BR: Cease Fire! (1953)

December 10, 2017 | By

Film: Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  KL Studio Classics / Unobstructed View

Region: A

Released:  November 21, 2017

Genre:  Korean War / 3D

Synopsis: Fascinating recreation of Korean soldiers capturing a hill from Communist fighters using real soldiers, ammo, and shot in 3D near the main battlefield lines.

Special Features:  Alternate Gen. Mark W. Clark intros for premiere engagements (1:20) / Restored 3-channel stereophonic sound / 2 Theatrical Trailers / 3D and 2D versions of “Cease Fire!”




In 1951, screenwriter and occasional director Owen Crump produced the 1951 Oscar-nominated documentary short One Who Came Back (see end) which dealt with a wounded Korean War vet recounting his gradual recovery, and perhaps the research for that project instilled the concept of a feature-length war drama using a cast of real soldiers and officers to capture the final day of combat before a truce was brokered between north and south forces.

Crump also got veteran producer Hal B. Wallis (Casablanca) involved with the project, and massively prolific TV screenwriter Walter Doniger to flesh out the familiar story of a company tasked with capturing a hill while fending off North Korean and 300 Chinese soldiers.

As recounted in a lengthy essay by Ted Okuda at the 3-D Film Archive, the project was put into action and filmed in an area safely away from active combat. The 3D production used uncredited soldiers playing themselves, and supposedly real artillery was employed in the sniper, tank, and air squadron attacks – inarguably the film’s most thrilling and propulsive components.

Former General Mark W. Clark, Commander-in-Chief of the United Nations Command in the Far East, recorded alternate intro material for the film’s NYC & Los Angeles premieres and general 3D release, and the film was unleashed to audiences with much ballyhoo, but whether its tepid story, stiff amateur performances, dry dialogue, or 3D’s rapid decline in cinemas were responsible collectively or in specific combos, the film vanished from distribution until a new 35mm print was struck and screened at the World 3-D Film Expo in 2006.

With an existing clean print, Cease Fire! should’ve made the rounds to home video, but like many of its 3D brethren, it seemed to vanish in part because it was an odd docu-drama, dramatically wonky, and boasted no name stars to attract fans. With the 3-D Film Archive’s involvement, the film finally emerged on disc, restored in 2D and 3D, and with its original 3-channel stereophonic sound mix.

The question for finicky buyers is whether Cease Fire is worth the gamble for genre and 3D fans, and the answer is a reliable Yes, simply because it features an attempt at realism no other Hollywood feature had attempted.

Even with non-pros in the cast, Doniger’s script retains classic archetypes that are familiar to war fans: a no-nonsense company leader, average rough-hewn G.I. boys, a token African-American, a token South Korean who’s a little small & frail but no less heroic than his American buddies, a jinxed soldier branded ‘Bad News,’ and a token wise-cracker that unsurprisingly comes in the form of a heavyset soldier dubbed ‘One-Ton,’ because he’s a “One-man army with a one-track mind!”

Men die from mines, gunfire, and acts of selfless bravery, and naturally Korean soldier Kim – an expecting father, no less – is doomed to become a martyr for his country and the South that espouses the same free-thinking, democratic life as Americans. With the film ending on shots of his newborn child, the South will have another member of a generation who will grow up without fear of war.

Naturally, things didn’t turn out as well as Crump had hoped, making 1953’s Cease Fire a unique piece of highly optimistic army propaganda, while in 2017 North Korea’s Kim dynasty strives to become a nuclear power with the ability to vaporize parts of its neighbours, and arch-nemesis America.

That Cease Fire should debut in a restored 3D as tensions are high in the fall of 2017 is a bit surreal, but none of the pro-Army elements are unique or atypical of a studio war drama – the only eyebrow-raising moments come from grunts referring to Korea’s neighbour as “chinks,” and a weird parade for “Happy Soon Peace” that consists of a few children walking down a village street carrying a banner and flags for the UN, South Korea, and the stars & stripes and Confederate flags.

Even if one takes issue with the film’s massaging of historic accuracy, it’s still a genuine curio that boasts rare 3D footage of the Chorwan Valley, vintage Army and Air Force gear unleashing TNT on hills and valleys, and some pretty impressive 3D. The aerial shots of and from helicopter and of planes are pretty flat, but the hill ascent offers some strikingly layered deep focus shots. There’s a sense as filming progressed, B-movie cinematographer Ellis W. Carter (Captain John Smith, The Monolith Monsters) and his cameramen got used to the chunky gear and put more effort into lining up shots where trees and shrubs ripple away to the background, and simple tricks like a rifle or machine gun angled slightly towards the camera yield palpable pop-out effects for audiences.

The tanks are less 3D-bursting than expected, but the vintage footage and the restorationists’ work prove how good camera technicians were in several ‘first’ 3D films; Cease Fire isn’t a milestone, but for a movie shot on location and edited back in Hollywood with a narrow allowance to reshoot, its’ assault sequences are packed with striking compositions.

The 75 min. running time includes Gen. Clark’s intro, so we’re talking a roughly 70-odd minute drama / actioner that’s also boosted by Dimitri Tiomkin’s score and ‘patriotic’ theme song sporting Ned Washington lyrics, plus a decent 3-track sound mix. (The 2.0 is also fine, but like early CinemaScope surround sound mixes, dialogue ping-pongs to different speakers according to character screen placement.

Most of the dialogue was re-recorded by formal actors in Hollywood – the voices are more precise and dramatic than the performances – and there are two real actors used for the melodramatic chatter between a veteran war correspondent burnt out & steeped in cynicism from WWII (John Maxwell) and his younger counterpart (played by an uncredited but familiar faced character actor whose name evades me).

Kino’s Blu-ray sports both 3D and 2D versions of the film, plus two flat trailers (one sells the 3D version) and an hysterical radio spot that’s all vintage shrill ballyhoo. The one dud extra is “An In-Depth Look at Cease Fire!” essay by Okuda that’s just a text URL for the essay proper. Why not include the whole thing with the plethora of rare publicity art instead of mandating a visit to the essay at the 3D Film Archive’s site? It’s not even an active link that launches a browser, making its listing on the Blu-ray’s sleeve a cheat.

Moreover, it’s a pity there’s no audio commentary, or additional extras such as an historian featurette separating war facts from massaged drama, a separate piece on composer Tiomkin, and the inclusion of Crump’s Oscar-nominated doc (which has aired on TCM, and is available on YouTube in a filmed-off-a-monitor hand-job).


One Who Came Back (1951)

Nominated for a Best Documentary, Short Subject Oscar, Crump’s doc for the Department of Defense and Disabled American Veterans is a portent of Cease Fire’s cinema verite approach in having soldiers play themselves and recreate on-site trauma.

Charles Welbourne’s cinematography is up close & personal with the subject, placing us at the edge as vet George Kritzman re-enacts the leg surgery by a M*A*S*H team and key transportation by helicopter, C-97 medical transport, convalescing in Hawaii, and being reunited with his wife Mary Jane in San Francisco where he faces a year’s worth of intense traction.

It’s a great snapshot of what is (unsurprisingly) depicted as a fluid conveyor that takes injured men from the dusty battlefield to their home, and Jack Kampschroer’s editing is very tight, constantly cross-cutting between shots of Kritzman and his environs, the caregivers, fellow injured, and the aircraft which transported the men from harm’s way, yet flew long distances to ensure each was given strategic medical treatment.

The film’s entirely narrated by Kritzman, and while no actor, he’s still compelling as he re-enacts the fear and tension from injury, frustrations from surgery, and the ennui of lying on beds and stretchers in buses swerving through postwar Tokyo and a C-97 packed with stacked rows of injured.

Producer-director Crump clearly felt he could expand the documentary concept to a partly fictionalized version of a battle, and the short is an important companion piece to Cease Fire!

His modest career as director spanned a spurt of films and TV shows between 1941-1962, but he also produced Blake Edwards’ What Did You Do in the War, Daddy (1966), Gunn (1967), and executive produced Darling Lili (1970). His other notable scripts include Waterhole #3 (1967) and the disaster film Zeppelin (1971).



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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