Battle Hymn (1957)

DOUGLAS SIRK

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1957.   Screenplay by , Cinematography by .   Produced by Music by Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .   Golden Globe Awards 1956.

Rock Hudson plays a small-town preacher still haunted by experience in World War II, when he dropped a bomb during an air raid that fell on an orphanage instead of the military target it was intended for.  Unable to connect with his parishioners because his guilt has become unbearable , he decides to volunteer to serve in Korea in a training position, hoping that getting away will help clear his painful memories but also hoping to avoid killing another human being.  When he arrives he finds himself put in charge of turning a dust pile into a working, efficient air base, which he does with the help of his soldiers, then notices that their base is an attractive location for the local children who are on the verge of starving.  Touched by their genuine need, Hudson devotes a great deal of his time to finding a way to keep the many orphaned children he finds safe, befriending a local woman () who takes on the task of looking after them in the shelter they put together.  While this male counterpart to The Inn of the Sixth Happiness features the kind of White Saviour narrative that modern-day audiences rightfully balk at, trumpeting the idea that everywhere in the world needs America’s interference to become a better place, there’s a great deal worth cherishing about this very enjoyable, soapy war movie.  Douglas Sirk may not be pointing a finger at the backwards hypocrisy of American society as sharply as he did in All that Heaven Allows, but his grand sense of artifice never feels accidental or innocent, his plush imagery could be criticizing the nature of our grand war fantasies while also indulging them (and then, of course, telling us that even when you don’t want to fight, you’ve got to anyway).  The gorgeous cinematography reaches its peak in the stunning flying sequences, involving a number of impressive stunts and gorgeous aerial shots, while the relationship that the star develops with his pint-sized co-stars is genuinely warm and puts the film’s more naive elements across with great satisfaction.

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