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Tank Battalion
(1958)

Director: Sherman A. Rose
Cast:
Don Kelly, Leslie Parrish, Edward G. Robinson Jr.


I feel fortunate enough that I have managed to find a comfortable niche in this society of ours. That includes a work-related aspect - not only do I have an enjoyable job where I earn enough money to make a living, in my private time I have also found rewarding work with what I do on this web site. Though my work may occasionally have its down side - difficult co-workers, having to sit through bad movies - all the same I feel very lucky, because there's a voice in the back of my head that on a regular basis reminds me that my situation could be a heck of a lot worse. I thank the higher power that, for instance, I am not involved in sports - not only do I think sports are generally dumb, I am very unathletic. But if I had to choose, I would enter sports over entering some other things. The military, for example. I know that there are thousands and thousands of people in the military who find it a rewarding career, but to be honest, I don't see how anyone could enjoy it - especially when there is a war going on. Sometimes my mind wanders and I picture myself as a lowly soldier on the battlefield. Even though I know that the military would train me before sending me out on the battlefield, deep down I feel that once the bombs started to drop and the bullets started flying by, I would crawl as fast I would to the nearest hole and curl up there hiding until the ruckus calmed down. It would be even worse if during my cowering the enemy came by and discovered me. Even though I have watched plenty of violent action movies, I don't know if I could bring myself to pick up my gun and start firing at another human being. I wonder how the military trains lowly recruits who have nonviolent pasts to build up the nerve so that they will fire on an enemy.

But come to think about it, the military generally doesn't send people out on their own during a mission - they usually send several people out together onto the battleground. Even though I'm kind of a loner and not a real people person in my private life, I do think that working alongside other people who have been trained in the art of war would make it easier for me to get up the nerve to pick up my weapon and fight. I think the other fighting men paired up with me would say the same thing. Neverless, fighting together in a group does have its downsides. For example, with a group of people, you'll often find that they don't agree on everything. And if not everybody agrees during a life and death decision, the consequences can be deadly. There are unique problems that also happen depending on how the group of fighting men are together. For example, take soldiers who are fighting in a tank. You certainly would be pressed for privacy if you suddenly got an itch in a naughty spot and you desperately had to scratch it. You certainly wouldn't be able to hide from your team if you got a severe case of gas. You and your tank mates would be all confined together in a small space for hours upon end, which seems to me could eventually bring about a case of cabin fever. If one of your tank mates died during fighting, you would have to fight with the bloody body of your tank mate right beside you.  And what would you do if you were fighting in a hot environment? Possibly modern tanks today have air conditioning, but that certainly wasn't the case in wars like the past like World War II.

When you come to think about it, fighting in a tank would be hard on anyone. Although tank warfare isn't something that I think about frequently, if I should stumble across a movie concerning it during my travels, I often give it a whirl. The movies usually make me feel lucky that I never Tank Battalionhave been stuck in a tank in my life, and most likely never will. That's one reason why I decided to take a look at Tank Battalion, but there were other reasons why I was interested in watching the movie. It was an independent feature film that was picked up by one of my favorite B movie studios, American-International Pictures. Another reason was that the movie took place during the Korean War. I have interest in the Korean War because while it was an important war, for reasons I am not sure of, it has been almost forgotten in North America. Maybe my interest in that war is related to my interest in unknown movies. The events of Tank Battalion center around four American soldiers fighting together in their trusty tank during the Korean War. They are lead by Sergeant Brad Dunne (Kelly), with the three other soldiers being Corporal Corbett (Robinson Jr., Invasion U.S.A.), and Private First Class soldiers Danny Collins (Bob Padget, The Choppers) and "Skids" Madigan (Frank Gorshin, Hot Resort). When the four men are not out on the battlefield fighting the North Korean and Chinese commies, they can be found on their base trying to get together with the female nurses. But one day, thoughts of those nurses are the last thing on their mind. On the battlefield, their tank is rendered inoperable after an enemy grenade is thrown at it. To make matters worse, they can't get out of their tank due to an enemy machine gun nearby. It soon becomes clear the four men will have to combine all their skills if they are to survive.

As I said in the previous paragraph, Tank Battalion was an independent feature film picked up by American-International Pictures. Though A.I.P. was only four years old when they picked up Tank Battalion, they had already shown many times before a good eye for what would attract the drive-in crowd. However, with the case of this particular movie, one has to wonder why studio head Samuel Z. Arkoff thought it had box office potential. Even when you take into account that 1950s audiences weren't as sophisticated as audiences today, I'm sure the audience at the time felt this was a below average effort. Take the movie's production values, for one thing. Now, I will admit that they could have been a lot worse. The interiors seen during the time when the characters are at headquarters, from the nurses' tents to the commanding officer's workspace, do look passable. Clearly some effort was put in by the set decorators despite the really low budget. But apart from that, Tank Battalion looks pretty cheap and tacky. The exteriors of the military base, obviously filmed on a soundstage, appear to be recycled from what was used in an earlier cowboy film. Apart from one scene taking place at the base's watering hole, the movie apparently couldn't afford much in the way of hiring extras to give the sense that this is a military base containing a lot of personnel. And while the title of the movie gives the idea that we will see a lot of military hardware onscreen at the same time, that is unfortunately not the case. The producers apparently only had the budget to rent one tank, the tank that the four central protagonists use - hardly the "battalion" that the title proclaims.

Though I have just started to critique Tank Battalion, I have the feeling that by now you've probably concluded that director Sherman A. Rose (Target Earth) was unable to generate much action thrills with limited funds. And you would be correct. He tries using warfare stock footage to add some oomph, but it's not only obvious stock footage, it's even a little tasteless when he uses footage of real dead bodies. As for the newly shot action footage (such as a sneak raid by guerrilla fighters into the base), the best it gets to be is routine. There is simply no passion by Rose behind the camera, and as a result the action comes across as predictable and flat. The action part of the movie isn't just bad because it's directed in a forgettable manner - there is also the problem that there simply isn't enough action in the movie. The action opening of the movie, introducing us to the four members of the tank crew, lasts less than ten minutes in length. When the four men return to base, apart from that brief guerillia raid, the movie spends the next forty-five minutes or so devoted simply to soap opera stuff, mainly Sgt. Dunne's romance with a nurse (Leslie Parrish, The Devil's 8) and Private Collins' romance with a Eurasian bar girl (Barbara Luna, The Concrete Jungle). After this long (and frankly boring) section of the movie, the four men get sent out to the battlefield again, where they have that aforementioned crisis I mentioned two paragraphs ago. But it's simply not worth the wait. The action comes in short bursts (actually, more like feeble dribbles) between much talk. Which is really frustrating, because you will see that this idea of the occupants of a broken down tank in a long standoff with enemy forces could have been great. So great, that I think that under the right hands (and with plenty of money and resources), an entire movie could have been devoted to this small part of the movie. (Some of the superior 2014 movie Fury focused on this, if I recall correctly.)

Alas, it seems that exploiting this idea, as well as delivering top grade action, were beyond the filmmakers' reach. But Tank Battalion doesn't just fail with its cheap production values and its unsatisfying action angle. The movie also pretty much fails with its human angle. Let me give you an example. Remember when in the previous paragraph I brought up the two romantic subplots the movie has to offer? Well, they are started up and get to a reasonable speed, I guess. But then the romantic subplots are dropped once the four men are ordered back to the battlefield and are never brought up again. They are simply unfinished, and as a result come across as blatant padding instead of an interesting human angle. As it turns out, the movie's remaining looks at its characters are just as sloppy and unconvincing. Private Collins is on a first name basis with his superior Sergeant (even on the battlefield), and the Sergeant casually mentions an upcoming battlefield operation in front of a civilian. More damaging that that is the fact that none of the characters in the movie (civilian or military) are given that much depth or background, and as a result aren't very interesting for the most part. The only exception is the character of "Skids" Madigan, but it isn't because of his character's writing. In the role, actor Frank Gorshin does add a little spark, gives his character an amiable sense of humor, making some wisecracks in a gentle and agreeable fashion. Though he isn't ultimately given that much to do, he does well with the little that he's given. It therefore comes as no surprise that out of everyone associated with Tank Battalion - in front of or behind the camera - only Gorshin went on to have a pretty fruitful career.

(Posted February 8, 2021)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Delta Force One, P.O.W. The Escape, Salt In The Wound

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