Naked and the Dead, The (1958): Walsh’s Technicolor WWII Drama, based on Norman Mailer’s 1948 Novel (Father/Son)

Vet Raoul Walsh directed The Naked and the Dead, a Technicolor Widescreen WWII film based on Norman Mailer’s 1948 novel of the same title.

The Naked and the Dead
Poster of The Naked and the Dead.jpg

Theatrical release poster

One of RKO’s last films before its closure, the film was released by Warner and was the last Walsh directed there.

Directed by Raoul Walsh and filmed in Panama, the screenplay attributed to the Sanders brothers adds a strip tease and action scenes to Mailer’s original narrative.

It tells the story of Lieutenant Hearn (Cliff Robertson), an aide to General Cummings (Raymond Massey), who treats Hearn as a son. The General believes that commanding officers ought to inspire fear in their subordinates, in order to enforce discipline. Hearn prefers instead for soldiers to have mutual respect for each other, regardless of rank. Hearn is eventually transferred to lead  a platoon on a dangerous reconnaissance mission.

The platoon had originally been led by Sergeant Croft (Aldo Ray), a professional soldier with a reputation for cruelty, who now must serve under Hearn. Hearn’s idealistic approach is contrasted with Croft’s desire to win at all costs.

When Hearn considers abandoning the mission due to strong Japanese presence, Croft tricks him into underestimating the enemy. This eventually leads to several deaths, and Hearn himself is wounded.

After pressing onward with the remaining men, Croft is killed in action, but his men accomplish their mission. Hearn’s men consider leaving him to die, as they can escape faster, but decide to continue carrying him.

A subordinate of Cummings orders immediate assault on the Japanese, scoring victory despite Cummings’ harsh skepticism. The survivors, including Hearn, make it back to headquarters. Hearn tells the chastised Cummings that the men who carried him did so out of love, and that the human spirit will always be too strong to be cowed by any terror.

The text is interspersed with flashbacks of the main characters’ personal lives. Croft recalls how he caught his wife (Barbara Nichols) cheating with another man, who he then beats.  Hearn dreams of courting, dancing, and seducing a series of attractive women, all vying for his attention, in and out of military uniform.

The movie was originally to be directed by Charles Laughton, after The Night of the Hunter. Terry and Dennis Sanders were hired as writers, and Stanley Cortez, who had shot The Night of the Hunter, was set as cinematographer. However, the box office failure of The Night of the Hunter led to hiring director Raoul Walsh who had the Sanders’ screenplay rewritten, and replacing Cortez with Joseph LaShelle.

The film was made on location in Panama with 250 American soldiers as extras, and Hawaiian-born soldiers as Japanese soldiers.

The film was made in RKO-Scope but after being acquired by Warner, it was shot in WarnerScope.

Aldo Ray as Staff Sergeant Sam Croft
Cliff Robertson as First Lieutenant Robert Hearn
Raymond Massey as Brigadier General Cummings
Lili St. Cyr as Willa Mae aka Lily
Barbara Nichols as Mildred Croft
William Campbell as Brown
Richard Jaeckel as Gallagher
James Best as Rhidges
Joey Bishop as Roth
Jerry Paris as Goldstein

Directed by Raoul Walsh
Produced by Paul Gregory
Written by Denis Sanders and Terry Sanders, based on The Naked and the Dead
(1948 novel) by Norman Mailer
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Joseph LaShelle
Edited by Arthur P. Schmidt

Production: RKO Radio Pictures

Distributed by Warner

Release date: August 6, 1958

Running time: 131 minutes


TCM showed the movie on Memorial Day Weekend, May 31, 2021.