The Green Berets (1968) is often listed as one of the worst war movies ever. The Green Berets (1968) is presented as a belated Veteran’s Day tribute. This movie stars John Wayne and many from his cast of regular players.
I apologize late with this Veteran’s day tribute. Hopefully, this will be out before Thanksgiving. I will endeavor in the future to be more temporally appropriate.
Although this movie is very popular and made a lot of money it is considered by man to be one of the worst war movies ever made. Once the film was released popular movie critic Roger Ebert gave it zero stars and cited the extensive use of cliches, depicting the war in terms of “cowboys and Indians”, and being a “heavy-handed, remarkably old-fashioned film.” It is on his “Most Hated” list.
In The New York Times, Renata Adler wrote, “It is vile and insane. On top of that, it is dull.” Oliver Stone’s acclaimed anti-war film Platoon was written partially as a reaction to this film. It is mocked in the Gustav Hasford novel The Short-Timers in a scene where Joker and Rafter Man find the Lusthog Squad watching it at a movie theater. Of course, that book eventually became Full Metal Jacket (1987).
John Wayne played the role of Col. Mike Kirby. Since I have profiled Wayne in at least two other cases I won’t go into any details except to say he skipped WWII and made this film to promote the War in Vietnam. Although some writers say he was trying to promote the work of the real Green Berets and not lobbying for the war.
This film was made but not released before the Tet Offensive on January 30th, 1968. During the Vietnamese Lunar New Year ceasefire, Communist forces from North and South Vietnam opened a general attack across all of South Vietnam. Although this turned out to be a major victory for the U.S. And our South Vietnamese allies the spectacle of enemy troop being killed inside the U.S. Embassy result in a broad disapproval of continuing our involvement in the war.
The antagonist was played by David Janssen of tv’s The Fugitive fame. Janssen was cast as George Beckworth, a hard-hitting anti-war newspaper reporter who worked for of all papers the Chronicle Harold. Janssen was primarily with a few movie roles. Janssen missed the finally of The Fugitive while making this movie.
Jim Hutton, who is one of my favorite actors was cast as Sgt. Petersen. Petersen played the role of the scrounger, a character that is a regular in most war movies including Stalag 17, The Great Escape, An Officer and a Gentleman, Operation Petticoat, and a non-military version played by Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption (1994).
Hutton was in Hellfighters with John Wayne and Bruce Cabot. Other military films include Major Dundee and The Hallelujah Trail. The trail was a comedy like Walk Don’t Run and Where the Boys Are which I mentioned briefly in the In Harm’s Way podcast. He is the father of actor Jim Hutton.
Unfortunately, this great actor’s life was cut short from cancer at the age of 45.
Aldo Ray played the role of Sgt. Muldoon. Ray was a macho man who played many military roles in films. Ray was a real frogman in World War II and saw action on Iwo Jima. By the 70s his roles had declined. Ray died in 1991 from throat cancer.
Bruce Cabot, the line subject for today’s podcast cast played a very small role as Col. Morgan. Cabot was 63 and Wayne was 60 when this movie was made. However, in reality, most Col. in Vietnam were around 30.
Jack Soo played Col. Cai. Cai was Col. Kirby’s Vietnamese counterpart. They have him speaking in some kind of choppy American dialect but it only came off as fake. Soo was a Japanese-American actor that was born in Oakland, 1917. He had a pretty good television run and was a returning character on Barney Miller, Mash, and a few other shows.
George Takei played Vietnamese Capt. Nim. We know Takei as Mr. Sulu from Star Trek or from his current social media presence. As a youth, Takei was sent to an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. His family was moved from LA to a camp in Arkansas and later to Tule Lake in California where they people that refused to take the loyalty oath was gathered.
Patrick Wayne, the son of John Wayne, played Lt. Jamison a gung-ho Seabee.
Edward Faulkner played the role of Capt. MacDaniel. Faulkner was another Wayne toady and was seen in Chisum, Hellfighters, Rio Lobo, McLintock, etc.
Jason Evers was a bit actor and played the role of Capt. Coleman. His only purpose in this film was to die the day before he was going home. Another stereotype to go with the scrounger.
Mike Henry played the role of Sgt. Kowalski a top fighter. Henry was a pro-football player that turned to acting. He was in The Longest Yard 1974 with FSU alumni Burt Reynolds. However, he is probably better know for a trilogy with Reynolds (maybe he wasn’t in that last one)where he played Junior, the jilted groom and the son of Buford T. Justice.
Luke Askew played the role of Sgt. Provo. Provo was obsessed with what would be named after him when he was dead. Askew was a veteran of Cool Hand Luke 1967 and Easy Rider 1969.
Famous stuntman Chuck Courtney worked on this film. He was a cowboy and was part of the John Wayne gang of regulars. The reason for the mention will become clear in the coming weeks.
The last character I will speak of is Craig Jue as Hamchunk. With a name like that should he have been driving a car for Indiana Jones? After 1 more role on MASH, it seemed that this cute kid left the acting business.
The movie begins at what is suppose to be Fort Bragg, North Carolina. However, it is clearly Fort Benning, Georgia because it’s flat and full of pine trees. Locals and press are seated in bleachers while various green berets give them an orientation on their mission. They list off their credentials and the languages they speak as well as their military specialties. During the Q&A that follows a bitter hard-bitten newspaper man George Beckworth (David Janssen) asks Sergeant Muldoon (Aldo Ray) why the US should be involved in a war in Asia.
Muldoon shows them capture weapons from the Soviet Bloc and is aping the classic stopping commie aggression line. Give what’s going on in Ukraine he might have been right.
Green Beret Colonel Mike Kirby (John Wayne) asks Beckworth if he has been to the war and he replies he has not. Kirby gives him a flip reply and Beckworth decides he is going to South Vietnam so he can better explain to the reading public why we should get out of the war.
Kirby is heading to South Vietnam with two A-Teams of Special Forces/Green Berets. The first A-Team will replace a team at a remote camp working with South Vietnamese soldiers and Montagnard fighters. Just for the record, the Montagnard were bad-ass mountain folks that fought with crossbows on the American side. The other A-Team is to form a counter-guerrilla Mike force. A Mike force is a quick reaction force that can be quickly moved where they are needed.
While Kirby is selecting his team Spc. later Sgt. Petersen (Jim Hutton) is caught stealing from Kirby’s unit. Recognizing the need for a good scrounger he has him promoted and placed on the team.
When they arrive in Da Nang, South Vietnam, the Green Berets are met by Beckworth who will be joining them at the basecamp. Here they highlight the humanitarian aspect of the green berets work such as feed and providing medical care to the locals. Beckworth ain’t buying it because he’s hard.
There is a war orphan by the name of Hamchuck (Craig Jue) who meets Petersen when the boy trips the SF soldier. Now I love foreshadowing, I believe it’s the only thing I learned in the 11th grade English. The boy had a small dog which seemed to be his only possession. He took to calling Petersen Peter son which is a show of respect and family attachment.
The basecamp is routinely shelled with mortars but generally only enough to keep the base awake at night. The first night the new crew ion base the mortars kill Captain Coleman (Jason Evers) who was leaving for the US in one day.
Captain Nim (George Takaki) the commander of the South Vietnamese forces arrives in the camp from patrol. He is a rabid kill all the stinking VC type and doesn’t fully trust his own men. He is later shown to be correct when Muldoon spots a South Vietnamese soldier pacing off distances in the camp. Nim begins to question the suspect who of course denies everything. When they turn out his pockets that find a Green Beret zippo lighter that belonged to a soldier friend of Kirby’s.
Beckworth watches Nim beat and tortures the spy. When he ask Kirby about the morality of this Kirby replies that the VC are ruthless and deserve no protection in this new kind of war. WRONG. First, it’s a violation of the Geneva Convention and war criminals can be prosecuted. Secondly, if you cut down all the tree to get at the devil where will you hide from the wind when the devil turns on you.
A local chief comes into the camp to get medical treatment for his granddaughter and decides he will come in with the American if they will come help move the village. They send a patrol out to the village and Petersen almost trips a booby trap wire. More foreshadowing. When they get to the village a lot of the villagers have been killed by the VC for joining the American. Beckworth slowly begins to change his mind about the war.
A few nights later the base camp comes under a massive night attack by the VC and North Vietnamese soldiers. Most of the VC actors had bolt action rifles because there weren’t enough AK47 props in Hollywood.
Petersen puts Hamchuck in a bunker with his dog just as the attack starts. Beckworth joins the fighting and at one point starts using a gun. Kirby and Muldoon come in by chopper just ahead of the Mike force. The are hit and the chopper crashes but the duke can’t be hurt.
Dogs gotta be dogs so the dog runs out of the bunker with Hamchuck close behind. The dog is killed and Hamchuck buries him in the middle of the battle using a digging stick. He places the tick as a grave marker. Petersen finds the boy and loads him on a helicopter. The marker is knocked over by attacking VC leaving no trace of the grave.
The VC overrun the camp and Seabee Lt. Jamison (Patrick Wayne) uses construction equipment to slow the attack. As the green berets and s. Vietnamese fall back to the inner compound the Mike force enters the camp and joins the fight.
Provo is shot by disloyal S. Vietnamese troops but Nim uses prepared explosives to kill the new enemy. As the sun comes up Nim is killed by artillery fire as he stands to continue firing claymore mines at the enemy.
In what may be the strangest part of the movie Kirby begins ordering the troops to fall back in the calmest most monotone voice ever. He must say it 30 times. Once all of the friendliest are out of the camp Kirby orders an airstrike of a C-47 Puff the Magic Dragon. This kills most of the enemy and the next day they retook the camp.
At this point, the reporter Beckworth is completely behind the war clearly confusing the desire to fight for those around you with a justification for the whole war. Beckworth returns to Da Nang.
Before Provo dies he tells Kirby that he wants a latrine named after him – Provo’s Privy. Because it signs.
At this point, the movie goes into a second part. I assume this is done to show a broader range of green beret activities. Kirby meets with his south Vietnamese counterpart, Colonel Cai. They decide to use Cai’s sister in law to capturing CV General Ti.
The group takes a C-130 and parachutes into the location where Ti is staying. Kolowski is killed while on point but kills all his attackers. Muldoon and Doc Stevens, stay behind at a bridge to blow it up to after the team crosses.
The girl lures Ti to the capture point and the team grabs him. The team escapes over the bridge and it is blown but the Doc is wounded. They get to an open space and use a Fulton Skyhook device to get General Ti picked up. the skyhook device works by running a balloon up on a rope and attaching the victim I mean the passenger. A play flys towards the balloon and snags the rope with a device on the front of the plane. as the plane rises the rider is blown towards the back and the rope is hooked with a gaff. They then winch the rider into the plane.
This technology was based on a WWII pickup system when ropes were hung between two poles and a plane with a hook on it flies so low that the rider is snatched up. When the Fulton skyhook was being tested they used a pig. When the pig was picked up it began spinning. By the time they got the pig into the plane it was extremely disoriented from the spinning. After the pig recovered it attacked the flight crew.
After Ti is airborne Petersen takes lead for the patrol and quickly walks into a trip wire and is killed by punji sticks. Remember the foreshadowing. They are forced to leave the body behind.
The helicopters land back at Da Nang Beckworth watches Hamchuck run from helicopter to helicopter looking for Petersen. Of course, Petersen is not there and neither would Hamcuck if he kept running around on the flight line. Beckworth joins another group of soldiers heading to the front? Was there a front in Vietnam.
Kirby tells Hamchuck that Petersen is not coming back. Hamchuck asks “what will happen to me now?” Kirby puts Petersen’s green beret on his the boys head and says, “You let me worry about that, Green Beret. You’re what this thing’s all about.” The two walk holding hands along the beach into the sunset. Now I skip over the part about not giving away the property of dead soldiers but instead sending it to their families. Now this walking down the beach and seeing a sunset has been highly debated. Apparently, there is a beach in Vietnam where you can see a sunset but it’s not anyway near Da Nang.
The Col. Kirby was based on Lauri Törni. Törni was in the Finnish Army and fought against the Soviet Union in WWII. He emigrated to America and joined the Army in 1954. He went to Vietnam in 1963 serving with the Green Berets and went missing in action in 1965. His remains were recovered in 1999.
Democratic President Johnson allowed Republican Wayne to used military equipment to make the pro-war movie because Johnson thought it would make the war more unpopular in America. requesting military assistance for his pro-war film about Vietnam.
George Takei missed nine episodes of Star Trek (1966) to work on this movie including “The Trouble with Tribbles” where nice little fuzzy animals overrun the starship.
Some of the “Vietnamese village” sets were so realistic they were left intact and were later used by the Army for training troops destined for Vietnam.
The French villa of General Ti was a house in Columbus, GA. Unfortunately, the house burned to the ground in the 1990’s.
The attack on the base camp was based on the Battle of Nam Dong where a force of Americans, Australians and South Vietnamese troops fought two battalions of VC on July 6, 1964.
Wayne turned down the “Major Reisman” role in The Dirty Dozen to make this movie.