Wednesday, December 27, 2017

POST #700 – Battle of the Bulge (1965)

                I’ve reached my 700th post and have decided to make it special by reviewing the first war movie I ever saw.  My family was living in Japan as my father flew a F-105 fighter/bomber in the Vietnam War.  My father took me and my brothers to see it in a theater off base.  It was a big deal for us even though, at age seven I did not get the big deal about Ultra Panavision.  At least I can now claim that I saw the movie in the format and environment (ultra wide screen) that it was meant to be seen in.  I don’t remember much about that first view, but naturally at that age I found it very entertaining.  And throughout childhood, its periodic appearances on TV always had the boys glued to the TV screen.  It wasn’t until later, after I became obsessed with history, that I began to reassess my opinion of it.  As with some of my childhood favorites, it does not hold up to scrutiny.

                “Battle of the Bulge” was directed by Ken Annakin (“The Longest Day”) and is a similar all-star battle epic.  It was filmed in Spain with the advantages of support from Franco’s military (he provided 500 soldiers and 75 vehicles), but the disadvantages of inaccurate terrain.  Robert Shaw had his first major role and was paid $250,000 (more than his total paychecks up to then).  That dollar figure is the same amount that was paid to recreate the town of Ambleve so the movie could rubbleize it.  The movie premiered on the 21st anniversary of the battle. 

                The movie opens with an overture.  For you non-baby boomers, that means that while you are settling into your seat you are treated to orchestral music.  This is followed by a narrator and the accuracy problems are off and running.  The narrator explains that it is December, 1944 and the Anglo-Americans are on the brink of victory.  The Ardennes Forest is a quiet sector.  Gen. Montgomery’s 8th Army is to the north of the forest.  (In the first example of sloppy history, the 8th was actually in Italy.)  Lt. Col. Kiley (Henry Fonda – continuing a tradition of casting actors too old for their roles) is scouting in a spotter plane and takes an incredibly accurate photo of a German officer in a moving car.  He later identifies the mystery man as a German tank savant named Col. Hessler (Shaw).  Hessler is on his way to a meeting with a general who surprises him with der Fuhrer’s plan to launch a go for broke offensive in the Ardennes.  The target is the port of Antwerp and the plan will depend on poor weather to keep Allied air grounded.  He will have 50 hours of fuel, queue the countdown clock.  Hessler is no Nazi fanatic, but he does love a challenge so he is on board.  He is, however, skeptical of his young, green tank commanders until they break into a rousing rendition of “Panzerlied” (“Panzer Song”).  As a child, I was ready to enlist in the panzers at this point.  Meanwhile, Kiley is trying to convince his overconfident superiors that a major attack is imminent.  He is derided by the mustache twirling Col. Pritchard (Dana Andrews).  In an “I’ll show you by getting myself killed” move, he visits a bunker on the Siegfried Line where Maj. Wolenski (Charles Bronson) shrugs empathetically.  What do you want me to do?  Here come the Germans!! 

                Now that the shooting has commenced the movie jumps between several characters.  Hessler and his aide Conrad (Hans Christian Blech) attack the city of Ambleve and head for the Meuse River while ever aware of their dwindling fuel supplies.  Kiley goes from intelligence officer to combat soldier.  Lt. Schumacher (Ty Hardin) leads German commandoes disguised as Americans in causing chaos behind American lines.  Sgt. Guffy (Telly Savalas) finds the battle an inconvenience impacting his black market operation.  He commands a Sherman tank and the screen when he is on it. He does have to share the screen with a bunch of tanks in the climactic battle.

                “Battle of the Bulge” may be a all-star battle wannabe, but the cast is nowhere near “The Longest Day”.  The acting is less than stellar also.  Fonda is comfortable as the ex-cop who butts heads with the brass, but his character is put in some ridiculous situations including getting shot down by tanks firing their main guns.  He has to be everywhere to glue together the American arcs.  “The Longest Day” did not stretch any of its characters like that.  Col. Vandervoort did not plan the invasion, paratroop behind the lines, and land on Omaha Beach.  Shaw is good as the war-loving Hessler.  Blech makes a fair foil for Hessler, but their relationship is not realistic.  Savalas steals the show with his Guffy.  The character brings some forced comic relief and the required redemption arc.  He does a lot of scenery chewing, but at least he didn’t have to eat any snow.

                The problem with the movie is not just that it is an historical atrocity, but it is also laughably ridiculous.  Not one character is named after a real person, which must have been a dictate from the studio’s legal department.  (This was partly due to the fact that Columbia had green-lighted a movie called “16th of December:  The Battle of the Bulge” featuring Eisenhower, Montgomery, and Hitler.  John Wayne was set to play Patton.  Those who cry for a redo on the battle, should ponder what a make would have been like.)  Fortunately for the producers, events cannot sue.  The script shows a contempt for the historically knowledgeable, but an understanding of what passes as entertainment for the masses.  (The movie has an incredible 67% on Rotten Tomatoes.)  This explains why the snowless Spanish plains (perfect for Panavision) stand in for the snowy hills and dense forest of the Ardennes.  It also explains how most of the main characters end up at the gas depot.  The first big battle scene is adrenalin pumping, but if you have seen many war movies, you’ll laugh at some of the silliest deaths ever. (Those Spanish extras add a nice twirl to their touchdown signaling.) They must have story-boarded that scene using plastic army men.  The battle of Ambleve and the final tank battle are equally silly tactically.  But there are lots of explosions.  Accompanied by pompous epic movie music.  

                If the movie was entitled “Battle of the Bugle”, I would tell you to watch and kill some time while you eat your popcorn. (No need to cozy up by the fire, this isn’t the “Band of Brothers” episodes on the Bulge.)  But this is a war movie blog, so war movies are held to a higher standard here.  “Battle of the Bulge” might be the worst of the all-star battle epic subgenre.  Keep in mind that the subgenre includes “Pearl Harbor”, which is definitely superior to it.

GRADE  =  D-

HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  The movie has a disclaimer at the end that explains that in order to cover the battle, some names and places have been generalized and “action has been synthesized to convey the spirit and essence of the battle.”  But it also claims that the movie honors the participants in the battle.  Since the Battle of the Bulge was the biggest battle in American History and it was only 21 years old, there were still plenty of participants who could clearly remember the battle.  For instance, they could remember the freezing cold temperatures and frostbite-inducing snow.  The movie makes a mockery of the hardships they endured.  This must have been part of the reason why Dwight Eisenhower came out of retirement to tell the press that the movie was terrible.  You did not have to be a veteran to be offended by it.  Being an historically-informed person put you in the offended group.  It’s not like the battle was ill-covered by historians.  It was not like the Battle of Ia Drang for people seeing “We Were Soldiers”.

                The movie is not without some education value.  The first third does a fair job of outlining the situation before the German attack.  The American high command was complacent and overconfident.  However, there were some warning signs, just not like Kiley’s snooping.  The German plan was summarized well.  It was a last ditch gamble by Hitler. The target was Antwerp, but generally he was hoping to break through and cover as much ground and do as much damage as his forced could accomplish before fuel and clear weather became factors.  Much of the military leaders were skeptical of the plan and Hessler does not represent this group well.  The movie glosses over any concerns and basically uses the “Panzerlied” to make him a Kool-aid drinker.  Hessler is based on the real-life Joachim Peiper who was an SS commander who would have been drinking Kool-aid through the whole war.  The screenwriters made Hessler fictional because the regrettably still alive Peiper threatened to sue.  Poor decision by him and his lawyers as Hessler was a big upgrade to Peiper’s reputation.  For instance, Peiper ordered the Malmedy Massacre, while Hessler laments it.  The only other character that can even loosely be linked to a real person is Schumacher representing the famous Hitler fav Otto Skorzeny.  Skorzeny rescued Mussolini and then was given command of Operation Greif.  He deserves a movie of his own.

                The opening breakthrough is fairly accurate.  American forces were taken by surprise, but it was more due to the weather than the Tigers.  Wolinski’s unit was typical of the ass-whipping that many units received.  For a large-scale epic, the movie curiously concentrates on just Gen. Gray’s (Robert Ryan) division versus Hessler’s division.  Schumacher’s men are thrown in to exemplify Operation Greif.  Their activities like turning around signs are true, but their unintended effect of sowing confusion among American soldiers is not touched on.  Even Ike had to answer questions to prove he was a legit American. The movie gives them way too much credit.  They did not capture and hold any bridges.  The Malmedy Massacre was another no-brainer inclusion and it is satisfactorily rendered.  One quibble is that there was not a “Great Escape” moment with a machine gun in the back of a truck.  And, in this case, there was no snow on the ground – the bodies were covered by snow before their discovery.

                The assault on the town of Ambleve represents several towns that were taken under similar circumstances.  It is doubtful the Germans would have use tanks as artillery, but the movie shows virtually no artillery being used by either side.  It also does not give any credit to Allied air.  In the final battle, which is based on the Battle of Celles, air and artillery played a major role.  The depiction of Shermans suicidally sacrificing themselves to bleed the German tanks of their fuel is farcical.  In actuality, the victory was a combination of Shermans, artillery, and Typhoons pouncing on the already fuel deficient Germans.   The defense of the depot is pure Hollywood, but an appropriate bit of nonsense to close out the film. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

CHRISTMAS WAR MOVIE: Silent Night (2002)

                This year my Christmas selection is the movie “Silent Night”.  It was made for television (Hallmark) and released in 2002.  It was directed by Rodney Gibbons and stars Linda Hamilton.  It is based on a true story that is set in the Battle of the Bulge at Christmas time in 1944. 

                The movie begins with an elderly German named Fritz reminiscing with a young American about his grandfather who he had met in the war.  The movie then proceeds into flashback mode.  Fritz (Matthew Harbour) and his mother Elizabeth Vincken (Linda Hamilton) are refugees from the fighting in the Ardennes.  Elizabeth thinks their cabin in the woods will be a safe haven from the war.  They plan on a quiet uneventful Christmas eve.  That is ruined when three American soldiers barge in.  One of them is wounded (Michael Elkin as Pvt. Ridgin).  Sgt. Blank (Alain Goulem) is very distrustful of Elizabeth, but Pvt. Rassi (Romano Orzari) bonds with Fritz.  Three is a party, six is a movie as three Germans arrive to complicate matters.  Rassi bluffs them into surrendering, but then the forceful Mrs. Vincken insists that the opposing sides agree to truce and leave all the weapons outside.  The deal is reluctantly agreed to with Blank and Lt. Klosterman (Martin Neufeld) both wink-winking.  Klosterman is a hard-core Nazi who implies that Elizabeth will be held accountable for not warning them about the Americans.  He also wonders why Fritz is not in the Hitler Youth at the ripe old age of 12.  Sgt. Mueller (Mark Antony Krupa) helps with Ridgin’s wound. 

                A shared meal and conversations encourage empathy and camaraderie among the soldiers.  The sergeants make a connection over singing “Oh Christmas Tree” and Blank and Klosterman debate Nazism.  Next comes trimming the Christmas tree and the obligatory singing of “Silent Night”.  It all comes to a screeching halt when Klosterman notices Rassi has an Iron Cross souvenir.  Klosterman’s decorated brother was stripped when he was killed.  Not a good moment for Ridgin to enter with a pistol.  The party comes to an end the next morning when an American MP arrives.  Or is he?

                “Silent Night” is a sweet little Christmas movie and should leave a warm spot even for Scrooges.  It is decidedly made for TV and if you are looking for action…  The acting starts out weak, but the actors seem to calm down and play it more naturally as the movie proceeds.  Hamilton is the only star and she anchors the film.  The others are no names who emote adequately.  The characters are stock, but well-developed.  The dialogue is fine if a bit Hallmarkish.  At least it’s not mawkish.  The movie is not overtly religious, but it won’t turn you into an atheist.  The ending has a nice twist to it. 

                “Silent Night” is not in a league with “Joyeux Noel” or “A Midnight Clear”, but it is a nice choice if you want something that combines war and Christmas.  See the spoiler report on how much of the story is true below.

Grade  =  B-

HOW TRUE IS IT?  The basic scenario is true, but the details are enhanced for our viewing pleasure and so we won’t fall asleep.  The Vincken’s did take refuge in a cabin.  Three Americans did join them and one of them was wounded.  Unlike the movie, the Germans did not speak English.  Who wants to read subtitles in a made-for-TV movie?  The three Germans knocked before being invited in by Elizabeth.  She did require them to leave their weapons outside and they did agree to a truce.  One of the Germans did help with the wounded American.  The group shared a meal of stew.  The next day the two trios parted without incident.  Overall, acceptable artistic license for a movie that was not meant to be an important historical retelling.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

FORGOTTEN GEM? King and Country (1964)

                “King and Country” is a WWI court room drama.  It was directed by Joseph Losey.  It was based on a play by John Wilson and a novel by James Lansdale Hodson.  The movie was low budget and was shot in only eighteen days.  It was a critical, but not box office success.   The movie is set during the Battle of Passchendaele on the Western Front in 1917.  It deals with the topics of shell shock and desertion.

                The movie opens with a shots of dead soldiers and a soldier memorial.  Vibe set.  Private Arthur Hamp (Tom Courtney) is in a cell awaiting court-martial for desertion.  Hamp, a volunteer and veteran, walked away from the trenches and headed home.  He was the only survivor from his original unit and is a classic shell shock candidate.  His assigned counsel, Capt. Hargreaves (Dirk Bogarde), is an asshole who is less than sympathetic.  He believes the party line on shell shock – it’s cowardice.  When he first interviews the naïve Hamp, there are soldiers bailing water in the trench in the background.  The very deep focus of the scene emphasizes the noteworthy cinematography of the black and white film.  Hamp tells him he cracked after he almost drowned in a shell hole.  He deserted when his unit was in the rear.  He is lucid and reasonable, but is surprised when he is told he faces the death penalty.  Hargreaves decides to go with a temporary insanity defense.  A man can only take so much – “so much blood, so much filth, so much dying.”

                “King and Country” has a similar feel to “Paths of Glory”, but is more play-bound.  There is no action, but it is not just set in a courtroom.  Hamp’s scenes are intercut with scenes of a few Tommies in the trench nearby.  Mates who are potential shell shock victims.  The set is authentically rainy and muddy.  They provide the gallows humor appropriate for the Western Front.  They capture a rat that they roust from a dead horse.  And then put the rat on trial for biting one of them!  The movie’s symbolism is not subtle, but it is appropriate.  The movie is dialogue-driven and, although it is not laden with memorable lines, screenwriter Evan Jones (“Victory”) handles the predictable trial with aplomb.  The movie is as predictable as a 1960s movie about WWI desertion would be expected to be.  Predictable especially if you have seen “Paths of Glory”.  However, the decision to play with the audience’s emotions by way of the twist in the court decision defies credulity if you have any knowledge of the British Army’s policy toward men like Hamp.  One unpredictable element is the Hargreaves character.  Bogarde is excellent (it was supposedly his favorite role), but his conversion from antipathetic to empathetic is not truly believable.  It’s a good thing for Hamp that he comes around because as a lawyer, he ranks with Dax.  Courtnay is also excellent as the naïve Hamp.  He reminded me of Pvt. Slovik.  Except that Slovik had more reason to be naïve.  Hamp, a veteran of three years, would certainly have had some experience with the military ethos.  He should have known he had as much chance as the rat.

                “King and Country” is a must-see for anyone interested in WWI movies.  It does not wink at anti-war sentiments.  It oozes (literally, with all the mud) that sentiment.  You won’t soon forget it.

GRADE  =  B+

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

CLASSIC or ANTIQUE: Sink the Bismarck! (1960)

                “Sink the Bismarck!” is a black and white British movie released in 1960.  It is a true story of the events that led up to the Battle of the Denmark Strait and the subsequent action which resulted in the destruction of the German battleship Bismarck.  The screenplay was based on The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck by C.S. Forester.  He wrote the book with the intention of it becoming a movie and worked closely with the screenwriter.  Director Lewis Gilbert had also done “Reach for the Sky” and “Damn the Defiant!”.  The producer John Brabourne used the fact that he was son-in-law to Lord Mountbatten when he was Chief of the Defense Staff to get full cooperation of the Admiralty.  It allowed Gilbert to film on board and film exteriors of various Royal Navy ships.  The movie was a big hit in Great Britain and also did well in America.  It inspired Johnny Horton’s song.

                The movie opens with footage of Hitler christening the brand new battleship in 1939.  Two years later, Edward Murrow (playing himself) reminds the audience that at this point in the war England stands alone and winning the Battle of the Atlantic is crucial.  The Admiralty has a new Chief of Operations in Capt. Shephard (Kenneth More) to coordinate this task.  He is something of a martinet and is described as “cold, with no heart or soul.  Just an enormous brain.”  (Sounds like me.)  His assistant will be a comely WREN named Davis (Dana Wynter).  Their first crisis is a report that the Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen have sailed on what may be a commerce raiding expedition.  Adm. Lutjens is overconfident and a hard core Nazi.  His main motivation is glory.  Capt. Lindemann doesn’t drink the Nazi Kool-aid. 

                The movie covers the cat and mouse aspect of British efforts to locate and defeat the German warships.  It intercuts between the British war room and the bridges of the various combatants.  Models are used to reenact the battle scenes.  The Royal Navy is all in as Churchill proclaims “you must sink the Bismarck!”  This will not be painless as the British end up losing their most their poster-dreadnaught the HMS Hood.  Although the movie is mostly command-centric, there is a subplot involving Shephard’s son who is a gunner on a Swordfish torpedo plane that is part of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal’s strike force.  This allows for some character development as the Blitz-widowered Shephard is very close to his son.  The movie will make it difficult for him to keep his upper lip stiff.  He manages, of course.  I won’t go into detail on the plot because if you are British you already know what happens and everyone else can be in suspense as to whether the title comes true. ( Check out my historical accuracy section below if you want to be spoiled.)

                “Sink the Bismarck!” is one of the better British WWII movies.  Better, but not radically different.  I’ve seen these officers numerous times.  Imperturbable would be a good description of them.  Shephard is the main character and he is interesting.  His back-story makes the cold fish human.  Davis helps humanize him and their relationship thankfully is of sympathetic colleagues and avoids romantic banter.  There is a powerful scene where she gets him to open up about his wife’s death.  The movie eschews emotionalism for the most part. It even has a documentary feel to it.  This is apparent from the start with the appearance of Murrow reenacting one of his wartime broadcasts.  It is more documentary than propaganda.  It seems obvious that Gilbert meant the film to be a history lesson and it has the appearance of being an accurate retelling of the battleships demise.  The Germans are not demonized, although Lutjens is depicted as a fanatic whose greatest moment is birthday wishes from der Fuhrer.  Although the film does not spend a lot of time with the tars, it is effective in showing the terrible last moments of the German crew.  It is not really a celebratory film which reflects the Cold War fact that West Germany was now Britain’s ally.

                As far as naval combat is concerned, the movie is as good as could be expected considering when it came out.  Models were relied on since there was no CGI back then.  If you have seen the recent “Battleship”, you know that computers don’t always enhance combat cinematography.  These models are not bad, although they follow each other too closely in the bathtub.  When they take hits, it’s not archaic.  Lord Mountbatten’s influence allowed for a nifty loading sequence to go with the obligatory big guns firing (or “shooting” as the British called it).

                “Sink the Bismarck!” is as good as you are going to get if you want to see how the Bismarck met its end.  It is more entertaining than a History Channel doc. (I am, of course, referring to the History Channel back when it had programs about history.)
GRADE  =  B+
HISTORICAL ACCURACY:   No surprise that the Shephard and Davis characters are fictional, as of course was the son who was fished out of the drink.  No problem there.  That is acceptable cinema.  Since the existence of Enigma decoding was not revealed until 1975, Shephard’s hunches actually would have been based on intelligence intercepts.  The doomed Norwegian agent replaced a Swedish cruiser that reported the sighting to its government.  The report was intercepted by the British.  The Prince of Wales did have civilian workers on board to finish their work on the guns, for example.  The movie has a few minor glitches in the coverage of the Battle of Denmark Strait.  The Brits actually targeted the Prinz Eugen first in a case of mistaken identity.  They did manage to hit the Bismarck several times and one of the hits severed access to the forward fuel tanks.  The destruction of the Hood is substantially as shown.  It was most likely a shell that hit the forward ammunition magazine.  The Hood was doomed by its paltry armor plating that was a result of the navy’s decision to sacrifice armor for speed.  The movie accurately shows the Prince of Wales withdrawing.  In reality, the PoW had to avoid the wreckage which resulted in concentrated fire upon her, plus she had malfunctioning guns.  She was hit several times so Capt. Leach ordered smoke.  At this point, Lutjens vetoed Lindemann’s proposal to chase the PoW. 

                The movie’s portrayal of Lutjens and Lindemann is far off.  Lutjens was not a Nazi.  In fact, the Kriegsmarine was the least Nazi of the branches.  He actually protested Kristallnacht and refused to give Hitler the Nazi salute when he visited the Bismarck.  Far from being a glory-hound, he was pessimistic about the expedition and was conservative in interpreting Adm. Raeder’s orders to attack convoys and avoid capital ships.  He decided going after the Prince of Wales was not worth getting fired over.  In some ways, the movie has reversed the Lutjens and Lindemann characters.  It was Lindemann who overrode Lutjens in initiating the fire on the Hood, for instance.

                The Swordfish attacks are a mixed bag.  The first did result in an inconsequential torpedo hit.  The second did accidentally target the Sheffield.  The magnetic torpedoes were defective, causing the significant switch to contact torpedoes for the next attack.  The movie shows some of those attackers getting shot down.  In actuality, there were no losses.  One of them did jam the Bismarck’s rudder and it did turn out to be irreparable.  No doubt Lutjens was not optimistic about their chances after this.  The night destroyer attack is enhanced for entertainment as there were actually no torpedo hits and no destroyers were sunk.  The HMS Solent is fictitious.  The final battle is basically accurate. The movie leaves out the post script of British warships picking up 110 survivors (far from the majority of the crew that was in the water), but then leaving the rest due to an alert that a u-boat was lurking.  Only a hand full of the rest of the survivors were eventually rescued by German ships.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


2.  What movie is this quote from?  "The thing that's always worried me about being one of the few is the way we keep on getting fewer."

3.  What movie is this?   It was released in 1944 and is a black and white classic directed by Preston Sturges.  It is considered by many to be his best movie.  He was nominated for the Oscar for Best Screenplay.  Fans of Sturges will recognize several familiar faces from his “stock company” including William Demarest who made ten movies with Sturges.  The movie came out a year after another Sturges home front satire, “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” (which also starred Demarest and Bracken).

Sunday, December 3, 2017

WAR ROMANCE: In Love and War (1996)

            “In Love and War” is the true story of Ernest Hemingway and his romance with a nurse in WWI Italy.  The movie is based on the book “Hemingway in Love and War” by Henry Villard and James Nagel.  Villard was in the hospital with Hemingway and is a character in the movie.  The film covers a relationship that would strongly affect his personality and writing.  He wrote ten short stories with references to his romance with Agnes von Kurowsky and she is a character in his famous novel “A Farewell to Arms”.  The movie was directed by Richard Attenborough. Sandra Bullock worked for a paltry $11 million.  That apparently left little for the rest of the cast.

            The movie is set in Italy on the war front with Austria from July, 1918 until Hemingway’s return to America.  A title card tells us that President Wilson sent the American Red Cross to Europe.  One volunteer was Ernie Hemingway who was a newspaper reporter at the time.  But first we are introduced to a nurse named Agnes.  The head nurse tells her “no fraternization allowed”.  Do you think that rule might come up?  A brief taste of combat depicts some graphic wounds to set up the hospital scenes.  Agnes meets a cocky American named Ernie.  He runs off to the front to get wounded so he can see her again.  Mission accomplished.  Agnes is seven years older than Ernie, but he is persistent.  The usual “he knows she’s in love with him before she does” trope is used.  Also typical of the genre is the love triangle complicating matters.  Actually, in this case it’s a quadrangle.  Ernie’s buddy Henry (Mackenzie Astin) is interested in Agnes in a competitive sort of way and the Italian doctor who agrees to avert amputation takes a shine to her as well.  Even though this is not a romantic comedy, it still insists on the break-up scene.  Have no fear – Ernie is persistent.  Queue the romantic music swelling.  Watch for Sandy’s butt.  Ernie returns home assured that Agnes will be joining him for wedded bliss.  Keep in mind that this is a romance, not a romantic comedy.

            “In Love and War” is about Ernest Hemingway, but it is not written by him.  I’m not sure he would have been impressed with it.  The dialogue is decidedly unHemingwayesque.  It is an average movie and if it was not something of a history lesson about a great writer, it would not be worth the watch.  The production values are those of a made-for-TV movie and the acting is mediocre.  O’Donnell is amateurish, but Bullocks is fine as the jaded nurse.  She is certainly not her usual bubbly screen persona.  She does seem uncomfortable playing the older woman.  There is little chemistry between the leads.

            The movie is not really a war movie.  I would classify it as a romance set in a war.  There is a very brief combat scene and some coverage of military medicine.  Some scenes in the MASH unit resemble the famous comedy without the laughs.  The hospital scenes are stock and include the amputee that takes his own life.

            SPOILER ALERT:  Ernest Hemingway did volunteer for the ambulance corps from his journalism job.  He was swayed by patriotic pleas.  He did get sent to Italy and was wounded early on when he was visiting the front line.  The wound was actually from shrapnel from a mortar.  He did meet Henry Villard and Agnes von Kurowsky in the hospital.  Villard was not a romantic rival and in fact was unaware of the heat.   A romance did develop and marriage was planned when they were reunited in America, according to Hemingway.  Von Kurowsky insisted later that it was a flirtation and never consummated.  Agnes wrote to Hemingway informing him that he was being jilted for an Italian doctor.  That relationship fell through and Agnes returned to the United States, but she and Ernie never met again.  Ernie never forgot her as she influenced his writing career (Catherine Barkley in “A Farewell to Arms” is based on her)  and his personal life.  Hemingway married four times and abandoned each wife before they could abandon him.  Or so psychologists analyze it.

GRADE  =  C-