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Raymond Massey and Cliff Robertson play officers whose opposing views on military leadership are the two poles between which a platoon's fate is stretched during the war of the Pacific. Massey's Gen. Cummings advocates fear as the guide to goading men to face death, whereas Robertson's Lt. Hearn vehemently disagrees. Hearn is hard-pressed, however, to find the better nature within the sadistic Sgt. Croft (Aldo Ray), whose own wartime ethos seems to be pure hatred. Pounded inside this crucible are the men of the platoon: pals Roth (Joey Bishop) and Goldstein (Jerry Paris), scout Martinez (Henry Amargo), medic Rhidges (James Best), older vet Red (Robert Gist), Southerner Cpl. Wilson (L.Q. Jones), nerve-case Minetta (Greg Roman) and new father Gallagher (Richard Jaeckel).