TARGET ZERO. Warner Brothers, 1955. Richard Conte, Peggie Castle, Charles Bronson Richard (Wyler) Stapley, L. Q. Jones, Chuck Connors. Screenplay: James Warner Bellah & Sam Rolfe. Director: Harmon Jones.

   In the Korean War movie Target Zero, Richard Conte stars as Lt. Tom Flagler, a hard-nosed soldier devoted to ensuring that his men get through the war alive. It’s not a bad trait to have, especially given that Flagler’s patrol has been cut off from their main unit: Easy Company. Joining the patrol for the perilous journey in hostile territory is Ann Galloway (Peggie Castle), a United Nations scientist working in the Korean peninsula, and a British tank crew.

   For a war movie, there’s comparatively little action for large segments of the movie. Indeed, the movie is more of a character-driven, than a plot-driven, film. Although the plot – lost patrol seeks to make its way to safety – it’s the film’s story, or multiple stories – that make it worth watching. Flagler is, on the surface, tough as nails and reminds Ann that “everyone fights his own war” as an excuse for some of the behavior he encounters from soldiers under his command.

   But it’s clear that the war has gotten to Flagler. His effort to please his troops and to pretend he cares about them personally is beginning to look like a charade, a mere veil to cover his own insecurities and worries. Fortunately, Flagler has a relatively competent bunch under his command. There’s Sgt. Vince Gaspari (Charles Bronson), Pvt. Moose (Chuck Connors), and Felix (L.Q. Jones in a standout supporting role). There’s also a South Korean soldier and a Native American soldier in his patrol, giving the 1950s film the racial diversity often found in World War II combat films.

   You’ll probably be none too surprised to learn that there’s a romantic angle to the movie. Despite his initial resistance, Flagler finds himself falling for Ann. Romance during wartime is a standard film theme. But romance blossoming amidst combat in an otherwise all male patrol is somewhat unique and actually works well to flesh out Flagler’s personality.

   Still, Target Zero is primarily a war film, not a romantic drama. There’s a relatively harrowing scene in which the patrol machine guns down a group of North Korean soldiers attempting to escape after Flagler and his men successfully commandeering a communist convoy in order to steal their petrol for the British tank crew. The final battle sequence, however, feels like a bit of a let down. The ending, in which the patrol finds itself on a ridge surrounded by thousands of North Korean troops, has a deus ex machina aspect to it. Did someone say, “Call in air support?”