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Fear and Desire (1953) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • Four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines must confront their fears and desires.

  • A ficticious war in an unidentified country provides the setting for this drama. Four soldiers survive the crash-landing of their plane to find themselves in a forest six miles behind enemy lines. The group, led by Lt. Corby, has a plan: They'll make their way to a nearby river, build a raft, and then, under cover of night, float back to friendly territory. Their plans for getting back safely are sidetracked by a young woman who stumbles across them as they hide in the woods, and by the nearby presence of an enemy general who one member of the group is determined to kill.

  • Lieutenant Corby, Sergeant Mac and Privates Fletcher and Sidney are in the woods somewhere behind enemy lines after their plane goes down. Although Mac in particular does not fully trust Corby, blaming him for their predicament, they have no other option but to follow his orders as the ranking personnel and only officer. Corby guesstimates that they are about six miles from the line and that there is a river nearby which flows downstream past the line. They can only believe that there is no rescue team looking for them, and that the enemies know they are still alive somewhere in the woods in their territory. Corby's plan is for them to head toward where he believes the river to be, build a raft, then wait for nightfall under the cover of darkness when they would drift down the river to safety. What happens to the collective is largely affected by who they are individually as people and soldiers. Corby is the type who takes the safe course of action. Mac is the career soldier, one who wants to seize upon opportunity for the greater war good. Fletcher is the quiet soldier who dutifully obeys orders, but not without fear. And Sidney is slowly unraveling in his shell shocked state. But what happens to them is also affected by who and what they encounter along the way, chief among these unknowns being what looks to be an enemy airfield commanded by a general, and small group of young women they believe are gathering food to feed the enemy officers at the airfield.

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The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • In some abstract war, a military patrol consisting of four men: Air Force pilot Lieutenant Corby (Kenneth Harp), Sergeant Mac (Frank Silvera), and Privates Sidney (Paul Mazursky) and Fletcher (Steve Colt) find themselves six miles behind enemy lines after their plane has crashed.

    They advance into a forest where Corby decides to journey to a nearby river which runs through the front lines where they can make a raft and get back to friendly territory. Upon reaching the river, the four men cut down some trees to make a log raft, but are forced to run for cover when an ememy airplane flies overhead and lands in a nearby airfield where they notice that a high ranking military general is.

    That evening, while treking through the forest, they stumble upon a cabin where a couple of enemy soldiers are having dinner. They break in and take the enemy soldiers by suprise and kill them both, taking their rifles and weapons. The teenage soldier, Sidney, is traumatized from this act of violence and from there begins a slow slide into insanity.

    The next morning, the four soldiers encounter a local, young girl (Virginia Leith) and take her hostage. Afraid that she will inform on them since she is an enemy local, they tie her to a tree. Sidney stands guard over her while his three comrades proceed to the river to recon the area and to secure their log raft which will take them home. Sidney becomes more insane and attempts to sexually assault the tied up young woman by unting her which gives her a chance to escape when she pushes him aside and runs. Sidney is forced to shoot her in the back, killing her. Mac comes on the scene and seeing that Sidney has killed their hostage, begins to realize that Sidney has been dehumantized by this ordeal, but before he attempts to stop him, Sidney runs off into the forest, rambling incoherently.

    Later, Corby, Mac and Fletcher decide to leave the insane Sidney behind and sail down river towards the front lines, but Mac persuades Corby to turn back and kill the enemy general at the command post and steal the general's light aircraft to fly home. Realizing that the light plane is a two-seater meaning that only two of them can go, Mac volunteers to create a diversion while Corby and Fletcher commandeer the plane to fly back to friendly lines.

    That evening, Mac rows the log raft towards the enemy command post while Corby and Fletcher sneak up to wait until all the enemy sentries will move from the front of the house so they can storm in and kill the general. In the command post house, the enemy general (also Kenneth Harp in a dual role) and his aide-de-camp (also Steve Colt) talk amongst themselves over the general's pet dog whom his aide found lost in the woods (the same dog that the four soldiers encountered earlier), while the general talks about the troubles of his command and of his waiting for something to happen.

    Mac opens fire on the enemy command post from his raft on the river. The ruse works as the enemy soldiers line up along the banks and return fire, wounding Mac, but leaving the front of the house unguarded. Corby and Fletcher then go to the window where the general and captain are and shoot them both dead. Both of them briefly remark how the enemy officers look so much like them. Corby and Fletcher make it to the small plane and take off back to home. Meanwhile on the raft, the wounded Mac encounters Sidney, whom is still insane and asks Mac to take him home.

    The next day, Corby and Fletcher, having made it back to friendly territory and given their statement to their interogating officer, go to the riverbank to wait for Mac to show up. The four men are finally reunited when the raft arrives on the riverbank, except that Mac is practially dead from his wounds, while the deranged Sidney continues to ramble incoherently about the trees and the "magician" of the forest.

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