Release Date: September 17, 1982
Runtime: 140 minutes
Director: Terence Young
Cast: Laurence Olivier; Ben Gazzara; Jacqueline Bisset; Richard Roundtree; Toshiro Mifune
Hooooo-boy!! This is the infamous 1981 money-loser, partly financed by the Unification Church and its founder, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, which, to this day, continues to hold a place on ‘Most Expensive Box-Office Bombs’ lists. Pretty much everything that could go wrong on a movie shoot went wrong on this one: unusable footage, inclement weather, budget overruns, you name it. The only thing that emerges with its dignity intact from this waterlogged mess is Jacqueline Bisset’s cleavage.
In fact, the story behind General Douglas MacArthur’s highly risky takeover of the Port of Inchon, a strategic port city in South Korea not far from Seoul, is not a terrible idea for a movie. After all, it was a major component in turning the tides of the Korean War in the favor of the United Nations, forcing the North Korean Communist forces back across the 38th Parallel from whence they came. I’m sure that within the story behind the invasion of Inchon, there are political intrigues and covert war room tactics that would be thrilling to watch. If someone skilled in military thrillers like, say, Phillip Noyce (“Patriot Games”; “Clear and Present Danger”) or Wolfgang Peterson (“Das Boot”), got their hands on this material, it could potentially be exhilarating. Yet, in 1979, when the movie was filmed, Terence Young, director of several James Bond films, including “Dr. No,” “From Russia With Love,” and “Thunderball,” and a war veteran himself (he served in WWII), probably looked like a good idea. Perhaps the numerous production struggles and The Moonies hanging over his head were just too much for him to handle and, therefore, to bring the story to proper, vivid life.
As it stands, this is TV-movie stuff. The movie has no visual style to speak of and the flat, washed-out color palette doesn’t help. Everything is staged in static medium shots, with the exception of some of the battle scenes, which are photographed wide. The battle scenes are interesting, because you can clearly see where all of the money for the movie went (other than to star salaries, which, reportedly, were paid via briefcases full of cash – mmhmmm). Huge explosions, lots of military tanks and boats, and hundreds of extras are utilized in the service of some of the most unconvincing battle scenes ever filmed. Oftentimes, there is all sorts of carnage going on and Ben Gazzara, as Maj. Frank Hallsworth, and Richard Roundtree, as Sgt. Augustus Henderson, just casually walk through it back to their Jeep as if it were a drill. On other occasions, extras seem to do backwards-flying death leaps before the bullets even hit them.
And the editors (there were four of them!) should have been horsewhipped. There is no sense of time passage or place. Korea isn’t the largest country in the world, but I’m sure it takes quite some time to get from one end of the country to the other. Jacqueline Bisset is supposed to be travelling from Inchon all the way down to Pusan, a UN stronghold in Southern South Korea, during the course of the movie. Unfortunately, there is no sense of how far she has travelled over time other than some shots of her, and those damn kids she somehow got stuck with, in a car. It’s hundreds of miles, but from the looks of the movie, it appears as though she’s just been caught in some really horrible gridlock going crosstown. Then, when she gets to her destination, what does she do? She fixes her hair. See what I’m talking about?
Richard Roundtree seems to be everywhere at the same time. One minute he is helping Bisset, as Gazzara’s estranged wife, and those horrible children in one location, and in the VERY NEXT SCENE, he is on the front lines of battle with Gazzara. How did he get there so fast? I mean, I know the man is Shaft, but seriously?
Across the board, the acting is abhorrent, beginning with Sir Laurence Olivier as General Douglas MacArthur. He looks frozen the entire time, buried under mounds of make-up. And as great an actor as Olivier is I found that he simply didn’t have the heft or the stature to carry off the presence that the real MacArthur surely conveyed. I just could not get past the perpetual ‘frozen in time’ look in his face. It’s like the guy took a shot of Botox before every take! Although from what I understand, Olivier probably couldn’t have cared less about his performance, as this was at the point in his career when he was taking any job for the money. He had just come off of Richard Fleischer’s ill-advised remake of “The Jazz Singer” with Neil Diamond. Ben Gazzara looks bored and defeated throughout the entire picture, like he knew the second he signed on that this movie was going to be a disaster, but he had already signed the contract so he had to fulfill his obligations. Bisset looks gorgeous, but her acting consisted of someone telling her something, her taking a minute, then looking away and responding. And those five kids!! Again, they are supposed to be travelling hundreds of miles and those kids looked all fresh-scrubbed and perky, despite having had barely any food or sleep. They look as though they just stepped out of a Korean production of “Annie.” Richard Roundtree simply shows up whenever some ‘badass’ is needed. Of course, the script does no one any favors, with all the religious mumbo-jumbo and banal dialogue.
“Inchon” is one of those movies that come along once in a while, much like “Heaven’s Gate” and “Town & Country”, where the story behind the making of the film is infinitely more interesting than the movie itself. What with the involvement of the controversial Moonies, the production problems (read about some of them here), and the dismal acting, “Inchon” is well worth seeking out for all lovers of cinematic big-budget financial disasters. Unfortunately, MGM has never released this on home video or DVD, so it is almost impossible to see for yourself (but possible…after all, I found it online).
One day, someone should take another stab at making a film about the Inchon landing. An interesting and involving story is in there somewhere…just not here. Someone get me Noyce!!