Thursday, August 31, 2017

DUELING MOVIES: Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) vs. Father Goose (1964)


VS.



                “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” was based on a novel by Charles Shaw.  John Huston and John Lee Martin adapted the screenplay and Huston directed.  Huston and 20th Century Fox envisioned it as a successor to “The African Queen”.  You’ll enjoy it more if you forget that.  It stars Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr.  It was the first of their four screen pairings.  They became good friends during the filming as Mitchum bonded with her when she would curse while wearing her nun costume.  She gamely put up with the drunken binges of her director and co-star.  She ended up being nominated for Best Actress.  Huston and Martin were nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.  It was a screenplay that was vetted by the National Legion of Decency.  The Catholic Church also had a hand in monitoring the production to protect the image of its nuns.  The movie was filmed on Trinidad and Tobago. The actors to portray the Japanese-speaking soldiers had to be brought in from a Japanese community in Brazil. 

                The movie opens with a stranded Cpl. Allison (Mitchum) coming ashore on a little island in the Pacific.  There is a deserted village, but he meets a lone nun named Sister Angela (Kerr) who maintains the church.  What Allison hopes is an Adam and Eve scenario ends when the Japanese arrive and the duo goes into hiding.  Close proximity and the tension of being prey could lead to something.  If the Catholic Church was not on the set.

                “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” was a popular movie, but as a war movie it is nothing to get excited about.  It is more of a character study than a war film.  There is little suspense, even when Allison sneaks into the Japanese camp.  This is a shame as the situation should have lent itself to some edging to the front of your seat.  The movie is too busy toying with the “will they or won’t they” question.  The leads do have a lot of chemistry and Mitchum and Kerr were great actors, but the moral restraints placed on the script hindered a realistic portrayal of two beautiful people marooned on an island.  Actually, Kerr’s Angela is an authentic character.  Or, what the Catholic Church would have us believe is a typical nun.  As far as Mitchum’s gyrene, we get a family-friendly leatherneck.  He is one of the more saintly Marines you will run into in a war movie.  (Maybe the Marine Corps was on set also.)  Mitchum’s dialogue sounds phony and the romantic arc is unrealistic.  It is rushed due to cinematic time constraints.  We go from “hey lady, get real” to “I never realized how attractive you are” to “let’s make the best of the situation” to “marry me” to “admit it, you want it to” to “I respect you” too patly.  The “supervision” of the film caused a watering down of the theme comparing the Marine Corps to the Catholic Church.  The biggest problem with “Heaven Knows” is that the plot makes little sense.  Specifically, the actions of the Japanese are unrealistic.  (For instance, the Japanese actually invade the island twice!) At least they speak with no subtitles and are not demonized.

                “Father Goose” was Cary Grant’s second-to-last screen role.  He turned down the role of Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” because he wanted to play against his usual suave characters and instead play a role that was close to his actual personality.  Apparently, the real Grant  liked to dress like a bum and yell at kids to get off his lawn.  The movie was directed by Ralph Nelson (“Soldier Blue”).  The screenplay was an adaptation of the short story “A Place of Dragons” by S.H. Barnett.  Peter Stone and Frank Tarloff won an Oscar for the screenplay.  The movie was nominated for Film Editing and Sound.  The song “Pass Me By” was not nominated but was later a hit for Peggy Lee and was recorded by Frank Sinatra and others.  The movie was filmed in Jamaica.  It was a big hit.

                The movie opens in early 1942 with the Japanese rampaging through the Southwest Pacific.  Walter Eckland (Grant) is a loner who couldn’t care less about the war effort.  He is “recruited” by Commander Broughton (Trevor Howard) of the Royal Australian Navy to be a coast watcher.  The curmudgeonly Eckland is more civilian than most civilians, but he is given no choice.  He is deposited on a deserted island with a radio.  To get him to file periodic reports, Broughton has hidden whiskey bottles and reveals their locations only upon receipt of the reports.  When he is sent to rescue another coast watcher, Eckland instead is saddled with a school teacher named Catherine (Leslie Caron) and her seven girl charges.  The situation is reminiscent of Felix Unger moving in with Oscar except that Felix is a woman and she brings teenage girls with him.  Eckland tops Oscar by being not only a slob, but also an asshole.  Naturally, “Mother Goose” (Eckland’s code name) gets along with “Goody Two Shoes” like an old mutt with a Persian cat.  Eckland hurls a lot of invective such as “you should carry a tambouring and put fig leaves on statues”.  Oh, snap!  These two have as much chance of falling in love as that old mutt and the Persian cat.  Unless this is a movie.

                “Father Goose” is fluff, but it is well done fluff.  The confection has one prime ingredient – Cary Grant.  He has fun playing against type and Caron is an excellent foil.  They have chemistry and this makes the absolutely predictable romance watchable.  Like “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison”, the romantic arc is too rushed, but hell, there’s a war going on.  In most ways, the movie is more of a romantic comedy than a war movie.  As far as the comedy part, the movie is fairly amusing.  Grant gets some funny lines (he had his writers on call), as does Howard.  Although it co-stars the venerable war movie stalwart Howard, his Boughton is mainly there to facilitate the comedy.  He seems to have had fun as well.  It’s not often you get to top a Cary Grant character.  His character is the key to making the movie above average.  For a comedy, it is surprisingly more suspenseful than “Heaven Knows”.  You’re not going to lose sleep, mind you.  Another surprise is that it actually has more of an “The African Queen” vibe than the other movie.  The two main characters are much closer to Charlie and Rose than Allison and Angela are.  Speaking of which, although the script is competent, it hardly deserved an Oscar.  (It beat out “Hard Day’s Night”!)  “The African Queen” was only nominated.

                Both movies are better as movies than war movies.  However, “Father Goose” is more entertaining and less unrealistic in its handling of an unrealistic situation.  At least, there were coast watchers that served in the Pacific.  I wouldn’t say that the movie honors them, however.  “Father Goose” is just more comfortable in the romantic comedy genre than “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” is in the romantic genre.  “Heaven Knows” was crippled by the production code and the blue noses and clergymen who scrutinized it.  It also fumbled the trapped scenario.  The two are very much of their times, but “Father Goose” would fit well into today’s rom-com environment.  “Heaven Knows” is too uptight to find a modern audience. 

GRADES:  Heaven Knows  =  C-

                  Father Goose  =  B-    

Monday, August 28, 2017

PICTURE, MOVIE, QUOTE #20



 WHAT MOVIE?  It is a biopic of the last years in the life of a famous German general. The movie was controversial because coming only six years after the war, it’s sympathetic portrayal of an enemy commander was greeted with anger by some critics and a number of veterans. One theory that has surfaced to explain the positive spin is the U.S. was in the Cold War and there was a need to show that there were good Germans. Interestingly, because of the criticisms, the same actors portrayal of the character several years later is less sympathetic.

QUOTE:  "The thing that's always worried me about being one of the few is the way we keep on getting fewer."

Thursday, August 24, 2017

NAVAL COMBAT PORN: The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014)


      
                “The Admiral:  Roaring Currents” is a South Korean war  movie that was directed and co-written by Kim Han-min (“War of the Arrows”).  It was titled “Battle of Myeongnyang, Whirlwind Sea” in South Korea.  It was a smash hit with 10 million viewers in the first twelve days.  It went  on to be the highest grossing South Korean film ever.  It is based on the naval battle of Myeongnyang in 1597.  In the battle, the legendary Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin defeated a Japanese fleet of 300 warships with only 13 of his own.
                After a bad defeat, the recently imprisoned Yi Sun-sin is reinstated to command of the pitiful remnant of the Korean fleet.  Yi has been ordered to disband the fleet and join up with the army for a last stand against the invaders.  This seems like a good idea considering the morale of his sailors is rock-bottom and Yi is in ill health and seemingly apathetic.  Plus he has PTSD from his recent imprisonment.  On the other side, the Japanese commander in chief sends a pirate named Kurushima to light a fire under his admiral Todo.  Kurushima is a total bad-ass who has a grudge against Yi for killing his brother.  He also has a henchwoman named Haru who is a sharpshooter.  I don’t think she was based on a real person. 
                 At his camp, everyone is depressed and Yi is morose.  Things can’t get any worse. Except they do.  One of his subordinates, Bae Seol, is a traitor who attempts to assassinate Yi and successfully destroys the only Turtle boat.  Damn, I was really looking forward to seeing that Turtle boat win the battle by itself!  Plus, this was a pretty short movie with an unsatisfying conclusion.  But wait, this insane admiral does not know the word quit.  He does some recon and discovers a place where the current is as insane as he is.  Perhaps he can lure the overconfident (and how can they help but be?) Japanese into a roaring trap.  Before you say “how can only 13 ships beat 300?”, be aware that at first only Yi is willing to take on the entire Japanese fleet.  Well, not actually the whole fleet, because only Kurushima’s contingent advances.  It still should be way more than is needed except that they are facing a dude named Yi and incidentally, there is a whirlpool.  What ensues is typical Korean mayhem, only this time on water.  And it lasts 61 minutes!
                As my readers know (both of them), I am a big fan of South Korean war movies.  They are the greatest practitioners of combat porn on planet Earth.  This is the first one set on the water that I have seen, so I was a little skeptical.  The battle is epic.  Just when you think it cannot get anymore gonzo, Kim Han-min steps it up a notch.  So a scene that starts out at a 10 on the combat porn scale, ends up at a 15.  Kim films the action with a variety of cinematography including slo-mo, of course.  There is abundant use of CGI, but it is pretty seamless.  Kim did have the use of eight ships that were very detailed recreations of the period warships. The violence is graphic and relentless.  But the movie is not just action.  The plot is fine with the theme of make the enemy fear you and turn your men’s fears into courage.  Yi does not manage this with the usual cinematic charisma.  Choi Min-sik plays him as damaged, but driven.  He’s a magnetic actor.  Plus the movie has a great villain in Kurushima, “The Pirate King”.  He’s so bad, the other Japanese don’t like him.  And throw in the unique character of the female sharpshooter.  Sure, she’s ridiculous, but Korean women need someone as a role model, too.  She may not be a real person, but the movie is surprisingly accurate.  Granted, it’s a Korean war movie version of the events.  Like how “Godzilla” was the retelling of a lizard being found in a Tokyo sewer.

GRADE  =  A

HISTORICAL ACCURACY:    The background information that leads off the movie is accurate.  In the 16th Century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi united Japan and then decided to conquer Korea and possibly China.  The movie is set in his second invasion of Korea which began in 1597.  The Japanese army advanced northward and had the objective of capturing the Korean capital.  Admiral Yi Sun-sin won numerous victories against the Japanese fleet, which had the effect of slowing down the Japanese advance by cutting its supply lines to Japan.  Unfortunately, Yi was removed from command due to Japanese espionage and court intrigue.  He was tortured and demoted to a common soldier.  He was replaced by a rival who subsequently got his ass whipped at the Battle of Chilchonryang.  This defeat cost the Josean Navy around 200 ships.  Yi was reinstated, but had only 12 ships under his command.  Those ships had been saved by a captain named Bae Seol.  As the movie shows, Yi had problems beyond the small size of his force.  His sailors and commanders were justly demoralized and not exactly keen on another confrontation.  In fact, the government strongly urged Yi to disband the fleet and take the crews to supplement the army.  Yi refused and many of his men thought he was nuts.  Bae Seol deserted, for instance.  Unlike in the movie, he did not try to assassinate Yi.  And there was no Turtle ship to set afire.  The inclusion of the Turtle ship was a nice nod the memory of Yi because he was credited with designing the iconic ships.   Bae was later caught and executed for desertion.
                Yi did scout out locations for the battle and decided on the Myeongryang Strait.  Besides the narrowness which would negate the size of the Japanese fleet, the current was ten knots.  Not only that but the current shifted around after three hours so at first the Japanese ships would be impelled forward into the Koreans and then would be forced rearward.  The strait was rife with eddies and whirlpools which would cause severe problems for maneuvering and swimming if any Japanese sailors went overboard or were on sinking ships.  In other words, it was the perfect location for what he had in mind.
                The Japanese fleet was actually about 130 warships (the movie’s number of 330 would have been arrived at by adding support vessels).  Kurushima was in command of the vanguard.  I found no evidence that he was considered to be a pirate and was not liked by the Japanese commander Todo Takatora.  Although the Japanese fleet included some sharpshooters, the Haru character is clearly fictional.  She would have been better placed in the Korean fleet because it relied on missile weapons and stand-off fighting whereas the Japanese tactic was to close in and board.
                As far as the battle itself, the movie gets the foundation right, but enhances the action in ways only a South Korean war movie can do.  On the day of the battle, Yi advanced his fleet and anchored at the northern end of the strait.  He then moved the flagship forward to provoke the battle.  This act of seeming suicide was probably due to the reluctance of the other twelve ships to accompany him.  Kurushima took the bait and accepted combat with his vanguard.  The rest of the Japanese warships held back, most likely because they were intimidated by the knowledge that it was Yi they were facing.  They had good reason to be awed as Yi’s ship was able to hold its own against numerous opponents by using it cannons, arrows, and larger size.  Seeing the flagship performing magnificently, the other ships gradually joined starting with An Wi.  Yi’s ship was not boarded, but An Wi did have to repel boarders.  The death of Kurushima did occur, but the circumstances are unclear.  The corpse of a Japanese general named Modashi was fished out of the water and decapitated.  His head was launched toward the enemy.  A second turning point occurred when the current shifted outward.  The Japanese ships lost headway and began to drift rearward.  They also began to collide with each other.  Cannon fire and ramming increased the panic of the Japanese.  There was no giant whirlpool.  Thirty ships were sunk in the melee.

                The result of the battle was morale was restored in the Korean navy and the military in general.  China’s navy came into the war to aid the Koreans.  Japan never did get to the capital.                

Saturday, August 19, 2017

FINAL: #1 Das Boot vs. #2 Run Silent


VS.



                We have finally reached the end of the tournament.  I have to admit it was not a thrilling one.  There were a few minor upsets, but nothing shocking.  In the end, the two movies that critics consider the best of the subgenre ended up in the finals.   That was fairly predictable, especially for “Das Boot”.  Although suspense was missing, I enjoyed the opportunity to visit this subgenre and pass on some information about the various movies that comprise it.  It is a subgenre that was once a thriving one and occasionally returns as a branch of the action genre.  In my process of preparing for the tournament, I learned a lot about the history of WWII submarine warfare.  It is fascinating to me and it was interesting to see how submarine movies pass on that history.  Unfortunately, knowledge of how submarines fought makes enjoyment of the movies problematical.  Submarine movies exist mainly because movie makers see the potential for drama in a confined space.  They usually are not concerned with tactical or historical accuracy.  This means that what makes them entertaining for the masses makes them less so for history buffs like me.  As you can perceive by following the tournament, I do not think there are very many good submarine movies.  However, the tournament did give some recognition to some forgotten gems like “Above Us the Waves”, “We Dive at Dawn”, and “Hell and High Water”.  Although there is only one great movie in the subgenre, there are some other must-sees. 

                                                                             
PLOT:  Boot =  A  Run  =  C 
                                     
ACTING:  Boot  =  A+     Run  =  A
                                                
TACTICS:  Boot  =  B      Run  =  F
       
CLICHES:  Boot  =  B      Run  =  D
       
DIALOGUE:  Boot  =  B      Run  =  B 
  
ACTION:  Boot  =  B      Run  =  B 
           
SPECIAL EFFECTS:  Boot  =  C       Run  =  B
     
ACCURACY:  Boot  =  B      Run  =  C

CHARACTERS:  Boot  =  A       Run  =  B
  
REALISM:  Boot  =  A+      Run  =  D
                                               
SAILOR BEHAVIOR:  Boot  =  A+  Run  =  C

ENTERTAINMENT:  Boot  =  B  Run  =  B                                             

DAS BOOT  =  102
RUN SILENT  =  81

ANALYSIS:  No one should be surprised by the winner of the tournament.  “Das Boot” is an acclaimed movie that created quite a stir when it came out in 1981.  It is an adaptation of one of the best submarine novels and it was in the hands of a great director (Wolfgang Petersen) who was obsessed with the quality of the production.  The effort that went into the film was amazing and it shows.  The production costs were very high.  Petersen assembled an ace cast and one hell of a great cinematographer (Jost Vacano).  The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards including Director and Adapted Screenplay.  It still holds the record for most nominations for a German film.  It has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Most importantly, as far as war movie buffs are concerned, it avoided the clichés that make the subgenre so tiresome.  It also avoided the requirements of the action genre.  Even though it came late in the subgenre, it is a unique film.

                “Run Silent, Run Deep” should have been a worthy opponent.  It is also based on a great novel, but in this case the adaptation was poor.  It does have a decent cast and certainly star power with Gable and Lancaster.  However, the director (Robert Wise) was not sterling.  The big problem with the film is that in making the movie entertaining for the average viewer, it insults war movie lovers.  Not played for laughs, it still provides them if you know submarine warfare.  It is noteworthy that in spite of its flaws, it made it to the finals.  This speaks volumes for the weakness of the subgenre.


                Thank you to everyone who followed the tournament.  I am self-motivated, but it is still nice to know someone is following.  Now I have one year to ponder what the next tournament will be.  

Friday, August 18, 2017

#1 Das Boot vs. #4 Crimson Tide



VS.


CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT:  “Das Boot” is outstanding in this category.  The Captain is enigmatic, but we know why he is cynical and jaded.  He is a veteran of numerous patrols.  Each of the officers is distinct.  They are recognizable archetypes - the fanatical Nazi, the naïve rookie, the well-respected chief engineer, the frat boy Second Watch Officer, etc.  Since it’s a long patrol fraught with boredom broken by intense stress, there is time and opportunity to develop even some of the minor characters.  When the camera pans over the dead at the end, you know these men.  GRADE  =  A

“Crimson Tide” is dominated by Capt. Ramsey and Lt. Commander Hunter.  It is clear through dialogue where each man is coming from.  They are stereotypes, but in the hands of Hackman and Washington, you don’t mind it.  Ramsey is given a dog (which the Navy was not happy about) as part of his character.  Hunter jogs on the sub.  (Try that, u-boat captain!)  Some of the officers get a little development and some of them are interesting, like the Chief of the Boat who idolizes Ramsey but sides with Hunter.  This contrasts with Weps (Viggo Mortensen) who is Hunter’s best friend and yet inexplicably joins the Ramsey faction.  There is virtually no crew development except we know two of them are big Silver Surfer fans.  GRADE  =  C+

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Das Boot  =  9
                                             Crimson Tide  =  7

REALISM:  No sub movie comes close to “Das Boot” when it comes to realism.  If you want to know what life was like on a German u-boat in particular and any WWII submarine in general, it is a must-see.  There is not a lot of action, which is appropriate for a typical patrol.  Most people do not realize that most subs returned home with torpedoes unfired.  It is the only sub movie that depicts the role mother nature plays in submarine warfare.  It is the gold standard in showing the effects of life in a cramped setting aggravated by lack of success.  The movie leads off with a title card that points out that the u-boat service had a 75% casualty rate and then proceeds to show you why.  GRADE  =  A+

“Crimson Tide” is based on a far-fetched scenario.  Considering the situation in the former Soviet Union when the movie was made, it is plausible that nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands.  However, the U.S. government responding with a preemptive strike goes against established doctrine.  It is also highly unlikely a mutiny as depicted in the movie would take place in the modern U.S. Navy. (The Navy absolutely refused to cooperate with the film.  It did cooperate with “Hunt for Red October”.)  The turmoil that takes place on board the Alabama is classic cinematic license and must be taken with a grain of salt.  GRADE  =  C

HALFTIME SCORE:  Das Boot  =  19
                                   Crimson Tide  =  13

SAILOR BEHAVIOR:  “Das Boot” does an outstanding job in depicting submariner behavior on a u-boat.  The men go through a lot and all of their reactions are genuine.  Other than Bengsch, no one is a hard-core Nazi.  This accurately reflects the make-up of the u-boat service.  These are young men who volunteered for a very dangerous, yet at times exhilarating job.  They run the gamut of emotions appropriate to the various stresses they encounter.  The movie is particularly adept at rendering the crude nature of sailor interaction.  This is the only sub movie that shows someone flicking boogers on a mate.  GRADE  =  A+

“Crimson Tide” requires the officers on a US nuclear sub to divide into two factions to battle for control of the sub.  It is no wonder the Navy refused to cooperate with the movie.   A captain and his exec yelling at each other in front of the crew?  Highly unlikely.  Two groups pointing guns at each other?  Only Hollywood could conjure up such foolishness.  The submarine service has the historical reputation of being a bit lax in discipline, but this movie takes that to an extreme.  As far as exhibiting submariner behavior, the movie concentrates on the officers so we get almost know crew behavior.  They don’t even discuss dames.

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  Das Boot  =  29
                                              Crimson Tide  =  18

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:  Although any submarine movie fan will find “Das Boot” mesmerizing, it was not designed to entertain the masses.  It avoids most of the clichés that most sub movies rely on to gin up excitement.  Just like the voyage, there are long stretches where nothing much happens.  The tedium of u-boat life is painstakingly recreated.  If you love great acting in confined spaces, this is the movie for you.  It is far from an action picture, but when it does get hinky it is pulse-pounding.  GRADE  =  B

“Red October” was probably created in a lab where scientists put together all the ingredients that please 18-45 year-old males.  Alpha males, turf warfare, sub duel, clock ticking to an explosion, etc.  And this is all done with a straight face and with no shame.  It is well crafted and if this is what a modern sub movie will have to be like to be made in the modern cinematic universe, so be it.  Better this than an embarrassing throwback like “U-571”.  GRADE  =  A

FINAL SCORE:  Das Boot  =  37
                           Crimson Tide  =  27


ANALYSIS:  “Das Boot” (1981) and “Crimson Tide” (1995) are part of the fourth wave of sub movies.  The first was the rare movie made between the world wars, the second were the ones made during WWII, the third was the fertile 1950s period, and then we have the modern ones that basically began with “Das Boot”.  “Crimson Tide” is a better example of the modern sub film.  It and “The Hunt for Red October” have taken the sub film into the action genre.  Better to be there than nowhere at all, I suppose.  The cramped environment does lend itself to drama.  And with CGI you can even make a sub chase film!  “Das Boot” is the best sub movie ever made because it bridges the third and fourth wave adroitly. It keeps some of the clichés from the third wave and adds technical proficiency.  Some of its tropes are well-worn, but it manages to do them better than ever before.  No surprise it took a foreign film to accomplish this.  No American studio would have greenlit this movie.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

SEMI-FINALS


VS.

#2  Run Silent, Run Deep  vs.  #3  Hunt for Red October

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT:   “Run Silent, Run Deep” is in many ways a two man show.  It has the classic command dysfunction dynamic we see in several sub movies.  It set the template for that.  Richardson and Bledsoe are well developed.  In fact, Richardson is perhaps too well developed as he comes off as insane with his obsession with Bungo Pete.  The movie includes a scene where he is desk-bound but continually war gaming revenge against his Japanese nemesis.    Bledsoe is clearly upset that he is not promoted to command the Nerka and justifiably so.  The movie also develops two crew members.  Mueller (Jack Warren) is Richardson’s toadie and Cartwright (Brad Dexter) is the boat’s blowhard.  There is little development of the enlisted men.    GRADE  =  B

“The Hunt for Red October” revolves around two men also.  CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) gets a back-story of being a family man.  We know he is an intellectual and a neophyte when it comes to international crises.  Soviet skipper Ramius (Sean Connery) is a bit more enigmatic.  The movie is unclear as to his motivations.  It floats the idea that he is upset with his wife’s death.  He is obviously very highly respected, but it is unclear why his officers have decided to risk execution for him.  The script does an excellent job developing the sonar operator Jones (Courtney Vance) and there are several other memorable characters.  GRADE  =  B

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Run Silent  =  8
                                             Red October  =  8

REALISM:  The biggest flaw in “Run Silent” is its lack of realism.  This starts with the opening scene.  Richardson’s boat is sunk and the next thing we see is he is in a lifeboat.  Where did the lifeboat come from?  He is given a desk job and (with apparently no psychological review) a new boat over the obviously more qualified Bledsoe.  Then the Navy tells this Ahab not to go after Bungo Pete!  His whole tactic of working for a bow shot on a destroyer is ridiculous.  The crew’s chicken reaction to being sent to a dangerous patrol area is demeaning.  Richardson’s death and burial at sea is just bizarre.  One the plus side, the firing procedures are well done.  It’s a movie that can be picked apart if you want.  GRADE  =  D

“Red October” tries to be realistic within the parameters of an action thriller that is totally fictional.  However, if you are going to make a crowd-pleasing blockbuster set on a submarine, logic will have to take a back seat.  The whole defection scenario would be unbelievable if set in the US Navy, much less the Soviet Navy.  The sub chasing and cat-and-mouse elements are brain cell reducing.  A lowly CIA analyst becoming an action hero could only happen in Hollywood.  And the big finish is rousing, but laughable.  GRADE  =  D

HALFTIME SCORE:  Run Silent  =  13
                                   Red October  =  13

SAILOR BEHAVIOR:  My big problem with the behavior of the crew in “Run Silent” is their reaction to word that they are being sent to Area 7.  They are uniformly upset about the news.  It seems to me that at this stage of the war they would at least pretend to be tough guys.  When Richardson declines to attack a convoy, there are rumblings of discontent which change to hero-worship when he sinks a destroyer.  Later, they are happy when the sub is going to return to Pearl Harbor with almost a full load of torpedoes.  This makes little sense.  The decision of Bledsoe, supported by the other officers, to depose Richardson is believable given the situation posited by the plot.  GRADE  =  C

“Red October” is very shaky when it comes to the behavior of the Soviet officers.  It defies reason that they would all (aside from the doctor and the political officer) go along with Ramius’ suicidal plan.  The movie has little time for the crews of either sub.  Jones is the only enlisted on the Dallas that gets any significant screen time, but he does represent the modern Navy’s recruitment of the video game generation.  GRADE  =  C

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  Run Silent  =  19
                                              Red October  =  19

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:   “Run Silent” has two superstars going head-to-head.  This is almost enough to overcome the numerous clichés and ridiculous plot twists.  For the time it was released, it was crackerjack entertainment, but it does not hold up very well when compared to the entire subgenre.  A modern remake would fit in well in our current movie mentality since we now expect the kitchen sink approach to plotting.  You get the clash of alpha types, the mutiny, and several combat scenes for your viewing pleasure.  Unless you are a stickler for logic, it’s entertaining.  GRADE  =  B

“Red October” is based on a best-seller and has an all-star cast.  It is just as implausible as “Run Silent”, but not as laughably so.  It is more edge of your seat than the earlier film.  The hopping between various locales keeps things moving at a rapid clip.  It manages to aid chase elements to a thriller plot.  Unfortunately, in its attempt at a big finish, it ends with a preposterous sub on sub on sub encounter that exemplifies the worst of the modern Hollywood action pictures.  GRADE  =  B

FINAL SCORE:  Run Silent  =  27
                           Red October  =  27


ANALYSIS:  “Run Silent” is a classic and was appropriately seeded at #2.  Most would say it is second only to “Das Boot” in the canon of submarine warfare movies. But clear-eyed analysis can’t help but reveal that it has significant flaws.  If it would have been made with any other actors in the lead roles, its reputation would be much lower.  it is also helped by its attachment to the most famous submarine novel.  However, it is not an accurate rendering of Beach’s book.  “Red October” is modern updating of the submarine film.  Hollywood’s attempt to revive the sub film within the action movie genre was successful.  It has possibly the best cast of any sub movie and all the bells and whistles you can get with modern cinematic technology and a huge budget.  Both movies are a product of their times and reflect what was expected in a sub movie from its era.  I personally think neither is a very good movie.  Since we ended with a tie, I am going to advance “Run Silent” because it is more of a traditional sub movie.

Monday, August 14, 2017

#1 Das Boot vs. #9 Above Us the Waves


VS.



DIALOGUE:  “Das Boot” has a good mixture of dialogue and action.  The dialogue is divided between the officers and the crew.  The officers are a heterogeneous lot and their conversations offer a variety of takes.  The captain in particular offers a cynical, war-weary view of the war.  When he observes the men carousing before they go on patrol, he says:  “Scared f***ers.  They need sex as much as the infantry needs alcohol.”  He is not a man of many words, however.  His facial expressions do his talking for him.  The sailor banter is crude as you would expect.  GRADE  =  B

There is nothing special about the dialogue in “Above Us the Waves”.  It’s a very British movie so the dialogue is sparse.  There are no speeches and little exposition.  There is some humor of the British ilk.  Very dry.  GRADE  =  C

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Das Boot  =  8
                                             Above Us the Waves  =  6

SPECIAL EFFECTS:  “Das Boot” is not famous because of it special effects.  There is little undersea footage.  The depth charge scenes eschew the descending cans imagery.  The explosions themselves are well-done and the effects on the sub interior are the best of any sub movie.  The sound effects are also the acme.  The effects for the burning tanker are awesome and there is a bomb laden final scene that saved the best pyrotechnics for last.  GRADE  =  B

“Above Us the Waves” has some fine underwater camerawork.  It was obviously done in a pool in daylight, but I am fine with that considering when it was made and for how much.  These shots include a sequence that includes the cutting of a submarine net, going under a torpedo net, and then placing some limpet mines on the hull of a ship.  However, the scene where one of the subs gets trapped under the Tirpitz is underwhelming.   GRADE  =  C+

HALFTIME SCORE:  Das Boot  =  16
                                   Above Us the Waves  =  13

ACTION:   One of the things that makes “Das Boot” so realistic is that it is not nonstop action.  There are long stretches where the sub sees no action.  It is frustrating for them, but not for us.  The reaction of the officers and crew are fascinating.  The action we get is pretty much confined to depth chargings and the efforts of the crew dealing with the damages from them.  GRADE  =  C

 “Above Us the Waves” is light on action.  It’s more of a claustrophobic thriller. It’s as slow moving as the mini-subs.  But no one advertised it as an adrenalin rush.  It does build well to the attack on the Tirpitz.  GRADE  =  C

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  Das Boot  =  22
                                              Above Us the Waves  =  19

ACCURACY:  It is hard to judge the accuracy of “Das Boot” because it is based on a novel that is based on an actual u-boat patrol.  The movie is more realistic than accurate.  It gets the details and vibe right.  The attitudes and behavior of the submariners are authentic.  It lays the frustration and cynicism on a bit thick considering this was not the low moment in the war for the u-boats.  There was an actual u-boat and the book author is represented by the naval correspondent Werner.  However, the actual U-96 did not experience the incidents covered in the movie.  Since it does not claim to be a true story, I am going to grade it mainly on its accuracy in depicting life on a u-boat.  GRADE  =  B

“Above Us the Waves” is based on Operation Source which was the attempt by Royal Navy mini-subs to sink the German battleship Tirpitz at its anchorage in Norway.  It also covers the original plan which was to try to use Chariot manned torpedoes to attach mines.  That mission failed as depicted in the film.  The action by the X-craft is pretty close to what happened.  One of the subs was lost mysteriously, probably to fire from the Tirpitz.  The other two placed their side cargoes under the warship and two of them exploded causing significant damage that put it out of action for six months.  The two successful craft tried to escape, but were taken under fire and had to surrender.  Six men were captured and two were lost.  GRADE  =  A

FINAL SCORE:  Das Boot  =  30
                           Above Us the Waves =  28 


ANALYSIS:   “Above Us the Waves” is not a traditional sub movie.  It might not have made the tournament if I could have found another movie where a torpedo was fired.  I’m glad I did this tournament because I might not have run across this little gem.  And it is admirably accurate in dramatizing an operation that I had not been familiar with.  Still, it’s hard to pit it against possibly the most acclaimed sub movie.  The categories this round did not really play into the strengths of “Das Boot”.  It is no doubt the better of the two movies so it deserves to move on.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

#4 Crimson Tide vs. #12 Hell and High Water


VS.



DIALOGUE:  The dialogue in “Crimson Tide” is not flowery.  It does lack in sailor jargon since the movie concentrates on the officers.  There are some philosophical discussions between Ramsey (Gene Hackman) and Hunter (Denzel Washington) on topics like Hiroshima and von Clausewitz.  The confrontations between the two mutineers (that’s right, each leads a mutiny) are pretty intense.  Quentin Tarantino was brought in to add pop cultural references to the script.  GRADE  =  A 

“Hell and High Water” puts a scientist and his comely assistant on board a boat with a motley crew and a hard-boiled skipper.  Much of the dialogue pits science against the military mind.  There are no memorable lines, but the actors are not forced to embarrass themselves by what comes out of their mouths.  GRADE  =  C

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Crimson Tide  =  9
                                             Hell and High Water  =  7

SPECIAL EFFECTS:  “Crimson Tide” had the benefit of cutting edge technology and a big budget.  It did not have the cooperation of the US Navy.  It tends to frown on plots involving mutinies.  The director did manage to film the actual USS Alabama at sea and submerging.  Everything else was CGI.  There is a duel between subs that is better than in “The Hunt for Red October”.  The movie manages to get a fire into a sub movie.  This is truly a Hollywood production.  The sound effects were worthy of an Academy Award nomination.  GRADE  =  A

“Hell and High Water” had a budget of less than $2 million. Denzel Washington was paid $7 million to make “Crimson Tide”.  Not exactly a level playing field.  The littler movie did well with what it had.  The underwater scenes are better than average and the film was nominated for Best Effects.  GRADE  =  B

HALFTIME SCORE:  Crimson Tide  =  18
                                   Hell and High Water  =  15

ACTION:  “Crimson Tide” has a galley fire and a sub duel, but it’s mostly the threat of violence that dominates the latter part of the film.  The level of action would have gone off the meter if all those guns had been used in the final confrontation between the opposing sides.  As it is, we had to be content with verbal fisticuffs.  The movie is more of a thriller than an action movie.  GRADE  =  C

“Hell and High Water” has a tangle with a Chinese sub and two shore landings.  In the sub encounter, they ram the enemy under the water.  Well, that’s different.  The first commando raid is your typical blow things up type.  The second gives the sexy female scientist the chance to shoot a guard.  That is also something you don’t see in every sub movie.  Oh, and they shoot down a B-29.  GRADE  =  B

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  Crimson Tide  =  24
                                              Hell and High Water  =  23

ACCURACY:  “Crimson Tide” posits a doomsday scenario that cannot be judged for accuracy.  However, the way the sub handles the crisis can be judged based on American nuclear doctrine and procedures.  The scenario involves Russian rebels getting control of some ICBMs and possibly firing them at the U.S.  The clock-ticking nature of Hollywood thrillers requires the missiles to be fueled up before launched when in reality they would be ready to go immediately.  The biggest artistic license is with the central issue of the exec refusing to concur with the launch because he feels a second incomplete message is likely a cancel order.  In reality, the exec has only the power to confirm the authenticity of the message, not stop its implementation.  There were sub veterans, including the technical adviser who had skippered the real Alabama, who insisted the movie was essentially accurate.  A political adviser might have been nice since American nuclear doctrine is against a preemptive strike.  Not that a President might not violate that rule.  (Who are you picturing right now?)  All of the inaccuracies were classic artistic license to enhance the drama.  GRADE  =  C

“Hell and High Water” is totally fictitious.  It is very much a product of the early Cold War.  Although entertaining, it is totally preposterous.  The Red Chinese have a plan to use a purloined B-29 to drop an atomic bomb and blame it on the U.S.  International scientists hire a rogue sub to stop the bad guys.  Surely you read of this in your history textbook.  And a woman scientist in 1954 – come on!   As Capt. Jones says:  “So tell me Professor, what makes a girl who looks like that get mixed up in science?”  GRADE  =  D

FINAL SCORE:  Crimson Tide  =  30
                           Hell and High Water  =  28


ANALYSIS:  I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about war movies, but I have to admit I had never heard of “Hell and High Water” before starting work on this tournament.  When I began to hunt for 16 sub movies that fit my criteria I ran into it.  It almost did not make the cut because I was unsure that I would be able to get a copy.  It is not a well-known movie.  I am glad it worked out because it was an enjoyable movie to watch.  This matchup was one between an obscure B-movie and a blockbuster.  “Crimson Tide” could not be more different.  It is the better movie, but mainly because of all the resources available to it.  Still, “Hell and High Water” put up a good fight and hopefully its performance will encourage others to seek it out.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

#2 Run Silent, Run Deep vs. #10 Operation Pacific


VS.




DIALOGUE:  “Run Silent, Run Deep” gave us the famous line “dive, dive!” which Richardson repeats numerous times during drills.  The dialogue is good and there are some tense exchanges between the two superstar actors.  The crew banter is fine and is helped by the debut of Don Rickles.  He probably wrote some of his lines.  In spite of his involvement, the movie lacks a sense of humor.  There are few memorable lines, but it’s a manly movie and doesn’t need any.  GRADE  =  B

“Operation Pacific” has an awkward romance and the dialogue that goes with it.  There is little on sailor behavior so we don’t get much banter.   This is a very officer-centric film.  The only notable lines are some shots at the movie they watch on board – “Destination Tokyo”.  The movie is not overtly patriotic in its dialogue.  GRADE  =  C

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Run Silent  =  8
                                             Operation Pacific  =  6

ACTION:  “Run Silent” has three convoy attacks, two destroyer sinkings, a sub duel, and two airplane attacks.  And a brewing mutiny.  There is plenty of action, even if much of it is ridiculous.  GRADE  =  B

“Operation Pacific” has an average amount of action.  The love triangle and the torpedo testing takes up a good amount of the plot.  There is an encounter with a Q-ship, a brief encounter with an enemy sub, and a convoy battle.  None of it is believable.  GRADE  =  D

HALFTIME SCORE:  Run Silent  =  16
                                   Operation Pacific  =  11

SPECIAL EFFECTS:  “Run Silent” has some decent effects.  The Navy assisted in the production (surprising due to the mutinous plot) so there are a lot of surface shots of subs.  For the rare times that the USS Nerka is submerged, the model in a swimming pool technique is used.  The depth chargings are typical of the genre.  As usual, they are too accurate.  In WWII Pacific submarine movies, Japanese escorts never miss by much, but seldom sink their prey.  The sound effects are noteworthily outstanding.  GRADE  =  B

“Operation Pacific” has cheesy special effects.  The underwater shots are very fake and there are some hilarious shots of torpedoes boinking off ship hulls.  The sub looks like a model in an aquarium.  In fact, the Pacific Ocean looks about as deep as an aquarium.  GRADE  =  D

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  Run Silent  =  24
                                               Operation Pacific  =  16

ACCURACY:  “Run Silent” has some of the most accurate firing sequence scenes in sub movie history.  This includes use of the Target Bearing Transmitter for surface attacks.  While being technically accurate, the movie comes up short in historical accuracy.  “Down the throat” shots that the movie is predicated on were rarely accomplished (or attempted) in the war.  Subs fighting each other submerged is virtually unheard of.  The legendary ability of Bungo Pete flies in the face of the established ineptitude of Japanese escorts.  GRADE  =  C

“Operation Pacific” deserves credit for depicting two historical incidents.  There was a significant problem with the Mark 14 torpedoes.  The torpedoes frustrated the submarine effort for the first two years of the war.  There was a problem with both the magnetic detonator and the firing pin of the contact detonator.  The movie highlights the solution to the firing pin problem.  The torpedoes were tested by dropping them from a crane as depicted by the movie, but this was not done by a sub crew.  It is instructive of how Hollywood deals with submarine warfare that most Pacific war movies do not allude to the torpedo problems.  In most films, every shot is deadly.  The death of Commander Perry (Ward Bond) is based on the death of Commander Howard Gilmore (probably the most famous submariner loss for the US Navy).  The USS Growler was making a surface attack when a patrol vessel attempted to ram.  The Growler rammed it instead, possibly in its attempt to avoid being rammed.  Gilmore was wounded by machine gun fire from the wounded escort and famously ordered “take her down!” to save the boat.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.   The sighting of the Japanese fleet may have been inspired by the efforts of the Dace and Darter in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  When the Thunderfish picks up downed fliers (although this is done purely to facilitate the lame love triangle), it accurately reflects a role subs played in the war in the Pacific.   GRADE  =  A

FINAL SCORE:  Run Silent  =  30
                           Operation Pacific  =  25


ANALYSIS:  “Run Silent” is considered the greatest American submarine movie.  Although overrated, it is certainly better than a movie that relies on John Wayne to make a splash.  “Operation Pacific” may do a service to the silent service by bringing to light a significant problem and a laud-worthy hero, but it is done in the guise of a “Destination Tokyo” wannabe.  “Run Silent” has two John Wayne’s and the tension between them.  It is even more far-fetched than “Operation Pacific”, but more entertaining.

Friday, August 11, 2017

#3 Hunt for Red October vs. #6 We Dive at Dawn

QUARTERFINALS

 #3  Hunt for Red October  vs.  #6  We Dive at Dawn

DIALOGUE:  The dialogue in “Red October” is above average, but it is mainly an action fature, so exposition is not key.  One interesting note on dialogue is that Sean Connery insisted on Ramius’ dialogue be rewritten to make it more clear that he is a “good Russian” who wants to end the Cold War.  GRADE  =  B

 “We Dive at Dawn” has decent dialogue, but there is too much of it.  There is a lot of sailor talk and it feels right.  It is very British, so use your British/English dictionary.  When the crew finds out they had sunk the German battleship, one of them exclaims “blimey!”  GRADE  =  B

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:  Hunt for Red October  =  8
                                             We Dive at Dawn  =  8 

SPECIAL EFFECTS:  “Red October” has a technology advantage over “We Dive” since it was made 47 years later.  The underwater scenes are very good.  Almost good enough to achieve the goal of making it an undersea “Fast and Furious”.  I refer to the underwater chase scenes between the subs.  Unfortunately, the CGI allows for some ridiculously close sub action.  GRADE  =  B

“We Dive at Dawn” was released in 1943, so no CGI.  It is not big on effects.  There is little underwater action.  Maybe this is to the good since modelwork back then tended to look very fake.  Better to leave it to the imagination.  GRADE  =  C

HALFTIME SCORE:  Hunt for Red October  =  16
                                   We Dive at Dawn  =  15

ACTION:  “Red October” has quite a bit of action.  Maybe too much considering some of it is reality-challenged.  It may have more action than any other movie in the tournament.  And this is done without a commando raid!  But it is done with a gun battle on a submarine. There is lots of chasing.  Subs chasing other subs.  Torpedoes chasing subs.  GRADE  =  A

“We Dive” closes with a nice set piece in a harbor as the sub has to steal fuel under the noses of the Germans.  This is not accomplished without copious expenditure of bullets.  It is one of the better commando type scenes you see so often in sub movies.  However, the quantity of action is pretty low in the film.  GRADE  =  C

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:  Hunt for Red October  =  25
                                              We Dive at Dawn  =  21

ACCURACY:  Surprisingly, there was a seed of truth to Clancy’s novel.  He was inspired by an article about the attempted defection of a Soviet anti-sub frigate named the Storozhevoy (Sentry).  The political officer named Sablin planned the defection on his own.  He was upset with the corruption of the Brezhnev government and wanted to start a revolution.  His plan was to sail to Leningrad, take over a radio station, and broadcast a call to arms!  The plot was discovered after he took over the ship and convinced most of the officers and crew to go along with him.  The ship fled the harbor and almost made it to international waters before it was halted by a hit from a Soviet bomber.  The loyal officers regained control and the mutiny was over.  Not much like the movie, but at least there is a seed of truth to the claim “based on a true story”.  GRADE  =  C

“We Dive at Dawn” does not claim to be based on a true story.  No German battleship was sunk by a submarine in WWII.  The movie does feature one historical accuracy in its portrayal of a German rescue buoy from which the sub picks up three German airmen.  The Germans put these buoys far offshore to be used by downed air crews.  They could provide accommodations and supplies for several days until the men were rescued.  GRADE  =  C

FINAL SCORE:  Hunt for Red October  =  31
                           We Dive at Dawn  =  27

ANALYSIS:  If you look at the interiors of the HMS Sea Tiger and the USS Dallas, you can tell a lot about this matchup.  “We Dive at Dawn” is a nice little British sub movie made during the war.  It deserved to win, but the tournaments are not always fair.  The categories tended to favor the behemoth.  “Red October” outpointed it due to it being an action movie doing its thing competently and its CGI which facilitated that action.  In both categories quantity bludgeoned “We Dive”.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

THE BEST DUNKIRK MOVIE: Dunkirk (1958)



I promise I will get to the second round of the Submarine Movie Tournament soon, but I just felt I needed to post this now since it is topical.

                As some are aware, based on my recent review, I was not impressed with Christopher Nolan’s new “Dunkirk”.  I had waited for months for the movie’s release and although skeptical at first, I gradually bought into the buzz and expected to like it.  It was a huge disappointment.  I found myself in the distinct minority of viewers who were not impressed by it.  The movie has gotten rave reviews from most and made a ton of money.  There are critics who feel the movie is one of the best of this year. Some have talked of Academy Award nominations.  At least one reviewer has called it the best war movie ever made.  If I had not been doing war movie reviewing for the last seven years, I might have questioned my sanity.  However, I am comfortable in my assessment, partly because I have seen a better movie about Dunkirk.

                Before going to see Nolan’s movie, I reacquainted myself with the 1958 version directed by Leslie Norman (“The Long and the Short and the Tall”).  I had not seen it since the early months of my blog.  The film was #89 on Military History magazines “100 Greatest War Movies” list.  Although I read two histories of Dunkirk in preparation for seeing Nolan’s movie, rewatching the 1958 movie also helped with refreshing my memory of what happened in Operation Dynamo.  Little did I know that this classic black and white movie would contribute to my disappointment when I left the IMAX.

                “Dunkirk” covers the period from May 26 – June 4, 1940.  It opens as though you are in a London theater watching a newsreel chronicling the “Phoney War” situation.  One theme that is established is that the British public was in denial about the German threat.  The movie juxtapositions footage of the Nazi war machine (accompanied by martial music) with shots of smiling British soldiers (to the tune of harmonica music).  If that is too subtle for you, two British vaudevillians (Flanagan and Allen playing themselves) sing “We’re Going to Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line” intercut with an animated map showing the German invasion of France.

                The movie has two storylines – civilian and military.  The civilian perspective is portrayed by Charles Foreman (Bernard Lee) and John Holden (Richard Attenborough).  Foreman is a journalist who represents those voices in the wilderness that tried to warn the public of the dangers of unpreparedness.  Holden is a small business owner who is benefitting from war contracts, but is confident the war will not affect anything but his bottom line.  The military component is a small section (the British equivalent of an American squad) that are on the run after being separated from their unit.  Led by Corporal Binns (John Mills), they eventually make their way into the Dunkirk perimeter.  This “lost patrol” witnesses refugees being strafed and moves on to find succor from an artillery battery.  When they leave, they see the effect of Stukas on a last ditch stand.

                While Binns and his comrades are avoiding the Germans and working their way to Dunkirk, Operation Dynamo is put into action.  A call for “small boats” to aid in the evacuation nets the patriotic Foreman and the peer-pressured Holden.  Holden is reluctant to go, not just because he feels his buckle business is crucial to the war effort (and his boat is six inches too short), but because he has a wife who insists his place is at home with her and their new baby.  She’s never seen a war movie, so she expects him to choose her over his bros.  It’s a small war (and a shrinking perimeter) so these two storylines are bound to intersect on the beach of Dunkirk.

                Each of the storylines features a character arc.  Holden evolves from a milquetoast collaborator-in-waiting to a heroic yachtsman.  Binns is your cinematic soldier who has leadership thrust upon him.  Already chafing at wearing the stripes of a corporal, Binns is reluctant to shoulder the leadership of his small band.  He will be forced to go from being one of the grumblers to being of the brass. Both arcs are simplistic and predictable, but necessary for the picture’s goals.  The goals included reminding a Cold War audience of the dangers of underestimating an enemy and the need for teamwork in the face of an existential threat.  A reference to 1930s Britain choosing butter over guns is an obvious plea to 1950s Britain to not make the same mistake.  These goals will naturally be reached with the signature British traits of stoicism and stiff upper lips.  Traits required in 1950s British war films.

                Unlike Nolan’s film, Norman foregoes the RAF component and limits himself to the small boats and the small unit.  (He does manage to thrown in the canard that the RAF did little to defend the beach and mole.)  However, he does include tastes of the bigger picture.  There are scenes where the camera pulls back to show the decision makers.  For instance, we see Gen. Gort making the decision to evacuate in spite of French wishes.  Adm. Ramsey demands the Royal Navy rescind its orders pulling most of the destroyers out. (A scene filmed in the actual command bunker in Dover.)

                The movie is well made.  It makes use of the British war movie repertory cast.  Mills is solid in an unchallenging role.  Foreman and Attenborough are adept at playing the two strains of British civilians.  Holden’s transformation is a bit pat and were the movie to be remade, he would stay a villain.  But this was the 1950s, not the 1960s.  No one else is given much of a chance to shine.  Binns’ section is pretty generic, but Robert Urquhart is fine as Binns’ nagging mate.  You have the stripes – lead!  The cinematography stands out.  The interior scenes feature a lot of deep focus.  The exterior scenes blend in actual footage, not quite seamlessly, but well enough to prevent any wish that CGI would have been available.  The best effects are in the area of sound.  There is a lot of realistic aerial and artillery bombardment and the noise that goes with them.  This is especially true of the harassment of the beach.  The extras do a good job reacting to death from above.

                While the plot does not break any new ground and the movie has a stodgy agenda, it does avoid overt patriotism and propaganda.  Most importantly, it is strong historically.  It makes an excellent companion to Nolan’s picture.  It is best to see it first.  Where Nolan made the decision to concentrate on personal storylines exclusively, screenwriter David Divine gives both a micro and macro view.  His personal stories may not have the visceral impact of Nolan’s, but he has a better balance in telling the story of Operation Dynamo. (It is noteworthy that the name of the operation is not mention in Nolan’s film.)  On the other hand, Norman’s film could easily have been named “Operation Dynamo”.  Where you can glean the basics of Dunkirk from Nolan, Norman is more tutorial.  Binns’ men represent the “odds and sods” who were cut off from their units in the chaos of the German penetration of the Ardennes Forest.  The artillery battery stands in for all the units who made suicidal stands to buy time.  Binns and the others first attempt to escape via the mole, but end up on the beach relying on a small boat to pick them up.  Foreman and Holden exemplify all of the small boat captains that risked their lives to cross the Channel.  Their actions were typical.  The movie also throws in some anecdotal morsels like the leaflets encouraging the British to give up and the medical personnel drawing lots to see who would stay with the wounded.  Divine can be criticized for omitting any references to the French, but I have no real problem with that.  If the French wanted to be lionized, they should have been more supportive of the operation.  (I am aware they did the lion’s share of defending the perimeter towards the end, but to me that was more along the lines of surrendering with a fight than an act of sacrifice for an ally.)

                “Dunkirk” is not a great movie.  It is too inside the box to achieve that accolade.  It is, however, a classic that holds up well and deserves the renewed interest that should come its way.  (You can see it on You Tube for $1.99.)  I do not normally prefer older movies over modern war films.  The classics were constrained by technology and censorship which made realism a bigger challenge than with modern efforts.   While “Dunkirk” falls into the Old School, it manages to not be obsolete because it is historically sound and still tells an entertaining story well.  It’s this fidelity to history that gives it its main edge over Nolan’s film. 


GRADE  =  B+