Hell to Eternity (1960): Phil Karlson’s WWII Biopic. Starring Jeffrey Hunter

Phil Karlson directed Hell to Eternity, a World War II biopic shot on location in Okinawa, starring Jeffrey Hunter, David Janssen, Vic Damone and Patricia Owens.

This film concerns the true experiences of Marine hero Pfc. Guy Gabaldon (played by Hunter), a Los Angeles Hispanic boy raised in the 1930s by a Japanese American foster family, and his heroic actions during the Battle of Saipan.

The story previously had been featured on the TV show “This Is Your Life.”

The first sequence details the friendship of two high school boys of different races. When Japanese-American Kaz Uni (the brother of Guy’s physical education teacher and friend George) finds out that Guy’s mother is hospitalized and his father is dead, he invites Guy to stay with his family. As Kaz’s parents speak little English, Guy begins to learn Japanese. When Guy’s mother dies, the Unis adopt him, and he becomes close to Kaz’s mother.

Jumping to Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II, the story then shows how Gabaldon’s foster family is sent to an internment at Camp Manzanar. Gabaldon is drafted, but fails his physical exam due to a perforated eardrum.

Visiting the Unis,Guy learns that George and Kaz have been allowed to join the Army and are fighting in Italy with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.  He manages to enlist in the Marines due to his language skills.

Shipped to Hawaii to join the Regimental Intelligence section of the 2nd Marines, he gets himself, Hazen and Cpl. Pete Lewis bottles of whiskey and dates with Japanese-American women. Caucasian reporter Sheila Lincoln is appalled by the rowdy Marines, but eventually warms up to Guy.

In Saipan, he uses his Japanese language skills to persuade Japanese soldiers to surrender. In fighting against a banzai charge, Lewis is killed, and later Hazen is shot in the leg and then killed by a Japanese swordsman. Neraly going mad, Guy stops talking Japanese soldiers into surrender and starts killing them.

Upon seeing civilians kill themselves rather than surrender, Guy remembers George and “mama-san” and changes back to his old way. During the final battle, he convinces the Japanese general to order 1000 Japanese soldiers and 500 civilians to surrender.

Released in 1960 by UA, the movie was moderately popular at the box-office.

Jeffrey Hunter as Guy Gabaldon
David Janssen as S/Sgt. Bill Hazen
Vic Damone as Cpl. Pete ‘Junior’ Lewis
Patricia Owens as Sheila Lincoln
Richard Eyer as Guy, as a boy
John Larch as Capt. Schwabe
Bill Williams as Leonard
Michi Kobi as Sono
George Shibata as Kaz Une
Reiko Sato as Famika
Richard Gardner as Polaski
Bob Okazaki as Papa Une
George Matsui as George, as a boy
Nicky Blair as Martini
George Takei as George
Miiko Taka as Ester
Tsuru Aoki as Mother Une
Sessue Hayakawa as Gen. Matsui
Frank Gerstle as Drunken officer

Directed by Phil Karlson
Produced by Irving H. Levin
Written by Gil Doud (story), Ted Sherdeman, Walter Roeber Schmidt
Music by Leith Stevens
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Edited by Roy V. Livingston, George White
Distributed by Allied Artists
Release date: September 30, 1960
Running time: 131 minutes


TCM showed the movie o n May 24, 2020.