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Target Zero

Target Zero(1955)

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teaser Target Zero (1955)

The combat thriller Target Zero (1955) ignores the specifics of the Korean War to inject a romance into its desperate battlefield action. Because studio marketers determined that women made most movie-going decisions, even the biggest war movies of the 1950s took breaks for the combatants to visit convenient girlfriends or nurses, even if only in flashbacks or daydreams. Working from James Warner Bellah's story, Sam Rolfe concocts an unlikely situation: amid the chaos of a massive Red advance, medical aid worker Ann (Peggie Castle) barely survives a mortar hit that kills her companion, another nurse. Ann soon finds herself on a retreating tank with a small group of English and American troops. While Ann tends to a wounded soldier, British Sgt. David Kensemmit (Richard Stapley) and the American Lt. Tom Flagler (Richard Conte) argue military tactics, and also compete for Ann's attention. A dangerous minefield and occasional attacks by North Koreans keep everyone on edge as the group makes its way to a larger unit called Easy Company. Despite the harsh conditions, Ann and Tom have time for romance; and she discusses the nature of command with the experienced Sgt. Vince Gaspari (Charles Bronson). Before they're relieved the impromptu unit is pulled into a major battle. Tom calls for air support and some of the combat is hand-to-hand. Target Zero had been in the works at Warner Bros. for a full three years. Director Harmon Jones was previously a top editor for 20th Fox. He downplays the battlefield heroics, but the Colorado and Arizona locations are almost too attractive to match the cold and barren Korean mountain country. The requirement for a romantic subplot also undercuts the realism, as the mussed-but-ravishing Peggie Castle engages in plenty of private love-talk with the star Richard Conte. She even gets to wear a regulation tight sweater. It's not easy to lead a desperate mission with a one's girlfriend in tow. The small cast features a number of future favorites: Charles Bronson, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, John Alderson and Chuck Connors fill out key roles in the squad. Variety liked Richard Conte's performance and thought that starlet Peggie Castle's performance was her best to date. Also noted was the abundant military cooperation, especially a squadron of jets for the big battle scene. But overall they found the story unbelievable. Alternating between comic-book quips and philosophical sweet-talk, the overly elaborate dialogue reminds us that War is Hell - with frequent breaks for passionate kisses.

By Glenn Erickson

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