The Warner Archive August 28, 2018 Blu-ray release of the star-studded 1958 Technicolor drama "The Naked and the Dead" proves that war pictures are far more than stories about groups of men shooting each other in the same manner that quality film and television westerns demonstrate that that genre extends beyond stereotypical action that includes saloon fights and cattle stampedes. "Naked" is based on a Norman Mailer novel that examines how an armed conflict can prompt a war of wills with intense collateral damage.
The first note is that seeing a scene that highlights the beauty of Hawaii and another moment in which a grenade creates a large fireball eliminates any doubt regarding whether buying "Naked" in Blu-ray makes sense and as to the skill of Archive regarding restoring films.
The second note is that this cast that includes Aldo Rey, Cliff Robertson, and Raymond Massey also has the lesser-known Jerry Paris, Paris is best known as the director of the classic sitcoms "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Happy Days;" he also plays neighbor Jerry Helper on "Van Dyke." All of this is a far cry from Helper playing Jewish WWII foor-soldier Goldstein in "Naked."
"Naked" opens with the dogfaces enjoying risque entertainment at a Hawaiian den of ill repute. Hillbilly enlisted man/moonshine distiller Woodrow "Woody" Wilson is the life of the party due to his enthusiastic (and requited) love for star "exotic dancer" Lily. The hilariously rude, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior of Sgt. Sam Croft (Rey) clearly establishes that he not only is not one of the boys but does not work or play well with others. We do later learn why he is so bitter and believes that dames ain't nothin' but trouble,
The party winds down as our excitable boys board a ship for a Japanese-occupied island. Their journey provides the exposition that establishes the characters. This essentially is the cross-section of young American men of that era.
The real drama begins on the group capturing a Japanese soldier on the island. The horrific manner in which Croft treats that POW and his brothers-in-arms justifies giving him the same treatment. However, his men remain loyal.
Much further up the food chain, commanding officer General Cummings (Massey) is practicing his related philosophies of flaunting his power/privilege and making the enlisted men fear him more than they fear the enemy. His reasoning is that this will cause the soldiers to fight harder.
Lt. Robert Hearn (Robertson) first gets caught up in all this on getting the outwardly desirable assignment of being the aide to Cummings. The perks include some prestige and luxuries. The costs include an expectation that he will be completely loyal to Cummings and not challenge any of his decisions or way of thinking.
An aside is that messing with guys such as Cummings whom the military perfectly brainwashes can be great fun. A highlight of conducting computer training for Air National Guard soldiers was responding to a joking threat by recent OTC graduate that I might have been scared if he was a Marine. He immediately jumped up, and the guys on either side of him almost as quickly stood up ready to grab him. We all were laughing a second later,
The inevitable absurd showdown between Hearn and Cummings PERFECTLY illustrates the military mindset and literally put Hearn on the front line with Team Croft. An exchange in which one soldier comments that the Army should have promoted Croft if it wanted his platoon to have a lieutenant is just as insightful. A comment in the film that the winning side in a war is the one that kills the most people echoes an oft-stated perspective of your not-so-humble reviewer.
Hearn leads the group on a scouting mission that is intended to end a Japanese standoff; as predicted, the threat level escalates both regarding the mission and the differing styles of Croft and Hearn. One gist regarding this conflict is that Croft agrees with Cummings that a certain number of deaths are acceptable and that some risks are worth the probability of some of his men getting killed.
The truly bittersweet outcome of that mission also reflects the flaws of military thinking. Achieving what arguably can be considered a success reinforces what most people deem to be a reckless risk. Hearn essentially gets the last word and is the true voice of reason; of course, no one listens to him.
The outward value of "Naked" is the seemingly overall realistic depiction of an experience that is foreign to most of us. At the very least, this is not a John Wayne War Hero film.
Digging a little deeper., many of us have worked for someone like Cummings. This is the manager who has an employee get him or her coffee just to show that person who's the boss. On a literally and figuratively higher level, the man or woman in the corner offices generously doles out lavish executive perks while not issuing even COLA raises. Another aspect of this is laying off people to improve profitability and then being lauded as a corporate savior.
The bottom line is that "Naked" provides an insightful that remains relevant 60 years after its release. An added thought is that it will evoke thoughts of the classic film and television series "M.A.S.H."