You oughta know the only American pro-Vietnam War movie (as far as I know) could only have been made by John Wayne, who triples as star, producer, and co-director with Ray Kellogg (THE KILLER SHREWS), whose experience with special effects and directing second units must have come in handy staging the explosions and battle scenes. Wayne needed the help making THE GREEN BERETS, because direction is frequently sloppy (an early scene with Aldo Ray demonstrating captured weaponry to journalists is poorly blocked) and pacing slack.
THE GREEN BERETS was savaged by most critics in 1968—and deservedly so—for its absurd politics and flag-waving, but probably hasn’t received deserved props as an action vehicle. When the propaganda stops and the shooting starts, Duke’s film isn’t a half-bad action vehicle. And to be fair, despite the critical brickbats, THE GREEN BERETS was a big box-office hit.
Wayne is Colonel Mike Kirby, who takes his squad of Green Berets to Da Nang on a mission to kidnap a North Vietnamese general. David Janssen, who jumped straight from THE FUGITIVE to this, struggles with a thankless role as George Beckworth, a weak-kneed liberal journalist who tags along with the Berets and slowly comes around to their cause, even to the point of lifting a gun himself. Jim Hutton has a sillier role as Sergeant Petersen, a scrounger who adopts an insufferable Vietnamese orphan. James Lee Barrett’s (THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD) screenplay based on Robin Moore’s novel is straight outta 1943 with the clichéd dialogue, hackneyed characterizations, and tired comic relief that goes along with it. What do you think happens to the captain who’s scheduled to go home the next day?
If you separate the movie’s politics from its visceral thrills, you may enjoy the shoot-em-up stuff, which is staged on an epic scale with helicopters and explosions and lots of extras flying through the air. If only there were more of it, as too much of THE GREEN BERETS’ flabby 142-minute running time is spent talking in old-fashioned platitudes. Also, this may be the bloodiest G-rated film in history.
Also with Bruce Cabot (KING KONG), Raymond St. Jacques (COTTOM COMES TO HARLEM), George Takei (who left STAR TREK temporarily to make this), Jason Evers, Mike Henry (then the movies’ Tarzan), Jack Soo (BARNEY MILLER), Patrick Wayne, Luke Askew, Edward Faulkner, Chuck Bail, and Irene Tsu, who provides a touch of glamour to Wayne’s testosterone-driven picture. Music by Miklos Rosza includes Ken Darby’s version of the #1 hit “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” which was co-written by Moore. Shot in Georgia, which doesn’t look much like Vietnam.