Plot: What’s it about?
Warner Archive Collection recently released the decent Never So Few on Blu-ray. Just a couple weeks later they released another minor war film called The Naked and the Dead. This film is based on a controversial and praised novel of the same name by Norman Mailer. I have not read the novel, unfortunately, but I have read The Armies of the Night by Mailer which I enjoyed. The film itself received reviews that were heavily mixed. Fans of the novel felt that the film was missing most of the point of Mailer’s novel and had changed the plot too much for it to work as a film. People who had not read the book found the film interesting and enjoyed it somewhat. Having no idea what to expect, I sat down to see how the film held up.
Set in the Pacific during World War II, The Naked and the Dead follows a company of soldiers on an island fighting the Japanese. Aldo Ray plays psychotic Sergeant Sam Croft, who likes nothing more than to kill the Japanese whenever possible – even if they have been taken prisoner. Cliff Robertson plays idealistic Lieutenant Robert Hearn who is tasked with aiding General Cummings (Raymond Massey.) Cummings has put Robert into his care due to his affection for Robert’s father, but their ideologies are very different. When Cummings reveals his leadership tactic is based on fear, Robert makes his stand. Seeking revenge, Cummings sends the lieutenant with Sergeant Croft’s platoon on a dangerous mission. Croft is immediately threatened by the Lieutenant’s presence with his troop.
This film is somewhere in the middle. There are certainly moments that are really well-done and inspired. When Cliff Robertson and Raymond Massey have their discussions of fear and power the film is captivating. When Aldo Ray nearly executes an entire squadron of Japanese after making them strip, the film is captivating. Unfortunately, these moments only occur so often. It is like the source novel on which the film is based only occasionally makes an appearance in the film. It’s a shame because some of the dialogue that survived and landed in the script is very compelling.
What is not so compelling are some of the more comedic aspects of the film. The opening twenty minutes are truly poorly written – it’s like a really bad attempt at being crass by somebody who can neither curse nor be too sexual. These scenes lack courage and are just plain awful. Also terrible are the flashback scenes to the women the men think about. I will admit that I laughed at these scenes, but they completely break apart the flow of the film.
So, is the film worth watching? Yes and no. I ended up finishing the film largely because I like Cliff Robertson as an actor and wanted to see how the film ended. Cliff didn’t disappoint in the role and carried the film from the moment he arrives on screen. I also thought that Aldo Ray was pretty solid as the kill-starved brute Sergeant. Bernard Herrmann’s score is not one of my favorite works and grated on my patience a little. The direction by Raoul Walsh is also not that great. This film is definitely a curiosity, but I can guarantee you that the novel is much better after seeing what they ended up with. I would recommend a rental prior to a purchase.
Video: How’s it look?
Warner Archive Collection have provided a transfer from the MGM archives in 1080p in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This transfer looks good, but it does fluctuate in quality. Moments of the film look stunning whereas some moments do not. I have seen enough Warner releases to know that this is the best that the film will ever look, despite a somewhat underwhelming look at times. Fans should be pleased but it will not be your next demo disc.
Audio: How’s it sound?
This DTS-HD MA 2.0 track sounds very nice. The score by Bernard Herrmann is definitely not my favorite, but it has been given tender loving care by Warner. Given that this is a war film from 1958, expect the sound design of the battle scenes to sound a little canned at times. Dialogue is clear and discernible. This is another solid effort by Warner Archive.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
The Naked and the Dead is an interesting film. It’s a bit of a disaster but there are some redeeming qualities as well. Whenever Mailer’s work comes through in the film the film becomes incredibly interesting. Cliff Robertson is another great reason to watch the film. Overall, this film is sloppily written and sloppily directed, but it has its moments. I would recommend a rental prior to a purchase but fans will be pleased by the care given to the film.