Movie Mirrors Index

The Rack

(1956 b 101')

En: 5 Ed: 6

Based on a TV play by Rod Serling, a soldier returns to his father after being a prisoner during the Korean War and is tried for collaborating with the enemy.

         At an airport Aggie Hall (Anne Francis), whose husband was killed in Korea, is waiting for her brother with his father, Col. Edward W. Hall Sr. (Walter Pidgeon). Two blind soldiers are led off first. Captain Edward W. Hall Jr. (Paul Newman) is brought out on a stretcher. Aggie sends him flowers, and his father calls to him; but he is put into a truck.

         At the hospital an officer tells an audience that the men need patience. Major Byron Phillips (Barry Atwater) introduces himself to Captain Hall as a psychiatrist, and they sit down by a table. Phillips says prisoners often have emotional problems, and he asks him about his unit and what happened over there. He asks Hall why he holds his hand up to his mouth, and Hall says he pulled out a tooth. Hall remembers a Chinese interrogator related to lighting a cigarette. Hall says he is scared, and he wants to go home.

         Aggie and Col. Hall wait, and Captain Hall arrives in a wheelchair. His father asks if he is happy to be home. Ed says he expected Aggie to be pregnant, and Col. Hall says it has been three years. Ed says he was a prisoner. Ed tells them not to come back while he is there. His father says they will pick him up as soon as he is fit. Ed says goodbye and goes out.

         Ed wheels himself down a hall and hears men laughing. He goes in that room where they are watching a movie. Captain John R. Miller (Lee Marvin) comes in on crutches and hangs a sign around Ed’s neck that says “Traitor.” Ed takes it off and goes after him, saying he wants to explain. Ed asks what he could do.

         Ed is sitting in a park reading, and Major Sam Moulton (Wendell Corey) sees him and goes into the building. In an office Moulton tells Col. Ira Hanson (Robert Burton) he heard rumors. He says this is one of only forty cases that smelled bad. Moulton says he has to examine his own doubts when he prosecutes a man. Moulton goes into an office and finds the stack of files on his case.

         Col. Hall comes out of the house and calls for Aggie, who does not answer him. She knocks on the neighbor’s door, and Caroline (Cloris Leachman) opens it. Aggie sits down and tries to talk to her, but Caroline’s husband keeps calling her. Aggie cries and says she forgot her husband, but now it is coming back to her. Col. Hall asks Aggie to help him put up bookshelves for Ed. Aggie goes back to her house.

         Captain Ed Hall comes into an office and talks to Major Moulton, who tells him that he is being charged in a court martial. Moulton says he has the same rights as in a civil trial. Moulton says that Lt. Col. Frank Wasnick has been appointed to defend him, and Ed accepts him. Moulton asks if he can call on him at his home. Ed says he wants to tell his father about it first. Moulton says he is not restricted because of his previous record. Ed thanks him for his courtesy. Moulton asks where his ribbons are and says they are part of his uniform. Ed leaves.

         Ed goes home with a suitcase. Suddenly many people surprise him. Ed asks his father for a drink as people talk to him. In the kitchen Ed talks with Aggie. Ed says he does not like surprises. Aggie says he has changed because he never use to say how he feels or what he wants. Ed says he is half his father’s disappointment and half his mother’s hope. He says he visited his mother’s grave and said he was sorry. He says his mother always listened to him, but not his father. Ed says he wished it was her husband Pete there and not him. He asks her to turn out the light. Aggie picks up the phone, and Col. Dudley Smith (Fay Roope) says he is coming over. Aggie tells Col. Hall that Smith is coming. He goes into the kitchen to find Ed. He asks Ed why he ran out on the party. Ed asks about his father. He says he has been put out to pasture. Col. Hall says Pete never knew what got him. Col. Hall says his hope that Ed would be a soldier has been realized. Ed proposes a toast to his father, the optimist. Ed says he is going to bed.

         Later Col. Hall and Aggie agree it was a good party. He says she makes him feel good, and he sings. He hears the door bell and lets Col. Smith in. They sit down. Col. Smith says Col. Hall still has guts. Hall offers him brandy. Smith asks Hall if Ed told him, and Hall asks what. Smith says nothing. Hall demands to know what is going on. Smith tells him that Ed is up on charges. Hall asks what, and Smith says the charges are collaborating with the enemy. Hall does not believe him and gets angry. Hall says Ed won the silver star. Hall runs upstairs and goes into Ed’s room and wakes him up. Ed stands up, and his father asks him if he collaborated with the enemy. Ed says he did. Hall asks why he didn’t die like his brother. Ed goes down stairs after him. Ed says he sold his soul to get three hours of sleep.

         Lt. Col. Frank Wasnick (Edmond O’Brien) comes into a hotel and asks to see Ed. He goes to his room, and Ed lets him in. Ed is trying to order Vodka, and Wasnick says he already ordered his breakfast. Ed asks how he knew he was there. Wasnick says his sister-in-law told him. Wasnick says they have two weeks to prepare. Wasnick says he does not admire self-pity, which is destructive. Wasnick says he does not know how he would have held up and thinks he would have done the same. Ed suggests they plead guilty. Wasnick asks if he knows what he could get.

         Col. Hall at home listens to radio news about Ed’s trial and turns it off. Aggie asks if he is going, and he says no.

         Aggie is allowed into the courtroom and sits down. Witnesses are told to withdraw, and Miller goes out. The reading of the charges is omitted. Wasnick says that Ed is pleading not guilty. Moulton begins prosecuting by saying that Ed gave aid and comfort to the enemy without being under duress. He calls Millard Cassidy (James Best) as a witness. Moulton questions him, and Cassidy says he knew Hall in the camp in winter 1951. Cassidy says Ed threatened a sick boy and slapped him. Cassidy says that one morning Captain Hall talked to them about how the Chinese people wanted to be their friends. Wasnick makes an objection, and Cassidy is sure of what he said. Moulton asks Cassidy if Ed meant what he said, and Cassidy says yes.

         Sgt. Otto Pahnke (Adam Williams) reads from a paper that Moulton put in evidence and handed him. The statement by Ed Hall asks the men to surrender and to turn their guns against those who are leading them in that unjust and criminal war. Wasnick asks Pahnke how he knows Hall signed the leaflet. Pahnke says that Hall told him he signed it, and Hall asked him to sign it too. Pahnke says he heard Hall make the propaganda lecture. Wasnick determines that he did not see Hall in between. Pahnke agrees that Hall changed and that he seemed terrified. Pahnke admits he saw such terrified people at Dachau.

         Captain Miller testifies that he knows Hall and calls him lousy crud. Miller says he was part of the reactionaries who made troubles for the Commies. He said the progressives went along like Hall. Miller says he was a leader of an escape committee. Miller says they were recaptured because Captain Hall informed on them. Miller says one of them was killed. Miller says he was tortured. Then Pak came in and told them to chain him up. Miller says he was strung up from the ceiling, and they put out cigarettes on his naked body. Miller says the other man was tortured too. Miller says he did not reveal any of the names, but he only gave them his name, rank, and serial number. Moulton asks Miller to take off his socks and shirt to show what happened to his body, and Wasnick’s objection is over-ruled.

         Ed is drunk and finds Aggie sleeping in a chair, and he wakes her. She gives him a package of clean shirts. He invites her to come up to his room and have a drink. He drinks, but she says she will later. He says she should get married again. He asks about the subject. She holds his throat and tells him to hold his breath. She says she knew what he was thinking and that she did what he did for a reason. She says humans can fight. He says his hiccups are gone. He asks if she will be there tomorrow and says goodnight.

         Col. Hall comes into the courtroom, and Ed sees him. The prosecution rests, and Wasnick makes the defense’s opening arguments. He says that Hall is a man of valor. He says some have set aside morality and tortured the mind to get what they want. Hall committed certain acts under duress and is a victim. Every man has a breaking point. Wasnick says the crimes must have been committed knowingly and willfully.

         Wasnick calls Captain Hall as a witness, and Moulton swears him in. Wasnick asks him to recall the day of his capture on January 2, 1951. Hall says it was cold, and some of the men died. The Chinese told them to bury all the men on the sledges, though some were still alive. Wasnick says Hall carried a wounded soldier for four days. Hall says the officers were in a separate hut. Hall bribed a guard to visit the enlisted men’s hut, and there was no discipline there. A man said he wanted to die, and Hall slapped him to try to get him to stand up and live. Hall says some of the men got up and started swinging at him. They threw him out. Hall says the Chinese said he was working for them. He agreed to give a propaganda lecture so he could get back to the men. He tried to make it so they would understand it was phony. Later he asked men to sign a statement, and Wasnick asks what his motives were for that. Hall says he had changed, and he did not do that willingly and knowingly. Wasnick asks if they had broken him. Hall says he was kept alone in a dark room with rags and water. They told him to write about himself. They asked him to sign a surrender leaflet, but he refused for a long time. One day they said he had to sign or he would be alone for the rest of his life. His teeth had rotted, and he dug them out with his fingers. He does not know how long he was there. At night a letter is brought to him. It was from his father, and it said his brother Pete had been killed. He said he would sign so he could get some sleep. He signed everything. Wasnick says he could not have known about Miller’s escape, and Hall agrees. They kept him writing autobiographies, and they compared them and made him write more. Wasnick shows him a copy of his autobiography, and he asks him to read a passage. Hall says he won’t, but the judge instructs him to read it. Ed reads about his home when he was lonesome with Peter, and his mother died. His father was often away in the army, and he taught him what soldiers should know. His father never kissed him. Hall starts crying, and Wasnick continues reading. He wished his father had given him a chance to show how much he loved him. Wasnick says this is the new duress. Every device was used to make the mind suffer. Wasnick says the program worked in phases. They picked out the loneliest and worked on him. Wasnick says the defense rests.

         Outside Col. Hall calls to Ed from his car and says he wants to talk to him. He asks Ed to get in the car. His father says it is difficult for him. He says the autobiography was provocative and that he was thoroughly dissected. He asks if Pete felt the same way. He says he missed out. He asks Ed if he is planning to come home if things go all right, and he is welcome. Ed says thanks. His father asks if there will always be that distance between them. He cries and says he lost all three. He asks Ed to give a little and caresses his head.

         Moulton cross-examines Hall if he was subjected to physical torture. Hall says no. Hall admits he understood the document he signed informing on Miller. Moulton says the others who refused to collaborate fared better than he. Moulton says he betrayed his country, and Wasnick’s objection is sustained. Moulton asks what made him break. It was not cold or hunger or other things, but Hall admits it was loneliness. He asks if he was lonely before Korea. What was his loneliest day. Hall says it was the day his mother died. Hall says it was the night he found out about his brother. He felt hopeless. Moulton asks if he could have gone on. Hall says maybe he could have. Moulton asks if he really broke. Hall says no. Wasnick has no more questions, and Hall is excused.

         Wasnick makes his closing argument and presents a communiqué written by the Communists. It says many are lonely and that they are ignorant of Communism. Wasnick asks where the guilt lies. He says they left a generation uninformed and uninspired. He says Hall proved himself in two wars. In rebuttal Moulton says that society may seem to be responsible for a crime, but society is also responsible for holding individuals to account. Moulton says the defense’s only argument is the breaking point, but Hall admitted he was not broken. He says Hall collaborated with the enemy while the others did not.

         The judges retire to meet in closed session. Col. Hall tells Ed he would like to wait it out with him. Ed introduces his father to Moulton and to Wasnick. Col. Hall thanks Wasnick for defending his son. They find Aggie in the hall, and Ed goes outside with her for fresh air.

         The court has reconvened, and Miller sits down. The judge tells Hall to stand, and he says that two-thirds concurred that he was guilty on all the charges except he was found not guilty of striking an enlisted man. Hall is asked to speak under oath, and he agrees. Hall says that Miller came to his room, and they talked. Miller says every man has to choose at some moment in his life. Hall says he lost his moment of magnificence and sold himself short. He prays that others will find theirs.

         This drama reflects the torture and ill treatment that some soldiers experienced during the Korean War, and it explores what caused one officer to give in to the enemy’s demands. Finally there is something heroic in his realizing that although immense suffering caused him to break he still could have had the courage to hold out.

Copyright © 2010 by Sanderson Beck

Movie Mirrors Index

BECK index