THIS IS KOREA
DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD (as Rear Admiral John Ford USNVR Ret.)
THE UNITES STATES NAVY
Information from IMDb
Director John Ford's documentary about the beginnings of the Korean War,
after North Korenn troops invaded South Korea and battled U.S.,
South Korean and United Nations forces.
Notable in that, unlike many documentaries of the time,
it's in color, and no stock footage is used.
Written by frankfob2
Edward A. Craig ... Himself (as Eddie Craig)
John Ireland ... Narrator
Turner Joy ... Himself (with shorthand typist)
Douglas MacArthur ... Himself (arrives by car)
Irving Pichel ... Narrator
Lewis B. Puller ... Himself (calls for artillery) (as Chesty Puller)
Arthur W. Radford ... Himself (at his desk)
O.P. Smith ... Himself (decorates soldier)
Arthur Struble ... Himself (with binoculars)
Available as an extra on the VCI Entertainment 2008 DVD edition of Surrender - Hell!.
Watch the Documentary
This Was Korea
7 June 2000 | by Varlaam (Toronto, Canada)
The Korean War always suffers badly in comparison to others such as World War II. It was never terribly popular in the United States, even less so here in Canada, I understand. Korea didn't have a Pearl Harbor to get American backs up and creative juices flowing. Western countries had been busy demilitarizing when North Korea made the decision to invade. Korea represented a 180° turn.
The commercial Hollywood film output covering that period reflected society's overall ambivalence, with tired themes, generally retreads from World War II. Screenwriting required more than just a change of locale to give it inspiration.
The best of the lot is probably "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" (1954), where bravery combined with hopelessness and doom creates an effect which seems to anticipate Vietnam.
Last night at Toronto's Short Film Festival we had a rare opportunity to see John Ford's "This Is Korea!". We were especially lucky since author Dan Ford was there to introduce his grandfather's work and to answer questions.
While John Ford's documentary is not quite the film Korea has been missing, it is close to it, or as close as we are likely to come.
It compares well to Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" films, his propaganda series from World War II. There is the same happy balance between combat and comfortable civilian footage. There are villagers going about their business, children playing with sleds, kids getting vaccinations. Soldiers receive mail or hit the chow line to celebrate Christmas with steak dinner. Capra and his production unit successfully contrasted the War's goal -- represented by civilian footage -- with the means to that end -- combat footage -- and Ford uses the same technique. Urgency is added by shots of refugees and orphans.
Capra's films always have a strong educational purpose; that is largely absent from Ford's. Capra's films use stock footage and animation to illustrate an historical chain of incidents leading to the present. Korea does not lend itself well to that approach, but Ford has a better reason for not adopting it:
No stock footage!
Ford's film uses new material almost exclusively, brand new and in colour. The colour brings an immediacy which footage about the infantry would generally not have until Vietnam. (I do recognize that there are exceptional black & white World War II films like "The Battle of San Pietro", for example.)
There is an unaccustomed realism here. The Koreans wear national costume on occasion, something they never did on "M*A*S*H". The Koreans even look Korean; the "Koreans" at the 4077 were Chinese half the time.
But the combat footage here really stands out: artillery, mortars, rockets, night-time naval gunfire. When a bomb lands nearby, the camera shakes. Bombs often land nearby. Houses burst into coloured flame. Advances take place over authentic wintry Korean mountains. You shiver right along with the racially integrated GIs and the North Korean POWs standing in that frigid wind. "Remember Valley Forge?" is the narrator's rhetorical question. Walter Huston would have had that line in a Capra film.
When the narrator says, "This is Korea, chums. This is Korea", the viewer doesn't doubt it for a moment. When he wonders aloud, "What's it all about?", he doesn't really try to answer. He doesn't have a flag-waving response for that one.
I was not expecting a film this interesting to come out of the Korean conflict, so perhaps my initial enthusiasm is misjudged. But I hope and expect not.
Hollywood made a routine Korean War film in 1952, "Retreat, Hell!" with Frank Lovejoy. That film dramatizes the fighting retreat by US Marines from the Chosin Reservoir and includes some actual napalm strikes on snowy hillsides. Those napalm strikes come from the real retreat, as shown right here in "This Is Korea!", only here they're not in black & white, and you will find some details Hollywood omitted, like the Marine corpses being dragged through the snow.
"Retreat, Hell!" takes its title from the famous quotation by Marine Gen. O.P. Smith (as embellished by some helpful journalists, they say). Gen. Smith appears in this film. It really is the real McCoy.
Ford has a great deal of first-class footage and he usually allows it to speak for itself. The narration is mercifully sparse when it isn't necessary.
Anyone interested in the director's trademarks will note "O Little Town of Bethlehem" being sung at the beginning, much as it would be in other films from this period like "Rio Grande" (1950) or "Wagonmaster" (same year). Ford shows commendable restraint here with only one song to set the mood.
Given this films rarity and its quality, it really does warrant a second look.