Blu-ray Review: The Green Berets (1968)

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Long before children in the '80s met the Mr. T version of The A-Team and decades before Generation Y anticipated the big screen remake, John “The Duke” Wayne commanded two Special Forces A-Teams in Hollywood's first depiction of American troops in Vietnam.

Obviously, Duke's right-wing political views were never hidden and in fact his statements were brought center stage when he and Howard Hawks created an anti-left-wing response picture to Fred Zinnemann's High Noon. Cleverly disguising a "message movie" as one of his most entertaining Warner Brothers Hollywood westerns, Rio Bravo was remade with Wayne twice, most notably via Duke's official comeback in Paramount's production of Hawks' and Wayne's El Dorado, although the works weren't nearly as well-received as Bravo.

An icon several times over, all Wayne had to do in preparation for his co-directorial effort with Ray Kellogg is write a letter to then-President Lyndon Johnson “to request military assistance,” to get the official seal of approval and enough explosives to stage his own war in Hollywood, which was captured in this work.

Yet, despite the fact that Wayne had been political before, this adaptation of Robin Moore's work is one that screams “Hollywood's first 'Nam picture” within the first ten minutes alone as an overtly in your face, pre-Reagan White House era style of an “us vs. them” movie.

Although Wayne obviously meant well,
sadly the balance between actual plot and propagandist speech-making is woefully uneven in this overly long 142 minute war saga. Yet to their credit, together he and Kellogg crafted some wonderfully spectacular battle sequences complete with multiple choppers in the air, explosions going off in the distance and more techniques that you can't help but imagine may have inspired some of the on-the-ground war movies to come.

Not particularly one of Duke's most repeat-friendly films, nonetheless The Green Berets is an undoubtedly historical one in its very essence for presenting (or rather selling) the war to ticket-buyers and beginning a legacy of remarkable films about the war in Vietnam like Apocalypse Now, Coming Home and The Deer Hunter a decade later that have likewise influenced our cinematic approaches to all war films that followed.

Crisply captured in Blu-ray complete with two vintage extras including a making-of-featurette and the original theatrical trailer, Warner Brothers' new release suffers at times from the studio's one HD Achilles's heel in transferring older fare. Namely, the sound is harder to navigate than the plot verses the propaganda, which is apparent in the pronounced audio imbalance as you'll move the volume from low to high like you're firing weaponry along with the Berets.

Overall, while fans of not just John Wayne but also Jim Hutton, TV's Dr. Richard Kimball (The Fugitive's David Janssen), and Star Trek's George Takei will be sure to enjoy revisiting this historical first, those who prefer Wayne's classic westerns and war movie buffs who don't want to be told what to think will want to stay away. Yet, thanks to President Lyndon Johnson and John Wayne's collaboration of firepower, some of the sequences showcased in high definition have been ratcheted up a few notches to explode off the screen and into your living rooms to nonetheless bravura effect.

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FTC Disclosure:
Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.