By Eric Pilgrim | Fort Knox NewsNovember 30, 2018
FORT KNOX, Kentucky -- While there are most likely plenty of Army installations that have enjoyed the attention of Hollywood in movies past and present, no other installation can boast of having "Stripes" filmed exclusively on location.
No other installation, that is, besides Fort Knox.
That movie, more than any of the others, stands out as the prolific tie to Fort Knox, according to Matthew Rector, the installation's historic preservation specialist.
"'Goldfinger' probably had the biggest audience out of all the films because it's James Bond, and that's a huge franchise," said Rector. "I would say "Stripes," though, just from the standpoint that you had millions of men and women who did basic training here and experienced a lot of what those men experience in comedic form. They can relate to the sights and sounds that 'Stripes' portrayed."
Fort Knox's motion film history began at the beginning of the 1940s, when a little known concept to the America public called the Armored Force was preparing to test its mettle against Germany in World War II. Rector said the professional skills of Hollywood were requested by the Army to get the word out.
"They were promoting the Armored Force, which was a new thing for the Army," Rector said.
What resulted in 1941 was a short 20-minute long promotional film, shot by Warner Brothers exclusively at Fort Knox, called "The Tanks Are Coming." With a peacetime draft in effect, critics called the film a "major motivator" in the war effort.
Warner Brother pulled out the stops, filming the feature in Technicolor and weaving humor into the film with the comedic acting acumen of George Tobias. They also incorporated Soldiers stationed at Fort Knox.
"Extras from the 1st Armored Division were in it," Rector said.
Another notable film that came out of Fort Knox around that same time period was a full-length feature film in 1942 called "The Bugle Sounds." Featuring Wallace Beery as "Hap" Doan, about half the film was shot at Fort Lewis.
"It was about mechanized cavalry, and the cavalryman's struggle to adapt to the replacement of the horse with mechanized cavalry," said Rector. "With Fort Knox being the home of armor at that time, it was the natural place for them to go."
Hollywood dusted off "The Tanks are Coming" in 1951, creating an entirely different film from the name -- one that focused on the tankers of 3rd Armored Division who attempted to break through the Siegfried Line during War World II.
The film was again exclusively shot at Fort Knox, including some a key scene at Otter Creek. Rector said war films involving tanks drew directors to the installation.
"Back in the '40s and '50s, the Army cooperated a lot with Hollywood in making various films that were mutually beneficial to both," Rector said. "Hollywood could save on budget costs if the Army could supply tanks. When you're making a movie like 'The Tanks Are Coming' in 1951 about the 3rd Armored Division, naturally you have to have tanks. So they went where the tanks were."
In the 1960s, a big-budget film came along with a different desire for Fort Knox than had previously been sought after. The James Bond classic "Goldfinger," released in 1964, focused around a scheme to infiltrate Fort Knox's gold depository in an effort to destroy the world economy.
Hollywood again sought out extras from among troops at Fort Knox to pretend to be gassed into submission, so the bad guy could get past them to the depository.
Hollywood arrived at Fort Knox again in 1981 to film an Army movie that didn't focus on tankers. Looking for extras for the film, the directors used Soldiers attending basic training.
"'Stripes' focused on the other big mission on Fort Knox, and that was basic training," said Rector.
The Army has also made training videos at Fort Knox over the years, according to Rector, as well as a documentary about basic training filmed in the 1970s. However, little interest has been shown by Hollywood to film at the installation since the "Stripes" crew packed up and left.
Rector said he thinks there will be more feature film opportunities in the future, if Hollywood lands upon the right scripts for them. One idea he would like to see scripted is a full-length feature film on black tank battalions or Tuskegee Airmen stationed at Fort Knox during and after World War II.
"They could use Fort Knox to help them with those films," said Rector. "Granted, Fort Knox has changed over time, but it would be neat to see that cooperation. We don't have our historic World War II barracks anymore, so you'd have to use some CGI to recreate that.
"I certainly think some time in the future, it's possible."