If you look up movies about World War II, the list is endless. Whether made during the actual war or since then, focusing on Europe or the Pacific, depicting training or combat, and showing military life or wartime on the Homefront, the Second World War has provided an inexhaustible fountain of content for screen stories.
It’s a different story when it comes to the Korean War. Although it took place from 1950 to 1953, right during the Golden Era of Hollywood, there are very few classic movies that focus on or even mention this major military conflict. Nevertheless, it was an important part of American history and a war in which many of our fathers and grandfathers served, so it is worth remembering and discovering.
“I Want You” from 1951 is one of the few movies about the Korean War made during the duration. It was made very early in the war, because producer Samuel Goldwyn rushed it into production as soon as his son, Samuel Goldwyn Jr., was recalled into the military in 1951 after having already served in World War II. Starring Dana Andrews, Farley Granger, Dorothy McGuire, and Peggy Dow, this movie brought that very real scenario to life for the American audiences who were experiencing it.
A Realistic Story
This story takes place in a small town. It doesn’t matter where it is exactly—it’s somewhere in the United States in the early 1950s. It centers around the Greer family, who have a successful building company. The Greers lost their oldest son in World War II. They also have two living sons: responsible businessman Martin (Andrews) and self-centered younger brother Jack (Granger). The military is a big part of their lives, since the father, Thomas (Robert Keith), is a proud World War I veteran. Martin served in World War II for four years, but Jack was just a schoolboy, so he hasn’t had to fight. Now, Martin runs the business and has a wonderful life with his war bride, Nancy (McGuire), and their two young children. Meanwhile, Jack is excited that his sweetheart, Carrie Turner (Dow), is returning from college for the summer. However, he is dismayed to find that she has grown distant and aloof.
The Greers know that their community’s peaceful small town life can’t last. Every day, the radio announces more news of the growing conflict in Korea. The war comes closer to home when one of their clerks, George Kress (Walter Baldwin), asks Martin to write a letter declaring that his son, Georgie (Martin Milner), is indispensable in their business. Martin has to refuse, since he doesn’t believe that to be true, and the young boy eagerly goes to war.
However, the ethical conflict comes closer to home when Jack is summoned by the draft board. Although a knee injury has previously exempted him from the draft, the rules are less stringent now. Mrs. Greer (Mildred Dunnock) begs Martin to write a letter which will exempt his younger brother, and he’s torn between his mother’s pleas and what he feels to be right. Meanwhile, Jack thinks that the only reason he is eligible for service now is that Carrie’s father, Judge Turner (Ray Collins), who is in charge of the draft board, wants to get him away from his daughter.
Twice Called, Twice Ready?
“I Want You” is not a glamorized, overly patriotic story. It’s a very realistic depiction of how average people must have felt at the time. These feelings, as demonstrated by the characters in this film, are probably why so few films were made about the Korean War. Not only the men are affected by this new crisis. Wives, sweethearts, mothers, and children are forced to say goodbye to their loved ones just a few years after they returned from the last war. Men and women alike struggle with a moral question which challenges their patriotism: If a man can be exempted from service, is it wrong to do so?
Martin struggles with his ethical sense when two emotional parents ask him to request exemption for their sons. These experiences make it harder for him to keep justifying his staying out of the military. He knows that he has served enough to get out of it, but he wonders if he should use this excuse for himself while younger men are risking their lives overseas. Nancy struggles with being torn between her beliefs that Jack should serve his country and her personal feelings that her husband shouldn’t have to give anymore. Jack is full of resentment and bitterness because he thinks Judge Turner is sending him off to war to get him away from his daughter. However, deep down he knows he has no reason to complain about serving his country after how much his brothers have sacrificed. Carrie doesn’t want to get too serious about any young man, since she is afraid of risking the security of her comfortable lifestyle by following her heart. However, she loves Jack very deeply and doesn’t want to lose him.
One of the most poignant scenes in the film is when Martin tells Nancy that he has been called back into military service because he is one of the few men with the expertise to lay down airstrips without additional training, since he did it in World War II. Although Nancy was disgusted by Jack’s selfish reluctance to go into the army, she reveals her true, very human feelings in this intimate scene with her husband. She wants to be patriotic and brave, but she asks how much they should be expected to sacrifice for their country. This young mother wonders if she can’t hope to have more than a few years of happiness with her husband in their own home. Her feelings are very similar to those of her mother-in-law, Sarah. She too wonders how much more their family should be expected to sacrifice. She already sent two sons to war, one of whom was gone for four years and the other of whom never came back. She says, “It seems I’m always saying goodbye to my sons.”
Sacrifice and Duty
The theme of this story is duty and sacrifice. Each of the principal characters struggles with a dilemma between his feelings or pride and what he knows to be right. Each character must sacrifice something he wants or values for what he knows to be his duty.
The Korean War was a hard war for Americans to justify. World War I was the war to end all wars. When the United States reluctantly joined another global conflict twenty-five years later, everyone believed that all the killing, violence, and sacrifice was worth the hope of a free, peaceful world for their children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, just five years after World War II ended, America was joining another foreign conflict in the hopes of keeping tyranny overseas at bay.
This movie brings that conflict to life with a wonderful cast and great acting. The script strikes the right balance between a convincing simplicity, which makes it seem real, and the dramatic polish we expect from a classic movie. Some of the most moving scenarios involve supporting and even minor characters, such as a clerk at the Greers’ office and a British neighbor next door. Each person adds color to the story, showing what each person has sacrificed for the greater good. This film is a beautiful testament to a little-remembered war and a powerful example of what it truly means to be an American.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.