After making an influential and popular World War II action picture, The Dirty Dozen (1967), it was inevitable that eclectic filmmaker Robert Aldrich would return to the milieu, and almost just as inevitable that his foll0w-up picture would fall short of the high bar set by its predecessor. While Too Late the Hero features the same muscular combination of provocative drama and slick production values that made The Dirty Dozen so vital, Too Late the Hero suffers from a diffuse storyline and a padded running time, to say nothing of an ineffectual leading performance. So, although the picture is more or less watchable, even if one is tempted to hit the fast-forward button during repetitive sequences, Too Late the Hero fails to make much of an impression.
Cliff Robertson stars as Lt. Lawson, an American junior officer whose assignment as a command-center translator in the Pacific theater keeps him away from combat. The cushy gig doesn’t last, however, because Lawson gets reassigned to a British commando unit tasked with taking out a Japanese radio installation. Serving under uptight Capt. Hornsby (Denholm Elliot), Lawson and his new comrades trudge through dense jungle, avoiding Japanese patrols, until a series of skirmishes change their circumstances for the worse. Eventually, Lawson and a snarky British enlisted man, Hearne (Michael Caine), inherit responsibility for completing the mission, forcing the unlikely predicament of Lawson becoming a valiant leader. The idea of the movie is strong—exploring the question of whether heroes are born or made—but the execution is not.
Aldrich, who also co-wrote the picture, lets the narrative drag through unnecessary sequences (there are lots of marching montages), and his contrivance of a combat-averse protagonist means the main character spends a great deal of time watching other people do interesting things. Exacerbating the problem, Robertson simply isn’t expressive enough here to make Lawson’s journey fascinating—in fact, both Caine and Elliot upstage Robertston whenever the British actors share screen time with their American leading man. Caine is largely underused until the last stretch of the picture, when his acidic line deliveries become meaningful on a story level, and Elliot actually comes off the best of the three by portraying a stalwart man whose desire to demonstrate bravery leads him to take foolish risks.
Too Late the Hero: FUNKY