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The Naked and the Dead (1958)

Director: Raoul Walsh Cast: Cliff Robertson, Raymond Massey, Aldo Ray, Joey Bishop, Lili St. Cyr 131 minutes Black & white

Toward the end of the war in the Pacific, a sensitive, idealistic lieutenant (Cliff Robertson) serves under a power-freak general (Raymond Massey) who is convinced his men will fight harder the more they hate their superiors. The lieutenant tries to rein in a sergeant (Aldo Ray) who is running amok, prying gold teeth out of Japanese corpses, threatening to shoot his own men. But the general warns him off and blocks him from acting.

Critics have generally undervalued this film adaptation of Norman Mailer’s acclaimed first novel, which moves from outsized violence and leering sex to barroom slapstick, sometimes jarringly, always deliberately. Credit director Raoul Walsh, a veteran Hollywood action/crimemovie auteur (The Roaring Twenties, White Heat). Walsh replaced the original director, actor Charles Laughton, after Laughton’s brilliant satire The Night of the Hunter bombed at the box office.

With his feel for how men act in groups, Walsh probes the ambivalent effects of war on individuals and their interpersonal dynamics. The result is often powerful, if sometimes nearly surreal.


Originally published in the May 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here