nonsensical high command orders very well. I also like the relationship between Gregory Peck and the Japanese-American officer. And I think Gregory Peck is very good in this movie.

I will post another, more general post on the war movies depicting the Korean war. And I will certainly need to review Tae Gu Ki aka Brotherhood.

I must honestly say, after watching Pork Chop Hill and reading a few things about US movies on this war, I am not extremely keen on watching any other ones. Maybe M.A.S.H.

Feel free to share your opinions and ideas on the topic.

The trailer will tell you that the DVD cover is misleading as Pork Chop Hill is a black-and-white movie.

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10 thoughts on “Pork Chop Hill (1959) or The Best Korean War B-Movie?

  1. warmoviebuff says:

    There are not a lot to choose from. There are several that are in the “100 Greatest War Movies” list, however. #33 MASH, #39 Pork Chop Hill, #73 Bridges at Toko-Ri, and *85 The Manchurian Candidate. All worthy choices. I would also mention “Steel Helmet” which is a Samuel Fuller movie that came out in 1951. It is definitely a B-Movie (I’m not sure I would call Pork Chop Hill a B-Movie). I also saw an interesting little movie called “Time Limit” which is about an incident in a POW camp. Oh and don’t forget “The Hunters” (see my recent post).

    • Thanks for the list. I think that is more or less what I thought. I forgot The Manchurian Candidate. Think I would like to watch that. I thought I read your post on The Hunters but I am not sure now. Will have to read it then. Still my impression is, that there are not many that are outstanding even though there are a lot of movies.

  2. warmoviebuff says:

    My reference to “The Hunters” was tongue in cheek. However, you might like the air combat aspect of it. I will have to watch “Brotherhood” again to determine if it is the best Korean War movie. Oh, and don’t forget “Inchon” – some consider it one of the worst war movies ever. Never seen it but I am curious if it lives up to its reputation.

    • You know I do believe that this would be something that could still come… A realy good US Korea movie. Apparently there are loads of North and South Korean and even Chinese ones. Brotherhood is just the only one that got our attention.

      • Cliff says:

        I don’t know how B-movie is decided and I see Gregory Peck as a big star actor playing in To kill a mockingbird and more and the director is of course, of top quality too. Your review too sounds like it is a fair movie.

        At the store is a budget CD Anzio with Robert Mitchum, looks good but all reviews seem to say it is horrendous. This movie though, doesn’t sound too bad.

        By the way, there is a bit on Steel Helmet in the extras from the Big Red One DVD seeing as Samuel Fuller directed SH too.

      • I don´t think it is a B-movie but it is politically not very correct. I did like Gregory Peck even though it has been critisized that he was too much in the center.
        I really want to watch The Big Red One now. Hopefully I got those extras. Steel Helmet is said to be good. One of the only good US ones.

  3. nem baj says:

    There are actually two Samuel Fuller Korean War movies: Steel Helmet and Fixed Bayonets!. They’re both great, my favorite being the latter. No-nonsense, no politics, un-sentimental, neither ‘pro-’ or ‘anti-’., but powerful works focused on men in combat. Those are certainly B-movies: it shows at times, but like in film noir it doesn’t really matter.

    You might also want to consider Anthony Mann’s Men in War: more philosophical in its discourse and sophisticated in its cinematography than Fuller’s first war films, but also the work of a master.

    • Thanks, I will keep thme in mind, now that my self-iposed and failed sticking to German wae movies has finally ended.:)

      • nem baj says:

        :.) Those three are in my opinion much much better than Pork Chop Hill. Incidentally, part of the Chinese movie Assembly also takes place during the Korean War, of course on the Chinese side.

        Mr. Milestone was an honest director, but never outstanding. Pork Chop Hill‘s main problem is that it is sitting on a fence: the characters and their lines are still in the 40s/50s, whereas the plot is divided between the 50s and the 60s. Worse, the cast is clearly already in the 60s.

        The mix between WWII-style heroism on one side, and the typically sixties nonchalant acting, disillusionment and political commentary on the other just doesn’t work. There’s one good scene, though: the last attempt by the North Korean propaganda speaker to demoralize the G.I.s, while they are at the end of their tether surrounded by rubble and… chicken, is quite something.

      • I imagined it would be worse. I’ve got Assembly but haven’t gotten around to watching it yet. The beginning is pretty intense. I need to me in the right mood.
        It’s spot on what you say about the discrepancy 50s /60s in the movie.

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