In Burma in 1944, Chandler commands a regiment deep behind Japanese lines. Though exhausted by their long trek through the jungle, the men capture their objective like the well-trained, experienced fighting men they are. As they sit resting, expecting to be relieved, Chandler receives
orders to march them several hundred more miles to capture a rail yard at Shadzup and then on to Myitkina. He tells the men about Shadzup but not the second destination. The men manage to drag themselves along, growing disoriented as hunger, disease, and fatigue take their toll. Finally they reach
Shadzup, and a confused, bloody battle ensues among a labyrinth of concrete pillars. After the battle the men again collapse exhausted, only to have Chandler exhort them to get on their feet and move on to Myitkina. They don't move and Chandler collapses, dead of a heart attack. Lieutenant Hardin
takes over and gets them moving on to the next objective.
This is an excellent study of the burden of command as Chandler is forced by orders from his superiors to push his men onward when they clearly are unable to move. And yet move they do, out of personal loyalty to Chandler and because that's what they've been trained to do. The film's centerpiece
is the assault on Shadzup. The cutting is quick and confusing, as the men twist and scramble around the concrete megaliths, killing and dying (Fuller originally intended to show the number of men killed accidentally by their own side in the confusion of the battle, but this was rejected as too
depressing). When the battle is over, a crane shot reveals just how small the battlefield was, and the ground is covered with hundreds of dead Americans and Japanese. One of Fuller's most successful films, it is also quite accurate in its historical details and boasts well-written dialog,
excellent cinematography, and terrific performances, including Chandler in his last role. He died of blood poisoning following surgery before the film was released.
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