Before the equally appetising title, Hamburger Hill, there was Pork Chop Hill; a major studio feature that strayed from the tradition of glorifying America’s heroism in World War II in favour of a brief chapter on the Korean War. Imprint Films brought this lesser-known classic to Blu-ray this past December, which details the literal uphill battle fought by the U.S troops of K Company, led by Lieutenant Joe Clemons (Gregory Peck) to take a rather insignificant landmass from the emery troops while peace talks are underway.
When I was in primary school, we had a lot of play equipment, most of which would now be considered unsafe, but on the rare occasion when a mound of sand, bark or stone was delivered for groundskeeping, nothing else mattered except for who could climb it first. Not to trivialise the Korean War in any way, but I think the schoolyard bragging rights over a pile of dirt is a fitting analogy for the fight to claim the titular hill. It wasn’t crossing the Rhine or Iwo Jima; it was just one of many moves in the decades-long game of political chess between the West and their Communist adversaries. Granted, the men of K Company did fight bravely, which the film proudly portrays as a display of U.S. resolve and determination against grave odds.
Pork Chop Hill gets started almost straight away and the action is relentless, but the cast of characters, who sport a mix of personalities that are not uncommon for classic war movies, bring some welcome moments of levity. Although one character, an African- American Private, played by Woody Strode is not as willing in answering the call of duty, questioning why he should die for a country in which he’s endured a hard life. You could take this as a subtle commentary on America’s involvement in a foreign conflict, which of course will have extreme ramifications in years to come, but the film in general makes a profound statement about the futility of war overall.
Technically, the film is impressive for its time. The relatively featureless environment probably kept production costs down, but the outdoor setting is shot in a tight and hectic manner, inviting the viewers into the dug-out portions of the hill. Joe Clemons, the real one, worked as a technical adviser on the film, and along with actor George Shibata, the first Asian-American graduate of West Point, helps bring a lot of authenticities. Gregory Peck gives a commanding performance and there are times when you don’t particularly like him as Clemons, but that’s probably true of every military officer. I like how they don’t make him a stereotypical hero. He’s frustrated and exhausted as one in that situation should be.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
With a 1080p rendering sourced from a 2K master, we’re treated to a very crisp and detailed image, presented in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, capturing all the grit, dirt and gunpower our soldier boys wear as a result of the intense battle. LPCM 2.0 Mono is a loud and uncompressed track with dialogue that isn’t drowned out by gunfire and explosions, and of course, optional English HOH subtitles are available.
- NEW Audio commentary by film historians Steven Jay Rubin & Steve Mitchell
- Gregory Peck, His Own Man – Vintage documentary
Given the film’s age, it’s understandable this release of Pork Chop Hill is light on supplementary content. Steven Jay Rubin and Steve Mitchell’s commentary track helps give real-world context to our feature presentation as well as provide interesting background information on our cast, crew, and shooting locations. However, the audio quality is a bit poor, emitting a tinny sound, so you’ll have to turn up the volume a bit. Also included is a 1988 hour-long documentary on the leading man, Gregory Peck’s, life and career which features interviews from the man himself and many major actors he worked with over the years. – by Hannah Lynch
Apart from constantly reminding me how long it’s been since I’ve enjoyed succulent pork chops, the hill of which it’s named spawned a tremendous war film that was ahead of its time by giving audiences an important glimpse through the cinematic lens at what was already regarded as the Forgotten War.
PORK CHOP HILL
(1959, director: Lewis Milestone)
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direct blu-ray screen captures