Saturday, November 17, 2018

CLASSIC or ANTIQUE? Go For Broke (1951)

                “Go for Broke” is an Old School movie about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.  The unit, which consisted of Nisei volunteers, was the most decorated unit of its size and length of service in the U.S. Army in WWII.  The movie was written and directed by Robert Pirosh.  Pirosh was a veteran of the war in Europe.  He famously wrote the screenplay for “Battleground”.  His screenplay for “Go for Broke” was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.  The movie included many veterans from the 442nd, including some of the main roles.  It was a box office success and was big in Japan of all places.

                “Go for Broke” is a typical small unit movie.  It starts in training camp, which is Camp Shelby in Mississippi in 1943.  The platoon gets a new leader in Lt. Grayson (Van Johnson).  He looks like he has a turd mustache as he scans his “Japs”.  He immediately requests a transfer.  His C.O. is a bleeding-heart liberal who does not take kindly to Grayson asking if they use live ammunition on the rifle range.  (What an odd racist taunt!)  Grayson is clearly in need of redemption.  His first visit to the barracks makes it obvious that he is a racist martinet.  But he’s also Van Johnson, so you know that won’t last.  Queue the training montage.  Then it’s off to Italy.  Grayson meets an Italian girl because there has to be a female on the movie poster.  Marching and fighting montage.  This leads up to a nice combat scene highlighted by Tommy (Henry Nakamura) filling his helmet with dirt and sticking a mortar tube in it to lob some shells.  Can you do that?  Then it’s off to France and the celebrated rescue of the “Lost Battalion” (not that Lost Battalion). 

                “Go for Broke” is competently done.  It is above average for its ilk.  You can tell this partly because the deaths are not the silly, touchdown signaling twirls that you normally see in movies like this.  In fact, it has some heart-tugging deaths, which is appropriate for a unit that had a very high casualty rate.  The acting is surprisingly good considering key roles went to amateurs who were veterans of the unit.  Van Johnson is his usual reliable self.  Young ladies, he was the George Clooney of that era!  Tommy has a pig that gives one of the best performances by a pig in a war movie.

                “Go for Broke” follows the small unit template closely.   Grayson is the leader who warms to his charges.  There is a core group that includes a malcontent.  You would be upset too if you had to leave your lucrative chicken-sexing job to join the Army.  That’s right, Chick (George Miki) was making $500 a month determining the sex of newborn chicks.  It turns out Nisei soldiers have similar banter as other soldiers.  They also have humorous moments like in other Old School WWII movies, except that some of it is actually funny.  Not LOL, of course.  Some of the humor comes from Grayson narrating from travel pamphlets as they move through picturesque Italy and France.  Nice touch.

                The script is a bit odd.  There are only allusions to the internment of the Nisei families so there is little irony in the film.  Actually, the movie starts with an unintentially ironic quote from FDR about how “Americanism is a matter of mind and heart”, not race!  I wonder what the 442nd veterans thought of that.  You don’t really end up with a feeling of shame when you watch the film.  The movie also strangely short-changes the unit’s sterling record.  You get little impression why it was so decorated.  The action scenes are good, but not big.  For instance, the rescue of the “Lost Battalion” is nothing special and does not do a good job showing the extremely difficult nature of the battle.  The movie concentrates too much on the conventional redemption arc of Grayson and not enough on the achievements of the unit.  Still, it’s a likeable movie and you can’t say they blew their chance to recognize the unit.


HOW HISTORICALLY ACCURATE IS IT?   The 442nd was recruited mostly from Nisei living in Hawaii.  (It’s sister unit, the 100th Battalion, was mainly from the mainland camps.)  The men did refer to themselves as “Buddhaheads”.  The motto of the unit was “Go for Broke” which in the movie is said to mean “shoot the works”.  They were trained at Camp Shelby where the Nisei were shocked to witness segregation of blacks.  They landed at Naples and participated in the Anzio campaign.  In the move northward, they fought in numerous skirmishes.  They captured Hill 140 which became known as “Little Cassino”.  The unit was shipped to Southern France and it was back into heavy action in the forests of France.  Its most famous exploit was the rescue of a unit that had been cut off by the Germans.  It took a week to break through to the “Lost Battalion” and the 442nd suffered heavy casualties in their frontal attacks.  Unlike the movie, the conditions were a mixture of rain, snow, and mud.  The movie does not touch on the controversy of the unit being used as cannon fodder by Gen. Dahlquist.   After this blooding, the unit was shifted to the Riviera where it enjoyed several weeks of light action.  The men referred to this as the “Champagne Campaign”.  In March, 1945 most of the unit was sent back to Italy to help assault the Gothic Line.  Talk about a change of venue!  They had been specifically requested by Gen. Mark Clark.  The 442nd excelled in the hill fighting that pushed the Germans back in the closing weeks of the war.  The unit returned to America having been awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations (one of which is shown by way of footage of Pres. Truman in the film).  One soldier, Sadao Munemori, was a posthumous Medal of Honor recipient for jumping on a grenade.  (In 2000, twenty other members were upgraded to Medals of Honor.)   

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