Friday, 15 April 2022

Movie Review: Too Late The Hero (1970)

A World War Two action adventure, Too Late The Hero tries to tap into anti-war sentiment but succumbs to self-inflicted wounds.

It's 1942 in the South Pacific. Lieutenant Sam Lawson (Cliff Robertson) of the US Navy is a Japanese language expert content to sit out the war away from any battles. But his commander Captain John Nolan (Henry Fonda) presses Lawson into a mission to help British troops attack a critical Japanese communications station on the New Hebrides Islands.

Lawson finds the British soldiers unmotivated and ill-disciplined, and the access route to their base a poorly defended turkey shoot gallery frequently targeted by Japanese patrols. The unit's medic Private Tosh Hearne (Michael Caine) agitates insubordination, while Private Campbell (Ronald Fraser) fakes injury to try and avoid service. Lawson joins a ragtag commando group led by the bumbling Captain Hornsby (Denholm Elliott) for the mission to traverse the island and take out the Japanese target, but reaching the objective is only the first of many challenges to come.

Produced, directed, and co-written by Robert Aldrich, Too Late The Hero shoots itself in the foot early and often, caught in no-man's land between the director's celebrated The Dirty Dozen and growing audience intolerance for celebrating war heroics. The on-location setting (filmed in the Philippines) and a humidity-dominated aesthetic offer a decent backdrop. But the "war is hell" message is simplified into a collection of soldiers uninterested in being soldiers and witlessly conceiving methods to avoid their duties for the entire 134 minutes of running time.

No joy can be found in a toxic intent to fail, a desire to undermine the mission, blatantly unprofessional conduct, and an eagerness to bail or surrender, all compounded by utter incompetence. Everyone here acts as foolishly as possible as often as possible. The base defense strategies deployed by both sides are beyond inept. The level of marksmanship is most proficient at hitting friendly targets. Soldiers sing and argue loudly in enemy territory. And a Japanese commander wastes precious time engaging in loudspeaker-in-the-jungle games. 

The overall context is no better. Aldrich is unable to create tension and misses every opportunity to leverage a sense of time or space. The plot meanders from the raid on the communications hub to the commando team's remnants stumbling upon a secret airfield before embarking on a long trek back to base. Any remaining momentum then dissipates in an endless and toothless cat-and-mouse surrender-or-die duel, with no overarching theme holding the elements together.

Michael Cain and Cliff Robertson are capable of so much better, and very late in the final act their sweaty commitment hints at the potential for better character dynamics. But by then it's too little and definitely too late for any hero to salvage this mess.



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