The Steel Helmet (Fuller, 1951)

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Sam Fuller’s The Steel Helmet might be the greatest film to deal with the death of emotion in combat. In the masterful opening scene, Fuller holds on the static shot of a helmet pierced by a bullet hole, the camera pulling out to reveal it’s owner Sgt. Zack (Gene Evans), having just miraculously survived an execution, being rescued from imminent death by a South Korean boy. This immediately instills a sense of connection between seemingly conflicting experiences, a motif which builds as Zack and his Korean companion meet up with a lost infantry patrol constructed of a mosaic of ethnicities. Fuller believes honor in war cannot exist since the situation and action inevitably kills all human emotion, but he enables his characters moments of heroism anyways. Overcoming the inhumanity becomes next to impossible since one must become inhuman to survive such brutal conflict. The end battle sequence in an epic temple only confirms what Fuller has been building toward the entire way – that in war, the survivors remain tortured by the dreaded experience of losing those they’ve grown to care about. As multiple ideologies converge in high tension situations, humanity clings to those moments that connect us, and The Steel Helmet greatly infuses these haunting glimpses with revelations of pain, suffering, and recognition for those who come out the other side scarred and tormented, but still alive.

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