A Hill In Korea Review

If A Hill In Korea is famous for anything, it is as the first film for which Michael Caine received a screen credit. He had already appeared uncredited in three movies - and would be uncredited in several more - but here he actually gets to play a named part, the not entirely pivotal role of Private Lockyer. He's not particularly memorable and the role is so tiny that it's entirely possible to miss him completely, but it was one of the tiny steps which eventually led to the make-or-break opportunity of Zulu and is consequently a small piece of film history.

The film is well worth considering apart from this milestone however, as it's one of the comparatively few films to deal with the Korean War. The conflict in Vietnam seems to have been mined over and over again but Korea has been rather neglected by Western cinema after a burst of films in the early 1950s - personally, I still rate Lewis Milestone's Pork Chop Hill and Mann's Men In War as the best of the American movies on the conflict, since Altman's M*A*S*H seems to me to be far more about Vietnam despite its nominal setting. However, as A Hill In Korea reminds us, there were British troops involved in the war too. The film deals with a small reconaissance unit led by tenderfoot George Baker and grizzled veteran Harry Andrews which finds itself under fire from two groups of Chinese soldiers. Also present are the great Stanley Baker, Robert Shaw, Stephen Boyd and, apparently by some government decree ordering that he must appear in every British war movie, Percy Herbert.

The plot mechanics are just that - mechanical. George Baker's inexperienced commander is finding the responsibility of leadership a burden while Ronald Lewis's cowardly Private Docker is inadvertantly doing everything possible to ensure a Chinese victory. There is class warfare in the barracks and a bullying attitude to anyone who isn't a gung-ho madman. In some respects, the film resembles Robert Aldrich's Attack, released in the same year, but it's got none of the psychological insight provided by that movie. What does impress, along with the generally high standard of acting, is the general cynicism of the film towards both the motives behind the war and the fact that the government have used National Service conscripts to fight it. There's an interesting edge to this which distinguishes the film from the optimism of, for example, The Way Ahead and looks forward to the likes of The Long, The Short and the Tall. Julian Amyes's direction is brisk and unself-conscious, bringing the film in smoothly at around eighty minutes.

Optimum's DVD of the film is nothing special but adequate for those who want to see a decent version of it. It's presented at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 - pretty standard for British films of the time - and is anamorphically enhanced. Not a bad source print and a nice level of detail. The mono soundtrack is serviceable enough. There are no extras.


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