Saturday, September 25, 2010

WAR MOVIE CLICHES

In my last post, I made reference to some war movie cliches.  In my opinion, no movie genre has as many cliches as war movies.  One of the things I look for in my reviews is recurrences of these cliches.  The general idea is that the less cliches - the better the movie.  However, one of the appeals of war movies for some is they are formulaic.  This can be comforting.   Here is my list which is pretty much off the top of my head so I would welcome suggestions.


1.  If you show a picture of your girlfriend or wife, you are dead meat.
2.  A shamed soldier will redeem himself, often at the cost of his life.
3.  At least 1/3 of suicide mission members will not return. 
4.  If you brag about going home soon, you're going home in a box.
5.  In a tight situation, if you are an extra or unknown actor, you are going to die.
6.  Stupid officers survive.
7.  The fat guy always dies.
8.  All small units are heterogeneous.  The Southern guy is a rube.  The shortest guy is a jerk.  The Italian is a killer.  The college guy is too smart for this group.  The oldest guy is wise.  One will be from Brooklyn.  The fat guy is hopeless as a soldier.  One of them is a writer.  One of them was the class clown.  One of them loves animals more than people.
9.  Soldiers do not sweat, even in the tropics or desert.
10.  Enemy uniforms always fit, in case you need a disguise.
11.  A soldier who taks about getting married will not live to reach the altar.
12.  New replacements are dead meat, don't befriend them.
13.  Every unit has a "scrounger" who can find anything anywhere.
14.  Kids and dogs can not be killed in a barrage or bombardment.
15.  If two branches are represented in a bar - there will be a brawl.
16.  All subs can go way below their maximum depth.
17.  A bullet in the arm will not prevent you from using that arm.
18.  The overly strict officer will go soft at a critical moment.
19.  The tough disciplinarian will be hated at first, but will earn the respect of his men.
20.  Boot camp enemies will become friends.
21.  Innocent and naive soldiers will become disillusioned.
22.  When a sub is undergoing depth charging, it will release a recently dead sailor through a torpedo tube to fool the enemy.
23.  A bomber crew will witness the destruction of another crew that they befriended - there will be no parachutes.
24.  The featured bomber will lose at least one engine and have at least one crewman wounded.
25.  The featured tank will have engine trouble.  If it is an American tank, someone in the crew will fix it with a wrench.
26.  If the movie features a pair of BFFs - one will die and usually saving the other.
27.  A reciever of a "Dear John" letter will lose his will to live.
28.  Heavy machine guns can be fired constantly with no fear of damaging the barrel.
29.  If the movie was made before the 1960s, wounds will not bleed.
30.  Main characters never get caught by MPs.
31.  The schemer in boot camp will save the day later.
32.  Parents always take death notices stoically.
33.  Rivets will pop during a depth charging.
34.  Sailors on shore leave will always get in trouble with the MPs.
35.  Radio operators always wear glasses.
36.  Ground personnel will stow away on a bomber to get a taste of combat.  They will get chewed out by their commander, but he'll understand.

9 comments:

  1. True enough on those... But....

    They're cliches for a reason. Usually because a lot of the time these things happened. Or at least enough that somebody thought to include it in a script, or a book.

    Doesn't necessarily mean that movies with these are automatically bad in some way, either. Sometimes they are way overdone, sometimes necessary.... Just my .02

    And you forgot: EVERYONE in Vietnam got high ALL THE TIME. And listened to Hendrix. Or Hank Williams. One or the other.

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  2. You had me laughing quite a few times here. I recognized many. No.8 is hilarious. And so true. I can't add any just right now... Will have to think about it.

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  3. WarMovieBlog: I respectfully disagree. It is now approaching the one hundred year anniversary of the first important war movie ("Birth of a Nation"). There is no reason for a modern movie to use any of these cliches. First, at this point, they are laughable because people recognize them and even a serious movie opens itself to ridicule. Two, almost all of them are false. For instance, all of the ones that predict death (1,4,5,7,14,23,26) are statistically bogus. Deaths in war are mostly random which is one of the reasons it is so horrifying. A land mine does not care what kind of person you are. Bombs do not dodge kids. The guy who shows a picture of his girlfriend has exactly the same chance of dying as everyone else in the unit. I make an exception for #12. Third, some of the cliches are historically inaccurate (9,28). Fourth, at this stage of moviemaking the use of cliches smacks of laziness and disrespect for the audience. In conclusion, think about recent war movies that stand out for you. Chances are they violated cliches! For example, in "Saving Private Ryan" the Nazi kills the Jewish guy and the main character dies. We need more of that.

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  4. I think you got a very good point here and I totally agree. I hate all types of cliché.

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  5. the radio operator always wears glasses

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  6. Full Metal Jacket is responsible for starting two cliches...the main character is an intellectual who is too smart for the group, and the drill sergeant is an @$$.

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  7. If a soldier is due to be discharged (or transferred out of the danger zone) soon, he will get killed (a variation of #1 and #11).

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  8. A junior officer will accuse his C.O. of callousness. Then the junior will be appointed commander and will be forced to make the same kind of callous decisions.

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  9. All movie screenwriters forget weapons are long range. The ship, tank, artillery piece has to get up close to what it's firing at. Every weapon must remain in visual range.

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Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.