Sunday, October 6, 2013

LIVE: Objective, Burma! (1945)

starring Errol “the George Clooney of the 1940s” Flynn /  directed by Raoul Walsh  /  two technical advisers  /  opens with stirring music  /  quote from Stilwell:  I got my assed kicked out of Burma, but I’ll be back  /  narration over actual footage -  Stilwell, Merrill  /  the actor playing Stilwell looks like an old hillbilly – he rolls his own cigarette and then puts it in a FDResque cigarette holder  /  EF is Capt. Nelson, paratrooper leader extraordinaire  /  the men are bathing – hey, there is a naked man’s ass!  is this a 40s movie?  /  “Quit waving your teeth” – oh, snap!  /  “You’re khaki-whacki” – double snap!  /  mission:  go behind enemy lines to destroy a radar station and make a crucial contribution to winning the war  /  a news correspondent (a la Ernie Pyle) named Williams is coming along – Nelson points out he is old and will not be able to hang, but okay  /  okay soldier banter  /  Nelson checks his men's gear before boarding the C-47 – he cares  /  close-ups on the plane  /  good cinematography on the jumps – no “Geronimos”  /  no one breaks their neck landing in a tree  /  lots of jungle noises – is this a Tarzan movie?  /  continuous music score sets the mood, but well  /  little talking – good noise discipline, but the enemy could hear the music from one hundred miles away  /  they reach the target with no problems – Nelson draws the plan up in the dirt  /  suspense builds as they sneak up;  Nelson pulls a grenade pin with his teeth;  short slaughter of the Japanese;  casualties:  Japanese – all dead (no wounded), Americans – not a scratch  /  that seemed too easy, what is left in this movie?  could there be some complications in getting home?  /  more humping through the boonies  /  Nelson talks to his BFF about their next leave thus dooming one of them to death  /  waiting for pick up – what a boring movie!  oh, oh here come the Japs and here starts the epic running away  /  they’ll have to walk out – it can’t be done!  /  another break for banter -  not lame  /  Nelson divides the unit into two groups - because 36 men are too much for any overwhelming Japanese force?  WTF;  theory: Nelson had seen Spencer Tracy in “Northwest Passage” do the exact same thing;  we’ll call them the EF half and the doomed non-EF half  /  “You ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie, brother”  /  “When you’re dealing with monkeys [the Japs], you gotta expect some wrenches” – racist, but awesome line  /  only two survivors arrive at the rendezvous with the non-EF half  / now we’re wading (note to producers of “Merrill’s Marauders”)  /  a Burmese village –  they find the mutilated bodies of the survivors of the ambushed non-EF half – we see their feet and take EF’s face’s word for how horrible the rest of their body’s are;  Nelson’s future leave partner begs him to kill him;  Williams rants about wiping all the monkeys off the face of the Earth – the audience agrees  /  the Japs arrive – the Americans set off a grenade booby trap (the Viet Cong watched this movie in training);  touchdown signaling deaths;  good action; run away, again  /  new orders via walkie talkie communication with a C-47 (can you do that?) – go North, young men;  WTF – well, orders are orders  /  “If your aunt had a beard, she’d be your uncle”  /  air dropped supplies – don’t go out there!  haven’t you ever seen a war movie?  dumb ass!  /  down to 13 men and no walkie-talkie and no food  /  more humping  /  there’s a plane – why do soldiers always yell at the plane? – it is highly unlikely they can hear you  /  Nelson is a saintly leader – no interesting character flaws (once again that Spencer Tracy “Northwest Passage” influence)  /  more humping and wading  /  they get to the site and there is – nothing!  morale = deflated balloon;  reinflation via Nelson  /  dig in and wait;  Williams dies from exhaustion, age, and being a newsman (not shot by a sniper like Ernie Pyle)  /  here come the Japs again  /  night attack – sneaky Japs sneaking;  one uses his English and impeccable American accent to kill a good guy;  Nelson sets off a flare so we can see the monkeys coming up the hill get slaughtered by Thompson machine gun fire and then a shit load of thrown grenades (which apparently the Japs had none of)  /  the cavalry arrives in the form of a paratrooper armada including gliders;  some cool glider footage  /  the twelve survivors leave in a glider hooked by a C-47 (I’ve never seen that in a war movie)  /  the end

CRITIQUE:  better than expected  /  lack of clichés, but not perfect e.g. the newsman chronicler  /  some surprises – e.g. Williams’ death  /  not a whole lot of action – a whole lot of walking  /  well acted -  EF is solid, if unspectacular  /  good score  /  dialogue is fine with some good lines  /  surprisingly little character development for a small unit movie (although we do find out that one guy is from Flat Bush)  /  no slap stick, but not too somber    better than “Merrill’s Marauders”

grade =  B+ 
Post-Script:  The movie was a big hit and got good reviews, except in England.  The British were mightily offended by the implication that the Americans won the Burma Campaign by themselves.  Churchill was one of the protestors and the film was pulled from release after one week.  It was not shown again until 1952 and with an apology added.
The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards:  Film Editing, Original Score, and Best Story.  One of the co-writers (Lester Cole) later was one of the Hollywood Ten.  He sure hid his communist sympathies with his patriotic script.
The movie was filmed at Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.
The producer admitted he intended to copy from "Northwest Passage".
There are no female roles.
The operation most closely resembles a Chindit raid called Operation Loincloth.


  1. Apparently, Warner Brothers learned their lesson after the British reaction. "Merrill's Marauders" (1962) opens with a prolog/montage that dutifully includes a mention of the British units.

  2. A great movie, which changed the way war was filmed for many filmmakers. Never departing from the 'action' (which as you noticed is far from being always battle) it is masterfully consistent in building tension through shooting angles, editing and score. One of my favorite American films of the era, alongside Wellmann's Battleground.

  3. Undoubtedly the Brits were annoyed by this movie due to its implication that the retaking of Burma itself was a prime objective of the (in reality much smaller) American forces in the area and that they accomplished it (or were well on their way to doing so) largely without the involvement of British or Commonwealth forces.

    The Americans from Day One were only in Burma and Assam (India) to secure and reopen the land and air routes from India to southwestern China (i.e. the air route over the "Hump" and the Burma and Ledo roads). The truth is, without the assistance of the Chinese Army troops under Stilwell's provisional command, as well as British Army units, they wouldn't have been able to do much on the ground at all.

    The obsession of the Americans (most notably Merrill's Marauders) in the CBI theatre with taking Myitkyina was due to the fact that it was a major Japanese supply base (on a major railroad), had a large airfield which was probably the single greatest threat to the Assam-Yunnan (Hump) air route, and was on the proposed route of the Ledo Road--an important objective for American-Chinese priorities in Burma if there ever was one.

    Almost everything the Americans did in Burma was related to supplying and supporting the Nationalist Chinese under Chiang Kai-Shek and American forces in China. As such, the reconquest of Burma as a whole can hardly have been regarded as a significant or achievable "objective" for the Americans there and they played only a small or no role in the liberation of the central and southern parts of the country which was accomplished in the main by the British Fourteenth Army. To my knowledge no one has made a movie about this group (known in some circles as the "Forgotten Army") which by 1945 was believed to have been the largest single army in the entire world.

    1. the war movie buffOctober 8, 2013 at 9:41 PM

      Great stuff. Thank you.

    2. Actually, beyond the almost feature-long 1945 documentary Burma Victory, the British did produce at least one fiction film in 1961: The Long and the Short and the Tall. Hardly an epic, it seems.

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