There’s A Thin Red Line…

There’s A Thin Red Line…

Static Mass Rating: 3/5

Release date: January 31st 2011
Certificate (UK): 12
Running time: 95 minutes
Year of production: 1964

Director: Andrew Marton

Cast: Keir Dullea and Jack Warden

I love a good war movie and I recall many Sunday afternoons sitting on the living room floor watching our old black and white television as The Young Lions (1958), The Colditz Story (1955) and The Longest Day (1962) played as I marched my toy soldiers and tanks through an imaginary battlefield. Yet I can’t recall watching The Thin Red Line (1964) back then.

Based on James Jones’ novel of the same name, it’s the story of Private Doll (Keir Dullea) during the time of the Allied invasion of Guadalcanal, a tropical island in the South-Western Pacific. Doll is determined to stay alive at any cost but battle-scarred veteran Sergeant Welsh (Jack Warden) despises him and thinks he’s a coward, especially when he feels remorse for killing a Japanese soldier.

The Thin Red Line

In his attempt to stand up against the bullying Sergeant, Doll becomes more and more like him as he wipes out an entire enemy machine gun post, but the worst is yet to come when their platoon is surprised by a Japanese raid.

There’s something about The Thin Red Line which makes it stand out from many of those war films I watched over the years. Perhaps it’s the film’s depiction of a soldier’s descent into madness. In one scene, Captain Stone (Ray Daley) says, “I remember an old mid-west saying. There’s only a thin red line between the sane and the mad.” If war is insane, then it should only follow that soldiers need to be as well and Sergeant Welsh’s treatment of the men is definitely a step in that direction as he tries to get them to stop thinking and start obeying orders.

Or perhaps its Dullea’s screen presence and performance. Dullea was an up and comer at the time and hadn’t yet starred in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but you can already see something both wild and beautiful in his eyes in this early role. His portrayal of the stubborn soldier reminds me of Montgomery Clift’s Private Prewitt in From Here To Eternity (1953).

The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line doesn’t come without criticism though. Despite being able to spawn a discussion about the ethics of war, the movie falters when it comes to battle scenes. Unable to carry the weight of the source material, it decides to fill up precious time with these scenes rather than to keep the mind-work going. Nevertheless, Dullea and the idea of insanity and war going hand in hand makes The Thin Red Line a powerful and thought provoking look at World War 2.

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