HonkWatch #017: Go Tell The Spartans

One of the first Vietnam War (ie Vietnamese versus Yankees) films, Go Tell The Spartans was an early attempt to to throw a little movie magic over an Indochinese Pentagonal balls-up, a short three years after the evacuation of the US embassy in Saigon.

It’s all set in the early, advisor-pumping escalation days of 1964, when the technocratic theories of the Kennedy administration were still being worked through into the media-untroubled Vietnamese interior. Burt Lancaster is the ageing career soldier, Major Barker, tasked with training local troops and militia in their fight with communist insurgents; but as the film shows, whatever the personal integrity of the individual warrior, the mission to which he has been committed is the only measure by which his conduct may be gauged.

Under Barker’s command are – it’s not like I was making claims that this was a film which avoided the Hollywood clichés – a cynical executive officer hoping to earn combat experience (Marc Singer as Captain Olivetti), a hotheaded young buck who confuses shouting with authority (Joe Unger as Lieutenant Hamilton), and a draftee who, despite being fundamentally opposed to the developing war, volunteered for frontline dutires (Craig Wasson as Corporal Courcey). Barker is also reacquainted with a loyal and battle-weary old NCO who fought alongside him in Korea, Sergeant Oleonowski (Jonathan Goldsmith), whose nerves jangle like keys in a tumble dryer.

Barker and his boys are sent – understrength – to a forward position, one considered, initially at least, quiet, but which (McNamaran intel analysis coming into play here) soon emerges as a pinch point for NLF infiltration. And so it is that Barker, his greenhorns, bloodlusty ARVN troops – personified by corpse defiling, prisoner-torturing Americanophile Cowboy (Evan Kim) – and Dad’s Army-style village militia end up fighting, not for honour, or geopolitics, or the American Way, but for nothing so precious as their own lives.

Anyhoo, good film, by the standards of war movies, certainly given its tight budget and the unfashionability of VN flicks at the time – pre-Apocalypse Now, only just around the time of The Deer Hunter, and a decade up on the grunt porn of Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Hamburger Hill. On the downside, the ‘Vietnamese country’ does look suspiciously like the sort of identikit Californian parkland one becomes familiar with in the likes of Quincy ME.

Sorry, definitely drifting… Back on topic: here we have Lt Hamilton thundering MRE over Oleo’s boots after seeing a particularly brutal bit of pacification doled out by Cowboy.

HonkWatch #017: Go Tell The Spartans

PS Other lesser-known Vietnam-related films worth catching: The Boys In Company C, The Siege Of Firebase Gloria, Birdy, Rolling Thunder. Oh, and if anyone’s got 84c MoPic I’d be interested in a copy, not seen it and it sounds interesting.


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