Sunday, January 20, 2019

CONSENSUS #87 - They Died With Their Boots On (1941)

SYNOPSIS: "They Died With Their Boots On" is the story of George Custer (Flynn) and his wife Elizabeth (de Havilland). It covers their relationship from Custer's appearance at West Point to his death. The movie is part romance, part biopic, and part Western. The climax is the Battle of Little Big Horn.

BACK-STORY: They Died With Their Boots On is an old school war movie from 1941. It was directed by Raoul Walsh (“Objective Burma!”) and was the eighth and last screen pairing of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. It was a huge box office hit.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, TCM

1.  Three died during the filming. One fell from his horse and broke his neck.  A stuntman died of a heart attack.  Actor Jack Budlong was thrown from his horse as he rode alongside Errol Flynn and was impaled by his sword.
2.  Only sixteen Sioux were available as extras and were used for the closeups.  The rest of the more than 1,000 extras were Filipinos.
3.  Jim Thorpe was an extra and he got into a fight with Flynn during a break.  Thorpe knocked him down with one punch while Flynn was in uniform.
4.  Louis Zamperini of “Unbroken” fame, was also an extra.
5.  Flynn collapsed from exhaustion during the shoot.
6.  One of the most historically inaccurate war movies ever made.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  5.0
Video Hound       =  3.1
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #68
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  “They Died” is more of a Western than a war movie.  It is a classic and was a big hit, but when you compare it to modern war movies like “Son of the Morning Star”, it is an antique.  The ludicrous historical inaccuracies make the movie hard for history buffs to watch.  And, given the power of movies in the 1940s, it created a misshapen portrait of Custer.  It is on a par with “Braveheart” in accuracy, but at least William Wallace was a legitimate hero.  I strongly disagree with it being in the top 100.

Friday, January 18, 2019

SCI-FI WAR MOVIE: Aliens (1986)

                “Aliens” was the sequel to “Alien” (1979).  James Cameron was a young 31-year old director who had not yet released “Terminator”.  He was approached to write the screenplay and he decided to make the sequel a combat film with a mix of terror.  He envisioned it as an allegory about the Vietnam War.  The Colonial Marines exemplified the overconfident American army which had all the firepower, but was thrust into an alien environment against a primitive enemy that was relentless.  He wanted Ripley back to be a feminist hero, but contract problems with Sigourney Weaver almost led to Ripley being written out.  Cameron was given a paltry $18 million budget.  The film was shot in England, but American actors were used.  The movie was a critical and box office smash.  It won Academy Awards for Sound Effects Editing and Visual Effects.  It was nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Sigourney Weaver), Art Direction, Original Score (James Horner). and Film Editing.  At the Saturn Awards for science fiction films it won Best Film, Direction, Writing (Cameron), Supporting Actor (Bill Pullman), Supporting Actress (Jenette Goldstein), and Best Performance by a Younger Actor (Carrie Henn).  The aliens’ nest set was a decommissioned power plant. 

                “Aliens” takes place 57 years after “Alien”.  Ripley (and Jonesy the cat) are found drifting is space.  At a meeting with the evil corporation, Ripley is disbelieved (she’s a woman, after all).  She is shocked to learn that a colony has been set up on the planet where the Nostromo encountered the alien.  Communication has ceased with the colony.  A company man named Burke (Paul Reiser) convinces a very reluctant Ripley to join a squad of Colonial Marines on a rescue mission.  An android named Bishop (Lance Henriksen) is along.  Needless to say, Ripley is not enamored with him.  The squad is your typical heterogeneous unit filled with braggadocio and disdain for the potential “bugs” they may have to exterminate.  Their commander is green and will need to gain their respect.  Luckily, they have a gruff sergeant to motivate them.  You know this is a war movie when they arrive to snare drums.  The colony is located on an inhospitable planet and the settlement’s interior is cinematic prison/factory/ghost town.  They encounter one survivor, a little girl named Newt (Henn) and Ripley develops a mother/daughter relationship with her.  In a pulse-pounding and pulse-expending recon, they discover a nest of aliens.  It’s game on, as Hudson (Pullman) might say.

                “Aliens” has been called the greatest sequel ever and it is hard to argue with that assessment.  Cameron’s decision to change the sequel from horror to war was brilliant.  He did not take the lame sequel route of trying to recreate the vibe of the original.  Although more comfortably placed in the sci-fi genre, it is certainly a war movie.  It is basically a squad behind-the-lines movie.  Their tactics are realistic and the weaponry is amazing.  What sets it apart from a WWII movie is the strong female character.  Ripley is iconic and set a new standard for a woman who challenges the male-dominated world. (It is a bit depressing to think that in 2179 nothing has changed in this respect.)  in fact, the film has three strong female characters.  Ripley was ranked #8 on AFI’s list of screen heroes in 2003.  The character does not suck all the air out of the room, however.  The movie is blessed with several indelible characters – Hudson, Hicks, Newt, Vasquez, Bishop. Hell, even Paul Reiser’s slimy Burke is a great villain.  The actors are up to the characters with several doing their best work.  And I haven’t yet mentioned the aliens.  There is less left to the imagination than in “Alien” and the queen is a brilliant addition to the xenomorphs introduced in “Alien”.  Special effects wizard Stan Wilson deserves huge credit, along with Cameron.
                It is hard to imagine how the movie could have been better.  (Other than a cheap scene where Ripley dreams of giving birth to an alien.)  The sound track (amazingly done by Horner in just three weeks) and sound effects are amazing.  The movie takes the commando mission and last stand tropes and puts them in a futuristic monster movie in a haunted house setting.  This hybridization works because all the elements are maxed out.  The movie starts strong and builds consistently to one hell of an ending.  Ripley’s duel with the queen is incredible and includes one of the greatest lines in movie history:  “Get away from her, you bitch!”.  If that does not get you fired up, nothing will.

GRADE  =  A+

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

88. The Cruel Sea (1953)

SYNOPSIS:  “This is a story of the Battle of the Atlantic, the story of an ocean, two ships, and a handful of men. The men are the heroes; the heroines are the ships. The only villain is the sea, the cruel sea, that man has made more cruel...”  The first ship is the HMS Compass Rose, a corvette used for escort duty in the Battle of the Atlantic.  Its captain (Jack Hawkins) and crew are going to go through the realistic activities, frustrations, and hardships of convoy duty.

1.  The movie made a star out of Jack Hawkins.
2.  Hawkins saved Donald Sinden from drowning in the water tank in the sinking scene.
3.  Upon returning to port, the cinematic Compass Rose collided with the HMS Camperdown and did significant damage to it.
4.  The scene where Ericson breaks down as he thinks about the controversial depth charging was shot several times with varying amounts of tears.  The movie ended up using the first, weepiest take.

Belle and Blade  =  2.0
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #41
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies   =  yes

OPINION:  “The Cruel Sea” is a good movie. It is not rip-roaring, which makes it a realistic depiction of sometimes boring convoy duty. The sea does play a major role. The weather is the biggest problem the crews face. This is one of the wettest movies ever made. It is a good examination of command and command relationships. It is one of the most realistic naval combat movies ever made, which means it not all about the combat.  Its place at #88 seems about right.

Sunday, January 13, 2019


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is the quote from?

Worse! Kenley and Biggin are a shambles and the rest not much better. God Knows how many aircraft we'll have in the morning! All because 12 Group couldn't do their stuff. Leigh-Mallory and his big wings! Might as well stay on the ground for all the use they are!

3.  What movie is this?

It is a “war” movie based on the eponymous novel by Alan LeMay.  It was released in 1956 toward the end of the great period of black and white Westerns and is considered by many to be the best movie of that genre.  It is marked by peak performances by director John Ford and his perennial star, John Wayne.  Shockingly, although the film did well at the box office, it did not get a single Academy Award nomination.  The casting was interesting.  Natalie Wood’s sister plays the younger Debbie.  Natalie was still in high school at the time of filming and you can imagine the stir when Wayne and/or Jeffery Hunter would sometimes come to pick her up at school.  Fess Parker of “Davy Crockett” fame was set to play the Martin Pawley role, but Disney would not allow him to.  He later said it was the biggest loss of his career.  Buddy Holly got the idea for the title of his hit “That’ll Be the Day” from the oft used line in the movie.