Friday, May 27, 2016

THE BIG PARADE (3) vs. THE LOST BATTALION (11)

Well, we are now through the first round and there were some upsets. We have a #12 seed moving on - All Quiet (1979). Here are the second round match-ups.

#1 - All Quiet (1931)
#9 - Oh! What a Lovely War

#12 - All Quiet (1979)
#4 - Sergeant York

#11 - Lost Battalion
#3 - The Big Parade

#7 - Westfront, 1918
#2 - Paths of Glory


VS.




REALISM:   “The Big Parade” is weak on realism.  The soldiers go through little hardship, other than stale cake from home.  The first part of the combat payoff has the Americans advancing in lines through a forest.  This is actually a true depiction of the naivete of the American army in its early battles.  We had learned little from the experiences of the British and French.  And the filmmakers had learned little of the effects of machine gun fire on lines of men.  The night attack is also shown in lines which would have been appropriate even in crossing no man’s land, but it is staged at night.  This would have been uncommon.  The artillery fire is the most realistic thing about the combat.  GRADE:  Big Parade  -  C

“The Lost Battalion” is above average in realism.  The weak moments can be attributed to its made-for-TV nature.  The trench and no man’s land are authentic, but some of the fighting defies logic.  For instance, in some of the fighting, the Americans leave cover to confront the superior German forces in the open.  During artillery bombardments, they do not hunker down.  There is more hand-to-hand fighting than would have occurred.  On the other hand, the hardships the men went through are accurately depicted.  The film includes the lack of food and ammunition and the suffering of the wounded. GRADE  -  B

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Battalion  -  8    Parade  -  6

DIALOGUE:  Being a silent movie, the dialogue that makes the title cards is sparse.  Most of the dialogue spoken by the actors must be inferred.  This is a good thing because I can guess that if we had to listen to all of it, it would not be an improvement.  At least it is not flowery.  It just is not special.  The attempts at jokes are uniformly lame.  GRADE  -  C

“The Lost Battalion” throws in a lot of faux soldier banter.  The screenwriter picked up a copy of “Early 20th Century Brooklyn Slang” and sprinkled his research throughout the film.  The interchanges between Gaedecke and Rosen smack a lot of those between Rivera and Friedman in “A Walk in the Sun”.  The combat may be R-rated, but the dialogue is decidedly PG-13.  Much of it is pious.  The words put in the German officer’s mouth are what Hollywood can imagine a sympathetic German saying about the amazing Americans.  GRADE  -  B-

HALFTIME SCORE:   Battalion  -  14    Parade  -  13

SOLDIER BEHAVIOR:  “The Big Parade” skips over training and plunks the trio on the Western Front.  Their billeting at a French farm is all fun and games.  Like living in a frat house, there are pranks and ribbing in a lame sort of way. Their naivete is not far from the cluelessness of the newcomers from across the Atlantic.  The movie gets the camaraderie right and the way the war brought men of different backgrounds together. However, the film is not really interested in giving the audience an accurate picture of what the soldiers went through.  Go to France, make some friends, fall in love!  GRADE  -  C

“The Lost Battalion” does attempt to show how the soldier’s lived.  The movie splits time between command decisions and soldier interaction before going full combat mode.  The comradeship is apparent.  The movie makes a point of having the veterans instruct the newbies.  Much of this is patronizing to anybody familiar with the AEF, but for the average viewer it is instructive.  The screenwriter gets the brash attitude of the Yanks down.  But some of the characters are not gung-ho.  GRADE  -  B

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  Battalion  -  22     Parade  -  19

ENTERTAINMENT:  “The Big Parade” is mainly a romance set in war with a buddy picture aspect thrown in.  It is not aimed at the macho combat groupies.  It is pretty good entertainment for a silent movie that wants to please both males and females.  If the men can sit through the character and relationships development, they get a fairly kick-ass combat payoff.  It holds up well over the years, but it is not something you could show students with any success whatsoever.  You must like classic films to like “The Big Parade”.  GRADE  -  B

“The Lost Battalion” is almost the exact opposite movie from “The Big Parade”.  For instance, there is not a single female in the movie. It is definitely a movie aimed at a male audience.  Unless you are a female who is hot for Rick Schroder.  Some of the movie comes close to combat porn.  It is amazingly intense and graphic.  If you enjoyed the opening to “Saving Private Ryan”, you will enjoy much of “The Lost Battalion”.  The fact that it is a true story accurately rendered makes it more entertaining than it otherwise might be.  GRADE  -  A

FINAL SCORE:  Lost Battalion  -  31
                           Big Parade  -  27

MATCH ANALYSIS:  I am a big fan of all war movies, no matter the era.  “The Big Parade” is one of the best silent movies set in WWI.  I was impressed with it the first time I saw it, but it does not improve with repeat viewings.  It is Old School which can be a good thing.  However, since the plot is dusty, it has a hard time going up against a modern war movie with a competent plot.  A movie like “The Lost Battalion” (even one with a made-for-TV budget and the constraints of that medium) has huge advantages in cinematography and effects.  When you look at the quantity and quality of the combat and the surprisingly good acting, it is not surprising that it won comfortably.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930) (1) vs. PRIVATE PEACEFUL (16)


VS.



PLOT:  “All Quiet…” is a faithful rendering of the most famous war novel.  This makes the plot outstanding.  For those of you who are reading this from another planet, the movie is the story of Paul Baumer and his mates as they try to survive on the Western Front.  Paul goes from naïve schoolboy to cynical veteran.  The men go through boot camp and then it’s off to the front to experience what the war is really like.  Under the tutelage of a wizened old vet, Paul and the boys learn the ropes.  Along the way they find out that war sucks and few survive.  It’s heart-felt and heart-breaking.  It has several iconic combat scenes.  GRADE  -  A+

“Private Peaceful” is based on a young adult novel.  It is the tale of two brothers and the girl they both love.  She chooses the older Charlie which breaks Tommo’s heart.  The war separates the couple, but reunites the brothers.  Tommo and Charlie are lower class lads who go off to the Western Front where they are harassed by evil sergeant Hanley. He is a stock villain who does everything but twirl his mustache.  The plot builds to the execution of one of the boys for disobeying orders.  It concludes with a trite twist ending.  GRADE  -  C+

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  All Quiet  -  10    Peaceful  -  7

ACTING:  The only real flaw in “All Quiet” is in the acting.  The cast is not special.  Lew Ayres was not a big star and did not get top billing.  His performance is much too overwrought.  Top billing went to Louis Wolheim who played Kat.  He and Slim Summerville (Tjaden) are the only main actors who don’t chew scenery.  There are several moments in the film where the acting causes giggles.  Although a talkie, the film is distinctly silent in its acting.  Even Ayres, who became a star from his role as Paul, is cringe-inducing at times.  GRADE  -  C

“Private Peaceful” stars the up and coming Jack O’Connell as Charlie and he brings a lot of charisma to the role.  The rest of the cast is not well known, but they are fine.  John Lynch foams at the mouth as the despicable Hanley, but the role was written for that.  GRADE  -  C

HALFTIME SCORE:  All Quiet  -  16     Peaceful  -  13

COMBAT:  It may surprise many that “All Quiet” has only 11 minutes of combat. The quality is high, however.  The big set piece trench warfare scene is a classic.  It is the best at showing the back and forth of trench assaults.  The French evict them in spite of their machine guns and rifle fire, they retreat to their reserve trench, a barrage forces the French back, the Germans counterattack and take the French trench, but they withdraw and everyone is back where they started from!  The scene features some vicious hand-to-hand fighting and one indelible shot of severed hands on the barbed wire.  Combat is secondary to the hardships and rare moments of humanity that Paul and the others undergo.  GRADE  -  B

“Private Peaceful” has only 5 minutes of combat and what there is is small scale.  It is also unrealistically staged.  The no man’s land is merely a field.  No shell craters.  No reason to scare the kiddies.  Besides, it’s a tale of two brothers and their girl friend.  The only part combat plays is to set up the court-martial.  You would think it was a play.  GRADE  -  D

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  All Quiet  -  24    Peaceful  -  18

ANTI-WAR:  “All Quiet” is based on the most famous antiwar novel ever written.  And the movie surely brings the vibe to the silver screen.  This theme that the war was a terrible mistake kicks in from the very first scene and is consistently permeating the film throughout even the home front scene.  The movie includes Paul’s stay in the hospital which is another form of horror.  The body count is reflective of an anti-war movie.  The anti-command sub-theme is exemplified by the Himmelstoss character.  By the way, Lew Ayres became a conscientious objector in WWII due to his involvement in the movie.  GRADE  -  A+

“Private Peaceful” is meant to be anti-war in a lecturing sort of way.  Being aimed at a young audience, the theme is simplified and unsubtle.  The movie does not really show the horrors of trench warfare.  The big tear-jerking moment is the result of villainy that could have been found in civilian life.  If anything, the movie is more anti-upper class.  The Peaceful family is trod upon by their local landlord.  GRADE  -  C

FINAL SCORE:  All Quiet  -  34
Private Peaceful  -  24


MATCH ANALYSIS:  Hey, I had to go through the motions, okay?  This was truly a mismatch.  It was a lightweight up against a heavyweight and it got pummeled.  “All Quiet” is a classic that is arguably still the best WWI movie ever made.  “Private Peaceful” will be forgotten soon.  Not that it was the 16th best movie in the tournament.  There were definitely worse contenders.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

THE BIG PARADE (3) vs. FIGHTING 69th (14)



VS.




PLOT:  “The Big Parade” is a home front to war front romance.  It is also a buddy film.  The main character Jim is a rich boy who leaves his fiancé to go to war.  He meets “Bull”, the bartender, and “Slim”, the construction worker.  The trios’ unit is billeted in a French barn.  Jim makes a love connection with a feisty mademoiselle named Melisande, but then it’s off to the front for a battle that consumes the last part of the movie.  Many of the scenes go on too long.  The plot is decidedly silent movieiesh.  There are some lame stabs at humor.  The plot builds slowly to the climactic battle which is the highlight of the movie.  GRADE  -  C

“The Fighting 69th” is a fictional story involving the famous American 69th Infantry Regiment.  The story centers around the attempts of Father Duffy to reform a street tough named Plunkitt (Jimmy Cagney).  The plot takes the unit from boot camp to battle with Plunkitt’s antics keeping Duffy busy and giving him grey hairs.  It is all very predictable.  It is also blatantly religious and patriotic.  It features an unlikeable central character who doesn’t deserve, but gets, redemption.  A movie like this could not be made today.  That’s a good thing.  The only positive is the portrayal of some real heroes like Duffy, William Donovan, and Joyce Kilmer.    GRADE  -  D

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Parade  -  6    Fighting 69th  -  5

ACTING:  “The Big Parade” stars John Gilbert who was a major silent movie star and was a rival of Valentino as a sex symbol.  He is fine for a silent movie role.  You have to expect a lot of mugging.  There is some chemistry with Renee Adoree.  The rest of the cast was not noteworthy at the time although Adoree made a big splash in the film.  She is adorable.  I know the mugging was considered acceptable back then, but today the performances seem very dated.  Plus, the actor who plays “Slim” is difficult to watch.  He is a bizarre looking dude and his biggest talent is spitting tobacco juice.  His look is as disgusting as Plunkitt’s personality.  GRADE  -  B-

“The Fighting 69th” stars Cagney and Pat O’Brian so it is strong in its leads.  Cagney could be great, but the character and script let him down.  He chews the scenery like he hasn’t had a decent meal in years.  O’Brian is overly pious, of course.  The rest of the cast is wooden.  GRADE  -  C

HALFTIME SCORE:  Parade  -  13    Fighting 69th  -  11

COMBAT:  “The Big Parade” has 17 minutes of combat.  There is a lot of trite before you get to it, but it is worth the wait if you don’t expect ‘’Saving Private Ryan”.  The big combat scene starts with the Americans marching in lines through a forest where they encounter snipers and machine gun nests.  The machine guns do not mow them down but instead pick off individuals!  Then the action transitions to an assault across no man’s land.  There are plenty of explosions and after darkness, the renewal of the attack is nightmarish.  In between, the trio takes refuge in a shell crater and have their own little adventure.  It’s all very micro and does not stand out as one of the outstanding combat scenes.  I do not show it in class.  GRADE  -  B

“The Fighting 69th” has about 9 minutes of combat and it’s mostly of the bombardment of troops in no man’s land.  It is also micro and concentrates mostly on the actions of Plunkitt.  It is also laughably unrealistic.  It tells you a lot when a WWI movie stages its combat  mostly at night.  GRADE  -  D

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  Parade  -  21    Fighting 69th  -  16

ANTI-WAR:  “The Big Parade” is average when it comes to condemning the war.  It tries to earn its badge by inflicting hardship on its main characters.  Two of the three soldiers are killed and one is maimed.  Melisande becomes a refugee.  However, this is diluted by a happy ending.  There is no criticism of command or the war in general.  Jim’s decision to go to war is not questioned.  GRADE  -  C

“The Fighting 69th” is one of the few WWI movies that is pro-war.  The main character is the only one who questions the war and that is because he is a coward.  All the other soldiers are enthusiastic.  One theme is that war brings the country together.  I guess you can’t laud a unit and criticize its war at the same time.  GRADE  -  F

FINAL SCORE:  Big Parade  -  27
                           Fighting 69th  -  20


MATCH ANALYSIS:   I liked “The Big Parade” better the first time I watched it. This time I found it quite the antique.  The scenes linger way past their expiration date.  It is more of a romance than a war movie.  Thank God for the big combat scene which saves the movie in the end.  It also has a great ending, although its schmaltzy.  I do believe it is overrated and was seeded too high.  But that is because IMDB judged it as a movie, not as a war movie and it got the ”classic” bump.  It had an easy first round opponent in the mediocre “Fighting 69th”.  It may be a talkie, but it is even more of a dinosaur than “Parade”.  I like Cagney, but he embarrasses himself in this movie.  Instead of concentrating on Donovan and Kilmer, we get Plunkitt.  And Duffy does not come off well as he continues to support an a-hole. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

PATHS OF GLORY (2) vs. PASSCHENDAELE (15)


VS.



PLOT:    “Paths of Glory” is a court room (court-martial) drama set on the Western Front in 1916.  Although a fictional tale, it realistically portrays the state of the French army at the time and the incompetent and merciless leadership of the high command.  A French unit is forced to make a suicidal attack by a general seeking a promotion.  When the attack predictably fails, he insists on putting three random soldiers on trial for cowardice.  Their humane commanding officer defends them in the trial.  The plot is outstanding.  Although mainly concentrating on the trial, it does manage to set the scenario up with one of the great combat scenes as the unit makes its futile assault across a very realistic no man’s land.  Never have the machinations of WWI commanders been portrayed as perceptively.  GRADE  -  A+

“Passchendaele” is a romance set in WWI.  A Canadian soldier performs heroically on the Western Front, but his post traumatic stress disorder lands him back in Canada on recruitment duty.  He falls in love with a nurse.  In a parallel plot line, her brother is attempting to get himself sent to the front partly to win the hand of a local girl.  When he succeeds, the hero goes back to watch over him.  The nurse also ends up near the front lines.  “Passchendaele” is obviously not a true story as it bends itself into a pretzel to facilitate the plot arc.  It is very unrealistic, but does feature a balls to the wall combat scene at the end.   GRADE  -  C+

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Paths  -  10    Passchendaele  -  7

ACTING:  “Paths of Glory” has no weak performances.   Douglas is his usual charismatic self, even more so because he was passionate about the project.  His Dax is one of the great anti-authority figures in war movie history and ahead of his time in the genre.  He runs the gamut of that stereotype.  Sarcasm, slow-burns, seething, and finally snapping.  The supporting cast is not intimidated.  MacReady and Menjou are all-time slimy.  Two great villains in one movie.  Morris (who was a highly decorated ace in WWII) creates one of the great cowards in war movie history.  Ralph Meeker does his best work in an underrated career.  The most fascinating character is Ferol.  The eccentric Carey plays him to the hilt and his scene stealing aggravated the rest of the cast.   GRADE  -  A+

“Passchendaele” was written, directed, and starred in by Paul Gross.  Gross made a name for himself in the cult show “Due North” and brings some charisma to the role.  He’s no Kirk Douglas, but he is not bad.  The rest of the cast is far from stellar.  Credit is due for keeping a straight face through some of the ludicrous aspects of the plot.  Although the movie was the most expensive Canadian production up to that time, it does not show in the acting.
GRADE  -  C+

HALFTIME SCORE:  Paths  -  20    Passchendaele  -  14

COMBAT:  “Paths of Glory” is not a combat movie.  It only has about seven minutes of combat.  However, it uses two combat scenes to set up the court-martial.  The first is a night raid that is short on action, but is crucial for character development.  The highlight of the movie is the iconic assault through no man’s land.  Stanley Kubrick is at his best in this fabulous scene.  The bombardment effects are noisily realistic.  The camera tracks Dax as he leads his men through the shell-cratered landscape.  It is probably the most authentic rendering of the doomed assaults associated with the war.  I show it every year in class to prepare my students for their trench letter assignment.  Watching the scene leaves no doubt as to why the French army would face a mutiny problem.  GRADE  -  A

“Passchendaele” seems to have realized that it needed to compensate for its lame romance with some high octane action.  It has a total of 21 minutes of combat which puts it among the leaders in that category of quantity.   Surprisingly, the quality is not bad.  The final battle goes on for fifteen minutes and is graphic if cartoonish.  It is in the style of “Saving Private Ryan”.  There is even a bout of hand-to-hand with any weapons available.  You won’t be eating your popcorn during this scene.  It is far from realistic, but entertaining for the guys who brought their chicks to see a romance.  Hell, the Germans charge into no man’s land to meet the Canadians!  The movie is really strong on artillery fire, but so are most WWI movies.  GRADE  -  B

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  Paths  -  29    Passchendaele  -  22

ANTI-WAR:  Have you seen “Paths of Glory”?  If so, you know where this is going.  Some WWI movies are famous for the Nazis banning them.  “Paths” was not banned in France, but the French government discouraged its debut there for two decades. It is easy to see why.  The movie is an indictment of the French brass that crassly sent thousands to their deaths while sipping claret in their chateaus.  The movie is more anti-command than anti-war.  No major character dies in combat.  It is the best movie ever made to show how the war was made horrific not only by the use of modern weaponry, but this was compounded by incompetent, uncaring generals who refused to adjust tactics to the realities of trench warfare.  GRADE  -  A+

“Passchedaele” is not the first WWI movie that comes to mind when you think of war criticism.  However, it actually is not just a feel-blood kind of movie.  The main character is cynical and only fights for love of Sarah.  The movie makes a point of showing the naivete of the new recruits and the recruiting head is a main villain.  The pressure to join the adventure is a theme.  The ending is heart-tugging.  GRADE  -  A

FINAL SCORE:  Paths  -  39    
                Passchendaele  -  31


MATCH ANALYSIS:  Everyone saw this outcome from a mile away.  “Paths” will be a strong contender for the championship and is one of the all-time great war movies.  “Passchendaele” is a relatively unknown movie that had no pretensions to grandeur.  I’m sure it was just happy to make the tournament.  It put up a decent fight, but never stood a chance.