Halls of Montezuma (film)

Halls of Montezuma

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Produced by Robert Bassler
Written by Michael Blankfort
Starring Richard Widmark
Richard Boone
Jack Webb
Martin Milner
Neville Brand
Jack Palance
Reginald Gardiner
Robert Wagner
Karl Malden
Music by Sol Kaplan
Cinematography Winton C. Hoch
Harry Jackson
Edited by William H. Reynolds
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
January 4, 1951
Running time
113 min.
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2.65 million (US rentals)[1][2]

Halls of Montezuma is a 1951 World War II war film starring Richard Widmark, Richard Boone, Jack Palance and Karl Malden. The film, which is about U.S. Marines fighting on a Japanese-held island, was directed by Academy Award-winner Lewis Milestone. It also starred Robert Wagner in his first credited screen role and featured Richard Boone in his feature film debut. Real color combat footage from the war in the Pacific was incorporated into the film's cinematography.

The film, like Darryl F. Zanuck's 1949 production Sands of Iwo Jima, was filmed on location at Camp Pendleton, California, with the full cooperation of the USMC. Its title is a reference to the opening line from the Marines' Hymn.


During World War II, a Marine battalion prepares to land on a large Japanese-held island in the Pacific. Lieutenant Colonel Gilfillan (Richard Boone) warns the men that it will be a tough mission, and that they have been ordered to take prisoners in order to gain information about the Japanese fortifications. Below deck, veteran Lieutenant Carl A. Anderson (Richard Widmark), a chemistry teacher in civilian life, questions his former student, Corporal Stuart Conroy (Richard Hylton), who complains that he is ill and cannot fight. Anderson assures him that he has shown courage before and can do so again. In the landing boat heading to shore, Navy corpsman C. E. "Doc" Jones (Karl Malden) is worried because Anderson has been suffering from "psychological migraines" for months. Anderson and his platoon have been fighting since Guadalcanal, and now only seven men remain of the original platoon. Although Doc urged Anderson to seek treatment in the United States, Anderson refuses to leave his men and has been relying on Doc to supply him with painkillers.

The men hit the beach and successfully dig in, despite an initial burst of resistance. As four days pass, the seven old-timers in Anderson's platoon, including Doc, Pigeon Lane (Jack Palance), Sergeant Zelenko (Neville Brand), Slattery (Bert Freed), Coffman (Robert Wagner) and the unstable Riley "Pretty Boy" Duncannon (Skip Homeier), grow weary of the constant threat of hidden Japanese snipers. One day, the men try to take a ridge of hills, but are beaten back by Japanese rockets, which come as an unpleasant surprise to the commanding officers. When Coffman (whom Anderson saved from drowning at Tarawa) is killed, Anderson is forced to take some more of Doc's pills.

Anderson meets with other officers at battalion headquarters, where Gilfillan recounts the troubles they are having capturing prisoners and getting information from them. Sergeant Randolph Johnson (Reginald Gardiner), a Japanese-speaking linguist who uses psychology in interrogating prisoners, questions a POW who has been dubbed "Willie". As Gilfillan receives orders to stop the rockets within nine hours, before the next assault on the hills, Willie informs Johnson that the Japanese soldiers holding a cave stronghold are willing to surrender. Accompanied by Johnson and war correspondent Sergeant Dickerman (Jack Webb), Anderson leads a patrol with the six remaining old-timers and replacement Whitney (Martin Milner) to the cave, but they are ambushed and Zelenko is blinded.

The men capture the remaining Japanese, including a wounded officer, three laborers and a shell-shocked, elderly civilian. Anderson finds a map on the wounded officer. On the return trip, a sniper shoots at Pretty Boy, who kills him during hand-to-hand combat. The confrontation further unbalances him and he attempts to murder the prisoners. Lane then accidentally shoots and kills Pretty Boy while attempting to stop him. Doc also dies from a wound in the shoulder, but not before giving Dickerman a message for Anderson.

Anderson takes his prisoners to headquarters, where the wounded officer commits hara-kiri with a knife he had stolen from Johnson. While map expert Lieutenant Butterfield works on a Japanese map overlay found in Pretty Boy's personal effects, Anderson and Johnson learn that one of the POWs is actually a highly educated officer, and famous Japanese baseball player before the war, pretending to be a private. From the officer's cryptic statements (he speaks perfect English), together with statements made from the officer who committed suicide, Johnson deduces where the rockets are located, and Lieutenant Butterfield matches the location on the map. When Anderson and Dickerman make their way back to the platoon, they learn from Slattery that Conroy has been killed. Anderson takes the news hard, questions the meaning of their sacrifice, and is ready to give up. Dickerman reads aloud Doc's note, however, and Anderson, inspired by Doc's appeal for him to be strong for the sake of those whom he survives and the reciting of the Lord's Prayer by Whitney, throws away his painkillers, smashing them with the butt of his weapon, and again leads his men into battle. Then, as the film closes, U.S. Corsairs fly in and smash the Japanese position, which they were able to attack based on Anderson's men's efforts, Anderson screams to the advancing troops: "Give 'em Hell," which they echo in unison.


  • Richard Widmark as Lt. Anderson
  • Jack Palance as Pigeon ("Pidge") Lane
  • Reginald Gardiner as Sgt. Randolph Johnson
  • Robert Wagner as Coffman
  • Karl Malden as Doc
  • Bert Freed as Slattery
  • Jack Webb as Sgt. Correspondent Dickerman
  • Richard Boone as Lt. Col. Gilfillan
  • Neville Brand as Sgt. Zelenko
  • Martin Milner as Whitney
  • Skip Homeier as Pretty Boy
  • Don Gordon as Marine
  • Joe Turkel as Marine
  • Jack Lee as Courier
  • Philip Ahn Nomura (alias of Maj. Kenji Matsuoda)
  • Howard Chuman as Capt. Ishio Makino
  • William Yokota as Old Japanese Man
  • Rollin Moriyama as Fukado
  • Frank Kumagi as Romeo
  • Jerry H. Fujikawa as Japanese soldier (Youguchi-The Winds of War:TV mini-series)
  • Frank Iwanaga as Japanese soldier (Security Officer-Godzilla, King of the Monsters!)
  • Charles Lee as Japanese soldier
  • Harris Matsushige as Japanese soldier
  • Ishizo Sano as Japanese soldier
  • Don Hicks as Lt. Butterfield
  • Richard Hylton as [Corp. Stuart] Conroy

According to a January 1949 Los Angeles Times news item, Dana Andrews, Anne Baxter and Paul Douglas were originally set to star in the picture.

U.S. Marine Corps assistance

The film used various locations around Camp Pendleton and the adjacent Pacific coast for the landing scenes. The USMC also provided accurate military equipment, such as weapons, tanks and uniforms, as well as providing the manpower to create the logistics of a wartime U.S. Marine battalion.

Serving U.S. Marines and Second World War veterans attended the film's premieres in New York and Los Angeles. The proceeds from the premieres were donated to various charities associated with the United States Marine Corps. The studio also allowed the USMC to use the film for recruitment purposes. On January 11, 1951, the Hollywood Reporter noted that a full company of Marine recruits were to be sworn in at the film's premiere in San Francisco.

Additional notes

This movie was the last American-made World War II film for Lewis Milestone. After this film, he made other films, from European films to the caper film Ocean's 11. The final war film he made was the acclaimed Korean War film Pork Chop Hill, starring Gregory Peck. Of the Montezuma stars, three went to TV: after he played Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters, Philip Ahn played Shaolin Master Kan on the TV show Kung Fu. Jack Webb went on to produce and star in Dragnet, and Martin Milner did different TV shows after doing film. He appeared on Route 66, Adam-12 and The Swiss Family Robinson.


External links

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