inchon 2

Today, September 15, is the 63rd anniversary of the American military landings at Inchon, in South Korea, during the Korean War. Despite this blog’s focus on history, this article is not about that event. Instead, it’s about the really terrible big-budget movie made in 1982 about this event, titled Inchon! Yes, that’s right, Inchon! with an exclamation point, like a Broadway musical.

The story of Inchon! is frankly more interesting than the story of the real invasion. (I’m not a Korean War buff). The movie was the brainchild of controversial religious leader Reverend Sun Myung Moon, head of the powerful Unification Church and a media mogul in his own right. Reverend Moon preached that he was the Messiah, put on Earth to finish Jesus’s work, and also that the Cold War struggle between capitalism and Communism was the final struggle between good and evil foretold in the Bible. Moon naturally believed that Korea was the battlefield of this struggle, and thus the Korean War of 1950-53 was the key battle. Moon viewed the Inchon landing as the pivot of this war, and MacArthur as a spiritual and religious hero.

It is evidently unclear whether Inchon! was intended to spread the message of the Unification Church, as an entertaining war movie in its own right, or perhaps a little of both. What is clear is that Reverend Moon spent at least $30 million of his and the Church’s money on making the film, whose total budget climbed to $46 million–the equivalent of $143 million today. Filming occurred in Europe, Asia and North America. Aging actor Laurence Olivier was cast (some say mis-cast) as General MacArthur, and he admitted that he was doing the movie only for the $1 million fee. An Academy Award-winning writer, Robin Moore, was hired to write the film, and Terrence Young, famous for directing several James Bond movies, occupied the director’s chair.

WAR & CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  WORLD WAR II/PERSONALITIES

The real Douglas MacArthur. During the making of Inchon!, the Unification Church claimed that the spirit of MacArthur, who died in 1964, appeared to them and endorsed the movie. I’m serious–they really said that.

The result was absolutely horrendous. The movie is limp, turgid, and way overblown. Laurence Olivier sleepwalks through his role as MacArthur, noted 70s starlet Jacqueline Bisset looks like she can’t wait to get out of this film, and you don’t even see David Janssen, who died midway through the production. The battle scenes are like kids playing with G.I. Joe toys. The dialogue is embarrassing. And through all of it the “shining light” of MacArthur seems vaguely ridiculous. Although the original 1982 reviews were not as uniformly negative as you might think, in the years since its release Inchon! has gained a reputation as being one of the worst films ever made.

The major problem was Moon’s involvement and that of the Unification Church, which was extremely controversial in the early 1980s. Despite having spent tens of millions on the picture, Moon had a difficult time finding a movie studio that would distribute it–no one seemed to like the movie, and many potential investors were scared off by the connection to the Unification Church. Although the film was shot in 1979 it was shopped around for three years before MGM agreed to release the movie in a cut-rate deal. They obviously didn’t put much promotion into it. The film opened in theaters in September 1982 and closed shortly thereafter. It made $2 million–making Inchon! one of the biggest box office flops of all time.

Amazingly, the failure of Inchon! and its unique circumstances–a controversial fringe church advocating the creation of a movie that turns out to be dreadful–was eerily repeated 18 years later, with Scientologist John Travolta’s horrifying Battlefield Earth.

Is Inchon! really the worst war movie ever? I have to say it’s pretty bad. The only way you can watch it is on YouTube–it was never released on video and has only been shown on TV a few times. I admit I couldn’t make it all the way through. It’s certainly a turkey. Whether it is really the worst I leave you to discover for yourself–if you dare. Here’s the first part of the film; if you can stomach more than that, click the “view on YouTube” button and you can see the rest of the installments on the playlist.

The Inchon! poster, which curiously does not contain the exclamation point in the title, is owned by MGM/UA studios. Use of it here, I believe, constitutes fair use. The image of the real Douglas MacArthur is public domain, although I can hear him banging on his coffin for being associated with this horrifying movie.
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