I will not typically watch and review older movies, but since it’s Memorial Day weekend, I figure it’d be appropriate to review a classic war film. The movie I choose was Battle Hymn, a 1957 war film starring Rock Hudson. I have never heard of it before, but when I flipped the TV channel to TCM, this just started and I was instantly intrigued.
Battle Hymn is based off the 1956 biography of the same name. It tells the “true” story of Colonel Dean Hess. I put true in quotation marks because the movie does makes changes to the real story. Anyhow, here’s the plot. The film takes place in 1950. Dean Hess (played by Rock Hudson) is a minister in a small town. He’s having trouble being a minister because of the guilt he feels from an incident in WWII. Dean was the pilot of a bomber plane and during a raid in Germany, he accidentally dropped a bomb on a German orphanage, killing over 30 orphans.
Feeling so haunted by the incident and going through a personal crisis, he gives up being a minister and reenlists to join the Korean War; this, despite pleas from his wife (played by Martha Hyer) to stay home. The rest of the movie is Hess going to Korea, training new pilots, and helping out child refugees. All while under threat by the communists. His greatest achievement was helping to rescue nearly 400 children from an area that was about to be taken over by communist forces.
The best thing I can say about Battle Hymn is that it is not your standard war movie. While there are battles, the film is more about the internal conflicts Hess faces. He struggles with his faith and with helping refugees versus winning the war. There are emotional moments in this movie and some suspenseful battle scenes, but for the most part, this is a drama. The special effects are what you’d expect for the time period and Rock Hudson puts in a good, though not outstanding performance.
While this war film is unique in how it focuses more on one man’s internal conflict and children orphaned by the war, it does have some big issues. There were several parts that dragged on for too long and contributed little to the story. The editing could’ve been better. In addition, apart from the main character, the side characters were not interesting. In the end, I would give this a 60% score. Battle Hymn does have issues, but it does tell the story of Colonel Dean Hess fairly well. It certainly is worth watching if you’re interested in learning more about this man’s story. BTW, since this is Memorial Day weekend, I would like to give a big thanks to all veterans who have served and died for this country.