The HFA’s yearlong examination of war continues with a reflection on the events of the Korean conflict of the 1950s. Although euphemistically termed a police action by the U.S. government, the war had dire and far-reaching impact as the battle lines of the Cold War solidified around the world. This series presents a collection of American films produced in the wake of the war and two more recent pieces from South Korea which consider the long term impact of these events on contemporary Korean society.
This program is co-presented with the Korea Institute at Harvard University and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology who present Reconfiguring Korea: Roger Marshutz’s Photographs of Pusan, 1952–1954 on view through September 10. For more information, please visit www.peabody.harvard.edu. Special thanks to Korean Cultural Service, New York.
March 6 (Monday) 9 pm
Directed by John Frankenheimer
US 1962, b/w, 126 min.
With Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh
An entertaining mix of political satire, black comedy, and thriller, The Manchurian Candidate stars Frank Sinatra as Korean War veteran and ex-P.O.W. Major Marco. Upon his return to the United States, Marco suffers nightmares in which he sees fellow P.O.W. and war hero Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) being brainwashed by Chinese Communists then murdering American soldiers on command. As Shaw’s ambitious mother (Angela Lansbury) relentlessly promotes her McCarthy-esqe husband’s political career, Major Marco and the Pentagon investigate the possible reality of his disturbing thoughts. As the intrigue grows, everything culminates in an unforgettably suspenseful climax.
March 7 (Tuesday) 9 pm
Directed by Samuel Fuller
US 1951, b/w, 84 min.
With Gene Evans, Robert Hutton, Steve Brodie
American Sergeant Zack (Gene Evans), a characteristically individualistic and cynical Fuller protagonist, is spared during a P.O.W. massacre and eventually meets up with other U.S. soldiers separated from their platoons. As the men try to survive the dangers of the early days of the Korean War, the film creates an unglamorous portrait of the madness and chaos of war, effectively relaying its harsh realities through realistic battle sequences. In its complex morality, Steel Helmet reveals writer-director Fuller’s modern view of warfare.
March 8 (Wednesday) 9 pm
Directed by Denis Sanders
Produced by Terry Sanders
Written by Stanford Whitmore
US, 1962, b/w, 83 min.
With John Saxon, Robert Redford, Sydney Pollack
Set during the final days of the Korean conflict, the film focuses on an idealistic private (Redford) who is sent to the front lines to aid a battle weary platoon. When he discovers that one of his fellow men (Saxon) is secretly crossing enemy lines to brutally murder Korean soldier, the two clash over the ethics of killing. Their relationship is further challenged by their respective friendships with a Korean orphan. This striking work, which features a strong, early performance from Redford considers the consequences of the endgame and the practical function of violent acts.
March 10 (Friday) 7 pm
Directed by Kang Je Gyu
South Korea 2004, color, 145 min.
With Bin Won, Dong-Kun Jang, Eun-ju Lee
Korean with English subtitles
An intense and terrifying portrait of the Korean War, Brotherhood of War demonstrates the effect of the war on brothers Jin-tae (Jan Dong-kun) and Jin-seok (Won Bin). Jin-tae is married with two small children, and Jin-seok hopes to attend college, but their quiet lives are disrupted when both men are drafted to fight for the South. At the front, protective older brother Jin-tae volunteers for dangerous missions with the goal of protecting his more sensitive younger brother from danger, but his plan has unintended consequences. Epic and extremely violent, Brotherhood of War reveals the horrible human cost of war.
This collection of short films drawn from the HFA’s holdings was originally produced by the Office of Armed Forces Information and Education, a branch of the U.S. Defense Department, and offers fascinating portraits of Korea both during and following the war. Titles include History of the Korean War and Korea Revisited.
US 1950, b/w, 25 min.
Produced by the Department of Defense, this newsreel features a collection of scenes from Korea circa 1950 including images of wartime atrocities and Al Jolson's final USO tour. Perhaps most revealing is the film's confident assertion that the surrender of the North Korean army is imminent.
US 1969, color, 30 min.
From the HFA's Fort Devens collection, this film documents the resurgence of the Republic of Korea after the war and the transformation of Korea's cities from ravaged battlefields to bustling centers of commerce.
March 14 (Tuesday) 9 pm
Directed by Robert Altman
US 1970, color, 115 min.
With Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Tom Skerrit
Robert Altman’s first critically acclaimed film reveals the elements of style (oddball characters, a large cast, episodic vignettes, and overlapping dialogue) that now define his unique brand of filmmaking. Following the work and play of two hip and irreverent combat surgeons (Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould) in the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit, this black comedy draws parallels between the Korean War (the film’s official setting) and the Vietnam War (a point of political contention at the time of the film’s release).
March 15 (Wednesday) 9 pm
Directed by Anthony Mann
US 1957, b/w, 102 min.
With Robert Ryan, Aldo Ray, Robert Keith
In Men in War, Robert Ryan is a weary lieutenant leading a lost platoon of soldiers through enemy territory during the Korean War. As the platoon encounters one dangerous situation after another, Ryan struggles to balance the soliders’ survival against fulfilling his duties as an officer. Mann’s effective staging of action culminates in the film’s final sequence, where the small exhausted unit attempts to take a hill from the enemy in the hope of rejoining their division.
Introduced by Sung-Yoon Lee, Korea Institute at Harvard University
March 17 (Friday) 7 pm
Directed by Kwangmo Lee
South Korea 1998, color, 121 min.
With In Lee, Sung-kee Ahn, Yoo-Jung Bae
Korean with English subtitles
In Spring in My Hometown, director Lee pairs the historical events of the Korean War with contemporaneous events in the private lives of residents of a South Korean village in a series of interrelated episodes. Though most of the violence occurs off-screen, the negative impact of the war on the village is never in doubt. For instance, young Sung-Min’s father finds work at the local U.S. Army base, but it is soon revealed that part of this work includes prostituting local women to the soldiers. The aesthetically beautiful wide-screen long shots of the rural scenery belies the tragedy of the events that occur there throughout the film.
Using recent film acquisitions at the HFA, The Red Scare focuses on propaganda made by the US government to explain the history of communism and its absolute threat to the American way of life in the 50s and 60s. Many of these films were shown in a classroom setting for children across Boston, while other titles were made specifically for U.S. troops.