This is the first adaption of the 1962 novel The Thin Red Line by James Jones. The story follows a band of American soldiers as they are thrown into tough terrain fighting during the Battle of Guadalcanal during the Second World War in the Pacific.
This version centers mainly on two very differing men, the rookie Private Doll (Keir Dullea) and his First Sergeant Welsh (Jack Warden). Pvt Doll is a fish out of water and probably a little on the autism spectrum to be honest. He is angry, disobedient and not capable of taking orders, especially when he sees them for what they are, ridiculous missions of certain death and destruction. So he makes a pact with himself to do whatever he can to survive, even if that means going rogue and refusing orders. This irrational behavior actually starts to help in certain ways as his actions become unpredictable, turning past plans and orders on their head.
All this is much to the annoyance but also fascination to Sgt Welsh who takes the young soldier under his wing. Welsh is an old battle worn veteran whose attitude is mean, rough and tough but under all that exterior is a warm, almost father figure. Teaching Pvt Doll how to deal with his first kills, dealing with the dark horror of war and that thin red line that exists between sanity and madness.
First Sgt Welsh – “The point? ha what’s point got to do with it?…. If these guys get off this ship without being killed they gonna be fighting for an island they never even heard of before. They gonna spill out their guts for a piece of real estate that even the birds don’t want….. now whats the point in that?”
Whereas most the film is the relationship between those two guys there are some other stand out performances like with Captain Stone (Ray Daley) who realises his superior officers haven’t much concern for the safety of his men, putting them in more dangerous and dire situations that he tries to make a stand against them.
Their platoon is called Charlie Company and with orders to capture a strategic hill, where two other platoons have already failed, called “The Dancing Elephant”. To get to this main objective, they have to endure one suicide mission after another with a minefield called “The Bowling Alley”, dodgy bridges, snipers, hidden ambushes, caves and treks across killing fields. Can this band of men survive the madness of war and stay on the right side of the thin red line?
A few Wolfman Observations
- This really should of been called “The Jack Warden Show” as he shines in every scene he appears. He truly is a delight in this film.
- Keir Dullea would later on in his career take on the monolith and a certain AI called HAL 9000 in the legendary 2001: A Space Odyssey.
- What with Keir’s portrayal of Doll with all his funny mannerisms, I couldn’t stop thinking of his David from the wonderful 1962 film David and Lisa. You can so imagine that maybe this is Pvt David Doll who has been kicked out the home and thrust straight into battle. If you have seen both those films I’m sure you will get the same feeling.
- Time for me to revisit the very different and deep Terrence Malick’s 1998 all-star singing and dancing version.
- Look out for the great little surreal dream “When your number is up, it’s up!” featuring a very sexy girl called Merlyn Yordan.
The movie is on YouTube in full at the time of writing. It’s a great little film and as I say Jack Warden is awesome. If you’ve seen it, what did you think?