Psychotronic Ketchup: Battle of Blood Island (1960)

Battle of Blood Island
Dir: Joel Rapp // 1960 [DVD]
Cinema 4 Rating: 5

I’m not much for war films -- modern war films, that is; I will admit that if the war happens to be of ancient origin and involves the use of swords and catapults and bows and arrows, then I don’t have a problem watching them at all. Indeed, I
rather relish the occasion. But, time-machine a similar battle into the modern era with updated technology and people that are more recognizably the type of souls that I might know personally, and I get all weepy and deflective and try to shield myself from the horrors at hand. This all likely stems from a combination of youthful nightmares and personal politics; most likely, it does.

But, there are war films that I hold in high esteem, regardless: the original
All Quiet on the Western Front gets me right here, every single freakin’ time, and I never shy away from it, even if it hurts me not to do so. The reason I can handle Apocalypse Now (in fact, count it among my favorite films) but show little regard for a film like, say, Hamburger Hill, is not just a factor of identifiable quality, but because the latter is largely about war in the physical sense, while the former and better film is about the war within the mind. Some would say that any film using war as a subject concerns both battlefields – the tangible and the mental -- and there is absolutely incredible merit to that, but by and large, I can handle the splintering of the human psyche far more than I can handle shrapnel ripping through someone’s flesh, leaving them to die slowly on a foreign battleground. And so I laud the Coppola film as a work of art, while I look down on a merely straight and good “war” film like Hamburger Hill for being made solely so that actors can shoot a lot of noisy guns, act tough and die bloody. (Strangely, these are same reasons I love gangster films, but since there was never any real chance I could become a made guy, this contradiction never bothered me.)

So, what is
Battle of Blood Island? Is it the first type of film, or the second? Well, it's actually neither, but strangely, also both. An ultra-low budget quickie from 1960, the film’s title refers to both the opening largely unseen fight which leaves two Marines stranded on a Pacific island full of their Japanese opponents, and of the psychological battle of the wills between the two soldiers once they have the island to themselves. Moe (Richard Devon), flush with the will to survive, ends up taking care of Ken (Ron Kennedy), who has been left incapacitated by an enemy bullet, and the two hide out in a cave, slowly gathering the effects of their dead brethren along the beach where they were ambushed. Moe takes to occasionally picking off stray Japanese soldiers as they leave on patrols from a nearby camp, but when the Americans finally decide to take out all of the enemy in one fell swoop, the Japanese do it to themselves instead, committing ritual suicide before the astonished eyes of Moe and Ken.

Left to their own, and taking up residence in the well-stocked camp, the two start bickering more and more in their relative comfort, especially given that Moe still has to do everything for Ken, whose paralyzed legs will apparently never heal, but who resents Moe for both his mobility and through some largely disguised racism towards Moe’s Jewish heritage. When said racism comes to the fore, it is devastating to their relationship. Naturally, when concerning two men trapped all alone on a remote island, there is some slight homoerotic content here, especially in the scenes where Moe attends to his fallen compatriot (though they fought in the same maneuvers, they had never met before this situation), and one
does wonder where the relationship would end up if they were to remain trapped together on the island forever.

Where this all leads, I will leave the intrigued viewer to discover, but I will say that while the film fails to truly satisfy on the level of an action film, there are some good dramatic moments, and the acting of Richard Devon, a familiar face through over 30 years of television appearances, is far richer than one expects in this circumstance. He is allowed to bring tremendous complexity to his Moe, though I am sure much of this characterization comes from the original short story by the famous Philip Roth (
Portnoy’s Complaint), on which this film is based; however, I have not read the story and do not know how closely the film version hews to it. Unfortunately for Devon, some of his performance is undercut by the rather bland Kennedy, whom I feel misses numerous opportunities to bring something more than a mere whine to his situation.

Personally, given my own Blood Island sitch, I would have carried that helpless whiner Ken to the far side of the island, and pushed him into the surf at high tide, left in the open sea like a sea turtle with only two flippers. It would only be a matter of time before the whiny racist suckbucket got what he deserved. And the decision would not haunt me at all; nothing frees a man’s conscious more than getting rid of a constant droning whine.

Sure, I’d be alone on an island full of rotting corpses, but I sure as hell wouldn't have a paraplegic teakettle going off in my ear every five minutes. Make your own paradise, I say...

Comments

I haven't seen this, but I'll check it out now, based on your recommendation.

I share your distaste of war films, for much the same reasons. Most war films seem to revel in what they also purport to rail against. But also I find them much more disconcerting than horror movies. I'm always uneasy and nervous watching even the most innocuous(eh) of war movies.

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