Sunday, July 31, 2011

Answers to War Movie Pictures Quizzes

Here are the answers to War Movie Picture Quiz #1

1.  A Bridge Too Far - Dohun with his "dead" captain
2.  Battleground - Holley in his fox hole
3.  Cross of Iron - Stransky, the Russian boy, and Steiner
4.  Flags of Our Fathers - Ira Hayes
5.  Glory - shooting practice
6.  Hell is for Heroes -  McQueen as Reese
7.  Lawrence of Arabia - blowing up a train
8.  The Patriot - Tavington
9.  Sands of Iwo Jima - amphtracs
10.  Tropic Thunder - Lazarus

Here are the answers to War Movie Picture Quiz #2

1.  A Walk in the Sun - "got a butt?"
2.  Breaker Morant - the firing squad
3.  Von Ryan Express - at the tunnel
4.  The Great Escape - at the cafe
5.  Saving Private Ryan - Jackson's scope view from the tower
6.  The Dirty Dozen - Maggot enjoys the Nazi bed
7.  Patton - George shoots down a bomber
8.  Flyboys - training
9.  Letters from Iwo Jima - the capture of Saigo
10.  The Hurt Locker - Ralph Fiennes as a sniper

Saturday, July 30, 2011

ANTIQUE or CLASSIC? "Action in the North Atlantic"


     “Action in the North Atlantic” is a propagandistic war movie from 1943 that praises the Merchant Marine. It stars Humphrey Bogart as Humphrey Bogart. It was shot entirely on the Warner Brothers back lot and sound stages. It was used as a recruiting film for the Merchant Marine and also as a training film. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. At one point during the filming, drunken Bogart and Massey replaced their stunt men for a dive from a burning ship.

     The movie opens strong with the S.S. Northstar being torpedoed by a u-boat. In one of the fieriest scenes in movie history (think “Backdraft” on a ship), they abandon ship. The dastardly German submarine commander rams their lifeboat and leaves laughing. It would be great if they could get revenge on that bastard!

     After eleven days on a raft (with no visible food or water), they are back in port and then home. Capt. Jarvis (Raymond Massey) reunites with his loving wife who understands that “to a sailor’s wife, war is just another storm.” Meanwhile, Lt. Rossi (Bogart) punches out a guy blabbing about convoys and then marries a singer. The rest of the crew frequents the union hall waiting for another ship. This is one of the rare references to unions in movies from that time period. One sailor reluctant to risk his life again is shamed into being a patriot.

     The new ship is a Liberty ship called the "Seawitch". It joins an international convoy heading for Murmansk. Anyone expecting it to be a milk run – think again. There is a new officer on board, Cadet Parker from the Merchant Marine Academy. He shows Rossi a picture of his girl – cliché alert! In a fog bank, they tow a big wooden arrow so the next ship can follow. Another ship scrapes them.

     A wolfpack attacks the convoy. There is frantic action as the torpedoes wreak havoc and the convoy disperses. The escorts depth charge their foes. There are plenty of explosions. The Seawitch gets to fire its deck gun at submarines that inexplicably are on the surface in daylight. When the battle ends, they are alone, but being stalked by u-boat-know-who. It is a cat and mouse game and during the night both go silent.

     The next day, they are attacked by two German flying boats (obvious models, but authentic). They strafe and both are shot down because in war movies anti-aircraft crews on cargo ships are unbelievably accurate. The second plane crashes into the ship in a very fake looking effect. Guess what soon to be married character is killed? Dude, never show a picture of your girl in a war movie!

     Suddenly they are torpedoed. Rossi (in command because Jarvis was injured in the plane attack) orders fires to be set and smoke made to lure the stupid Germans up. Sure enough, it works. Dramatically the Seawitch comes out of the smoke and rams the u-boat. Turn about is fair play. The pompous German commander drowns. High five! Somehow Rossi knows it’s the same sub.

     They arrive to cheering crowds in Murmansk. The Russians love us. We get a montage of merchant ships and some FDR quotes to swell the audience's pride a little more before they got in their Model As to go home.

     The movie is actually not that bad for a propaganda piece made during the war. It is preachy, but not overly so. The action is good as is the acting. The cast has a lot of recognizable faces and their sailor banter below decks is humorous in a 1940s way. The special effects are low grade, but what do you expect for the time period? The duel with the sub is a little ridiculous and unrealistic so the ending does not match the first set piece.

Classic or antique? Classic.

Rating – 7/10

Monday, July 25, 2011

#57 - Notorious (1946)

BACK-STORY:  “Notorious” is a classic Hitchcock film released in 1946.  It was shot in crisp black and white and has many of the iconic Hitchcock touches.  It was one of four movies where Hitchcock teamed with Cary Grant and his second picture in a row with Ingrid Bergman (the first was “Spellbound”).  The film was a big hit and was nominated for two Academy Awards – Claude Rains for Best Supporting Actor and Ben Hecht for Best Original Screenplay.  Leopoldine Konstantin (Rains’ mother) made her only appearance in an American movie.  She was actually only four years older than Rains.  Another problem that the magic of movies handled was Rains being several inches shorter than Bergman.  This was overcome with ramps and elevator shoes so well that in the movie Grant and Rains appear to be the same height.  The use of uranium for an atomic bomb as the MacGuffin the plot needed supposedly was prescient by Hitchcock and Hecht and got Hitchcock tailed by the FBI for a while.  The movie has a famous two and a half minute kissing scene where Hitchcock circumvented the Production Code rule of maximum of three seconds of lip-locking by having Grant and Bergman nuzzle between smooches.  This actually works on film.
this does not count toward the three second rule
OPENING:   Alicia Huberan (Bergman) is the daughter of a Nazi spy who commits suicide after a guilty verdict in a Miami court in 1946.  Alicia is a playgirl who is trying to escape her familial shame through affairs and booze.  An FBI agent named Devlin (Grant) is enlisted to recruit her to infiltrate a nest of Nazi friends of her father who are up to no good in Rio De Janiero.
SUMMARY:  Alicia reluctantly agrees to the incredibly dangerous mission.  To complicate matters, she and Devlin fall in love (rather quickly).  The mission is for Alicia to cozy up to her old boyfriend Sebastian (Claude Rains) who is the leader of the gang.  Since he has fallen in love with Alicia, Devlin is torn between duty and love.  Being a patriotic agent, he chooses duty but is quite petulant about it.  To hide his true feelings and to harden Alicia to her task, he coldly treats her like a loose woman.  The underlying tension is that he wants her to back out of the assignment and she wants him to ask her to back out.  As my wife would say, they were not communicating their feelings.  Good thing, otherwise we would not have had this movie.  Here is a sample of their non-communicating:
Devlin: I can't help recalling some of your remarks about being a new woman. Daisies and buttercups, wasn't it? Alicia: You idiot! What are you sore about, you knew very well what I was doing! Devlin: Did I? Alicia: You could have stopped me with one word, but no, you wouldn't. You threw me at him! Devlin: I threw you at nobody. Alicia: Didn't you tell me what I had? Devlin: A man doesn't tell a woman what to do; she tells herself. You almost had me believing in that little hokey-pokey miracle of yours, that a woman like you could change her spots. Alicia: Oh, you're rotten. Devlin: That's why I didn't try to stop you. The answer had to come from you. Alicia: I see. Some kind of love test. Devlin: That's right.

"How could she choose Cary Grant?"
                Sebastian has always been in love with her and falls under her spell with little effort on her part.  He even defies his creepily domineering mother who is immediately suspicious of this competitor for her son’s affections. Alicia secretly meets with Devlin and their conversations are venomous as each lets their bitterness flow.  But there is a job to do and Alicia reports a strange incident involving a wine bottle that may be a clue to what the Nazis have up their sleeves. 
                Alicia marries the blushing groom and takes residence with the mother-in-law from Hell.  Devlin convinces her to host a grand party so he can have access to the wine cellar.  And, oh by the way, can you get the key from Sebastian?  In the wine cellar, Dev and Alicia discover that some of the bottles have uranium in them (what food would that go with?).  They are almost caught by Sebastian and only a steamy fake kiss fools him.  However, Sebastian pieces together several clues to figure the love of his life is betraying him. It’s time to enlist the aid of mommy and endure the I-told-you-sos.  Mom’s solution is to slowly poison Alicia through her daily coffee.
CLOSING:   Alicia looks increasingly bad at her meetings with Devlin until finally she is bedridden and on her way out.  Dev gets suspicious and barges in to see her.  He rescues her right under the noses of the perplexed Nazis (who of course have not been told by Sebastian that he allowed a spy into their gang).  Sebastian wants to go with Dev and Alicia because his friends are not going to be happy with someone who now has cooties, but Dev is unsympathetic and decides apparently that having a potential Nazi stool pigeon in FBI custody is not a good idea.
Action – none
Acting – 9 ( even Alfred who does a great job downing a drink at the grand party )
Accuracy – not applicable
Realism – 5
Plot – 7
Overall -  6
WOULD CHICKS DIG IT?  Did I mention it has Cary Grant in it?  Nuff said.  The love story is sizzling and the dialogue is crackling.  There is a lot of chemistry between the leads.  It is edge of your seat suspenseful at times.  Your girl might even clutch your arm at times.  However, you’re likely to also get punched in that arm with comments like “You men are all alike” when there are scenes of Dev being mean to Alicia because he can’t reveal his true feelings.  Guys, if your wife has mother-in-law issues, this movie is bound to make your mother look pretty damn good.
ACCURACY:   Obviously, “Notorious” is not based on a true story so accuracy is not an issue.  It is true that some Nazis did escape to places in South America like Rio, but there is no evidence they were working on an atomic bomb.  This part of the plot is actually a little silly.  What exactly were these Nazi’s going to do with their wine bottles full of uranium?  Don’t think on this too much.  Nazis + uranium = bad
CRITIQUE:    I am a big Hitchcock fan, but I have to swim upstream and state that I do not think this is one of his best films.  It is well written and well acted.  It has its moments of standard suspense.  For example, the “will they get caught in the cellar” scene.  Nothing special there.  The rescue is anti-climatic, although leaving Sebastian behind to face his comrades is a nice touch.
                The movie explores some interesting themes.  One of these is trust.  Devlin has a hard time trusting Alicia and Sebastian trusts her too readily.  Another is the theme of love versus duty.  Dev is torn between his love for Alicia and the mission of using her for national security.  He comes down on the side of the mission which makes the movie one of the first post-WWII espionage movies to emphasize the get your hands dirty nature of intelligence work.  Interestingly, the Cold War had not kicked in yet so Hitchcock was a little ahead of the curve on this dynamic.
                By far the best reason to watch the film is the dialogue and acting.  The sparring between Alicia and Devlin is priceless.  Grant and Bergman are at the top of their games, but Rains is outstanding as well.  He portrays a sympathetic Nazi who ironically is more in love with Alicia than Devlin is.  He also has those terrible mommy issues that we can sympathize with.  You almost feel sorry for him.  He is a cultured, urbane Nazi sap.  As his mother, Konstantin is one of the great villains of filmdom.
CONCLUSION:   This is the second Hitchcock film on the list and it is even less of a war movie than “Foreign Correspondent”.  I have no idea what the panel was thinking here.  Even the loosest definition of war movie would not include this movie.  But the astounding thing is this movie is eight places higher than “Casablanca”!  How can that be justified?  No one in their right mind would argue that “Notorious” is superior to “Casablanca” as a film.  I doubt even Hitchcock would make that argument.  Given that fact and the fact that “Casablanca” is clearly more of a war movie than “Notorious”, how do we end up with these rankings?!   


Thursday, July 21, 2011


This is the second in my series of War Movie Picture Quizzes.  Try to identify the ten movies by way of a still from each.  Post your choices in the "Comments" section.

Thanks to all who participated last time. War Movie Pictures Quiz #1  Congratulations to the winner:  Ilkinak.











Good luck!

Thanks again to IMFDB for the pictures.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

#58 - The Big Parade



BACK-STORY: “The Big Parade” is a very influential war movie released in 1925. It was directed by King Vidor and was a huge hit. The film cost $245,000 and made over $22 million. It is the highest grossing silent movie in history. The screenplay is based on a play by Joseph Farnham and the autobiographical novel Plumes by Marine veteran Laurence Stallings. It made a superstar of its lead John Gilbert (previously known for romantic roles opposite Marlene Dietrich) and boosted the career of Renee Adoree, who sadly died a few years later from tuberculosis. Vidor had the cooperation of the War Department, specifically the 2nd Division and the Signal Corps. Vidor watched hours of Signal Corps film to get the rhythm of battle and used some of the footage in the movie.

OPENING: The movie opens in 1917 before U.S. entry. The main character is Jim Apperson (Gilbert) who is a spoiled rich boy who has no intention of either working for his father or fighting for his country. However, he succumbs to peer pressure during a parade celebrating America’s entry and enlists. (A scene similar to the schoolboys marching off in “All Quiet”.) This thrills his fiancé Justyn who coos “You’ll look gorgeous in an officer’s uniform. I’ll love you more than ever.” On the other hand, his mother is upset as mothers are wont to be. His previously disappointed father is now proud of him. (Again similar family dynamics to “All Quiet”)

SUMMARY: Jim ends up in the Rainbow Division. There is a disappointingly short training scene and then the unit marches off to war (apparently marching across the Atlantic). It is disappointing because we do not get to see the rich boy at boot camp. How does he become a soldier?

     They are billeted at a farm in the village of Champillon in France. Jim bonds with two men from the other side of the tracks. Slim (Karl Dane) was a worker on skyscrapers and Bull (Tom O’Brien) was a Bowery bartender. They share a very stale cake sent by Justyn and then want to share the cute farm girl Melisande (Adoree), but she chooses Jim. They conduct a chaste romance which is hampered by Jim’s inability to speak French (it’s Greek to him), but he tells her “I don’t understand a word you say, but I know what you mean.” Remember, she’s a French girl (contrast to “All Quiet”’s French mademoiselles). Some of the dialogue is done without subtitles which is cool. Being an American, he teaches this backwards European how to chew gum in a cute scene. Shockingly for a film made in 1925, Jim is carrying on behind the back of his American sweetheart which proves this movie is not your typical flag-waver.

     Guess what? There’s a war going on and soldiers have to fight. The trio is shipped off to the front. In a scene often copied (recently I saw a similar version in “The Cranes are Flying”), Melisande works her way through the chaos of embarking to finally locate Jim. They embrace and then she grabs his leg (foreshadowing) as the truck pulls away. She is dragged (I’m sorry to admit I laughed at this) and then he throws her a shoe? ( apparently he foresees that he will not be needing it in the future).

     In an amazing shot, we see a long line of trucks heading for the front (200 to be exact) while planes fly over (300). They take their first casualties when “Flying Fritzie” strafes them. The battle is set in Belleau Wood and the Americans naively advance in long lines shoulder to shoulder (at first). They march relentlessly forward disregarding the casualties taken from snipers. There is a plinking noise every time a sniper scores. After dealing with the snipers they encounter machine gun nests and use grenades (they pull the pins with their teeth) against them. The pace quickens as does the music. Next, they are hit by artillery. The nice disciplined lines are no more. They exit the woods and head into no man’s land. They need their gas masks.

     The trio ends up in a shell crater. The Germans are firing a trench mortar at them. (When they hit, someone off screen throws shovels of dirt on them.) They get an order for one of them to take out the mortar. Slim wins a spitting contest (no surprise since he’s been practicing spitting the whole movie) for the honor of committing suicide. Jim does not insist on a contest a rich guy could actually compete in.

      Slim manages to eliminate the mortar crew, but is wounded in the process. Jim loses it and he and Bull go after Slim. They find Slim dead and Jim goes Audie Murphy on the Germans followed by the more reluctant Bull. Bull gets mortally wounded and dies in Jim’s arms. Bull: “I’ll see you in Berlin.” Jim is hit in the leg and crawls after a German he had wounded, but he can’t bring himself to finish the German off and instead gives him a cigarette before he expires. (Contrast to the famous scene in “All Quiet”) The attack is renewed in the dark. The scene turns hellish with numerous explosions from frantically firing artillery. The Americans march in lines toward the enemy line.

CLOSING: A long line of trucks comes at the camera (a mirror of the earlier shot) indicating the close of the offensive. Jim is in the hospital having had his leg amputated. He sneaks out to return to the farm, but finds it deserted. Melisande is now a refugee. Jim returns home embittered. He does not know that his fiancé is now in love with his brother! His mother does, however, and when Jim tells her about Melisande, she encourages him to go find her. Jim returns to France. Melisande is plowing a field when she sees a figure on the horizon. Could it be? She goes running, he comes hobbling like Chester from “Gunsmoke”. The music swells, they kiss.


Action – 7

Acting - 8

Accuracy – 7

Realism – 7

Plot – 7

Overall – 7

WOULD CHICKS DIG IT? Yes. The love story is well done and engaging. The two leads are attractive and have good chemistry. The violence is not graphic and although intense at times, not especially macho.

ACCURACY: Although it is not specifically mentioned in the film, the battle is obviously Belleau Wood. Stallings lost a leg fighting in the battle. The depiction of the battle is very simplistic. In reality, the battle was in an artillery- ravaged forest and although the Marines (it was the Marines, not the Army as shown in the film) marched in lines into the forest, this did not last long. The problem in the woods was the numerous machine gun nests. The movie does not do a realistic job showing the slaughter inflicted by these machine guns. The battle took three weeks of consistently brutal fighting. Many of the Marines did not bathe or change clothes for the duration. The men did not robotically march forward to clear the woods. The tactics reenacted are consistent with an attack across no man’s land, however. By the way, soldiers do not pull pins out of grenades with their teeth, Hollywood.

     For a black and white movie made in 1925, the combat is pretty realistic in its hellishness. Veterans commented positively on this. No man’s land is accurately depicted and the grim reality of death is apparent. The soldierly bonding is well done. The effects of war on civilians is also touchingly rendered. Jim’s encounter with the wounded German soldier rings true, although it could have realistically gone the other way as well.

CRITIQUE: I was pleasantly surprised at how good this movie was. It holds up well and deserves its reputation as a classic. The cinematography is very good and the score fits the film well. The acting is top notch for the most part. Since it’s a silent movie, expect a lot of arm waving. Gilbert is outstanding. It would have been interesting to see him negotiate the transformation of a reluctant rich boy to a soldier in boot camp, but the movie inexplicably jumps over this phase. Yet, Vidor includes an extended segment of the unit shoveling manure! Go figure. Adoree is adorable (sorry). The chemistry between the two is palpable. The gum chewing scene is noteworthy in this respect. O’Brien as Bull is effective, although he plays him as a noncom leader at first when they arrive at the farm, but suddenly he turns into a typical stay-one-step-ahead-of-the-MPs soldier. This allows for comic relief with Slim. Speaking of Slim, Dane is the weak link in the quartet. He is so bizarre looking you can’t take your eyes off him, but not in a good way. It would be like putting Marty Feldman (for those who say “who?’, substitute Flavor Flav) in a serious war film. He would be good for the lighter moments, but what about when you get to combat?

     The romance feels a bit rushed. They fall in love quickly which is due to the time constraints of the plot. “All Quiet” does a more realistic job depicting wartime “romance”. The iconic departure scene is powerful and influential, but is definitely dated and I can’t imagine my high school students not laughing at Melisande being dragged behind the truck. The tidy resolution of Jim’s engagement by having her already jilt him in favor of his brother drained the potential of him choosing Melisande over his fiancé.

      The battle section of the movie is very good. It may lack a bit of accuracy and realism, but it is excitingly done. The deaths are unexpected. The “fog of war” is emphasized. Audiences got a taste of what it must have been like to be trapped in no man’s land.

      The movie is important because it showed the human dimensions of war. Previous movies about war had not concentrated on the grunts (or in this case, doughboys). You had not seen realistic deaths like Slim’s and Bull’s. The main character would not have been maimed. Previous movies were either anti-German or propagandistic, or both. This movie is neither. It is anti-war, but not as strongly as some critics have claimed. It does have a happy ending which dilutes the anti-war message.

CONCLUSION: If you define “greatest” as most important, “The Big Parade” belongs in the top 100 and probably should be higher than #58. It is one of the great WWI movies and follows “All Quiet” (#1), “Paths of Glory” (2), “Wings” (11), Sergeant York (19), “The Dawn Patrol” (38), and “Hell’s Angels” (43). It will be interesting to see how it stacks up against “Wings” and “Hell’s Angels”. As far as the most obvious comparison, it is definitely inferior to “All Quiet” which came out five years later. However, if you define “greatest” as best quality, “The Big Parade’ naturally comes up short due to its simplistic plot and the drawbacks of the silent era. I would not hesitate to call it a classic, but it is not one of the best war movies ever made.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Regeneration (Behind the Lines)

     “Regeneration” is a war movie released in 1997. It was a British-Canadian production. It was released in America as “Behind the Lines”, but was lost in the wake of “Saving Private Ryan” and "The Thin Red Line". It is based on the acclaimed novel by Pat Barker. Although based on a work of fiction, it features several historical figures and is based on actual events. You can say that a vast majority of war films are anti-war, but few are as serious about sending that message as this film.

     The movie begins with an awesome tracking shot over no man’s land to set the mood of “war is Hell”. Don’t be fooled by the opening – this is far from an action picture. Words substitute for bullets and what words. The movie is very lyrical and not just because of the poetry which is effectively blended in. Kudos to Allan Scott for staying true to the novel and to director Gillies MacKinnon for bringing it to the screen.

     The multiple story lines coil around the central tale of the warrior-poet Seigfried Sassoon’s stay in a mental hospital. Sassoon (James Wilby) is known as “Mad Jack” to his men because of his suicidal bravery. That bravery has earned him the Military Cross, but his war experience has resulted in disillusionment with the war. He writes a letter that protests the war and indicts the incompetent leadership. The brass handles this criticism by excusing it as the result of shell shock which puts Sassoon in Craiglockhart War Hospital. The hospital specializes in returning shell-shocked soldiers back to the front. However, Sassoon is there to be convinced to withdraw his protest.

     Sassoon is psychoanalyzed by Dr. Rivers (Jonathan Pryce) who is experimenting with humane treatment that involves getting the patients to talk out their trauma. This leads to some verbal sparring matches between Sassoon and Price. The dialogue is crackling. It is obvious Rivers needs the sessions almost as much as Sassoon. Rivers is torn by the fact that he is curing patients in order to send them back into a maelstrom. He even develops a stammer and admits that he is “shell-shocked by my own patients”.

      Another story line is the relationship that develops between Sassoon and a patient named Wilfred Owen (Stuart Bunce) who shares a love of poetry. Sassoon becomes his mentor and their exchanges are illuminating about the creative process. Sassoon convinces Owen to incorporate the horrors of war into his poetry, as he has. The approach works with Owen describing writing as “like exorcism”.

     Meanwhile Rivers is working with a troubled young man named Billy Prior (Jonny Lee Miller). He is mute at first and suffers from nightmares. His main problem is shame over having cracked in combat. These sessions are combative and tension-filled. Prior describes combat as “like sex – exciting and ridiculous”. He desperately wants to return to “the club” to prove himself.

     In an important side trip, Rivers visits a fellow psychiatrist named Dr. Yealland who is taking a more conventional approach to shell shock cases. He uses electroshock therapy to get the men back to the front. In a powerful scene, Rivers watches the method in action as Yealland inserts an electric rod in the mouth of a soldier who cannot (or will not) speak. Shockingly (get it?) the procedure works. Pryce does a wonderful job portraying the dismay, but self-doubt of Rivers as he witnesses the curing of the patient. Are his methods, which take longer and perhaps bring greater mental anguish, more humane?

     I won’t give away the conclusion of the film, but it does bring satisfactory ends to the three patients’ story lines.

     This is an excellent movie. It was nominated for the BAFTA for Best Picture, but is virtually unknown in America. This is a shame because the movie is only lacking in action. It is well written. It is intelligent. It is very well acted (especially by Pryce). The cinematography is interesting. Some of the scenes are done in a surreal style. It sheds a light on the mental wounds of war and treatment of those traumas. If you have seen standard WWI combat films, this movie should be required viewing to take you “behind the lines”. If you insist your war movies be seen and not heard, skip it.

      Most admirably, “Regeneration” is historically accurate. Sassoon definitely earned his nickname with suicidal bravery. This included an incident where he made a one man attack on a German trench, ran off sixty Germans with grenades, and then sat down to read a book of poetry! And yet, he gets sent to Craiglockhart for writing “Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration”. In it he wrote “I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest.” (By the way, you could argue that this statement is hard to defend and is borderline insane.) His stay in the hospital and interaction with Rivers is substantially true. The conflicts between the men is dramatized a bit considering that in reality they greatly admired each other (the fact each was gay enhanced their mutual regard).

      Rivers methods and philosophy are accurately portrayed. His “talking cure” was controversial because it went against the “stiff upper lip” mentality of the British. He did suffer from guilt feelings. Although the visit to Yealland may have been imagined, Yealland and his methods are historical.

      The relationship between Sassoon and Owen is accurate. They did meet in the hospital and their interaction is authentic. I found no evidence for the Prior character. However, his addition to make it a trio of patients, each with different PTSD, is acceptable.

      Cracker? Definitely. It is much better than some of the standard war films on the list like "The Alamo"

Rating – 8/10


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

#59 - From Here to Eternity



BACK-STORY: “From Here to Eternity” is a war movie that is set in the weeks prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It takes place in Honolulu. It was directed by Fred Zinnemann and was based on the famous novel by James Jones. It was released in 1953 and is black and white. The movie was a huge hit and is still very popular. It won 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Editing, Screenplay, Sound, Supporting Actor (Frank Sinatra), and Supporting Actress (Donah Reed). Lancaster and Clift were nominated for Best Actor but their split votes helped William Holden win for “Stalag 17”. Kerr was nominated for Best Actress. Sinatra’s win was the culmination of a campaign by him to get the role. Apparently the myth of Mafia involvement (the basis for a subplot in “The Godfather”) is not true. He got the role through persistence and help from his wife Ava Gardner who was friends with the wife of the studio head. He accepted a salary of only $8,000. The movie was filmed on location at Schofield Barracks.

OPENING: Private Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) is transferred to Schofield Barracks in 1941. He meets Sgt. Warden (Burt Lancaster) who is a hard-ass who runs the regiment for the incompetent Capt. Holmes (Philip Ober). Warden says “He’d strangle on his own spit if he didn’t have me around to swab out his throat for him.” Holmes wants Prewitt to join the regimental boxing team, but Prewitt has given up the sport after blinding a foe.

 SUMMARY: Prewitt is given “the treatment” by the noncoms to get him to reconsider his decision. They are constantly harassing him. Prewitt is befriended by an Italian-American named Maggio (Frank Sinatra). Maggio is like a volatile, alcoholic lapdog. While Prewitt and Maggio are bonding, so are Warden and Holmes’ wife Karen (Deborah Kerr). Karen is a notorious cuckolder, but one frosty hot dish. Warden is warned about her reputation, but still pursues her. Prewitt makes his own love connection with a “hostess” at a “night club” named Lorene (Donna Reed). He is pretty pathetic (“Nobody ever lies about being lonely.”) and obviously needs a shoulder to cry on.

      Warden and Karen openly conduct their affair. Apparently he is willing to chance his career in order to bed his commander’s wife when he clearly could have any single woman he would want (did I mention he’s Burt Lancaster?). Ah, the power of lust. They famously make a trip to the beach for the iconic kissing in the surf scene. Strangely, before the kiss, he confronts her with her past which allows her to excuse her behavior with the “he started it” adultery defense. With the audience reassured, they have 1953 movie sex (which means we see something equivalent to what you see on the Disney Channel today).
hubba, hubba!

     Maggio has made an enemy of a loathsome bully named Sgt. Judson (Ernest Borgnine). They get into a fight where “Fatso” pulls a knife. Warden intervenes to break it up (he threatens Judson with a broken bottle!), but Judson warns Maggio to never find himself in the stockade. Guess who gets himself thrown into the stockade for skipping guard duty to go out drinking? It is implied that Judson brutalizes him.

     Meanwhile the torrid love affair continues. Warden: “I’ve never been so miserable in all my life since I met you and I wouldn’t change a minute of it.” Karen: “Neither would I.” She wants him to try to become an officer, but he hates officers.

      One of the sergeants picks a fight with Prewitt to bring out his inner “Hulk”. The men gather around like a playground altercation. Holmes witnesses the fight and allows it to go on until Prewitt starts kicking ass, I mean punching face. Unfortunately, the base commander witnesses the fight and after some investigating discovers the “treatment” Holmes had applied to Prewitt. Holmes is put up on charges and resigns to avoid court-martial.

     Prewitt and Warden are out on the town drunk when Maggio comes stumbling up having escaped from the stockade and showing clear signs of the abuse by Judson. He dies in Prewitt’s arms. Later, Prewitt uses his bugling skills to play a mournful “Taps” for his buddy. He then seeks out Judson in an alley and kills him in a knife fight. Being wounded, Prewitt takes refuge with Lorene. Things are getting messy. It would be nice if some big event could help resolve all this dysfunctionality. Banzai!
      Dec. 7, 1941 – a date that will live in conflict resolution. The attack is not exactly “Pearl Harbor”. There is some actual footage, but some of it is of American planes. Models of ships are blown up. Warden and others race to a roof top to shoot at the planes (real original Michael Bay!). One of them actually shakes a fist at a Japanese plane. Warden shoots down a Jap using a M-60 like Rambo.

     When Prewitt hears the attack, he must return to serve his country. “Who do they think they’re messing with? They’re taking on the best army in the world.” Unfortunately, he underestimates the jumpiness of a sentry after the most stunning attack in American History. Ironically, the boxing tournament had been cancelled.

CLOSING: It’s a small world. Karen and Lorene are on the same ship going back to the states. They strike up a conversation. It turns out Warden has decided Karen is not worth adding some stripes. It’s probably safe to say the survivors do not live happily ever after.


Action - 4

Acting – 8

Accuracy – 7

Realism – 6

Plot - 7

Overall - 6

WOULD CHICKS DIG IT? Definitely. Lancaster, Clift, and Sinatra. The torrid romance. The beach scene. Note, you don’t need to spring for the dinner if the chick is over age 60.

ACCURACY: “From Here to Eternity” is based on a novel that is set in pre-Pearl Harbor Hawaii. The attack plays only a tie-loose-ends role in the story. Historical accuracy is not really a factor in analyzing the movie. As a portrayal of Army life it is a bit melodramatic, but fairly realistic. Could the personal dynamics have occurred at Schofield Barracks? Possibly. Was the Army concerned that the book was falsely tarnishing its image or was it upset that Jones was exposing some dirty little secrets?

     Speaking of the book, the Army did insist on some changes to the plot in order to extend its cooperation (e.g. use of Schofield Barracks). First, the movie could not actually show the abuse of Maggio in the stockade and Judson had to be clearly portrayed as an anomaly. Second, Holmes had to resign, instead of be promoted. The Army did not seem to have a problem with the fact that the movie shows there was an incredible amount of drinking in the pre-war army.

     Other differences from the book were done for Hollywood reasons. Maggio is a male hustler in the book. The night club is a brothel and Karen is not simply a “hostess”. And Maggio does not die in the book. Oh, and by the way, Warden and Karen don’t just kiss on the beach in the surf.

CRITIQUE: “From Here to Eternity” is a classic example of how changes in social mores can antiquate a movie. Although I referred to the fact that the technology available in “Pearl Harbor” makes the attack here look quaint, that is not the reason why FHTE does not hold up well. The problem is what was shocking behavior in 1941 is tame by today’s standards. When the movie came out in 1953, audiences were titillated by the depiction of adultery and sex on a beach. If you are shocked by Rhett Butler saying “damn”, then you probably will find FHTE to be naughty. However, if you are younger than age 60, there are a lot of ho-hum moments. Here’s what I mean. Over age 60: “Oh my God, he is kissing a married woman in the surf and she is on top!” Under age 60: “OMG, they are keeping their swimsuits on and is that all?” It’s not just the outdatedly tame situations. The dialogue now seems cheesy. The movie is overly melodramatic.

     The strength of the movie is in the acting. It is uniformly good, although the critics have gone a little overboard on this. Clift is excellent and supposedly intimidated Lancaster with his acting ability. He also mentored Sinatra and helped him create the role of his life. Kerr acted against type effectively although I did not find her steaming hot like some did. Reed also is good, but certainly both women were not Oscar nomination worthy. Speaking of which, it is hard to imagine what was going through the Academy’s mind in doling out eight Oscars and thirteen nominations to this movie.

     The basic themes of the movie are effectively explored. Real men have responsibilities and duties that they are bound to carry out. This explains Prewitt accepting the “treatment” and in fact it looks like he is prepared to box in the tournament after all. He also returns from being AWOL in order to rejoin his unit for the war. Another theme is that military men will choose their unit over their women. Warden lets Karen go not just because there’s a war to be won, but he refuses to win it as an officer.

CONCLUSION: First, “From Here to Eternity” is not really a war movie so it does not belong on the list, in my opinion. The ten minutes of the Pearl Harbor attack do not qualify it. Second, the movie is overrated. I can understand why it created a stir in 1953, but that was more than fifty years ago. They had no rating system back then, but no doubt it would have been rated R. Today it would be PG-13 at the most. Torrid back then is tepid today. As I watched the surf scene I wondered what the big deal was. I am not in favor of remakes usually, but this movie begs for a modern reinterpretation.

ALTERNATE: “In Harm’s Way”

     Watching “From Here to Eternity” reminded me of a similar movie set around Pearl Harbor entitled “In Harm’s Way”. It was directed by Otto Preminger and stars John Wayne. It supposedly was the last WWII epic filmed in black and white and Wayne’s last black and white movie. In some ways it feels like a sequel to FHTE and as with most sequels, it sucks. It begins with the attack which is poorly reenacted. Pearl Harbor and the subsequent counteroffensive is an excuse to stage a melodrama about relationships in the Navy. Unlike FHTE, these relationships seem phony and designed to hit various situations. A. A career sailor (Wayne) is divorced and estranged from his son. He meets an old maid nurse (Patricia Neal) and has a chaste romance. B. A cuckolded friend (Kirk Douglas) becomes an alcoholic because his wife is a slut, but she gets killed in the attack.. C. A faithful sailor husband (Tom Tryon) is wedded to a typical Navy wife (Paula Prentiss). D. The son (Brandon De Wilde of “Shane” fame showing the same acting ability he had in that film) is engaged to a pretty young nurse named AnnaLee.

     Surprisingly, although it was made twelve years later, IHW is more repressed than FHTE. You get double the beach scenes, but quicker fade-outs. One is a rape of AnnaLee which gives Eddington (Douglas) the opportunity to redeem himself on a suicide mission. By the way, guess who gets unestranged from his son?

      The movie is based on a novel in which the author makes up some ridiculous names for fictitious islands that Torrey (Wayne) is in charge of capturing. This leads to a naval battle with a Japanese fleet led by the battleship Yamato. There is finally some action at the end with models and lots of geysers and explosions. The ships are all ghost ships because we never see a single sailor on deck. Son Jere is on a PT boat that charges in and gets rammed. Torrey has to abandon ship, but three weeks later wakes up on a hospital ship where quess who is his nurse? Also, surprise, the battle was won and he is a hero.

     The acting is fair. Wayne is restrained. The score is terrible. It is ridiculously inaccurate historically.
Rating – 4/10

Don't let the kids watch this!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

WAR CHICK FLICK: Captain Corelli's Mandolin


     My wife and I recently inaugurated a side project of watching certain war movies that are described as female friendly. I will be referring to them as War Chick Flicks. The list is inspired by “War Movies: Estrogen” from the book Military History’s Most Wanted. Others we will be viewing include: Hanover Street, Yanks, Coming Home, D-Day: The Sixth of June, and I Was a Male Order Bride. We’ll try to do about one a month because that’s all I can stomach.

     First up is “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” from 2001. The movie takes place on the Mediterranean island of Cephallonia. The island is Greek, but occupied by the Italian army. Capt. Corelli (Nicholas Cage) arrives with his artillery unit. They immediately fit into the idyllic community because Italian soldiers are lovers, not warriors. Especially Corelli who is also a mandolin player and all-around jovial chap. He’s the kind of guy who pets the rock when he stubs his toe. He meets the feisty Pelagia (Penelope Cruz) who is the daughter of the town doctor. She is in love with a partisan named Mandras (Christian Bale) who is away at war. At first Pegalia does not like Corelli, but that will change. By the time Mandras returns, he is odd person out in the love triangle. The second half of the film complicates matters by having the German army arrive to disarm the Italians now that the Italian government has surrendered. The Germans do this with extreme prejudice and even execute many Italian prisoners, Corelli survives by the miraculous intervention of one of his friends. He is nursed back to health by Pegalia and her father and then escapes by boat back to Italy. Will they be reunited? Watch the movie.

     My wife enjoyed this movie. She found the complicated love triangle to be realistic (which is a little suspicious if you ask me). The Nazis are accurately portrayed as being mean and nasty. The acting is good and the characters seemed like real people. She was surprised by how well Bale did with a difficult role. The accents were consistent and well-done. The battle scenes were not too violent. The score was not impressive, but at least did not get in the way of the story. She could have done without the small amount of nudity.

     I was not looking forward to watching this movie. I am not looking forward to watching any of the estrogen movies that I have set us up for, to tell the truth. This one in particular scared me because of the terrible reviews and the fact it has Nicholas Cage in it and there was every reason to expect the bad Cage. The first half seemed to confirm my fears. Cage plays Corelli as the stereotypical Italian soldier who has never fired a shot (or in this case shell) in anger and has no desire to. I found his accent to be silly and his mandolin playing (he has fashioned his unit into a choral group) to be ridiculous. The love story is cliché-ridden with Pegalia hating him at first and then being worn down by his charm. Not exactly original. I was a little offended by her jilting her hero fiancé because he is gone and Corelli (technically an enemy occupier) is there. Mandras deserved better and yet the movie does not portray Pegalia in a negative light. Another collaborating woman is shown hanged by fellow townspeople, but there is no suggestion that Pegalia deserves the same fate.

     The movie is somewhat redeemed when the historical events arrive in the second half. The core of this stretch of the film is the “Massacre of the Acqui Division” by the Germans. Although Corelli is not based on an actual Italian officer, he does represent the officers who decided to resist the Germans. The battle scene is pretty good with some intensity. Appropriately the Germans kick ass. The treacherous machine gunning of prisoners is diluted somewhat by the ridiculous surviving of Corelli. The Germans were clearly too efficient to have allowed him to live. Since I was not aware of what happened on this island, I give the movie credit for being instructional.

     In conclusion, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” perfectly fits the parameters of this project and my wife and my reviews reflect that. Women will like this movie much more than most men (just look at the poster). It does have enough manly elements to keep it from being torture for male war movie lovers.

Rachelle – 7/10

Kevin – 5/10

Monday, July 4, 2011

DUELING MOVIES: The Pursuit of the Graf Spee vs. Sink the Bismarck!

     The British made some very good naval combat pictures set in WWII. Two of these are “The Pursuit of the Graf Spee” (1956) and “Sink the Bismarck” (1960). Both cover true events.

     “The Pursuit of the Graf Spee” (also known as “The Battle of the River Plate”) was a Powell and Pressburger production and was their last big hit. It opens in November, 1939 in the Atlantic Ocean. The German pocket battleship Graf Spee is commerce raiding. The crew of the British merchant ship Africa Shell is brought on board. Capt. Patrick Dove (Bernard Lee) is introduced to Capt. Lansdorf (Peter Finch) and develops a relationship with him. Lansdorf is a bit pompous, but polite and respectful. He is not an evil Nazi. In fact, there is not an evil Nazi to be found on board.

      Meanwhile the British fleet is setting a trap for the Graf Spee off the coast of Uruguay. Commodore Harwood (Anthony Quayle) holds a fictitious officer’s counsel with the other captains in a throwback to “the Nelson touch”. This scene is used to inform the audience of British strategy. The battle is well done with real ships instead of models (the Graf Spee is played by the USS Salem). It is seen totally from the British point of view with some cuts to the British prisoners on board the Graf Spee. The shipboard activities are realistic. The battle action is authentic, as is the damage. The British are appropriately stiff upper-lippish, even in the face of severe damage to the HMS Exeter.

     The Graf Spee puts into the harbor of Montevideo for repairs and so Powell and Pressburger can put in some of their trademark color. Unfortunately, the movie comes to screeching halt with these scenes. The movie now concentrates on diplomatic maneuverings and a subplot of an American radio reporter broadcasting live reports from the port. Surprisingly, this is factual.

      “Sink the Bismarck” was based on a book by C.S. Forester. It opens in London in 1941. Interestingly, opposite of “Graf Spee” it begins with a a radio broadcast by Edward R. Murrow. (Also, although it was released four years later, it is in black and white.) It jumps back and forth between the war room and the British ships. The main character is Commander Shepard (Kenneth More) who is a fictional character. He comes off as a martinet, but he is softened by working with a WREN named Davis (Dana Wynter).

     The commander of the Bismarck (Adm. Lutjens) is similar in confidence to Lansdorf, but a glory-hound and Hitler lover. In reality, Lutjens was the exact opposite. The battleship is spotted and the British navy springs into action. Although models are used, they are pretty realistic and accurate. The firing sequences are cool. When the HMS Hood blows up, the British take it stoically, of course. To add some human interest, Shepard’s son is a Swordfish pilot who goes missing during an attack. (In reality, no Swordfish were lost to anti-aircraft during the battle.) Shepard cries his eyes out in front of the whole war room – just kidding. In a later attack, a torpedo from a Swordfish disables the rudder of the Bismarck. A destroyer attack scores another hit (false) and one of the destroyers is blown out of the water (false). The final battle is full of explosions. We jump from ship to ship. The special effects are good for that time period.

      The two movies are similar in quality. Neither is particularly special. I would put them behind “The Cruel Sea” and “In Which We Serve”  (see Dueling Movies). Both are pretty accurate (which is a disadvantage for “Pursuit” because its story is less compelling). “Pursuit” is a little closer to history than “Bismarck”. They both are fair to the Germans (another example of the Cold War movie policy?). Neither breaks any new ground in their depiction of British officers. Unfortunately, neither does much beyond command level. We get little on life below the decks. “Bismarck” is more consistent and builds better to its climax.

      Winner:  Sink the Bismarck!