Although it’s not even mentioned in Joseph McBride’s massive John Ford biography, this rare 1951 film is probably the best of Ford’s war documentaries. “This Is Korea!” was commissioned by the Navy to explain an unpopular war to the American public, but Ford, always a poet first and a propagandist second, chooses to depict, not a heroic battle against godless Communism, but the toll war takes on its participants.
The 16-millimeter color footage, shot by Ford and his two favorite newsreel cameramen from his World War II tour of duty, consists largely of melancholic portraits of troops in retreat or interned in military hospitals, as Ford hands off the narration between Irving Pichel, speaking in the voice of the dead, and John Ireland, who speaks for the young soldiers entering combat.
Small, subtle and extremely moving “This Is Korea!” was released as a theatrical feature by Republic but sank at the boxoffice and has largely been forgotten. It’s time for this remarkable work to reclaim its place in Ford’s filmography.