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"Purple Hearts" review: Ladd, Wahl fail to impress in Vietnam-set love story

Purple Hearts


“Purple Hearts” (1984)

Ladd, who is best known as Kris Munroe in the 1970s TV version of Charlie's Angels, plays a widowed Navy nurse in this Vietnam War melodrama.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Directed by Sidney J. Furie

Written by Sidney J. Furie and Rick Nantkin

Starring: Ken Wahl, Cheryl Ladd, Paul McCrane, R. Lee Ermey, Lane Smith, Stephen Lee

Two years before Oliver Stone’s Academy Award-winning “Platoon” started a trend of films about the Vietnam War, Warner Bros. released “Purple Hearts”, a lackluster melodrama about a Navy doctor and a nurse who find love in the middle of a combat zone.

Co-written by director Sidney J. Furie and Rick Nantkin, “Purple Hearts” stars Ken Wahl (Wiseguy) as Lt. Don Dardian, a reluctant Navy surgeon attached to a Marine unit in South Vietnam. A draftee, Dardian isn’t a gung ho-type officer; he simply wants to finish his tour of duty and return to private practice.

Because Dardian serves in a MASH-like medical unit close to where the Marines fight the enemy, he and his fellow Navy medicos treat a seemingly endless stream of casualties. And just like in “M*A*S*H,” the surgeons are assisted by a team of nurses who face the same horrors of war as the grunts stationed in South Vietnam.

Since “Purple Hearts” is a love story as well as a war movie, Furie and Nantkin contrive a series of plot devices to place nurse Deborah Solomon (Cheryl Ladd of Charlie’s Angels fame) in Dardian’s orbit. They meet in full surgical garb as they work feverishly to save a badly wounded Marine’s life; their eyes meet across the operating table and Cupid’s wayward arrow strikes Dardian’s heart.

At first, Deborah is reluctant to get involved with Dardian, or any guy for that matter. She’s a war widow who recently lost her husband and doesn’t want to get romantically entangled with another man who might get killed.

But Lt. Dardian is nothing but persistent. Eventually, the two end up making love. The next day, Deborah informs Don that though they can treasure the memories they have made, she can’t let their budding romance bloom into anything beyond a one night stand.

Despondent over Nurse Solomon’s rejection, Dardian asks to be assigned to more dangerous duties with the Marines in the front lines. In the jungles of South Vietnam’s I Corps region, the heartbroken surgeon witnesses various furious firefights, none of which are depicted realistically.

In a series of very contrived story points involving shot down aircraft and attacks on U.S. bases by the Viet Cong, Dardian and Solomon are led to believe, a la Romeo and Juliet, that the other is dead.

Although love and war can be blended well in the movies, Furie and Nantkin don’t mix the ingredients of “Purple Hearts” convincingly or coherently.

“Purple Hearts” is, like Furie’s earlier film, “The Boys in Company C,” incoherent. It is also – especially in its last act – infuriatingly annoying. It tries too hard to be a gritty Vietnam war movie for its male constituency. At the same time, it aims to please female viewers by making the war a backdrop against which a sappy and too-full-of-coincidences love story is set. In the end, “Purple Hearts” is a tale full of sound, fury and romantic nonsense, signifying nothing.

DVD Specs

  • Format: NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Warner Bros.
  • DVD Release Date: June 22, 2009
  • Run Time: 115 minutes
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