Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Go Tell the Spartans

Ted Post's Go Tell the Spartans (1978), adapted from Incident at Muc Wa, a 1967 novel by Daniel Ford, is from those I've seen the most thoughtful American feature film yet made about the US-Vietnam War. Its strong script overcomes a relatively low budget and production values that look more like something from a 1970s TV series such as M*A*S*H than a big-budget blockbuster like Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979). In fact, the latter's budget was twenty times higher, yet Apocalypse Now is nowhere near as coherent and down-to-earth as Go Tell the Spartans.   
Burt Lancaster stars in Go Tell the Spartans, and he's on top of his game as a crusty Korean War veteran charged with sending a motley Vietnamese and American detachment into the middle of nowhere to reoccupy an old French outpost last fought over in 1953, all on a whim of the high command. It's now 1964, well before the major US troop buildups, but the story arc serves as a microcosm of the larger war to come. And it includes Vietnamese soldiers and civilians as important characters, key to understanding the conflict -- doh!  Multiple perspectives -- something I love to see in a war movie. Go Tell the Spartans is the closest in US-Vietnam War movies to the best World War II movies, ones like Oliver Hirschbiegel's Der Untergang / Downfall (2004) and Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima (2006).   
Craig Wesson and Burt Lancaster as American soldiers, two of the strongest characters in Go Tell the Spartans


In Go Tell the Spartans, American GIs refer to the Vietnamese -- friend and foe alike -- as "dinks," "gooks," "Charlie" and "slopes." From the Viet Cong point of view, sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me. ARVN (South Vietnamese Army) soldiers are depicted as capable, though "Cowboy," their interpreter and de facto squad leader, "gets his jollies" torturing suspected VC and, in one instance, beheading a wounded enemy. Militiamen are poorly armed and remain in civilian clothes, but are seen as doing the best they can regardless. The only real foolishness, beyond a certain naïveté shared by several of the American GIs about the nature of the war unfolding, comes with the higher ups, both South Vietnamese and American. Unfortunately, Go Tell the Spartans could easily be updated to include the current Afghanistan War, with drones added. The more things change . . .

Today's Rune: Partnership.       

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Go Tell the Spartans is one of my favorite war movies. I wish they showed it more frequently on TV. Haven't seen it in a long time.