The Steel Helmet (1951)

84 mins | Drama | 2 February 1951

Director:

Samuel Fuller

Writer:

Samuel Fuller

Producer:

Samuel Fuller

Cinematographer:

Ernest Miller

Editor:

Philip Cahn

Production Designer:

Theobold Holsopple

Production Company:

Deputy Corp.
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HISTORY

The following written, onscreen dedication appears before the credits: "This story is dedicated to the United States Infantry." Samuel Fuller's onscreen credit reads: "Written, produced and directed by Samuel Fuller." The film ends with the written statement, "there is no end to this story." This was the first American feature-length film about the Korean War, which began in late 1950.
       According to material contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in Oct 1950, the Breen Office raised a number of objections, from the standpoint of the Production Code, to certain details in the script. The criticisms ranged from the inclusion of offensive expressions, such as "gook," which appeared in the final film, to the insensitive portrayal of Buddhism and the disregard for the sanctity of the Buddhist temple. In this matter, the Breen Office urged producer Robert L. Lippert to confine the violent scene in the temple to an ante-chamber so as not to show the wanton destruction of Buddhist religious icons. Notes in the MPAA/PCA file also indicate that the Breen Office informed Lippert that it did not approve of the story's unpunished murder of the North Korean prisoner of war, as it was a direct violation of the Geneva Convention code.
       In response to the Breen Office complaints, associate producer William Berke assured them that the only destruction to the temple would be done by enemy fire, and that "Zack" would be punished more severely for murdering the North Korean prisoner of war. While the U.S. Department of Defense refused to grant the production its offical approval, it did furnish the production with with some stock military footage of artillery ... More Less

The following written, onscreen dedication appears before the credits: "This story is dedicated to the United States Infantry." Samuel Fuller's onscreen credit reads: "Written, produced and directed by Samuel Fuller." The film ends with the written statement, "there is no end to this story." This was the first American feature-length film about the Korean War, which began in late 1950.
       According to material contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in Oct 1950, the Breen Office raised a number of objections, from the standpoint of the Production Code, to certain details in the script. The criticisms ranged from the inclusion of offensive expressions, such as "gook," which appeared in the final film, to the insensitive portrayal of Buddhism and the disregard for the sanctity of the Buddhist temple. In this matter, the Breen Office urged producer Robert L. Lippert to confine the violent scene in the temple to an ante-chamber so as not to show the wanton destruction of Buddhist religious icons. Notes in the MPAA/PCA file also indicate that the Breen Office informed Lippert that it did not approve of the story's unpunished murder of the North Korean prisoner of war, as it was a direct violation of the Geneva Convention code.
       In response to the Breen Office complaints, associate producer William Berke assured them that the only destruction to the temple would be done by enemy fire, and that "Zack" would be punished more severely for murdering the North Korean prisoner of war. While the U.S. Department of Defense refused to grant the production its offical approval, it did furnish the production with with some stock military footage of artillery fighting and tank maneuvers. A Feb 1951 DV news item notes that although the Pentagon raised objections to the film's unfair depiction of American officers, the film was booked, uncensored, for the entire circuit of Army and Air Force camps in the United States. An Oct 1951 Var news item noted that the exhibition of the film in Iran had been marked by Communist demonstrations, which resulted in the barring of the film there.
       According to modern sources, the film was shot in only ten days, including a day and a half of exterior scenes in Griffith Park in Southern California. Modern sources also note that the unexpected success of the film led to a contract for Fuller with Twentieth Century-Fox. The Steel Helmet was the first of a small number of films in which Lynn Stalmaster, who became a prominent casting director, appeared as an actor. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
1 Feb 1951
p. 78.
Box Office
13 Jan 1951.
---
Daily Variety
28 Dec 1950
p. 3.
Daily Variety
10 Jan 1951.
---
Daily Variety
14 Feb 1951.
---
Film Daily
15 Jan 1951
p. 6.
Hollywood Citizen-News
17 Jan 1951.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Oct 1950
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Oct 1950
p. 5, 14.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 1950
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Dec 1950
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
6 Jan 1951
p. 653.
New York Times
24 Jan 1951
p. 33.
New York Times
25 Jan 1951
p. 21.
Variety
3 Jan 1951
p. 67.
Variety
10 Oct 1951.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
SOUND
Sd eng
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Opt eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Dial coach
DETAILS
Release Date:
2 February 1951
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere: 10 January 1951
New York opening: 24 January 1951
Production Date:
17 October--late October 1950
Copyright Claimant:
Deputy Corp.
Copyright Date:
15 February 1951
Copyright Number:
LP783
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
84
Length(in feet):
7,545
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
14901
SYNOPSIS

Sgt. Zack, a hard-bitten U.S. Army Infantryman battling Communist North Koreans in the Korean War, is the sole survivor of an enemy attack on his regiment. A bullet hole in Zack's helmet serves as a grim reminder that he narrowly escaped death. When the sergeant regains consciousness, he finds a young Korean boy with an M-1 rifle surveying the scene of the massacre. The boy, an orphan from South Korea, whom Zack names "Short Round," wants to be Zack's friend and insists on scouting for him on his search for the enemy lines. Zack is reluctant to let the boy travel with him, but consents to the arrangement until he can deliver Short Round to safety. On their dangerous journey through the war-torn territory, Zack and Short Round come under attack from two Communist guerrilla soldiers disguised as women praying at a religious site. After killing the two guerrillas, Zack and his charge encounter Corp. Thompson, a black medic who is also the sole survivor of a North Korean attack on his platoon. Thompson joins Zack and Short Round and the three continue their search for the front lines. They eventually encounter an American patrol regiment under the command of Lt. Driscoll, whom Zack knows and dislikes. As Driscoll is in need of an experienced soldier to help his patrol set up an observation post at the front, he offers to put aside his differences with Zack and asks him to join his regiment. Zack initially refuses to join the patrol but changes his mind following a sniper attack by Communist guerrillas. Zack continues, however, to hold his opinion that the ... +


Sgt. Zack, a hard-bitten U.S. Army Infantryman battling Communist North Koreans in the Korean War, is the sole survivor of an enemy attack on his regiment. A bullet hole in Zack's helmet serves as a grim reminder that he narrowly escaped death. When the sergeant regains consciousness, he finds a young Korean boy with an M-1 rifle surveying the scene of the massacre. The boy, an orphan from South Korea, whom Zack names "Short Round," wants to be Zack's friend and insists on scouting for him on his search for the enemy lines. Zack is reluctant to let the boy travel with him, but consents to the arrangement until he can deliver Short Round to safety. On their dangerous journey through the war-torn territory, Zack and Short Round come under attack from two Communist guerrilla soldiers disguised as women praying at a religious site. After killing the two guerrillas, Zack and his charge encounter Corp. Thompson, a black medic who is also the sole survivor of a North Korean attack on his platoon. Thompson joins Zack and Short Round and the three continue their search for the front lines. They eventually encounter an American patrol regiment under the command of Lt. Driscoll, whom Zack knows and dislikes. As Driscoll is in need of an experienced soldier to help his patrol set up an observation post at the front, he offers to put aside his differences with Zack and asks him to join his regiment. Zack initially refuses to join the patrol but changes his mind following a sniper attack by Communist guerrillas. Zack continues, however, to hold his opinion that the men in Driscoll's unit are mere amateurs, especially Priv. Baldy, who carries a music box with him, and Priv. Bronte, a conscientious objector in World War II. Soon after Driscoll's unit and Zack's companions set up their observation post at an apparently deserted Buddhist temple, they come under a surprise guerrilla attack. In the ensuing battle, a Communist officer from Manchuria is taken prisoner by Driscoll, who intends to deliver his prized capture to his base. During his captivity at the observation post, the Manchurian officer tells Driscoll's Japanese-American sergeant, Tankaka, that he should be ashamed of his allegiance to a country that interned his people during World War II. Tankaka ignores the prisoner's words, prompting the prisoner to call him a "dirty Jap rat." While Driscoll's unit prepares to clear out of the observation post and return to camp, they are attacked by snipers and Short Round is killed. Motivated by a desire to avenge the boy's death, Zack kills the Manchurian officer in cold blood. The situation looks bad for the Americans, as a large Communist force is making its way to the temple, but they are saved by the arrival of a U.S. Infantry platoon. In the ensuing battle, however, Driscoll is killed and Zack is injured. Following the defeat of the Communists in the battle, the Infantry division escorts Zack, Thompson and the remaining men in Driscoll's unit back to camp. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.