The Green Berets (1968)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Green Berets</strong> (1968)

(On TV, November 2018) Behold! The only pro-Vietnam war movie ever made! Well, maybe not (although search for “only pro-Vietnam war movie” and see what comes up), but The Green Berets has the rather dubious distinction of being the only major Vietnam film made during the 1960s to take an unabashed stance that the US should go there, and kill as many communists as possible in order to secure a future for the (South) Vietnamese children. No, really, the last scene of the film says exactly that and it takes place on a sunset beach with John Wayne holding a Vietnamese kid’s hand. Anyone who somehow harboured any doubts about Wayne’s political orientations will be set straight after watching this film, which he “directed” and starred in. Wayne, then 58, plays a Colonel who takes it upon himself to show to a cynical left-leaning reporter the true meaning of the US effort in Vietnam. It’s a very special episode of “Let’s justify American imperialism,” and the caricature of the opposing viewpoint is so acute that the propagandistic nature of the film quickly comes into focus. The Green Berets is at its worst when it talks down to its audience in its daddy-knows-best tone, and at its best when it lets go of the brainwashing in order to focus on the war sequences—there’s an attack on a Special Forces camp two-thirds of the way through that’s well-executed. Alas, and this speaks a lot about the film’s lack of dramatic impact beyond its simplistic pro-war message, this climactic sequence happens at least half an hour before the film’s ending, which concludes with a rather lame third-act mission. It’s not the only element of The Green Berets that justifiably earns critical scorn, as the film is crammed with war-movie clichés made even worse by its espoused cause. The only thing I really liked without reservations about the film is George Takei (and his unmistakable voice) showing up for a few minutes in middle of the film. Otherwise: nothing good. It’s amazing, historically speaking, that The Green Berets was released (to some commercial success!) in 1968, as the war was souring on a weekly basis and no one could be fooled by what it purported to show. It does qualify as essential viewing for those interested in the history of American war movies, mostly as a counter-example of just about everything else being made at the time. If nothing else, you can make an argument that it influenced, even though contrarian revulsion, the next crop of Vietnam movies.

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