‘Green Berets’ as Viewed by John Wayne – Renata Adler (June 20, 1968)


“‘The Green Berets’ is a film so unspeakable, so stupid, so rotten and false in every detail that it passes through being fun, through being funny, through being camp, through everything and becomes an invitation to grieve, not for our soldiers or for Vietnam (the film could not be more false or do a greater disservice to either of them), but for what has happened to the fantasy-making apparatus in this country. Simplicities of the right, simplicities of the left, but this one is beyond the possible. It is vile and insane. On top of that, it is dull. The film, directed by John Wayne and nominally based on a novel by Robin Moore, has no hero. It is vaguely about some Green Berets, led by John Wayne, trying to persuade Wayne’s idea of a liberal journalist (David Jansen) that this war is a fine thing for Vietnam and for America. The movie has human props taken from every war film ever made: a parachute jump; an idea of Vietcong soldiers, in luxury, uniform, champagne and caviar, apparently based on the German high command; a little Asian orphan named Hamchunk, pronounced Hamchuck but more like Upchuck than anything; battle scenes somewhere between ‘The Red Badge of Courage’ and ‘The Dirty Dozen’; a pathetically dying dog. There is inadvertent humor: ‘He’s dying,’ a Negro medic says, thoughtfully spooning Jim Beam bourbon down the throat of an elderly Oriental. ‘Poor old thing can’t even keep his rice down anymore.’ What is clearly an Indian extra in a loincloth somehow straggles in among the montagnards. A Vietcong general is dragged from a bed of sin (which, through an indescribable inanity of the plot, the Green Berets have contrived for him) with his trousers on. He is subsequently drugged and yanked off into the sky on a string dangling from a helicopter. A Green Beret points out to the journalist some American-made punji sticks (the movie is obsessed with punji sticks): ‘Yup,’ the Green Beret says, ‘it’s a little trick we learned from Charlie. But we don’t dip them in the same stuff he does.’ What the movie is into is another thing entirely. … It is so full of its own caricature of patriotism that it cannot even find the right things to falsify. No acting, no direction, no writing, no authenticity, of course, but it is worse. It is completely incommunicado, out of touch. It trips something that would outrage any human sensibility, like mines, at every step and staggers on. …”
NY Times: Renata Adler
W – The Green Berets (film)
Guardian – The Green Berets: how the war was spun
YouTube: The Green Berets – Trailer


Renata Adler

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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