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directed by Phil Karlson
USA 1960


“Based on a true story” is generally an irrelevant claim, an attempt to add a little heft to a film that’s apparently in need of that something extra. Every now and then, though, there’s a movie like Phil Karlson’s Hell to Eternity (1960) where its basis on a real story keeps viewers from being distracted with its implausibilies, in effect cutting down second-guessing whether the details of the real-life story are known or not. In this case, an L.A. kid is adopted by a Japanese family so that he learns to speak that language. During World War II his bilingual abilities allow him to talk over a thousand civilians and soldiers on Saipan into surrendering. On film this looks like an even less likely story but in fact is mostly what actually happened to Guy Gabaldon. Told with flashes of flair and a sharp post-war sensibility, Hell to Eternity puts Guy onto the screen with complexity and a firm sense that we need to hear about what he did.

Director Karlson (The Phenix City Story) and writers Walter Roeber Schmidt and Ted Sherdeman stay close to the main events but by the time Hell to Eternity was made in 1960 they weren’t interested in telling a gung-ho propaganda story. In fact the most striking aspect of the film even to viewers today is that less than two decades after Pearl Harbor it is so completely accepting of the Japanese. Not even “sympathetic” really which sounds a bit half-hearted and possibly even a tad condescending. Guy’s family in L.A. may speak Japanese at home and keep some of their old ways but they’re pure American: bacon and eggs for breakfast, school sports, car buffs, even dress like early 40s teenagers. On Saipan the aims of Imperial Japan as a country are clearly considered wrong and the individual soldiers unrelenting but Karlson doesn’t completely portray Guy and Americans as noble warriors. In one of the most unsettling sequences Guy reacts to the combat death of a buddy by going on a loner hunt where he lures or forces Japanese soldiers out of bunkers and then coldly shoots them, often in the back. Positioned as a kind of reaction to rage, it’s hardly any more humane than the Japanese soldiers who elsewhere in the film generally do give at least a straightforward fight.

Excerpt from TCM located HERE


Theatrical Release: 1 August 1960 (USA)

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DVD Review: Warner Home Video - Region 1,2,3,4 - NTSC

Big thanks to Gregory Meshman for the Review!

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Warner Home Video

Region 1,2,3,4 - NTSC

Runtime 2:11:40

1.78:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.54 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (English)
Subtitles English, French, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: Warner Home Video

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
• Hell to Eternity Trailer (Full Screen) (3:12)
• The Dirty Dozen Trailer (Full Screen) (3:30)
• Ice Station Zebra Trailer (2:36)
• Where Eagles Dare Trailer (2:21)

DVD Release Date: June 5, 2007
Keep Case

Chapters 13



Perhaps in 2010 this title would have been released only on DVD-R in Warner Archive Collection, but, thankfully, back in 2007 Warner was still releasing smaller films on regular pressed DVDs, so this is what we have here. The restored image looks excellent. The progressive transfer has light greenish tingle to it, but it's not distracting while watching the film. Light specks are very little and far between.


The original mono sound is good and we have a choice of English or French optional subtitles. The only extra related to the film is the original trailer plus 3 additional trailers to other war-related 1960's movies from Warner Home Video. There is no bells and whistles, just an excellent film with a very fine transfer. A highly recommended release.

  - Gregory Meshman


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Warner Home Video

Region 1 - NTSC


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