The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

Take the High Ground! (1953) Classic Movie Review 77

Take the High Ground! (1953)

Take the High Ground! (1953)

This is a rifle and not a gun, it's made to kill and not for fun

Today’s movie is Take the High Ground! (1953). This movie is a macho bonanza. Elaine Stewart is virtually the only woman in the movie. I like this movie because it is an accurate portrayal of basic training.


Richard Widmark played the role of SFC. Thorne Ryan. Widmark was covered in Episode 18 – The Vikings (1958).

Karl Malden played SSG. Laverne Holt. Malden was covered in Episode 26 – Time Limit (1957).

Russ Tamblyn played recruit Paul Jamison. During this movie, he was able to use his considerable acrobatic skills in many of the scenes, for example, hopping along a line of bunks. Tamblyn was covered in Episode 18 – The Vikings (1958).

Jerome Courtland played Elvin C. Carey and was briefly mentioned in Episode 50 – Battleground (1949).

Bert Freed played Master Sgt. Vince Opperman. Freed was covered in Episode 73 – Billy Jack (1971)

Elaine Stewart played the role of the troubled Julie Mollison. Stewart was born in New Jersey in 1930. She grew to be very beautiful and was modeling while she was still a teenager. Hal B. Wallis gave her a small unbilled role in Sailor Beware (1952) with Martin and Lewis. She was later signed with MGM where they hoped to turn her into a dark-haired Marilyn Monroe. The studio brought her up slowly through the system in films such as Singin’ in the Rain (1952), You for Me (1952), Everything I Have Is Yours (1952), Sky Full of Moon (1952) and a sexy lush in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). Stewart was a popular pin-up model and eventually posed in Playboy.

Take the High Ground! (1953)

Take the High Ground! (1953)

She continued with Code Two (1953), Young Bess (1953), as about the only female in Take the High Ground! (1953) with Richard Widmark, the musical Brigadoon (1954) co-starring Gene Kelly and Van Johnson, Night Passage (1957), The Tattered Dress (1957) and Escort West (1958). She made a few movies in the 1960s but was mostly on television.

Stewart’s second marriage was to game show creator Merrill Heatter. She left acting to raise her children.  She returned as a game show hostess, first with Wink Martindale and later with Alex Trebek. She died at the age of 81 in 2011.

Steve Forrest played the role of the solid Lobo Naglaski. Forrest was the youngest of 13 children born to a Baptist Minister and his wife. What were they teaching at that church? Anyway one of his brother’s was actor Dana Andrews.

Forrest began as a contract player for MGM. In 1942, Forrest joined the Army, where he rose to the rank of sergeant, before fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. His brother Dana played a Major in the movie, The Battle of the Bulge (1965). Following his time in the Army Forrest went to Hollywood and met with his brother Dana. Forrest decided to go into acting. He graduated from UCLA in 1950 with a theater degree. He worked various stage jobs until he was discovered by Gregory Peck.

Right off the bat, Forrest has a great career being recognized as New Star of the Year in 1953 for his role in So Big (1953). Some of his other roles include The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Battle Circus (1953), Dream Wife (1953), I Love Melvin (1953), Take the High Ground! (1953), The Band Wagon (1953), The Clown (1953), The Sabre and the Arrow (1953), Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954), Prisoner of War (1954), Rogue Cop (1954), The Long Gray Line (1955), The Longest Day (1962), and Mommie Dearest (1981).

Unlike many other stars Forrest worked actively in television during his entire career. He had one series on the BBC, “The Baron” 1966 and another in America, “S.W.A.T.” 1975. He lampooned his own screen personality in Amazon Women on the Moon (1987). Forrest died in 2013.

African-American William Hairston played the bookish Daniel Hazard. For some reason, this actor never made another film.


It’s basic training all over again.

The movie begins during the Korean War in 1951. SFC. Thorne Ryan (Richard Widmark) leads a group of men up a hill through machine gun fire. One man stops for a drink of water and he is killed by a sniper. SFC. Thorne Ryan looks at him with disgust. One of the men following him is SSG. Laverne Holt (Karl Malden). He destroys the machine gun and takes the hill.

They show a quote from Images of War and War of Images edited by Gérard Hugues, Karine Hildenbrand that says “An Infantryman once said, “There was a time I wanted to kill my drill sergeant, but later in combat, I thanked God for what he taught me. I found out that a drill sergeant, tough as he was, wasn’t as tough as the enemy.”

The scene switches to Fort Bliss, Texas in 1953. Very sharp troops are loading onto a train while SFC. Thorne Ryan and SSG. Laverne Holt looks on a group of raw recruits. He tells them they will never make and the men boarding the train are real soldier because they made it.

Recruit Russ Tamblyn smarts off and gets on the Sgt. Radar. The Army had just be integrated by President Truman and there is one black recruit that has books on war with him. SSG. Laverne Holt starts out with the men easy and then gets hard. It’s the class good cop bad cop thing.

SSG. Laverne Holt runs the men to supply where the get their footlocker, mattress, uniforms, and equipment. It hadn’t changed. Watching this movie and having read Basic: Surviving Boot Camp and Basic Training 2012 by Colonel Jack Jacobs and David Fisher I am convinced that nothing may have changed since 1775. Later I will review The Boys in Company C (1978) and Full Metal Jacket (1987) to expound on this concept. You will be shocked at how similar they are and trust me similar to reality.

Anyway back to the story where they are getting a haircut. When they say the clothes are too small the supply sergeant says to lose weight, too big, gain weight. They are issued their weapon under the watchful eye SFC. Thorne Ryan. When the African-American calls it a gun, he gets the poem – “This is a rifle and not a gun, it’s made for shooting and not for fun.”

That night in the barracks Elvin C. Carey (Jerome Courtland) drops his rifle, Daniel Hazard (William Hairston) calls it a gun, and Paul Jamison (Russ Tamblyn) mocks them and two end up holding mops are arm length while Paul recites he is a dumb head.

Master Sergeant Vince Opperman (Bert Freed) comes to the NCO club where SFC Thorne Ryan and SSG. Laverne Holt are shooting pool.  The pair hates Opperman because he is not gung-ho enough and not aching to get back into the war.

The next morning the drill sergeants wake the men and they stumble over themselves getting dress. The draftees begin their training, by marching and drill. The men can’t do anything right. The Lt. gets on Ryan for being too hard on the men, the same rap he was getting from Opperman. Ryan spends his evening requesting transfers.

The men are given the weekend off and they all head south to Mexico. Ryan and Holt go into a bar where Julie Moillison (Elaine Stewart) is drinking with five of the recruits. Holt wants to meet a woman but Ryan just keeps messing around playing sideshow games, watching movies, and eating. When they go to another club Julie is dancing with Jamison. Ryan strongly SUGGEST the privates back to base. With her party ruined, Julie joins the sergeants. Holt is all in but Ryan hates her. He says she is complex and drunk and he likes um simple and sober. When this makes her breaking they scoop her up and take her to her home. Ryan can’t help becoming attracted to Julie. She tells Ryan he hates the world.

They begin working the confidence course and then go to the gas chamber where they are exposed to tear gas. I still remember the day the day I came out of the gas chamber will a fluid of liquid coming out of every hole in my head.

As the 16 weeks pass the recruits begin to do everything right. The take their long hike which is a major milestone of basic training. They have a very accurate mail call scene.

Ryan goes to a bar and sees Opperman is there. When Opperman tries to but Ryan a drink he refuses. Holt is there was Julie. The trio sits together and Ryan and Julie start bickering. Opperman comes over and Julie becomes nervous. Opperman insults Julie and she runs out. Opperman and Ryan get into a fight in the street. Ryan forces Opperman to tell the tale. The story is that she walked out on her husband while he was in Korea and he got himself killed as a result. Holt takes Julie home and he is starting to fall for her. Ryan throws himself into work and is extra hard on the men. After Ryan smashes gum into the face of Tex, Naglaski (Steve Forrest) has contempt for the drill instructor. He goes to the chaplain and says he want to kill his drill sergeant. The chaplain has heard it before and helps the man to understand the role of the sergeant.

Holt is keeping time with Julie and he and Ryan get into a fight over the way he is treating the men and Julie. Ryan continues his personal war on the men. During a GI party (cleaning) the tensions boil over and the men get into a fight. The men stay up all night and get everything ready for the inspection. Ryan climbs all over them in the morning during inspection crushing their spirits.

They go out for the under barbed wire crawl while machine guns fire overhead drill. This is followed by the combined arms demo and live fire exercise. Pvt. Dover stops and drinks and he pours the man’s canteen out. Ryan and Holt get into a fight and Holt slugs Ryan in front of the men.

After the field exercise Ryan bums around looking for Holt but no one wants to deal with him.

Ryan tells Tex he is going to drum him out of the army. Tex holds the weapon on him and Ryan goes down range and makes Tex fire through at the target through his legs. Wouldn’t happen!

Ryan goes to Julie’s house and asks her out. She asked if Opperman said anything about her. Ryan says no and they get all kissy face. Julie insists on telling the entire tale. When she backs away Ryan tries to make her drink the tea. They get into a fight and he insults her and she throws him out.

Ryan takes the men to the grenade range. Dover doesn’t to throw the grenade. Ryan pulls the pin by Dover just ducks. Ryan throws the grenade at the last minute. The company bivouacs for the night and Holt heads into town. That night Dover goes AWOL. Since Ryan has been doing this for a while he knows where Dover is headed and waits for him there. Ryan gives Dover a second chance saying that his own father was a deserter.

After the training, Ryan goes to Julie house and she has moved out. He finds Julie at the train station and Holt is with her. Holt leaves so Ryan and Julie can talk. Ryan says he is sorry for the way he acted and he asks her to marry him. She says no Ryan is married to the Army. Ryan tells her he will be there if she changes her mind. After Julie is gone Ryan and Holt make their peace without a word.

Back on base, the men have finished their training. They have replaced the troops they say 16 weeks before loading the train. Before they board, they see Ryan with a new group of recruits saying that they will never make it. He points at his old company and says those men are soldiers.  He borrows the company from Holt and pretends he doesn’t know them. He takes over and sharply marches them around. This is a tribute to the men he trained and inspiration to the men he will train. Holt is still following Ryan.

World-Famous Short Summary – Two maniacs almost get together.

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Beware the moors

Take the High Ground! (1953)

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