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"There's been any number of films made over the years about various conflicts, real and fictional, that take place during the terrible conflict known as World War II, many set in the European theatre, but we must also remember a great many battles also took place in the South Pacific, as the Allies faced an equally difficult and dangerous enemy in that of the Japanese forces. In Too Late the Hero (1970), Robert Aldrich presents a strong and realistic tale of a small band of soldiers tasked to do the impossible on a relatively remote and insignificant island, in an effort to prevent the deaths of possibly thousands of allied soldiers. Directed by Robert Aldrich (The Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen, The Longest Yard), the film stars Oscar winners Michael Caine (Get Carter, Sleuth) and Cliff Robertson (Charly, Brainstorm). Also appearing is Ian Bannen and Ronald Fraser (both appeared in Aldrich's earlier film Flight of the Phoenix), Harry Andrews (Theatre of Blood, Equus), Denholm Elliott (The House That Dripped Blood, Raiders of the Lost Ark), Ken Takakura (Black Rain) along with a special guest appearance by Henry Fonda (12 Angry Men, Spencer's Mountain).
As the film begins, set in the spring of 1942, we see Lieutenant Sam Lawson (Robertson) sunning himself on the beach of the relative safety of some Island in the South Pacific. He hardly appears to fit the bill of a soldier committed to the war effort, as his only goal seems to be getting as far away from the conflict as possible with his skin intact. This is learned during the ensuing argument he has with his commanding officer as he's given an assignment, interrupting his impending leave, that will take him to some remote island, forced to assist some British forces in their effort to aid American forces, specifically in terms of a convoy of ships traveling through dangerous, Japanese controlled waters. Arriving on the remote island, which the British seem to have an uneasy (to say the least) co-existence with Japanese forces (the British reside on the south part, the Japanese on the north, and the middle more or less a no man's land), Lawson finds he's stuck with a rather odd squad of misfits, would be deserters, and soldiers more willing to self inflict wounds rather than fulfill their duties, the mission turns out to be one with little hope of survival, as it takes them deep into Japanese territory. Somehow they manage to complete the mission (not without many casualties on both sides), but the survivors learn of a secret the Japanese would do anything to keep, and thus begins a race back to the British encampment, as the determined soldiers (what's left of them) are hounded incessantly by an equally determine force to keep their secret.
I think the element I liked most about this film was the sense of realism within the characters, especially that of Caine and Robertson. So often in films like this we're shown heroic characters who show little concern of sacrificing themselves for the greater good, and while that can make for a strong and up lifting story, presented here are characters that are more a bit more cynical, possessing the self preservation gene present in most of us normal, non-Hollywood character types. I'm not saying they would turn against their own in order to do save their skins, but the instinct of self-preservation certainly seemed to outweigh their commitment to duty (sometimes the two elements align themselves, as they did in this film, so there is a sense of heroism, even though it's a tenuous mask). The characters in this film may not be very appealing, but I think many of us could relate much more than we'd probably like to admit, if given we were in a similar situation. Another thing I liked about this film was the portrayal of the Japanese forces, led by Major Yamaguchi (Takakura). He wasn't a soulless, cruel leader, but only one intent on performing his task, even capable of acts of mercy (his offers of lenient treatment if the group surrendered seemed genuine after he went back on his promise to kill a couple of captured soldiers). I'm not saying you're going to gain an affinity for the Japanese cause in terms of their role in the war by the end of the film, but by not pushing the vilification of the character, it provided a rich sense of depth to the role, and gave the feeling that the soldiers, no matter what side they fought on, shared some commonalities, despite the motivations of their respective leaders. The pacing of the story was a little uneven at times, but it really picks up in the last half, as the men struggle to return to their safe haven. I liked the dialogue throughout, and was impressed by a very strong supporting cast. It was kind of odd seeing Bannen and especially Fraser essentially the same roles here as they did in Aldrich's The Flight of the Phoenix, but it worked there, and it works here. I really liked Denholm Elliott's character of Captain Hornsby, a very determined sort who pushes forward, committed to completing his task, despite his inadequacies as a leader, and the fact that his charges have little or no faith in his abilities (some of the men got killed under dubious circumstances). The film is filled with many tense scenes, as most of the story takes place in the thick of a claustrophobic jungle, but the tensest scenes occur at the end, during a deadly game of Red Rover. All in all a great film, a bit on the lengthy side (it runs about 2 hours, 15 minutes).
Initially Anchor Bay released the film on DVD in pan and scan and wide screen (1.85:1), but this MGM DVD release features only a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The picture is clear and sharp here, and the audio comes through cleanly in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The only special feature available is a theatrical trailer for the film.
Hate saved their skins, friendship made them heroes...
Patrick Selitrenny | Switzerland a.k.a. Helvetia Felix | 08/08/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"What do you know about psychological warfare? Not much I guess.Well, this is a war movie with a major twist. It's much less about shelling the enemy or just drill some holes in him, but more about "really" to outsmart him.An American officer, an Interpreter in Japanese, who's a real artist when it comes to avoid the battlefield, is about to get a long awaited leave when he suddenly is tasked to help a bunch of British raiders in their endeavor to capture and destroy a forward listening Japanese outpost.Through thick and through thin (literally), men who hate each other as well as hating the American officer (played by Cliff Robertson) have to face a common enemy who masterfully hides in the Jungle.One by one they get hunted down by the Japanese. Nevertheless, the mission succeeds, but now the remaining force has to return to base. Not an easy task, considering that the Japanese made prisoners and are using them as bait while they communicate with the only two remaining raiders (Robertson and Michael Caine). Through a microphone and various loudspeakers scattered throughout the Jungle and by performing a highly skillful and mind-shattering blackmail, they try to lure the two to surrender.A well timed war drama, masterfully played by all the actors involved figuring Ian Bannen ("The Hill", "The Outrage" etc.), Harry Andrews ("The Hill", "The Charge of the Light Brigade", "Battle of Britain"), Denholm Elliot ("Raiders of the Lost Ark", "A Room with a View"), Ronald Fraser ("The Hill", "The Wild Geese") and Ken Takakura ("The Yakuza", "Antarctica", "Black Rain").If you like two movies into one: a War Movie and a Suspense Thriller, then the price is really low.The DVD edition is as one may expect from Anchor Bay. No extras included, except for the trailer, but the movie alone is, in my view, a tiny masterpiece and well worth the effort.By the way, if you're looking for a similar movie, forget it. It's the only one in its genre.
Think about it."
Michael is COOL, But Cliff is DA MAN!
Rob | Texas | 07/08/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Seldom have I seen eye-to-eye with Robert Aldrich. His films just usually go places I'm not interested. But as a Michael Caine fan in the Sixties, this was a must-see movie for me. I've seen this movie as a teen and as a middle-aged man, so I feel I have to give it two reviews if you'll bear with me.At fourteen, I went to see this movie at least twice at the theater. Remember, in those primitive days there was nowhere to rent a movie and most films played only a week or two with very little advance hype. If you were lucky, they might hit the drive-in as a double feature with some questionably linked movie. So there was little to give you any idea if a show was your cup of tea beyond the lobby poster. When you think about it, things were kind of lame and idyllic at the same time. Overall, it was the STAR that was relied on to sell the film. Having Michael Caine sold me on the movie. His cockney character, Hearne made a great anti-hero. The story has a weird twist to it with the "wired" jungle and the Japanese are ruthless, but not caricatures. Another unusual situation is the 1000 or so yards of no-mans-land they have to cross as walking targets out of the base and back into it. At this age, I was mostly interested in whether Hearne/Caine was an irredeemable cad or realist rising to the occasion. The ending left me uncertain and somewhat empty. However, since Michael Caine was sooo cool, I went back to see it at least once again before it shuffled off to 35mm purgatory.Living in the future now, who would have foreseen that we could buy the friggin' movie and BS about it to the whole livin' world?
Now, as I have watched the movie again in the 21st century, via home theater, DVD, remote control, my own microwave popcorn, and beer fridge I HAVE SEEN SO MUCH MORE. From the grinding down a man endures through the decades, I appreciate each of Cliff Robertson's looks as the SNAFU sets in on him. Just to see the situation register on his face from the time his mission is first explained to him to the bitter end is worth TEN Sean Penn tirades. Cliff, you are a mighty actor! When Robertson/Lawson finally takes over the team-after that nail-biting faceoff with the doomed Hornsby-you see that he is the title character and that combat is all about bloody damn survival. Even the nihilist Hearne is impressed. Aldrich probably owes the stature of this film to the terrific work of his two stars. At near fifty, I still think Mr. Caine is cool, but Cliff Robertson transcends acting here and makes like it's the real f'n deal. The "Patton Syndrome" applies here: if you don't like war movies, you'll like this one; and if you love war movies (especially WWII) what are you waiting for pukebag?! Buy this movie!And now a spoiler...so don't read if you haven't seen TLTH: It would seem that Lawson does not survive the final deathrun, but pay close attention. Hearne makes it back to safety while Lawson has fallen. After catching his breath and praising his comrade to high heaven, he starts back after him. This is the final shot.
OK, I know we're supposed to assume Lawson is dead, but is he? Just because a man goes down doesn't mean he's mortally wounded. Maybe, just maybe Hearne finds him still breathing. Hey, a guy can hope can't he?"
Exceptional British War film!
Kenneth Gillespie | Canada | 08/21/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I won't go into great detail about this film, as others have before me. But if you enjoy war films, and your tired of seeing the same story where the good guys win all the time. This one is for you. Too Late the Hero, has all the elements for a enjoyable war action film. This film shows, mistakes are made in war; not all go by the books, and it's not only the enemy that dies in battle. The film takes place in a jungle setting, where a simple patrol goes on a fateful mission, where things go wrong. You see some classic actors here; most British, and in my books the British made some of the best underrated war films out there, like Dunkirk, and Ice Cold In Alex. Definately worth owning the DVD on this one. Did you know when it went out of print on DVD by Anchor Bay Studios, it shot up to over 100.00 used? Good thing MGM re-released it here. But as with most MGM DVD's you won't get the inner sleeve, and you get one format here; widescreeen. If you find the Anchor Bay release you will get the wide and standard screen format, along with extras. Anchor Bay also released " Hell in the Pacific " in wide and standard format (also out of print, but re-released by MGM). Hopefully MGM will release " Play Dirty " another war film with Michael Caine. In the past it was only released in England. Now with DVD, we get to see some of the films never released to VHS in North America. "
Too late the hero
S. B. Robinson | 01/13/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have seen this film hundreds of times, and I never tire of it. A must for any WWII fan. I only wish it would come out on DVD."