Some movies are made simply because they could be, not necessarily because they should be. When you factor in all of the reasons for a film's being made you start to weigh whether or not a film was made because there was a legitimate story to be told or whether the film is actually some sort of stunt meant to cash in on potentially easy profits. In the case of 1953's Cease Fire!, director Owen Crump earnestly attempted to make a realistic film about the last days of the Korean War by shooting on the actual battlefields of Korea with currently serving G.I.s as actors and in 3-D, the final result serves as a sort of time capsule of historic events with terrific 3-D visuals while unfortunately playing as a generic war film.
It's a long road to peace. For more days that can easily be counted, the armistice talks in Panmunjom to end the Korean War has dragged on. Just when the men of Easy Company think everything's over and are being pulled off the line, the war keeps raging and they're back in their dugouts and foxholes holding some unassuming hill while artillery shells explode overhead. As peace inches closer between the warring factions and world leaders, the men of Easy Company are given one last mission - one that probably won't end the war in victory but continue the stalemate.
Cease Fire! feels like one of those WWII propaganda shorts meant to bolster support for the troops and ensure the further purchase of war bonds - and for good reason. Director Owen Crump actually scripted many military shorts for Warner Brothers and the Army during WWII. While likable personalities like Ronald Reagan and other A-list Hollywood actors made those short training films somewhat enjoyable, Cease Fire! doesn't enjoy the benefit of a professional cast who were called upon to serve their country in its hour of need. Instead, Cease Fire! offers up a reenactment of events using actual serving men in uniform. I wish I could say this amateur cast had some genuine talent to light up the screen with, but as one could possibly expect, they're more than a bit wooden and the characters they play merely fill in the tried and true generic army guy stereotypes.
Cinematically speaking, Cease Fire! doesn't really offer up anything new and narratively exciting. This is all material that has been covered in dozens of war films over the years. However, there is something unique and special about this film all the same. Even if they didn't have much talent to offer the camera, the cast being made of real fighting men who were actively serving in Korea is pretty interesting. You can see these guys trying to fill out their respective roles of the "reluctant commander," "the loudmouth jackass," "the jinx" and so forth. It's also important to underscore the fact that Cease Fire! wasn't made in the safety net of a comfy Hollywood studio. These were real soldiers who had been pulled from the line for "rest" to make the film. When the film was completed, they went back to the front and sadly not all of them made it home.
When you factor in the opening from General Clark detailing his time serving as commander of operations during the conflict, Cease Fire! acts not only as a reenactment of true events but a pseudo-documentary of sorts. While the story in of itself may not be the most original and exciting piece of motion picture filmmaking, it is still fascinating none the less. Outside of catching reruns of M*A*S*H, the Korean conflict doesn't get a whole lot of attention as it's sandwiched in between the glory of WWII and the prolonged bloody conflict in Viet Nam. To that end, it's interesting to see these men execute military maneuvers in the battle-ravaged hills and march past Korean villages that were mere miles from the front lines with people who still had to go about their day-to-day lives.
Like I said, it's not the most exciting film ever made - nor is it the best - but it is interesting all the same. You can forgive the film many of its story faults considering the conditions they were filming under. The war was still going on when filming began. Live rounds and munitions were used instead of special effects. Crump and his six-man crew had to figure out how to move their bulky 3-D camera rigs and sound equipment. On top of that, they had a cast of amateurs who had never acted in a film before. It may be a tad stale by today's standards, but there's a lot to admire in Cease Fire! From the impressive 3-D visuals to the archiving of historical events, it's a unique film that deserves a measure of appreciation.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Cease Fire! arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case and comes with a booklet containing cover images for other Studio Classics releases. The disc loads directly to a static-image main menu with traditional navigation options. If you have a 3-D television, the disc automatically loads to 3-D. If you want to watch it in 2-D, there's an option to switch presentations in the main menu.
When you look at this 3-D 1.66:1 1080p transfer, from the first frames you can tell this movie was never meant to be seen flat. When the barrel of that artillery battery stares down the camera and fires the opening credits - you know you're in for some truly beautiful 3-D imagery. Even that intro with General Clark offers up some terrific 3-D space for a scene that only provides context for the film without serving the actual narrative. It's pretty wild. There are a few sequences like the previously mentioned artillery barrel that would fall in line with the expected "pop-out" gimmick of 3-D, but the rest of the film looks more in line with a well-shot documentary of sorts. Under the filming conditions, you can sense that Crump was earnestly trying to provide viewers a true "what it's like over there" experience of the war. From beautiful scenic battlefield shots to the men in their foxholes, the 3-D image never falters.
Crump and his crew made the most of their bulky equipment and it shows. If you're a fan of classic 3-D filmmaking, you're going to love polishing off the glasses for this one. Thankfully this film looks to have been fairly well preserved. I haven't been able to ascertain the amount of restoration work that went into this release but suffice to say it's in great shape. There is a little bit of speckling and a couple scratches, but nothing too severe or distracting. Greyscale and shadows offer up a notable amount of separation and depth that the 3-D photography naturally exploits. I've covered most of 3-D Film Archive's releases over the last couple of years and I continue to be impressed with the magic they're able to make. Their release of It Came From Outer Space is still my favorite of their restorations, but Cease Fire! holds a nice seat at the table alongside GOG and The Mask among their best efforts to date. The 2D version is also available on this disc, but really, if you're here, you're here for the 3-D. Flat the film just loses all punch.
Presented with a stereophonic DTS-HD 3.1 audio mix, Cease Fire gets some impressive auditory punch! The mix is well preserved without suffering any age-related issues allowing the various elements a clean presentation. Dialogue is clear and easy to hear throughout. This is largely because the men making up the cast of the film were looped by voice actors in post-production, so at times there can be a bit of a rubber mouth effect, but nothing serious to break the viewing experience. Scoring by Dimitri Tiomkin covers the basis for a war film while helping round out the mix. The real star of this audio track is the audio effects. The sound of gunfire, cannons, jets, and the numerous explosions really kick this mix in the pants. It's some great stuff to hear the trail of artillery fire and the point of impact. It's pretty glorious to hear with your system turned way up. Levels are just fine, I never had a need to adjust things, but like any good war flick, you should pump this one up a notch or two.
Supplements for Cease Fire! are unfortunately a bit on the slim side. The marketing materials are pretty cool as Paramount was well aware that 3-D wasn't the draw that it once was. While I would have loved a hosted short about the film or a look at the restoration and transfer process, 3-D Film Archive did provide a link to their Essay by Ted Okuda dedicated to this film, its production, and distribution - their website is absolutely worth looking at so check that out here.
Trailer (HD 2:31)
Trailer 3-D Tagged (HD 2:31)
Alternate General Clark Intros (HD 1:30)
Radio Ad (00:57)
If you've kept up with my coverage of vintage 3-D films, you probably well know that I have an undying love for 3-D. Ever since I was a kid I was fascinated by these movies and as an adult, I consume them regularly. Cease Fire! may not have been one of the greatest war films ever made, but it certainly is a unique one. Shooting a film on the actual battlefields of Korea during the war with an amateur cast was already an impressive undertaking but to toss 3-D onto the pile just makes this one feel special. Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics with restoration work by the team at 3-D Film Archive, vintage 3-D fans have something to get excited about. This Blu-ray features a terrific 3-D image transfer along with a very effective stereophonic audio mix that you'll be proud to run loud. I may not have loved the movie itself, but I loved watching it and can't wait to show it off. Grab your glasses, turn out the lights, Cease Fire! is an easy one to recommend.