The Vietnam War is raging abroad, and in the United States the mood is not one of encouragement, with many questioning the necessity of the conflict, or the American involvement in it at least. To drum up some support, the military are staging a press conference to clear up a few misconceptions, and the questions are led by journalist George Beckworth (David Janssen) who is cynical about the answers he receives, but nonetheless agrees to visit the East Asian country and draw his own impressions of it first hand. Joining him will be Colonel Mike Kirby (John Wayne), also disillusioned but for different reasons: he wished to get back into combat, and soon...
He gets his wish, in this, one of the most controversial movies of its era. Notably, however, the Duke did not go to Vietnam to shoot his film, or any Viet Cong for that matter, and used the very picturesque pine forests of the state of Georgia, about as far away from a tropical jungle as he could get without actually going to Antarctica or something daft like that. Not that this stopped him being daft in other areas, as apart from the film looking nothing like the Vietnam War movie as we grew to recognise it in following decades the politics here were unlikely to be embraced by the kind of people who were being drafted into the conflict "back home".
Therefore Wayne was singled out as the main reason this effort fell so flat, although he had the backing of the actual U.S. military and the studio were quite happy to have the film made, no questions asked. So we cannot really put the blame on his shoulders exclusively, even if as director he must have been pleased with the way it turned out on the screen; in fact it comes across as a vanity project gone horribly wrong and tediously bloated. For a start, Wayne was about thirty years too old for his role, and there was something uncomfortable about seeing him go through his heroics as if denying his advancing age in a way that said, "Take that, young 'uns! If I can do this then so should you!"
Especially when Wayne would not be seeing any combat and was merely directing his fantasy version. If he had hung around till the eighties and heard Paul Hardcastle's hit single 19, he would have realised that the Vietnam War was not like the Second World War, and the black and white, goodies versus baddies propaganda movies of that past era were not going to wash in the consciousness-raising of the late sixties. Because that's what this was, a propaganda movie, and a hamfisted one at that which blithely ignored some pressing issues that were being freely debated across the world at the time. It was about as convincing as a Soviet effort in the same vein, an irony that presumably would have been lost on those who made it.
Take the treatment of the Vietnamese: they're either black-pyjama-ed homicidal maniacs, or poor, put upon victims who barely grasp the enormity of the situation they are caught in the middle of. It's no coincidence that children feature so extensively, most obviously in the character of Hamchunk (Craig Jue), the orphan who becomes the Green Berets' mascot, as that's the way the locals are presented, as infantile and unable to look after themselves without American intervention. But this is intended to get the pulse racing with derring-do as well, so there are action scenes - eventually, though Wayne does not skimp on the violence as if to acknowledge the brutality, all on the Viet Cong side of things, naturally (you cannot imagine a My Lai happening on Col Kirby's watch). Alas, it's all as cartoonish as the rest of it, and by the end where they're emulating The Dirty Dozen, if you're not thoroughly worn down with the sludgy boredom of it all then you might find some Rambo-style hawkish pleasure in the mayhem. Music by Miklos Rozsa.