The Thin Red Line (1964)

Genres - Drama, War  |   Sub-Genres - War Drama, War Epic  |   Run Time - 99 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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A much simplified adaptation of James Jones's novel of combat on Guadalcanal, this first screen version does manage to retain some of the essential flavor of Jones's narrative and his ideas about the relationships among men during war. The Bernard Gordon screenplay focuses on two of Jones's characters: the self-preserving Private Doll (Keir Dullea) and the cynical Sergeant Welch (Jack Warden), and if their relationship travels a road familiar to war films (with predictable consequences), director Andrew Marton stages the film's combat scenes with verve. And the film does retain the conflict between Colonel Tall (James Philbrook) and Captain Stone (Ray Daley), with the latter relieved of battle command when it's clear that he values the lives of his men more than achieving the objectives of his superiors. There is a strange dream sequence in which Doll equates making love to his wife with his killing a Japanese soldier with his bare hands; Marton isn't quite in the same league as Luis Bunuel in suggesting the erotic possibilities of murder. Because the film was shot in Spain, the terrain sometimes looks more rocky than South Pacific lush. Nevertheless, the two most harrowing battles-the fight to break through a narrow canyon nicknamed the bowling alley, and an assault on a series of cliffside machine gun nests-benefit from taking place on barren landscapes. Terrence Malick's more comprehensive and contemplative 1998 version was more ambitious and less pat, but there are enough virtues here to make it a worthy companion piece.