Halls of Montezuma (1951)

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Released 25-May-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1951
Running Time 108:38
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (65:59) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Lewis Milestone

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Richard Widmark
Jack Palance
Reginald Gardiner
Robert Wagner
Karl Malden
Richard Hylton
Richard Boone
Skip Homeier
Don Hicks
Jack Webb
Bert Freed
Neville Brand
Martin Milner
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Sol Kaplan

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Danish
English for the Hearing Impaired
French Titling
German Titling
Italian Titling
Spanish Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Halls of Montezuma is a film about the horrors of war, from the perspective of a group of marines landing on a small Pacific island. In a way this is similar to The Thin Red Line, but being a film from 1951 the focus is not on the fear of death and the futility of war, though these things are touched on, nor is it a recruiting film, being made just before the Korean War. It is more of a collection of stereotypes with a few original ideas, set against a backdrop of action and suspense.

    Lieutenant Carl Anderson (Richard Widmark) is a science teacher who is now a leader of men. A veteran of several landings, at Tarawa and Guadalcanal, he suffers from migraine headaches brought on by stress, for which he is given painkillers under the table by Doc (Karl Malden). I think this thread of the story was trying to suggest a drug addiction, but does not really say this in so many words.

    The film follows the preparation for the landing on the island, with an assortment of marine types on a landing craft going through the torture of knowing that they may soon be about to die. There is the boxer, Pidgeon Lane (Walter (Jack) Palance), the small town wannabe (Skip Homeier), the alcohol-addicted but experienced fighter (Bert Freed), the grizzled veteran (Neville Brand), the war correspondent (Jack Webb) and of course the youths: the young and scared one (Martin Milner) and the fresh-faced cocksure one (Robert Wagner). And of course the stern but level-headed Captain (Richard Boone), who is responsible for the success of the mission, but whose biggest headache seems to be a cold that he has picked up. The oddest piece of casting is English actor Reginald Gardiner as the Japanese-speaking sergeant, but he does quite well in the role.

    They manage to land on the island and progress inland without any immediate casualties amongst our group. But as the campaign progresses, the Yanks are pinned down by enemy rocket fire. There is a race against time to locate and destroy the enemy rockets before the main force lands on the island.

    This is a gritty and but only occasionally downbeat film, reflecting the fact that it was only six years since the end of the war and many in the audience would have been affected by the conflict. While the characters may be stock, there is a feeling of realism to the film, helped by the fact that several of the cast were veterans themselves. Jack Palance supposedly owes his facial appearance to plastic surgery after his bomber crashed landed in England in 1943, though this is a story he has denied. Neville Brand was a highly decorated soldier himself, winning the Silver Star, and most biographies state that he was the fourth most decorated American soldier from the war, although this appears to be an exaggeration. Ironically, the major Japanese character is played by Korean-American Philip Ahn, whose activist father died in a Japanese prison camp in 1938.

    The director, Lewis Milestone, was also a veteran... of war films, having directed two of the best:  All Quiet On the Western Front and A Walk In The Sun. He makes the most of the material here with some impressive sequences, especially the early scene where the marines depart on the landing craft, all looking stony faced or scared, and they stare back at the mother ship as they pull away. Of more concern for modern viewers is the attitude towards the Japanese, the ordinary soldiers being shown as snivelling cowards with no loyalty to their country, and the officers as arrogant aggressors. This would have been the prevailing attitude during the war, but it is too simplistic to be convincing in the post-war era.

    This is not a great war or anti-war film, but it is one of those solidly entertaining movies that Hollywood was able to churn out during its heyday, and the exceptional cast is well worth watching.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, close to the original aspect ratio of 1.37:1.

    Despite the fact that this is not a restored print, the transfer is pretty good. The image is sharp and clear throughout. Shadow detail is good and the video is quite detailed. Colour is also good. This is a Technicolor film, and because of the extreme care that was always insisted on by the Technicolor company, the range of colours on display are realistic and vivid. Flesh tones are natural, though in some shots they look a little too brown.

    There is a fair amount of actual wartime footage included, especially during the opening invasion sequence. This was probably shot on 16mm and looks quite different to the rest of the film.

    I did not notice any major film to video artefacts. There is some edge enhancement, but it is not severe enough to be distracting, or even noticeable most of the time. There are a lot of film artefacts, though none are of any size. Most of them are either small white spots, or faint scratches. Sometimes there is a shower of these scratches. While it is a little disappointing that the source material was not fully restored, this is still a pretty good transfer.

    Subtitles are provided in several languages, and the English captions are reasonably accurate to the spoken word and easy to read, being white with black borders and of a decent size.

    The film is presented on an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change placed at 65:59, mid-scene but not really disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The default audio channel is English Dolby Digital 2.0, presumably mono reflecting the original audio recording. There are alternative audio tracks in other languages, some of which sound a bit comical, given the disparity between the voices used and the characters.

    Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout. I did not have any problems with the clarity or quality of the audio on this transfer. There were no noticeable dropouts or distortions. There is a very low level of hiss throughout, but I doubt if anyone would be disturbed by this. Audio sync seems exact throughout.

    Surprisingly, there is some surround encoding when switching the receiver to Pro Logic mode. The centre channel gets dialogue as you would expect, and music and some effects are sent to the rears, with the subwoofer giving the occasional thump.

    The music score is by Sol Kaplan. From listening to the opening theme, you would think that this was a highlights disc of the Adelaide Football Club, given that their theme song has the same music as the Marines' marching song, the first line of which is "From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli". This song not only gives this film its title, but also an earlier Marines film from 1942 called To the Shores of Tripoli. The score seems to consist mainly of adapted patriotic music, which suits the subject matter.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    No extras are provided. Menus are 16x9 enhanced.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release of this film sounds as though it has the same transfer. The Region 1 gets an original theatrical trailer, plus trailers for other war films released by Fox. The trailer would not be enough for me to recommend the Region 1 over the Region 4, however.


    An entertaining war film, slightly overwrought at times, but still worth watching.

    The video quality is pretty good.

    The audio quality is pretty good too.

    The extras are AWOL.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Sunday, June 20, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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