Cast & Crew
In Depression-era Los Angeles, young Guy Gabaldon's widowed mother is taken to the hospital, and the boy is left to fend for himself. After learning about Guy's predicament, school basketball coach Kaz Une takes him to live with his own parents, and when Guy's mother dies, the family adopts him. To comfort Guy, Mother Une tells him the old Japanese tale of the Peach Boy, whose love for his parents is as precious as a great treasure, whereupon Guy tearfully embraces her. Years later, as Guy talks to Ester, his foster brother George's girl friend, a young white man calls Guy a "Jap lover" and accuses him of consorting with the enemy.
Later that day, the family is distressed to learn that the United States has declared war against Japan. George wants to enlist immediately, but Kaz, who had tried to join up the day before, tells him that Japanese Americans are suspected of being spies and are being rejected from military service. Soon afterward, Guy's family and Japanese friends are taken to relocation camps. While George's parents and brothers go willingly, eager to help their government in any way they can, Guy is unwilling to betray the people he loves and refuses to enlist. Kaz and George finally do join up, and while they are fighting in Italy, Guy travels to Camp Manzanar in California to visit his parents. When Mother Une claims to be proud of her "All-American" sons, Guy realizes that she wants him to enlist.
Soon afterward, Guy joins the Marines and, while in training at Camp Pendleton, befriends Sgt. Bill Hazen and Corp. Pete Lewis. Before facing active duty, the three men visit a Honolulu nightclub called the Hawaiian Village, where they meet Famika, a stripper, Sono, a barmaid, and Sheila Lincoln, a reporter. Nicknamed the "Iron Petticoat" by the soldiers who have unsuccessfully attempted to seduce her, Sheila fumes as the men, now drinking at Sono's apartment, watch Famika perform a striptease. Too much whiskey and an attraction to Guy lead Sheila to perform a strip act of her own, after which each couple finds a private spot for lovemaking.
Later, the Marines land on a well-defended beach in Saipan, and although he experiences conflicting emotions, Guy soon grows accustomed to the need to "kill or be killed." Because he speaks Japanese, Guy is able to persuade many of the starving local people to surrender their arms and emerge from the caves in which they have taken refuge. When Bill is killed, however, Guy is transformed by rage and massacres injured and unarmed Japanese soldiers who try to surrender. A letter from his mother soon softens his hatred, and he is appalled when he sees unarmed civilians, frightened at the prospect of becoming prisoners, leaping off steep cliffs to escape capture.
On a scouting mission, Guy and another Marine overhear Japanese general Matsui ordering his sick and starving troops to prepare for a sudden, last-ditch attack on the Americans. The two Marines manage to capture Matsui and steal the attack plans, but Guy's partner is killed trying to warn the American troops. While Guy holds the general at gunpoint, he descries the fact that the Japanese commander would send injured soldiers, women and children into battle to face certain death against superior American forces, and then reveals that he was reared by a Japanese family. In a lengthy, emotional speech to his forces, Matsui orders his people to surrender, and as hundreds of prisoners accompany Guy back to the Marine encampment, the shamed general commits hara-kiri.
Tsuru Aoki Hayakawa
John Bury Jr.
Ralph E. Butler
Lt. Col. Robert G. Fitch
Lt. Col. David Foos Jr.
Irving H. Levin
Aubrey C. Lind
Roy V. Livingston
Harry L. Mandell
Edward Morey Jr.
Lester A. Sansom
Walter Roeber Schmidt
Lt. Col. Clement J. Stadler U.s. Marine Corps
Sam J. Strangis
Roger J. Weinberg
Harrold A. Weinberger
Hell to Eternity
Jeffrey Hunter, the athletic actor best known for his role opposite John Wayne in The Searchers (1956), plays Gabaldon as a tough street kid with a fierce loyalty to his Asian family. Appalled at their treatment of his adoptive parents (they were sent to a relocation camp) and turned away by the draft board for a perforated eardrum, he joins the Marines, who value his language skills. At six feet two inches, with broad soldiers and an action movie physique, Hunter is a very different specimen than the real Gabaldon, who was barely over five feet tall, and he hardly speaks Japanese like a man raised in the language, but he is appropriately driven and dedicated. David Janssen co-stars as Gabaldon's drill sergeant and singer Vic Damone has a supporting role as his girl-crazy, finger-snapping boot-camp buddy. The legendary Sessue Hayakawa, the one-time Hollywood silent screen star who disappeared from American screens until his memorable, Oscar®-nominated return as the POW camp commander in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), plays the commanding officer of the Japanese forces and yes, that is a pre-Star Trek George Takei (billed as George Takai) as Guy's adoptive brother George, who joins the 442 regiment in the European theater.
Patricia Owens (famed as the tormented wife of the original The Fly, 1958) gets fourth billing for a mere two scenes as a reporter nicknamed "the Iron Petticoat" (because no one can get past her defenses), but her last scene is a doozy. A drunken private party with Gabaldon's buddies ends with a PG strip tease contest between Owens and a burlesque dancer showing off their moves to the soldiers, who bark and wolf-whistle their appreciation (the scene was reportedly so provocative that it had to be edited down; as it is, the scene is pretty sexy for 1960). Owens slips down to her undergarments to a razzing swing record and gets a big smooch with Jeffrey Hunter, a scene immediately followed by an abrupt cut to battleship guns blazing. It's a jump that sends our boys into battle, but the juxtaposition is just too wicked not to be a sly joke: better than fireworks, this barrage suggests that there was more than just smooching going on after the cut.
Hell to Eternity was produced by Allied Artists, an independent production house (it was formerly the B-movie studio Monogram) competing with the studios with a budget-conscious approach. Phil Karlson was no stranger to low budget filmmaking or Allied Artists. He directed his first features for Monogram before he climbed out of the B-movie industry with tough-minded films that made the most of limited resources, and he had directed one of Allied's most memorable pictures, The Phenix City Story (1955), where his hard-hitting style elevated the exposé-style tabloid material.
Karlson struggles with the limited scope of his production in the film's most ambitious battlefield scenes, cutting together isolated shots of enemy combatants with military battle footage and stock shots to suggest a massive canvas of war. Where he shines is in the dynamic hand-to-hand fight between enemy armies, tightening the focus down to a small but violent conflict where charging forces collide in the chaos of battle. Karlson masterfully designs and choreographs the sequence as a non-stop stream of fighting men, fierce attacks and falling bodies, killed by guns, knives, bayonets and sometimes by bare hands. And when the battle is over, he surveys the ground littered with corpses--American and Japanese both--to take stock of the cost of war. No longer us and them, they are all simply humans killed in war. It's a startling and effective dramatic moment on which the film pivots and our hero is inspired to end the battle for this island with as little bloodshed as possible.
While not one of Karlson's best films, Hell to Eternity was a major box-office hit and led to bigger (if more anonymous) productions for the director. It was also a rare film to draw attention to the plight of Japanese-Americans in World War II (even as it strikes a patriotic note of duty and sacrifice). It is also an interesting portrait of a man torn between patriotism and identity when confronted with the inhuman military culture of the Japanese soldiers. Initially driven to avenge his fallen fellow soldiers (his ferocity is reminiscent of Ethan Edwards in The Searchers and he may have channeled John Wayne for these scenes), Gabaldon finally brings the two sides of his identity together to bring, where possible, a nonviolent end to the conflict to honor both his country and his family.
Producer: Irving H. Levin
Director: Phil Karlson
Screenplay: Ted Sherdeman, Walter Roeber Schmidt (screenplay); Gil Doud (story)
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Art Direction: David Milton
Music: Leith Stevens
Film Editing: Roy V. Livingston, George White
Cast: Jeffrey Hunter (Guy Gabaldon), David Janssen (Bill), Vic Damone (Pete), Patricia Owens (Sheila Lincoln), Richard Eyer (Guy, as a boy), John Larch (Capt. Schwabe), Bill Williams (Leonard), Michi Kobi (Sono), George Shibata (Kaz Une), Reiko Sato (Famika).
by Sean Axmaker
Hell to Eternity
Hell to Eternity - Jeffrey Hunter, David Janssen & Vic Damone in the WWII True Story, HELL TO ETERNITY
Director Karlson (The Phenix City Story) and writers Walter Roeber Schmidt and Ted Sherdeman stay close to the main events but by the time Hell to Eternity was made in 1960 they weren't interested in telling a gung-ho propaganda story. In fact the most striking aspect of the film even to viewers today is that less than two decades after Pearl Harbor it is so completely accepting of the Japanese. Not even "sympathetic" really which sounds a bit half-hearted and possibly even a tad condescending. Guy's family in L.A. may speak Japanese at home and keep some of their old ways but they're pure American: bacon and eggs for breakfast, school sports, car buffs, even dress like early 40s teenagers. On Saipan the aims of Imperial Japan as a country are clearly considered wrong and the individual soldiers unrelenting but Karlson doesn't completely portray Guy and Americans as noble warriors. In one of the most unsettling sequences Guy reacts to the combat death of a buddy by going on a loner hunt where he lures or forces Japanese soldiers out of bunkers and then coldly shoots them, often in the back. Positioned as a kind of reaction to rage, it's hardly any more humane than the Japanese soldiers who elsewhere in the film generally do give at least a straightforward fight.
Karlson and company aren't making Guy an anti-hero but they do undercut heroics, particularly in a long sequence of the soldiers on liberty about halfway through the film. After a mercifully brief training sequence, Guy (played by Jeffrey Hunter, who was in King of Kings the following year) befriends his Marine drill sergeant (David Janssen). Together with another buddy, the carousing trio cheats a local Hawaiian cabbie out of several bottles of liquor then hook up with two Japanese party girls bringing an American "ice queen" journalist in tow. Throughout, the American soldiers act beyond even the bounds of the usual boys-being-boys hijinks and the sequence lasts so long that it becomes a kind of abrasive commentary on brash Americanism or macho posturing. One reason it's so effective is that it can't be neatly pinned and labelled. The sequence ends with Guy locked in a passionate embrace with a half-disrobed woman when it cuts to a swirling circular spiral and firing cannons, either one of the most audacious edits in film history or one of the most ill-considered.
Without that "true story" Hell to Eternity might seem like just another tossed off script from overworked writers. Knowing this will keep most viewers from saying "Oh come on now" at a few key points but the details as presented aren't entirely accurate. For one thing the real Guy Gabaldon was, unlike Jeffrey Hunter, Hispanic not to mention nearly a foot shorter than the actor. In fact many people have speculated that Gabaldon's ethnicity is the reason he was awarded a Navy Cross instead of the Medal of Honor. For comparison consider that Sergeant York received the latter medal despite capturing barely a tenth of the number that Gabaldon did (and despite the movie version, the real Sgt. York didn't do it alone though Gabaldon did). Also the real Gabaldon as a kid did indeed have a family but instead more or less adopted his Japanese family on his own. He also wasn't as hesitant about joining the military during the war as the film version. Gabaldon died in August 2006 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
But these changes don't really matter in the end. Hell to Eternity does portray some of the sheer bravery of the real Gabaldon but it's not meant to be a documentary. The film shows a man trying to weigh family and country, who's of ambigous ethnicity in a country that's always insisted on assigning exact categories, and who has to resolve the necessity of military force with its horrible results. The film shows the infamous civilian suicides on Saipan though at a distance and is possibly the first Hollywood film (and still one of the only) to mention the Manzanar detention camp. Perhaps it took enough distance from the war for the filmmakers to tackle this balance of "it had to be done" war film with a sharper critique of militarism. (For comparison to the literary world consider that Joseph Heller's Catch 22 would appear the following year and James Jones' caustic The Thin Red Line the year after that.) You can still see that the filmmakers are feeling their way, especially with a running time of 132 minutes that easily needed 15-20 minutes trimmed. But if in the end Hell to Eternity isn't a must-see classic it's nevertheless a thoughtful, engaging film that deserves more attention than it's received.
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by Lang Thompson
Hell to Eternity - Jeffrey Hunter, David Janssen & Vic Damone in the WWII True Story, HELL TO ETERNITY
The working titles of this film were Beyond the Call and Beyond the Call of Duty. The closing credits include the following written acknowledgment: "We thank the Department of Defense, especially the Marine Corps. and its officers and men of the Third Marine Division on Okinawa, for the cooperation extended during the filming of the battle sequences of this motion picture."
The film is based on the true experiences of Marine hero Pfc. Guy Gabaldon (1926-2006), who, according to military historians, captured over 1,500 Japanese soldiers and cilvilians during the Battle of Saipan. Known as "The Pied Piper of Saipan" for his success in capturing prisoners, the then eighteen-year-old Gabaldon was nominated for a Congressional Medal of Honor and awarded the Silver Star. Many of the events of the film mirror Gabaldon's life: In Los Angeles, after his mother was hospitalized, the Mexican-American Gabaldon was taken into several Nisei homes, where he was reared in a traditional Japanese fashion. At the age of sixteen, he attempted to enlist in the Army, but was refused because of a punctured eardrum.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, while Gabaldon's foster parents were interned, he tried to join the Marines, and although he was slightly undersize, he was accepted because of his fluency in Japanese and assigned to an intelligence unit. While on the island of Saipan, Gabaldon repeatedly went behind enemy lines, usually alone, and talked many Japanese soldiers and civilians into surrendering. At first, Gabaldon persuaded small groups of Japanese to surrender, then on July 8, 1944, single-handedly took 800 prisoners. In 1960, around the time of the release of Hell to Eternity, Gabaldon's Silver Star was upgraded to a Navy Cross, and in the 1990s, Hispanic veterans and lawmakers began a campaign to request the reevaluation of Gabaldon's eligibility for the Congressional Medal of Honor. At the time of Gabaldon's death in 2006, the reevaluation remained unresolved.
On June 20, 1957, Daily Variety reported that the screen rights to Gabaldon's life story, which had been featured on the NBC television show This Is Your Life the evening before, had been purchased by Gramercy Pictures. A October 26, 1960 Variety news item then announced that the American Broadcasting-Parent Theatres company (AB-PT), which had been headed by producer Irving H. Levin, had originated the project and provided a major portion of the financing for it. Atlantic Pictures, the production company listed onscreen, was formed by Levin after AB-PT became inactive, and Hell to Eternity was the first and only production for Atlantic.
A March 28, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that actress Joan O'Brien withdrew as the female lead due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced, according to a April 5, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item, by Patricia Owens. Hollywood Reporter news items add the following actors to the cast, although their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed: Frank Allocca, Morgan Jones, Ron Kennedy, Charles Victor, Alan Wells, Leon Lontoc, Rick Murray, Raymond Yanagita, Jill Miyahara and Teru Shimada.
Press information contained in the copyright record noted that the U.S. Marine Corps. staged battle scenes on Okinawa with several hundred veterans of the Japanese Imperial Army appearing as extras. A March 17, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item added that 500 Marines from nearby Camp Hansen were also extras in the battle scene shooting. In addition to the location shooting in Okinawa, portions of the film were shot at Palos Verdes and Century Ranch in Calabasas, CA. Hell to Eternity was actress Tsuru Aoki Hayakawa's first American film in thirty-five years, and her last film before her death in 1961. She and her husband, Sessue Hayakawa, were frequent co-stars in the silent film era.
According to information contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, strong objections were made to the scene in which "Famika" and "Sheila Lincoln" perform a striptease. An January 11, 1960 letter from PCA official Geoffrey Shurlock to Allied Artists demanded that the suggestion of an illicit sexual affair between "Guy" and "Sono" be removed. In February 1960, Shurlock informed the company that an altered version of the scene was still unacceptable, and on June 7, 1960, shortly after production was completed, studio official Gordon S. White agreed to reduce considerably the length of the scene, removing various sexually explicit shots. On June 14, 1960, the scene was accepted, and the script approved.
The speech delivered by Hayakawa's character to the troops captured by Gabaldon is spoken in Japanese. The story of "Momotaro, the Peach Boy," is one of the best known folktales in Japan. Its principal character exemplifies kindness, courage and strength. A September 19, 1961 Daily Variety news item reported that Gabaldon made personal appearances in connection with free screenings of the film in provincial areas of Mexico. Hell to Eternity was the last produced screen story of writer Gil Doud (1914-1957).
Released in United States Fall September 1960
Released in United States Fall September 1960