Tuesday, July 30, 2013



Act I, Scene 3 –a barracks at a secret base

A corporal knocks on a door. Within a Spartan room is a grizzled drill sergeant. There is a portrait of Queen Victoria on the wall. The sergeant hastily puts away a copy of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”.

HARTMAN: Come in.

JAECKEL: [sneering] The new crop is here, sarge.

HARTMAN: Okay. “Orientation” time.

They march into the bunk area where the misfits have assembled.

*** I’m sure you will recognize the scene. I have replaced the cursing with their equivalent from the 19th Century.

HARTMAN: I am Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, your Senior Drill Instructor. From now on, you will speak only when spoken to, and the first and last words out of your filthy privies will be "Sir!" Do you nackle-asses understand that?

RECRUITS: Sir, yes, sir!

HARTMAN: Thunderation! I can't hear you. Sound off like you got bullocks!

RECRUITS (louder): Sir, yes, sir!

HARTMAN: If you strumpets leave my island, if you survive commando training ... you will be a weapon, you will be a minister of death praying for a suicide mission. But until that day you are bootlickers! You're the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human cussed beings! You are nothing but unorganized grabarsetic fartleberries. Because I am hard, you will not like me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn. I am hard, but I am fair! There is no racial bigotry here! I do not look down on micks, hebes, dagos, pollocks, or Brooklynites. Here you are all equally burnt-arsed! And my orders are to weed out all non-hackers who do not pack the gear to serve in my beloved OSS! Do you sodomites understand that?

RECRUITS: Sir, yes, sir!

HARTMAN: Bejabbers! I can't hear you!

RECRUITS: Sir, yes, sir!

Sergeant Hartman stops in front of Bronson

HARTMAN: What's your name, godemiche?

BRONSON: Sir, Private Bronson, sir!

HARTMAN: Consarn! Do you like being a pollock?

BRONSON: Sir, yes, sir!

HARTMAN: Well, there's one thing that you won't like, Private Pollock! They
don't serve kielbasa or borscht on a daily basis in my mess hall!

BRONSON: Sir, yes, sir!

THOMAS: (under his breath) Is that you, John Mills? Is this me?

HARTMAN: Who said that? Who the blazes said that? Who's the slimy little Marxist twinkle-toed twiddly-poof down here, who just signed his own death warrant? Nobody, huh?! The fairy godmother said it! Out-bloody-standing! I will P.T. you all until you bleeding die! I'll P.T. you until your quims are sucking buttermilk.

Sergeant Hartman grabs Eastwood by the poncho.

HARTMAN: Was it you, you scroungy little lick-spittle, huh?!

EASTWOOD: Sir, no, sir!

HARTMAN: You little piece of night soil! You look like a dratted worm! I'll bet it was you!

EASTWOOD: Sir, no, sir!

THOMAS: Sir, I said it, sir!

Sergeant Hartman steps up to Thomas.

HARTMAN: Well ... no bowel movement. What have we got here, a darn-tooting vaudevilian? Private Thomas? I admire your honesty. Dad-sizzle, I like you. You can come over to my house and beardsplit my sister.

Sergeant Hartman pokes Thomas in the eyes. Thomas starts crying.

HARTMAN: You little scalawag! I've got your name! I've got your hind quarters! You will not laugh! You will not cry! You will learn by the numbers. I will teach you. Now get up! Get on your feet! You had best unhuffle yourself or I will unscrew your head and use the loo down your neck!

THOMAS: Sir, yes, sir!

HARTMAN: Private Thomas, why did you join my beloved commando unit?

THOMAS: Sir, to get killed, sir!

HARTMAN: So you're a killee!

THOMAS: Sir, yes, sir!

HARTMAN: Let me hear your death scream!


HARTMAN: You've got a death scream? Arrrrgh! That's a death scream.
Now let me hear your death scream!

THOMAS: Arrgh!

HARTMAN: Balls! You didn't convince me! Let me hear your real death scream!

THOMAS: Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!

HARTMAN: You didn't move me! Work on it!

THOMAS: Sir, yes, sir!

HARTMAN [to CAINE]: How tall are you, Private?

CAINE: Sir, five foot nine, sir!

HARTMAN: Gosh-all-Potomac. I didn't know they stacked crap that high! You trying to squeeze an inch in on me somewhere, huh?

CAINE: Sir, no, sir.

HARTMAN: ‘Snails! It looks to me like the best part of you ran down the crack of your mum's bum and ended up as a brown stain on the mattress! I think you've been cheated. Where in botheration are you from anyway, Private?

CAINE: Sir, Scotland, sir!

HARTMAN: Holy dog droppings! Scotland! Only snails and plugtails come from Scotland, Private Caine! And you don't look much like a snail to me, so that kinda narrows it down! Do you gamahuche?

COWBOY: Sir, no, sir!

HARTMAN: Are you a bagpiper?

CAINE: Sir, no, sir!

HARTMAN: I'll bet you're the kind of guy that would lark a cherry between the bubbies and not even have the guldurned common courtesy to give her a mint! I'll be watching you!

HARTMAN [to Quinn]: Did your parents have any children that lived?

QUINN: Sir, yes, sir!

HARTMAN: I'll bet they regret that! You're so ugly you could be a post-impressionist masterpiece! You look Greek. Do you suck rantallions?

QUINN: Sir, no, sir!

HARTMAN: G. Rover Cripes! I'll bet you could suck a cricket ball through a tea kettle spout!

QUINN: Sir, no, sir!

Hartman turns to Knotts who has a grin on his face.

HARTMAN: Do you think I'm cute, Private Knotts? Do you think I'm funny?

KNOTTS: Sir, no, sir!

HARTMAN: Then wipe that disgusting grin off your face!

KNOTTS: Sir, yes, sir!

HARTMAN: Well, any rogering time, Nancy!

KNOTTS: Sir, I'm trying, sir.

HARTMAN: Private Pyle, I'm gonna give you three seconds--exactly three blasted seconds—to wipe that stupid-looking grin off your face, or I will gouge out your peepers and have your greens! One! Two! Three!

Knotts purses his lips but continues to smiles involuntarily.

KNOTTS: Sir, I can't help it, sir!

HARTMAN: By St. Boogar and all the saints at the backside door of Purgatory! Sit on your footlocker, used prophylactic! Now slap yourself!

Knotts slaps himself until his cheeks are red and tear-stained.

HARTMAN: Are you through grinning?

KNOTTS: (barely able to speak) Sir, yes, sir!

HARTMAN: By the double-barrelled jumping jiminetty! I can't hear you!

KNOTTS: (gasping like a fish out of water) Sir, yes, sir!

HARTMAN: Private Pyle, you had best square your arse away and start pooping me the Crown Jewels... or I will definitely blast and bugger you!

PYLE: Sir, yes, sir!

Hartman turns to Jaeckel who has been shaking his head.

HARTMAN: Corporal, make sure these catamites are up at 0500. We've got a lot of work to do to turn them into redemption material. [he leaves]

JAECKEL: Gentlemen, your training begins tomorrow. Those of you who survive will become experts at: throat slashing, eye-gouging, fighting on a moving vehicle, avoiding trees in parachuting, pulling grenade pins with your teeth, sneaking, watch synchronizing - among other things. Good night.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

WAR CHICK FLICK: The Americanization of Emily (1964)

                 “The Americanization of Emily” was a black comedy released in 1964.  It was loosely based on the novel by William Bradford Huie.  Huie was a Seabee who participated in D-Day and based the plot on his experiences.  Paddy Chayefsky wrote the screenplay and made it more of a comedy.  The whole cowardice theme does not appear in the book.  The film was directed by Arthur Hiller (“Tobruk”).  It was a commercial and critical success.  It was nominated for Academy Awards for Art Direction, Cinematography, and Music Score.  Both Julie Andrews and James Garner claim it is their favorite film.  The “Americanization” of the title refers to British women giving sexual favors in exchange for American stuff like Hershey bars.  The movie is set in London in 1944.
                The first time we meet Charlie Madison (Garner) he is patting the rear of motor pool driver Emily Barham (Andrews).  She is offended, but this is a Hollywood movie so you can see where this relationship is heading in the end.  The only suspense is how  we get there.  Madison is personal aide to Rear Admiral Jessup (Melvyn Douglas) and an ace “dog robber”.  A dog robber was a scrounger who could provide their superior with the finer things in life, including females.
don't worry guys, she doesn't sing
                In spite of the rocky start, when Emily shows up at a party looking ravishing,  they are in bed soon enough with music swelling.  It turns out that although the prim Emily does not want to be Americanized (she does not like Hershey bars), she is attracted to the fact that Madison is a “practicing coward”.  Having lost a husband, father, and brother in the war, it’s time to try a hunk who is determined to live out the war.  Very determined.  When Madison meets Emily’s mother (who refuses to admit her husband is dead), he proceeds to give her a sermon on the joys of cowardice.  Chayefsky riffs on the glorification of war.  ”It’s always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a hell it is.  It’s the war widows [like you, Mrs. Barham] who lead the Memorial Day parade.”  He leaves his future mum-in-law in tears, but she needed to hear it.  Right?
                The mentally unstable Adm. Jessup has a brainstorm.  Since the Army will be getting all the glory from D-Day, the Navy needs a leg up if its going to survive the post-war demobilization.  Wouldn’t it be great if the first serviceman to die on Omaha Beach is a sailor?  And how about if it was filmed for a documentary?  Madison’s buddy “Bus” Cummings (James Coburn) is enthusiastic about the idea and orders Charlie to go ashore with the combat engineers as the head of a film crew to get the money shot.  Charlie is less than thrilled with the dangerous assignment, but is confident that he can weasel out of it.
                When Charlie is giggly about his efforts to avoid heroism, Emily suddenly decides she can’t be with a man with no principles.  It’s not like he’s been hiding his feelings.  He virtually yells them from the Tower of London.  When she jilts him he lays into her so badly you begin to wonder if Chayefsky is going to go off the reservation and not give us our normal reconciliation as part of a happy ending.  (Clue:  this movie was made in 1964, not 1974.)

that's the actual line
                Charlie arranges to be late for the mission which is scheduled for June 5.  He is gleeful until the weather postpones the invasion to June 6 and now he’s in for it.  Damned fickle Mother Nature!  Damn Eisenhower and his flexible timetable!  Charlie and his camera crew (two drunken misfits) are landed ahead of the invasion.  Since Bus knows his friend is a coward, he follows him with the real camera crew and makes sure Charlie is the first American killed in D-Day.  Hilarious!  That is one deserted beach.  Charlie is now the hero he fought so hard to not be.  Ironic right?   [See spoiler conclusion below]

RACHELLE’S TAKE:   My wife could not tell whether the movie was supposed to be a drama or a comedy.  The movie is best viewed if you know going in that it is a black comedy.  She liked the acting, but was put off by the changing moods of the main characters.  Emily, Charlie, and Bus whiplash from one extreme to the other at various times in the film.  She also found the dialogue was not realistic for real people.  Of course, this is not unexpected for a Chayefsky screenplay.
KEVIN’S REVIEW:  This is a strange movie.  It’s not clearly a comedy or at least it’s not that funny.  The theme that war should not be glorified and those who avoid dying in war have some justification for their cowardice is interesting, but Charlie’s monologues bludgeon us with it.  Charlie is also a repugnant character, although we are supposed to empathize with him and view him as a loveable rogue.  The fact that Emily falls in love with him is not believeable.  Her character arc is not satirical.  It is straight forward that she goes from abhorring this living-large-while-other’s-sacrifice brash Yank to bedding this principled coward to jilting this unprincipled coward to being devastated by his heroic death.  Julie Andrews must have loved being able to play a schizophrenic.

                The movie should have ended with Charlie’s “death”.  What comes after dilutes the satirical nature of the script and turns it into a farce.  But then we  wouldn’t have a happy ending.  Chayefsky pulls his punches and should be ashamed for it.  There is a difference between a farce and a satire.  Decide which you want it to be and stick with it.
CLOSING:  When Emily learns of Charlie’s death, she is despondent but proud of her coward turned hero.  The admiral comes to his senses and is upset it was his loony idea that resulted in Charlie’s death.  However, he plans to use the publicity to make sure there is a Navy forever.  He envisions Charlie receiving a posthumous Navy Cross from the President.  Things get complicated when Charlie turns up alive.  How inconvenient!  Emily is thrilled her coward is back.  We get a run and kiss reunion.  Charlie insists on telling the truth about his “death”.  Suddenly he is brave when it comes to his cowardice and will blow the lid off this scandal.  Emily convinces him to embrace his cowardice and be the hero who was the first American to land on Omaha Beach.  He agrees and they live happily ever after.

Rachelle =  C
Kevin =  C          

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

CRACKER? The Devil's Brigade (1968)

                The success of “The Dirty Dozen” spawned a subgenre of misfit unit movies.  “The Devil’s Brigade” was the first of these.  It is based on the nonfiction book by historian Robert Adleman and unit member Col. George Walton.  It is the story of the 1st Special Service Force.  The director was Andrew McLaglan (“Shenandoah”) and it was filmed in Utah and Italy.  Stunts were coordinated by Hal Needham.

                Maj. Robert Frederick (William Holden) meets with Lord Mountbatten and criticizes a plan to create a unit of commandoes to fight in snowy Norway.  Naturally Mountbatten immediately appoints Frederick as the commander of the unit.  Better to have him pissing from inside the tent, right?  The unit will train at Camp William Henry Harrison which needs a little work, but at least they don’t have to build it from scratch like the Dirty Dozen.  Fredrick’s exec Maj. Bricker (Vince Edwards) is a “hustler, chiseler, and scrounger” who likes to hang out with rattlesnakes to toughen himself up.  He should fit in.

                The misfits arrive by train.  They are the garbage being put out at the curb by the Army.  We get to know some of them:  the dago card shark, the circus performer Omar (Richard F’in Jaekel), a cowboy, the Bluto wannabe Rocky (Claude Akins), and the college boy Ransom (Andrew Prine).  They get to know each other by immediately breaking into a brawl upon arrival.  This ends when the sound of bagpipes heralds the arrival of the other half of the unit – an elite Canadian unit led by Maj. Crown (Cliff Robertson).  How could these opposites blend into a top notch brigade?  The key is competition and lenient discipline, according to Frederick.  He pits the Americans and the Canadians in training where the competitive nature of the Americans overcomes their incompetence, lack of fitness (at one point Frederick amazingly compliments Crown for his men’s stamina!), and their abhorrence of discipline.  Frederick encourages the Americans to give the “Canucks” a hard time, knowing that Crown has expressly forbidden his boys to react.  The barracks is a fun place, if you’re American.  This is personified in the relationship of Rocky and the Canadian Sgt. Peacock.  They are going to either kill each other or fall in love.  Guess which.

                The training montage includes hand-to-hand combat and skiing (they are still tasked for Norway).  The training does not include bonding (in fact it discourages it).  That will have to take place in where else but a bar.  When some lumberjacks (I kid you not) push around the Canadians, the Americans wade in because only they can make fun of the Canadians’ kilts!  Bonding by bloodshed via fisticuffs.  Just like what’s taught at West Point.  When they return to camp, Frederick slaps them on the wrists and now they are ready for the Germans.

                Norway is out (so why did we have to watch Claude Akins try to ski?!) and the unit is to be disbanded.  This movie sucked.  Wait, Gen. Clark needs some cannon fodder in Italy.  They are put under the grumpy Gen. Hunter (Carroll O’Connor) who needs proof they can fight.  Since there is no war game for them to cheat at, he’ll settle for a simple recon mission.  Recon hell, Frederick decides to take the entire German garrison of the targeted town. 
                They wade into town via a stream with Frederick, Crown, and Bricker in the lead just in case the Germans want to take out the entire command structure in one blow.  With very few shots fired, few casualties, and a whole lot of moxie, they capture every German soldier including their effete commander.  Piece of cake.  The ice cream on top is Ransom redeeming himself by knifing a German.  You go, college boy!  With their bona fides proved, it’s on to the big set piece.  They are tasked to take the untakeable Mount La Difensa.  [See conclusion below]
                “The Devil’s Brigade” is a big improvement over “The Dirty Dozen”.  Just kidding.  Now that the suspense of that analysis is out of the way, the film is actually pretty entertaining.  Its predictability is comforting.  One year after TDD came out, you can’t expect this movie to turn the subgenre on its head.  What you can expect is a cheesy copycat with an unstellar cast and cringe-inducing dialogue.  The acting in TDB is nothing special.  William Holden does not put a lot of effort into the role.  He was difficult to work with.  During the stream wading scene, he cursed Italian civilians who were watching and fired blanks at them.  The incident increased his drinking.  The producers had to bring in a doctor and a doll to get him across the finish line.  The rest of the cast is mostly B-List.  Andrew Prine is terrible as Ransom.  Jaeckel has some fun as Omar the acrobat and provides comic relief in a role radically different than in “The Dirty Dozen” (what range the dude had!).  Akins shows why he won all those Emmies for Sheriff Lobo.  The dialogue does not do the actors any favors.  Frederick yells “Give ‘em Hell!” for the final assault.  The highlight is this pearl of snapitude among peas:

Bronc:  [referring to Henri] One of them's a frog, boys. Why don't you say something, froggy.
Henri:   Merde.
Rocky: What the hell does that mean?
Peacock: [to Rocky] To most people, it's an insult. But to you, I'd say it's a compliment.

                The movie is competently made.  There is some good cinematography, especially in the mountain climbing sequence.  The score fits and does not dominate.  Some of it sounds straight out of “Combat!”  The settings are a strength of the movie.  Using the town of Santa Elia Fiume Rapido in Italy was a nice touch.  Mount Jordan in Utah stands in admirably for Mount La Difensa.  Three hundred Utah National Guardsmen were used in that scene.  The action is well-done and the deaths are mostly not silly.  There are some poignant demises and it was not easy to predict who would not survive.

                The best thing about “The Devil’s Brigade” is it brings recognition to a great military unit – the 1st Special Service Force.  It fits in that subgenre I love so much, the Unit on a Mission War Movie.  This is not to be confused with the Small Unit Dynamics Movie (ex. “Platoon”) although there is some overlap.  A UM movie makes the unit the main character.  It often lionizes an actual historical unit (ex. “Glory”) by taking it from formation and training to the big mission.  Usually a few characters are developed, but dynamics within the unit are not a primary focus like in a SUD movie.

                The final scene is a corker.  The payoff is almost worth the effort.  Omar leads the scaling of the cliffs at the rear of the defensive position on a plateau while an artillery barrage distracts the Germans.  The violence is energetic, but not very graphic.  We follow each of the developed characters and some of them don’t make it.  Ransom continues his warrior evolution and reaches the Rambo level.  Rocky tries to carry the wounded Peacock to an aid station, but he dies and we (Rocky plus the audience) shed tears.  The victory is simplistically easy and quick which should have been ominous to Crown when he went to accept the German commander’s surrender.  Rat German bastards!

                How historically accurate is TDB?  Not very considering the source material and the presence of Frederick as an advisor.  See my “History or Hollywood” list below.

               Cracker?  No, but it is an entertaining movie and is fun to watch.

grade =  B- 

HISTORY or HOLLYWOOD:  The Devil’s Brigade

1.  The unit was originally created to conduct commando raids in Norway.
2.  Col. Frederick was against the Norway idea, but was forced to take command of the unit.
3.  The American half of the unit was comprised of men who were taken from stockades.
4.  The Americans and the Canadians took an instant disliking for each other and competed in training.
5.  Col. Frederick was lenient about his men’s off base activities.
6.  Frederick brought in a hand-to-hand expert to train the men.
7.  The Americans and the Canadians bonded after a bar room brawl with some lumberjacks.
8.  The unit was almost disbanded until Gen. Clark decided to use it in Italy.
9.  The first action was the capture of an Italian town.
10.  The unit climbed a cliff to take Mount La Difensa.
11.  Maj. Crown was killed by Germans pretending to surrender.           


1.  The unit was originally created to conduct commando raids in Norway.  HISTORY  The unit was the brainchild of an eccentric British genius named Pyke who also developed a special armored snow vehicle for its use.  It was to be paradropped into Norway to conduct commando operations

2.  Col. Frederick was against the Norway idea, but was forced to take command of the unit.  HISTYWOOD  Frederick was put in charge and from within he sidetracked the Norway / snow vehicle idea because he doubted its practicability.

3.  The American half of the unit was comprised of men who were taken from stockades.  HISTYWOOD  The unit was filled by “advertising” for” lumberjacks, game wardens, prospectors, and explorers.” Some post commanders “volunteered” men from their stockades and other trouble makers.  I found no evidence that the fact there were misfits in the unit effected training or performance.    

4.  The Americans and the Canadians took an instant disliking for each other and competed throughout training.  HOLLYWOOD  The movie undoubtedly exaggerated this for dramatic and comedic purposes.  All of the enlisted in the movie and their squabbles are fictional.

5.  Col. Frederick was lenient about his men’s off base activities.  HISTORY  The movie gets that part of his command philosophy right.  It also shows him leading attacks which he was famous for.  Holden does not catch his charisma and recklessness, however.  He would go on one man recon missions and was wounded nine times.  His men loved him.  On the second night on Mount La Difensa, he had whiskey delivered to his men.

6.  Frederick brought in a hand-to-hand expert to train the men.  HISTORY  “Pat” O’Neill taught them his mix of jujitsu, karate, and other martial arts.  It is highly unlikely he participated in any attacks.

7.  The Americans and the Canadians bonded after a bar room brawl with some lumberjacks.  HISTORY  The incident occurred when some miners were clowning the Canadian uniforms (especially the kilts) and the Americans waded into them.

8.  The unit was almost disbanded until Gen. Clark decided to use it in Italy.  HOLLYWOOD  When the Norway mission was scrubbed, it was Eisenhower who saved the unit to be used for future missions that needed an elite unit.

9.  The first action was the capture of an Italian town.  HOLLYWOOD  The unit did not have to pull off a stunt to prove itself.  It actually first saw action in the reconquest of Kiska Island!  There was no fighting since the Japanese had already evacuated.  After this Clark requested the brigade for Italy.

10.  The unit climbed a cliff to take Mount La Difensa.  HISTORY  The three thousand foot high plateau had withstood twelve days of assaults.  The movie assault is fairly accurate except it was done in a freezing rain and in darkness (at first).  The climbing was pretty accurate.  There was a diversionary artillery barrage.  The attack lasted two hours with the Germans retreating to a nearby hill and then hitting the brigade with artillery fire which continued through the second day.  Supplies had to be packed up the mount by the men not involved in the assault.  (An action reported by Ernie Pyle.)   Then a brutal, screaming assault captured two local hills with no prisoners being taken.

11.  Maj. Crown was killed by Germans pretending to surrender.  HOLLYWOOD    The man Crown was based on, Maj. McQueen, broke a leg on a parachute drop and was not in the battle.  There was an incident where a Canadian Capt. Rothlin was killed by Germans pretending to surrender.

WHAT NEXT?  The Devil’s Brigade was used as a shock unit for capturing more hills including Monte Majo in a scaling attack similar to Mount La Difensa.  It was then sent to the Anzio beachhead where the small unit held ¼ of the perimeter.  They were very aggressive in patrolling and got the nickname “Black Devils” from a German’s diary.  They led the breakout from Anzio and were the first unit into Rome.  Frederick was promoted and replaced by Col. Edwin Walker (who later commanded in Korea and then became an ultraconservative John Bircher who was shot at by Lee Harvey Oswald).  The Force was transferred to Operation Anvil where it took two islands off the coast of Southern France with no problems.  It then pushed along the Riviera with no serious combat.  The unit was disbanded in Dec., 1944.  Looking back, after Mont Mojo, the unit was misused on missions that could have been accomplished by less elite units.  It suffered 39% casualties.

Monday, July 22, 2013


SCENE 2 – a military prison

Niven and Peck enter a military prison to troll for psycopaths that can be trusted for a dangerous mission behind enemy lines. They are led by the warden who has a big smile on his face.

Warden: So let me get this straight, you want to take away some of my best misfits? Well I happen to have a Lt. Col. Frederick who is very interested in them and he is coming by this afternoon and he’s offering $50 per vert.

Niven: Are you blackmailing me, warden?

Warden: If the combat boot fits, wear it.

Niven: How does $100 each sound and will you take it in cigarettes?

Warden: Deal.

Peck (motioning to the first cell): Here’s our first prospect. [looks at clipboard] This is PFC Eastwood. He’s in for desertion and bank robbery. He conned a squad of men into going behind enemy lines to rob a German bank where the Nazis stored all the silverware they stole from European homes. On the way back they were arrested by a bridging unit and no one knows what happened to the silverware. Not all of them, however. It seems a few of them thought it would be cool to commandeer a German Tiger tank and hook it up with a speaker system. They were heading back to American lines playing “Ride of the Valkyries” when they were hit by a flight of P-47s, several bazookas, and an artillery battery. There was not much left of them. I guess they didn’t know Wagner was a German. 1

Niven: Atten shun soldier!

Eastwood [slowly rises to his feet; he has cut a hole in his blanket and has passed his head through it]: What do you want?

Niven: I’ve got a proposal for you. How would you like to go on a suicide mission that might pass near wherever you hid those forks and spoons? [winks]

Eastwood: That would really make my day.

Niven and Peck move to the next cell.

Peck: This will be PFC Bronson.

Niven: Why are you in here, Pollock?

Bronson: I was recruited for a mission because I was a miner before the war. They needed someone to tunnel into the basement of a French chateau so the unit could kill a bunch of Nazi officers and their "girlfriends". Everything went well until a German came down to get some cognac and spotted us. He locked the door and we could hear grenades being dropped down the ventilation system. Those bastards. They have no concept of fair play in warfare. I managed to crawl back through the tunnel along with a black soldier named Black. When we got out the tunnel we were chased by German shepherds and they caught him. I guess they preferred dark meat. [laughs] It was him or me and he had no chance of outrunning a Polish guy. 2 I got back to England by stealing a row boat and stowing away on a neutral ship. 3

Peck: Where was the crime in that?

Bronson: Actually, I’m in here because my unit cheated in war games before our mission and I was accused of impersonating a general for an inspection. Damn it, that wasn’t even me! 4

Niven: We could use a tunnel rat. Are you interested?

Bronson: I prefer to be called a mole and yes I’ll join you. This cell is suffocating me. The walls are closing in on me. I need to get back to tunneling.

Peck [leading on to the next cell]: Cpl. Van Johnson. He was convicted of mutiny when he disobeyed orders to launch a suicidal attack during a hail storm on Okinawa. That was his second strike after he had stolen strawberries from the mess hall. 5

Van Johnson: Whatever you want I’ll do it. All I ask is that I get some eggs. I’m dying for some scrambled eggs. 6

Niven [chuckling]: I think we can do that.

Peck and Niven move to the next cell. Peck [referring to his clip board]: This next one is a strange case. He was a professional baseball player. Played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was convicted of throwing a woman out of a hotel window. It was a first floor window, but she got run over by a cab. The judge found him guilty of manslaughter because he was in a hitting slump and the woman was a Yankee’s fan who was heckling him. The judge gave him the choice of prison or the Army. He’s in this prison because he and his buddies went into a bar that had some sailors in it and a fight broke out, naturally. Redford killed one of them with the bat he always carried. 7

Niven [looking at his list]: Do we have anyone from Brooklyn yet?

Peck: No.

Niven: [to Redford who is on his knees saying a "Hail, Mary"] How would you like to bash some Germans?

Redford: Can I bring my bat?

Niven: Naturally.

Peck: Next is John Doe from the Red Shirts.

Niven: Red Shirts?

Peck: The Red Shirts are an elite unit created in the replacement depots. The idea is to provide soldiers who are expendable to veteran combat units. Soldiers whose deaths would not hurt morale.

Niven [to Doe]: What are you in here for soldier?

Doe: Are you speaking to me? Can you see me? I’ve been in here for two weeks and nobody has noticed. Every meal the guards pass by my cell as though I’m not here. I’m not important to them.

Niven [looking out the window]: I’m sorry. Did you say something?

Doe: Typical. I’m in here because after you’ve been wounded and left for dead four times on patrols (or treks as we called them), you decide to choke your commander.

Niven [bored]: Whatever. We could use a guy like you for a dangerous mission. It’s so secret you will have to remain anonymous. You may not come back alive.

Doe [sarcastically]: You think?

Niven: I’ll take that as a yes, Roe.

Doe: The name is … Oh, never mind.

Peck: Next is an Edward Slovik.

Niven [walking into the cell]: Private Slovik. How would you like to get out of here?

Slovik [sneering]: I’ve been listening to you talk to the other guys and you’re nuts if you think I’m going to risk my life. Why do you think I deserted? I’m not going to die in this war.

Niven: You do realize that desertion is a capital offense, don’t you?

Slovik [laughing]: You limey twit. Who do you think you are kidding? The Army has not executed a single deserter the whole war. You think they’re going to start with Private Eddie Slovik? Give me a break! I’ll be alive to vote for Ike for President. 8

Niven [whispering to Peck]: You can’t argue with that. Let’s move on.

Peck looks at his list and is visibly shaken as he drops the clip board.

Niven [picking up clip board and looking at the sheet]: Quinn. OSS agent. In for assassinating an American officer. He claimed he was on a mission to terminate an officer who had gone rogue and had created his own guerrilla army of gypsies. The brass disavowed any knowledge of the mission, of course. Poor sap. 9

Peck [kicking in the door of the cell]: Quinn!!

Quinn: Peck!!

A guard separates them.

Niven: You two know each other?

Peck: He was responsible for the death of my family. We used to be best friends and had been on many missions together. We were having a drink in a pub during the Blitz and he insisted on buying another round. When I got home, my apartment building had been blown up only minutes before. You killed my family, you bastard!

Quinn: I told you I was sorry. You were the one who pulled out a family photo in the pub. So who really is to blame?

Niven [pulling Peck aside]: I can see why you might have a problem with this guy, but we need him. He was imprisoned in the Schloss Aasgeier (Vulture Castle) which happens to be our destination. He is the only one who can get us in and out of the fortress. I’m afraid you will have to put your petty differences aside.

Peck [sneering at Quinn]: You can come along, but as soon as the mission is complete I swear on the bleeding bones of my family, I will kill you. 10

Quinn: You can try.
Peck: Oh, I will.
Quinn: Bring it on.
Peck: Count on it.
Quinn: You and what army.
Peck: I don’t need an army.
Quinn: I think you do.
Peck; Do not.
Quinn: Do too.
Peck: Do not.

Niven [interrupting]: Enough! If you too can’t get along, I’ll leave you both in England.

Peck and Quinn [sheepishly]: Okay. [Peck makes a strangling motion when Niven turns toward the warden]

Niven [to the warden]: I think we’re done here. No need to wrap them, I’ll take them the way they are.

Warden: Good riddance.

Niven and Peck lead the motley crew down the corridor and out into the sunlight of the prison yard. A shot rings out and a bullet whistles past Niven’s ear and hits Doe in the head, killing him instantly. Peck, shooting his Sten from the hip, blasts a tree nearby and the body of a German soldier falls out.

Niven: Christ. What’s a sniper doing in England?

Peck: It appears we have a mole. [He and Niven turn to stare at Bronson]

Bronson [nervous]: On second thought, you can call me a rat.

They step over Doe’s body and get into the deuce and a half.

Niven [to Peck who is driving]: Let’s stop at the repo depot to pick up a few more Red Shirts on the way home. [Peck laughs] Aye,aye, sir.

The scenario is based on The Dirty Dozen

1. Kelly's Heroes
2. Dirty Dozen
3. Great Escape
4. Dirty Dozen
5. Caine Mutiny
6. Battleground
7. The Natural
8. Execution of Private Slovik
9. Apocalypse Now
10. Guns of Navarone

plus references to Star Trek, Battle of Britain, The Devil's Brigade

Friday, July 19, 2013

Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

                “Sands of Iwo Jima” is the greatest recruiting film ever made by a branch of the military.  The U.S. Marine Corps gave full cooperation to the film and had script approval.  The movie was filmed at Camp Pendleton and the Corps provided ample equipment.  The Marine Corps hierarchy knew that a successful film could possibly help it survive potential demotion in the post-war years.    Mission accomplished!  In the process, the film bumped John Wayne up to a screen icon and the great American cinematic soldier.  It began his long run at the top of the box office.

the greatest Marine ever

                You know what you are getting right off the bat as the “Marine Corps Hymn” plays over the credits.  A voice-over informs us that this will be a small unit movie.  It is a heterogeneous squad that is to be trained by the martinet Sgt. Stryker (Wayne).  The squad consists of two squabbling brothers (a running gag) – one of whom is Richard Jaekel (continuing his community service of having to appear in every WWII combat movie).  There is also an Italian wise-guy from Brooklyn – thus fulfilling three of the required clichés.  The unit has not one, but two conflicts.  Thomas (Forrest Tucker) had been demoted by Stryker and Conway (John Agar) is a pacifist with daddy issues who hates Stryker because he stands in for his equally macho father.  How could this impossibly dysfunctional unit ever fight efficiently?  Perhaps tough love in training is the answer.

                The training section of the film establishes two themes.  First, Stryker is not one-dimensional.  He has a broken family, has not seen his kid in years, and he drinks to overcome his unhappiness.  Second, Stryker is a “proper bastard” (as the British would say).  He believes it is better to be feared than loved and the Marines need to hate him more than the ”Nips” (their word).  He rifle butts an incompetent trainee.  However, to reassure the audience, the film tacks on an embarrassing scene where Stryker teaches the guy how to stab Japs by dancing with him! (Come on, Duke!  Hit him again, harder.)

kudos for the sweat!
                The first combat set piece is the Battle of Tarawa.  The men are told the Japanese Marines are tough and “they’d just as soon die as stick a nickel in a juke box.”  Huh?  The invasion is fairly accurate with amphtracs, the sea wall, the use of flame throwers, etc.  The editor deftly blends in actual footage.  Three key plot developments ensue.  First, Stryker goes all John Wayne and takes out a pill box with a satchel charge, thus establishing his heroism.  Second, Thomas lingers for coffee on an ammunition run and this causes the loss of two squad members (redemption anyone?).  Third, that night Stryker declines to allow anyone to go rescue a wounded Marine (?), thus earning the increased enmity of the men, especially Conway.  By the way, the audience is promised a night banzai attack that inexplicably is not delivered.

                Back in Hawaii, there is the inevitable fisticuffs between Thomas and Stryker and of course, the inevitable intervention by a higher officer followed by the inevitable non-snitching by Thomas.  Thomas gets his redemption when he apologizes for his coffee break.  Stryker accepts it and they move on.   One redemption down.

                Finally, after a mercifully short romance and wedding for  Conway, it’s off to Iwo Jima.  On the transport, one of the Marines looks at a picture of his gal.  Stryker smiles at him as though to say – “you stupid sap, you’re dead meat now”. “Saddle up”,  “hit the beach” and “lock and load” (the first recorded use of this phrase).  The fighting is 1940s war movie hellacious.  Squad members die.  Zoom in on a corpse’s book entitled “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay”.  One mortally wounded gyrene jauntily says “I’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight”.  They are dropping like flies.  The deaths are not too Old School.  There is little twirling or touchdown signaling.  Conway saves Stryker’s life and suddenly the heat of combat has forged a bond.  Redemption #2 accomplished.  Conway has a premonition of death, but Stryker doesn’t.  Psych, audience!

preparing for the awesome night banzai
attack that doesn't happen
                The movie closes with the trek up Mt. Suribachi.  Stryker is given a flag (the actual flag, donated by the Marine Corps) to raise, but first he has to stupidly say “I’ve never felt so good in my life.  How about a cigarette?”  A Japanese sniper mistakes “cigarette” for “bullet” and millions of American males are scarred for life.  (But not as badly as Old Yeller.)  In lieu of last dying words, a letter to his son is read aloud.  Jerk those tears!  The survivors watch the flag-raising (which oddly is not the actual footage). Queue Marine Corps Hymn.  Stop at the recruiting table on your way out of the theater. 

If you haven't seen the movie and don't
want to be scarred, stop the movie now!
                “Sands of Iwo Jima” certainly falls into the Old School of war movies, but it is not the template that it is often accused of.  Although truly pro-Marines, it is not overly patriotic or propagandistic.  The Japanese are tamely called “Nips” and remain faceless.  They are not demonized.  The movie does have several clichés,  but it did not invent them.  It would be too much to ask a 1949 movie to forego the redemption angles, for instance.  More importantly, iconoclasm would possibly have tampered with the Marine Corps cooperation that kept the budget extremely reasonable.

cigarette's kill
                The acting is solid.  Wayne gives one of his great performances and earned a Best Actor nod (competing with Peck of “Twelve O’Clock High”;  both losing to Crawford of “All the King’s Men”).  His performance is nuanced and although most remember Stryker as a one-dimensional supersergeant, he actually has some very human flaws.  The rest of the cast is just there to carry Wayne’s combat boots.  Agar does some scene-chewing and Tucker does not embarrass himself.  The actors were put through a three day boot camp by a Marine DI at Camp Pendleton.  This may have been a first.  The stunt-casting of several real war heroes (including the three surviving flag-raisers and David Shoup who earned the Medal of Honor on Tarawa) is fun and emphasized to the public that Wayne was just an actor who never fought in battle.  Just kidding.

the movie's reenactment
                The movie is technically sound.  The score is typical for a 1940s war movie, but it is not intrusive and is sparingly used.  The cinematography is nothing special, but the editing in of the actual footage is outstanding.  This movie possibly uses a higher percentage of actual footage than any other WWII film.  It deserved its Editing nomination as well as its Best Recording for its realistic sounds of battle.  The other nomination was for its screenplay which was written by Harry Brown (“A Walk in the Sun”) and Wayne’s friend James Edward Grant.  The dialogue is not sappy and there are some good lines.  However, they certainly stay within the box.

                The movies’ themes include camaraderie and the benefits of tough love.  The movie is very predictable in its development of these themes.  You get two redemption arcs that are both sappy.  The hatred of Stryker evolving into respect is not exactly ground-breaking.  On Iwo Jima, the film shifts to a “who will survive?” vibe.  Thankfully, the deaths are not maudlin and accurately reflect the randomness of death in battle.  As with all war movies, the percentage of deaths to wounded is shockingly high.  But even the new VioLingo style of movies are noted for this.

                The biggest flaw in the film and the reason why I find it to be overrated is the lack of combat.  The movie builds its raison d’etre around two famous battles yet it shortchanges both.  Tarawa lasted three days and was a fascinating first taste of a disputed landing under extremely difficult combat conditions.  The movie briefly dwells on the chaos at the sea wall and throws in the pill box scene, but otherwise blows the chance to show the horrors of that battle.  The film battle is much too easy.  Bizarrely, the screenwriters prepare the audience for action in the form of a night battle and then simply move on to Hawaii!  Big letdown.  Iwo Jima gets more coverage, but again we get only the opening stages of the battle.  The combat is PG-rated intense with nongraphic deaths.  Compare this to the Iwo Jima episode of “The Pacific” and you can clearly see the vast difference between Old School and VioLingo.

                In conclusion, although I am not willing to kiss it’s ass like many critics, “Sands” belongs on the Military History 100 Greatest War Movies list.  As I have made my journey through that list, I have often been chagrined at some of the inclusions and sometimes I just have to chalk it up to the panel putting a high emphasis on the historical importance of the film.  This might explain including films like “They Were Expendable” and “Guadalcanal Diary”, but how do you explain an important film like “Sands” being left out.  Not only is it better than many of the other films on the list (including the two above), but you could argue it had a great influence on war films made in the 1950s.  Certainly, Stryker is one of the seminal war movie heroes.  Seriously, “Guadalcanal Diary” and not “Sands of Iwo Jima”?!  Give me a break.

the trailer

the flag raising

Monday, July 15, 2013


           Two years ago I participated in a fun thread on Arm Chair General's forums which involved writing a screenplay for a war movie.  The project was initiated by a bloke named Tommy Atkins and it was a lot of fun.  It turned into a parody of war movies, in particular the suicide mission subgenre.  It fizzled after a while and I always planned to revive it.  I have decided that rather than simply adding on to the last scene, to instead rework the screenplay and then carry it on to a conclusion, hopefully.
           Whenever you see a red number, it's a footnote referring to what movie is being satirized.
            I plan to post a new episode at the beginning of each week.
            Enjoy the ride!

Act I Scene 1
Somewhere in England - Summer 1942

Camera follows a pair of highly polished army brogues as they stride briskly down a corridor.

Martial music scored by Elmer Bernstein plays in tune to the footsteps. Lots of drums and some whistling.

Credits roll and conclude with “Based on a true story - sorta”.

The shoes enter the door and we see that they belong to British Army commando officer David Niven.

Niven waves his arms to cut through the cigarette smoke. In the room is an eclectic mix drawn from the allied forces. Most look tough, some look psychotic, some just look mysterious. One looks sexy.

Lieutenant Colonel Niven casts an eye over the crew and says: "Well chaps and chappette, I suppose you are wondering what this is all about."

Pre-war career criminal and ace safe-cracker U.S. Marine Corps NCO Steve McQueen removes the match he is chewing from his mouth and says: "I'm not your chap and I don't care what this is about. I only came because I heard the food would be better than the limey crap I've been having to eat. If I have to eat one more bite of mutton I’m going to strangle someone."

Pvt. Terry Thomas chirps up: "I say, Guv'na, why am I here with these Yanks? I'm just an orderly."

Niven looks over the group and says: "You each have a special talent that the Allies need for a very special mission. Pvt. Thomas, for instance, is able to mimic any voice."

Sgt. Aldo Ray stands up and growls: "What's the dame doing here? No dames on a mission. They are bad luck!"

He cast's a scornful look at Ava Gardner.

A sexy sultry voice comes back at him: "Sit down and stop talking out of your ass. And put your damned shirt on. Who do you think you are - Brad Pitt?" 1

Sgt. Ray glares at Ava Gardner and says: "That's no way for a lady to talk."

Ava glares back at him and says: "That wasn't me. It was Terry Thomas. And I’m no lady."

Niven interrupts the spat with a wave of his riding crop.

"Gentlemen, and lady [he bows to Gardner], we have a job to do and little time to plan it. I suggest we get down to business."

"And what, may I ask, is the nature of our business?" Thus questions PFC Burt Lancaster as he playfully twirls a vial of nitro-glycerine between his fingers.

"You must be the explosives expert" said Niven.

Lancaster pretends to fumble the nitro - "At your service, sir".

Niven gives him a cold glare and perpetual coward PFC Don Knotts throws himself on the floor and whines: "Excuse me, Mr. British officer, sir. I don’t think I’m cut out for anything strenuous. I have asthma, I’m allergic to face paint, I’m afraid of heights and loud noises like explosions, I can’t keep a secret, and I have pisciphilia."

Niven: “What in the hell is pisciphilia?”

Knotts: “It means I have a desire to be a fish. I don’t suppose this mission has anything to do with u-boats, does it?”
Corporal Michael Caine (the knife expert) shouts, "I've had just about as much as I can stomach from this little nutcase. If someone don't shut him up I'll gut him like a fish." He throws a switchblade that lodges in the chair inches from Knotts nuts (if he has any).

Niven stands between the two and says to the group "If you perform like this behind enemy lines you'll get us all killed! There’s no 'I' in camaraderie." A couple of the others look puzzled, but noone says anything.

The silence is broken by McQueen: "Say... what’s all this about going behind enemy lines?"

Niven takes his time about lighting a cigarette and says: "Now that I have your attention"...

1- "Inglourious Basterds"
2 - “The Incredible Mr. Limpet”
3 - The basic scenario is from “Guns of Navarone”