26 March 2012

Go Tell the Spartans

United States - 1978
Dirtector - Ted Post
HBO Video, 1990's, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 54 minutes

Seen by many as an anti-war film, Go Tell the Spartans to my mind takes a somewhat less broad and explicit stance than that. When released it was (along with The Boys in Company C) one of the first films to directly address the Vietnam War. Set in the early years of the United States' effort, Spartans is based on a book written by Daniel Ford who was a correspondent in Vietnam during that period.
Although it looks relatively low budget, (and this VHS transfer doesn't help) Spartans captures some of the rugged simplicity of the advisory period, when individual or small groups of U.S. special forces led units of indigenous Vietnamese against so called "communists."

Rather than asking the existential "why" of so many other actual anti-war films, Spartans is a criticism of how the U.S. fought Vietnam. Nor does the film specifically address its own historical moment, instead conjuring the now familiar claim that we didn't (or weren't allowed) to fight it "our way" ('we' being experts) that pro-war Vietnam apologists would rely on in the years that followed. In the same year director Post would take more or less the same argument in a different direction with Chuck Norris in Good Guys Wear Black.

Spartans also has a number of other connections. Notably it stars veteran actor Burt Lancaster whose reputation as an actor mirrors in a way his character's position in this film. Corporal Courcey, Spartan's symbolic idealist who's faith is shattered by his experience played a similar role the same year in The Boys in Company C. And finally James Hong, who appears here as one of the local Vietnamese militiamen who helps the Americans in their futile defense and pays the ultimate price for it. To my mind, his death (and that of the other villagers) is the most apt metaphor in the entire film.

Craig Wasson as Cpl. Courcey and James Hong as "Old Man" in Go Tell the Spartans.
Scan comes courtesy of Fabulous Hollywood Memories

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