Sunday, December 30, 2018

CONSENSUS #90. The Man Who Would Be King

SYNOPSIS: "The Man Who Would Be King" is the retelling of the classic adventure story by Rudyard Kipling. Two British soldiers (Sean Connery and Michael Caine) trek to Afghanistan to make their fortune. They offer themselves as military trainers and help a village defeat its rivals. In the process, one of them is proclaimed a god. They now are governing the area and are rich beyond their dreams. Unfortunately, being a god can go to your head.

BACK-STORY: “The Man Who Would Be King” is a war movie that was released in 1975. It was directed by John Huston and is based on a short story by Rudyard Kipling. Huston co-wrote the screenplay. Originally intended as a project for Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable, then Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, then Robert Redford and Paul Newman, it was finally made starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery. It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Writing, Costume Design, and Editing. The movie was critically acclaimed and did well at the box office.

TRIVIA:   Wikipedia, imdb

1.  In the novella, the narrator was anonymous.  The movie makes him Rudyard Kipling.
2.  John Huston was a huge Kipling fan from childhood when he was bedridden and read all of his works.  He wanted to make the movie since the 1950s.  Originally he envisioned the two leads to be Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart, and then Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, and then Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, and then Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
3.  Huston wanted a native-looking actress to play Roxane and was complaining to Michael Caine at a dinner with Caine’s wife Shakira.  They both looked at Shakira, who was from Asia, and had a brainstorm.
4.  The movie was nominated for Oscars for Art Direction, Writing, Costume Design, and Editing.
5.  Sean Connery’s favorite role.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  5.0
Military History   =  #74
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no
Rotten Tomatoes  =  no

OPINION:   While not really a war movie, “The Man Who Would Be King” certainly belongs on the list.  It is one of the greatest adventure stories and a must-see for men and teenage boys.  Connery and Caine are a dream teaming.  You get the famous story by Kipling without having to read it and you get it improved over the source material.  This is a movie that should not be remade.

Friday, December 28, 2018

SCI-FI WAR MOVIE: War of the Worlds (2005)

                This is the first in my series of reviews of war movies in a sci-fi setting.  “War of the Worlds” was Steven Spielberg’s attempt to balance the alien ass-kissing of his “Close Encounters” and “E.T.”.  He was determined to make a scary aliens movie.  But with typical Spielbergian feel-goodies, of course.  He thought H.G. Wells’ novel was perfect for this redemption.  Screenwriters Josh Friedman and David Koepp made the wise decision to place the movie in the present.  That allowed them to tap into the 9/11 vibe.  Spielberg used five different sound stages for the film.  He also used cutting edge computer technology for the effects.  The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects (losing to “King Kong”). 

                The movie centers on Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) and his children. Since he is played by Cruise, he has to be a charming asshole.  He is divorced and immature.  His relationship with his kids will need a major crisis in lieu of family counseling.  Lucky for him, aliens invade on cue.  Well, they don’t really invade.  Spielberg did not want the cliched spaceships hovering.  Instead the aliens arise from pods buried underground for God knows how long.  Just like the terrorists of 9/11.  They have death rays that turn people to ash.  The ash reminds of the debris from the Twin Towers.  Ferrier and his kids escape NYC in the only functioning auto and vamoose on an interstate that is conveniently not blocked by stalled vehicles, allowing them to go 80 MPH.  This is the beginning of the head-scratching moments that will populate the film.  They head for Boston to return the kids to their mom.  Along the way they encounter the chaos of a greatly superior enemy pillaging America.  The Army (including the first cinematic use of real M1 Abrams tanks) cannot do anything against the alien tripods (a nice reimagining of Wells’ crafts) because of their force fields.  This does not stop civilians (including the son) from running toward a battle site in a particularly ludicrous scene.  The big reveal of the icky aliens occurs when Ferrier and his daughter are holed up with a lunatic survivalist (Tim Robbins).  His son has gone astray, as teenage boys are wont to do.  The aliens are worth the wait, as is what they are doing to people.  All seems lost for mankind since the aliens cannot lose.  But do you think Spielberg would let that happen?

                This is a stupid, stupid movie.  The fact that it was a blockbuster tells you a lot about the movie-going public.  People must have been attracted to the special effects, which are very good.  And Cruise was at his most charming with a cute little girl (Dakota Fanning) to protect.  These elements do not overcome the silliness of the plot.  Everything is predictable, especially if you know it’s a Spielberg movie aimed at a wide audience.  No significant character dies.  The family is reunited in one of the most treacly endings in sci-fi movie history.  The characters are all stereotypes, especially Ferrier.  His redemption arc is not exactly ground-breaking. 

                Since this is a war movie review, allow me to point out that the movie comes up way short in its depiction of war.  The military has no intelligent answer to the enemy.  Nukes are not used (even thought they probably would not have worked) and the only effective weapon is grenades in the hands of a father desperate to rescue his cute daughter.  The “combat” consists mainly of the aliens blowing shit up.  That’s cool, but it’s not exactly a fair fight.  As in many sci-fi war movies, mankind’s balls are pulled out of the fire by pure luck.  If we ever have a real alien invasion, don’t be confident based on what you have seen in movies.

GRADE  =  C-

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

CONSENSUS: 91. The Sea Hawk (1940)

SYNOPSIS:  "The Sea Hawk" is the tale of an English privateer played by Errol Flynn. The film is set pre-Spanish Armada. Queen Elizabeth I is attempting to juggle diplomacy with covert support for raids on Spanish shipping. Flynn's Thorpe is doing the raiding and has some swash-buckling adventures and chaste romancing to do before the obligatory sword fight.

BACK-GROUND:  The Sea Hawk was a remake of the 1924 silent classic, but while the original was loosely based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini, the 1940 version was inspired by the adventures of Sir Francis Drake.  It was directed by Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”).  The movie had a huge budget of $1.75 million and was a box office success. Part of the money went into building a sound stage that had a water tank that could hold two full-size ships (which were built for the film). The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards: Art Direction, Music, Sound Recording, and Special Effects. In an interesting decision, The Sea Hawk was filmed in black and white whereas the earlier Adventures of Robin Hood was in Technicolor.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb
1.  This was the tenth collaboration between director Michael Curtiz and Errol Flynn.  Their other movies included “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “Captain Blood”.   They made a total of twelve although they despised each other.
2.  The movie was originally intended to be an adaptation of Rafael Sabatini’s novel, but it actually has little to do with the book and is more based on the adventures of Sir Francis Drake.
3.  Queen Elizabeth’s rousing speech was aimed at the British audience that was in WWII when the movie came out.  The line about the world not belonging to one man was a reference to Hitler.  However, the studio insisted that dialogue aimed at American intervention be toned down or removed.
4.  The costumes were reused from the previous year’s “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex”.
5.  A huge sound stage was constructed that included a large water tank that held two full-sized sailing ships in twelve feet of water.
6.  Flora Robson also played Elizabeth in “Fire Over England”.
7.  One of Churchill’s favorite films.
8.  The costumes were reused from the Curtiz/Flynn The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Exeter.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  3
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  48
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:    This is a fun movie. It is classic action/adventure and holds up surprisingly well. There are no sour notes. It is consistently strong across the board (acting, cinematography, music).  It is one of the greatest swashbucklers, but also fits comfortably in the war movie genre.  Along with the entertainment value, there is a tasty morsel of history in it.

Monday, December 24, 2018


       “War Game” is an animated war movie based on the famous Christmas Truce of 1914.  It is a faithful rendition of the story told in the children’s novel by Michael Foreman although some characters were added for the film.  The book is very popular and the movie won several awards, including the Children’s Choice Award at  the British Animation Awards.  The movie was a welcome addition to the WWI movie fraternity.

                The movie opens with some British blokes playing one last football (soccer to us Yanks) match before enlisting for a much bigger game.  The soldiers are portrayed as puppets.  This movie is not exactly subtle.  Lord Kitchener literally comes out of the poster to encourage impressionable young men to “play the game”.  Crowds cheer and peers pressure and the main characters say “everyone else is going” to their parents.  So they’re off to the trenches with mother’s sobs ringing in their ears.  The trenches are nicely rendered, as is no man’s land.

                Months pass and it is Christmas time.  On the eve, German’s can be heard singing “Silent Night”.  On the morn a Brit comes out with a football and the fraternization kicks off, literally.  It’s more of a kickabout than a game, but fun is had by all.  Naturally, when the generals find out they are incensed with the thought that fun could coincide with hatred for the enemy and commitment to the war effort.  “There is to be no repeat of this unwarlike activity.”  And there isn’t, as the final scene emphasizes.  The Tommies go over the top following a soccer ball.  With predictable results.

                Clocking in at less than thirty minutes, “War Game” is a nice little movie and it does the service of introducing kids to a semi-famous incident in the Great War.  It is educational in that respect because it accurately renders the legend of the Christmas Truce.  I say “legend” because the incident (actually several similar incidents) is debated by historians.  The evidence for the fraternization comes mainly from letters and memoirs so there could have been some embellishment.  Evidently it did begin with Christmas caroling wafting across no man’s land on Christmas Eve.  Then the next day, some brave Christian soul dared to buck the trend and come out without belligerence.  Others followed and gifts of food, tobacco, and liquor were exchanged.  Tentative hand-shakes were followed by heartfelt hugs.  The soccer story is the cherry on top of the Christmas pudding.  This act of comradeship is referred to in a few primary sources and may have been more than one “game”.  The most heralded version had the Scots squaring off with the Germans.  According to one version, the Scots used the distraction of their kilts being blown by the wind to expose their bare bums to win the match.  Sadly, the movie does not depict this.  Maybe in the future “unrated, adult” edition.

                The animation is interesting.  However, that strength does not overcome the main flaws of the movie.  Even for a movie aimed at children, the plot is trite and very schmaltzy.  I think our current generation of kids who have been weaned on Nick Junior will not be impressed or entertained.  Plus the movie is pretty depressing.  The anti-war trope is better aimed at an adult audience.  Or young men approaching military age.  It is hardly ground-breaking to suggest that the youth of Britain were naïve about war and the powers that be were using them.  The movie deserves some credit for giving children an idea of trench life, but it does not give a realistic account of the Christmas Truce.  Hopefully it encourages research on the subject.


THE BOOK:  War Games by Michael Foreman is a children’s book.  The art work is watercolorish, but effective.  In the book, Freddie and his mates go to war due to peer and crowd pressure.  When they arrive in France, they go through typical soldier jobs which do not include combat until the end.  In the process of covering soldier life, Foreman throws in a lot of facts usually in the form of captions to actual pictures.  The book includes not just the drawings, but also a lot of cool propaganda posters and advertisements.  In this respect the book reads like a docudrama.  This sets it apart from most children’s books.  It also makes it a weird hybrid.  The story is aimed at children, but the facts are above their level.  Without the trivia, the book would be light-weight and frankly, boring.  You don’t really get to know the characters.  The plot is very simplistic, which is natural for a book aimed at children.  You get little of the misery the soldiers went through until the big, depressing finish.  As far as the soccer “match”, it is more of an actual game than the kick-around of the movie.


Friday, December 21, 2018


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

No! You stay alive! If they don't kill you, they'll take you north up to the Huron lands. Submit, do you hear? You're strong! You survive! You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far. I will find you!

3.  What movie is this?

It is a movie about the Irish Republican Army set in Dublin in 1922.  It won John Ford his first Oscar for Best Director.  It was based on the novel by Liam O’Flaherty.  It was released in 1935 and although not a box office hit, it was critically acclaimed.  It was nominated for Best Picture (losing to “Mutiny on the Bounty”).  It won for Actor (Victor McLaglen), Screenplay (Dudley Nichols), Score (Max Steiner), and Director.  The studio did not want to make the picture because of its depressing nature.  When the execs were convinced that Ford was worth the risk, they insisted that he stay under a $250,000 budget.  Ford gave up his salary, shot the film in 17 days and brought it in around $243,000. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

CONSENSUS 92. Ulzana’s Raid (1972)

SYNOPSIS: In the 1880's in the American West, a group of Apache Indians led by a Geronimo-type of leader named Ulzana escape from their reservation and start raiding, which includes murdering and torturing.  A cavalry unit under a green lieutenant (Bruce Davison) is sent to track them down. The cavalry is led by a seasoned scout named MacIntosh (Burt Lancaster) and an Apache Indian tracker who has sided with the whites. It is a cat and mouse game from here. 

BACK-STORY: Ulzanas Raid is a revisionist Western by Robert Aldrich (“The Dirty Dozen”) which was released in 1972 toward the end of the Vietnam War. It was filmed on location in Arizona and Nevada. It is loosely based on a true story.  Ulzana was an Apache who went on a raid in Arizona in 1885.  The movie has been described as an allegory about the Vietnam War.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb

1.  Screenwriter Alan Sharp was inspired by “The Searchers”.  He felt that three of the worst historic locales were Nazi Germany, Turkey during WWI, and the American Southwest during the Indian Wars.
2.  Since Burt Lancaster was one of the producers, he got to edit his own version of the film.  His version was similar to Aldrich’s, however.
3.  The production cost only $1.2 million and took only seven weeks of filming.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  3
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  54
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  I understand why some consider it to be a war movie, but in my opinion it is clearly in the Western genre.  With that said, I do not think it is even a great Western.  I believe it gets more love than it deserves from critics because they like the criticism of the Vietnam War.  If Aldrich meant to comment on America’s role in the Vietnam War, he missed the mark because Ulzana and his Indians are not sympathetic characters.  It seems more likely that Aldrich was trying to make a revisionist Western and in this respect he was successful, but the 1970s were full of revisionist Westerns and this is not one of the better ones.

Monday, December 17, 2018

FORGOTTEN GEM? The Rack (1956)

                “The Rack” is a Korean War courtroom drama that deals with the collaboration of American prisoners of war.  It was directed by Arnold Laven who was noted more for directing TV programs.  In fact, the movie was based on a teleplay by Rod Serling.  The teleplay appeared on a show called “The U.S. Steel Hour”.  Oh, the Fifties.  Knowing it came from Serling tells you it is not going to be predictable.  The movie was meant to be MGM’s answer to “The Caine Mutiny”.  Glenn Ford was offered the lead, but turned it down because he thought the main character chewed the scenery too much.  Instead it went to a potential star – Paul Newman.  Good prediction as the movie’s release was delayed until after “Somebody Likes Me” came out and his career took off.

                The movie opens at the close of the Korean War.  Capt. Edward Hall (Newman) is greeted at the air field by his father (Walter Pidgeon) and his sister-in-law Aggie (Anne Francis).  His father is a retired colonel who has already lost a son, Aggie’s husband, in the war.  The reunion is awkward.  Edward, Jr. is reluctant to go home from the hospital and is obviously holding something back.  A clue is when a fellow POW slips a noose labeled “traitor” around his neck.  It turns out that Edward is one of forty POWs that are up on charges for misconduct.  What follows is a standard court-martial, but with Rod Serling twists.  The trial is intercut with Edward’s uncomfortable relationship with his father, who at one point wishes that his son had died.
                “The Rack” is interesting.  The set-up is similar to “Time Limit”, but the trial does a better job outlining the case for and against leniency for collaboration.  There are three fellow prisoners who offer evidence that Hall gave propaganda lectures, wrote leaflets encouraging soldiers to surrender, and ratted out an escape attempt.  One of them is a Capt. Miller (Lee Marvin, perfectly cast) who describes himself as a “reactionary” and Hall as a “progressive”.  In other words, real American versus communist sympathizer.  The rest of the cast is equally effective in the main roles.  Anne Francis is realistically torn as the sister-in-law who has to act happy that Edward is back when she wonders why he survived when her hero husband died.  The prosecuting Maj. Moulton (Wendell Corey) and defending Lt. Col. Wasnick (Edmund O’Brien) are well-played.  Moulton is not dastardly.  He is not Saint-Auban from “Paths of Glory”.  Walter Pidgeon is the weak link, but it is due to his character being weak.  Col. Hall is surprisingly clueless about his son’s situation and then goes through a typical cinematic reconciliation.  Newman has a star turn and although his Rocky Graziano biopic launched his stardom, this movie was the first evidence that he was special. 

                The movie is essentially a play, but the cinematography does have some nice deep focus.  The real strength is the dialogue.  Edward counters his father’s disappointment with “my mother wasn’t in the Army, so I’m a half-breed”.  He explains his collaboration by saying that he “sold [his] soul for a blanket that smelled like urine and three hours of sleep.”  The script is thought-provoking.  You wonder what you would have done under the circumstances.  You will also wonder if he is guilty and whether he will be found guilty.  The movie is not predictable.

                If you know little about the Korean War prisoner experience, “The Rack” is a good primer.  The movie takes its instructive potential seriously.  It covers communist tactics used to turn prisoners and some of the things the collaborators did.  Hall is a poster boy for them.  It also covers why some soldiers collaborated and whether some actions were excusable. If you didn’t already know it, the Korean War was one fucked up war.


HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  “The Rack” does not claim to be based on a true story.  The scenario is realistic, however.  There were about 7,500 Americans captured in the war.  2,500 did not survive captivity due to lack of food, lack of medical care, freezing conditions, and mistreatment. Shockingly, 21 Americans refused to be repatriated.  The American public learned a new term – brainwashing.  This political indoctrination has been exaggerated by movies like “The Manchurian Candidate”, but collaboration was a problem.  Hall did not collaborate because of brain-washing.  He gave propaganda lectures, wrote leaflets, and ratted out comrades because of tactics like sleep deprivation and solitary confinement.  These types of tactics, along with physical brutality, were effective because some of the Americans were susceptible to them.  The movie has the defense summarize a communist communique:  1.  many POWs reveal weak loyalties to families, communities, and the Army  2.  when left alone they tend to feel deserted and underestimate their ability to survive because they underestimate themselves  3.  even college graduates know little about American History, democracy, and communism.  Hall was part of an “uninspired, uninformed, unprepared” generation.  But did that excuse collaboration?  The Pentagon unofficially acknowledged the problem by establishing a committee to come up with a set of rules for conduct as a prisoner.  Pres. Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10631 creating the “Code of U.S. Fighting Force” in 1955.  It responded to situations like what the fictional Hal went through by proclaiming that you must avoid collaborating until “all reasonable means of resistance are exhausted and … certain death is the only alternative.”  You must “resist by all means available.”  As the prosecution asks of Hall:  “did you ever reach your horizon of unendurable anguish?”  Because of the code and better training, collaboration was less of a problem in Vietnam.  And because of the fictional Hall and the large number of real prisoners who faced trials when they returned, the military and the public became more understanding.  John McCain would have been in Hall’s shoes if he had been a captive in the Korean War.  Watch “Faith of My Fathers.”

Saturday, December 15, 2018

CONSENSUS 93. Land and Freedom (1995)

SYNOPSIS:  “Land and Freedom” is set in the Spanish Civil War in 1936.  A British communist goes to Spain because he can’t see himself sitting this one out.  David Carr (Ian Hart) joins a foreigner-infused rebel militia that is hard-core Trotskyites.  They are fighting not just against Franco’s fascists, but they are at odds with the Soviet-supported communists and the democratic republicans.  Carr befriends the other men and women of various nationalities in his small unit and finds love.

BACK-STORY:  The director is Ken Loach (“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”).  As usual, he is interested in political and social commentary.  There is a bravura scene involving a debate among villagers about whether to collectivize the land.  Most of the villagers are played by actual villagers.  The scene, as with most of the movie, is done without subtitles.  The movie was critically acclaimed and was awarded the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.

TRIVIA:  wikipedia

1.  The story is similar to George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia.  Orwell participated in the civil war as part of POUM.

2.  POUM stands for the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification.  They were fans of Trotsky, although he was not fans of them.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4
Video Hound       =  3.8
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  80
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes

OPINION:  “Land and Freedom” is one of the better Spanish Civil War movies, but it requires the viewer to be at the top of their game.  The effort is worth it because Loach is a good director and he gets across the messiness and confusion of a civil war.  I do not think it belongs among the 100 greatest war films, but it deserves a viewing, especially if you are not familiar with the war.

Friday, December 14, 2018

CLASSIC or ANTIQUE: Flat Top (1952)

                “Flat Top” (entitled “Eagles of the Fleet” in the United Kingdom) was released in 1952 during the Korean War.  It was directed by Lesley Selander (“Fighter Attack”).  It was one of 127 movies he directed – mostly B-Westerns.  The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film Editing.  Some of the footage used for the final battle was from the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  The film also made use of color gun camera footage.  The movie got cooperation of the U.S. Navy which allowed filming on the USS Princeton.  Don’t expect a hard-hitting expose of the Navy.

       Commander Dan Collier (Sterling Hayden) is in charge of air operations on a carrier off the coast of Korea.  He flashes back to a similar role in WWII.  He decides to ground a Corsair pilot named Barney Smith (Keith Larson) who disregarded a wave-off.  His executive officer, Lt. Rogers (Richard Carlson) is big brother to his fighter jocks.  He goes to bat for the hot shot, but Collier shoots him down (figuratively).  Collier believes in team work and the discouraging of individualism.  He is a disciple of tough love.  You’ve seen this dynamic before -  Richardson (Gable) vs. Bledsoe (Lancaster) in “Run Silent, Run Deep”, Kirby (Wayne) vs. Griffin (Ryan) in “Flying Leathernecks”, Savage (Peck) vs. Davenport (Merrill) in “Twelve O’Clock High”.  I wonder if the players’ coach will lose again.  I wonder if Barney will get a chance at redemption.  The rest of the movie covers various missions.  In between the missions, Collier spends most of his time reaming his men and Rogers in particular.  I wonder if they will learn to respect him.  See the previously mentioned movies for clues.

                “Flat Top” is a plot built around combat footage.  It is not surprising it got an Academy Award nomination.  The quantity and quality are high and the blending is fine.  There is a lot of variety in the shots and that is something of a problem for observant aviation fans.  These fighter pilots are able to fly dive and torpedo bombers as well as other types of fighters!  Hell, sometimes they take off in Corsairs and land in Hellcats!  There is a lot of noise and tracers to distract from the continuity problems.  Because Collier is such a hardass, we are spared the usual laughable radio chatter.  If you have never seen a movie set on a carrier, it does a fair job of chronicling pilot life.  But don’t watch the movie for instruction on tactics.  We are thankfully spared any tear jerking, although a letter from Collier’s wife is highly schmaltzy. (This scene must have been inserted so they could get a woman on the poster.)  Hayden keeps a straight face throughout, which was easy since that is the only face he had.  The rest of the cast is equally average, like the movie.

                If you are an aviation and/or naval combat movie fan, “Flat Top” will fill some time.  You can fall asleep through parts and not get confused.  The movie is very predictable, but Selander was not exactly a maverick.  He gave the Navy and the studio what they expected. In that respect, it is an antique.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

CONSENSUS #94 - Sands of Iwo Jima

SYNOPSIS:   “Sands of Iwo Jima” is the quintessential Marine Corps movie and the movie that sealed John Wayne’s reputation as the poster boy for American warriors.  Wayne plays the iconic Sgt. Stryker.  He has to mold a heterogeneous squad into a fighting machine.  Two of those men hate him so we get two resent to respect arcs.  The battles are Tarawa and Iwo Jima and they are loaded with actual footage.

BACK-STORY:  The movie was made with the full cooperation of the Marine Corps which saw it as part of its effort to survive in the cutthroat world of the military branches after WWII.  Director Alan Dwan got the commandant of Camp Pendleton to provide the meanest drill instructor to toughen up the cast in three days of boot camp.  It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Wayne), Editing,  Sound Recording, and Writing.  Wayne lost to Broderick Crawford in “All the King’s Men”.  The screenplay was co-written by Harry Brown (“A Walk in the Sun).    Dwan directed about 125 movies, but “Sands” was by far his biggest hit. 

TRIVIA:  imdb, Wikipedia, TCM, Guts and Glory
1.  Kirk Douglas was going to get the Stryker role until Wayne made a big push and when the studio heard he was interested they jumped at him.  Wayne originally did not want the role because he thought he was too old at 42 and he felt the public was tired of WWII movies.
2.  When Stryker instructs Pvt. Choynski (Hal Baylor), you are watching a man who got out of serving, instructing a Marine veteran of Saipan and Tinian.
3.  When Wayne was immortalized at Graumann’s Chinese Theater, sand from Iwo Jima was mixed with the cement.
4.  The dialogue included the first use of the phrase “lock and load” in a movie.
5.  The movie used actual footage from Tarawa and Iwo Jima.
6.  The $1.4 million budget was the largest ever for a Republic Pictures film.
7.  The movie was required viewing for Marine recruits into the 1980s.
8.  Several real heroes appeared in the movie including the three surviving flag-raisers – Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, and John Bradley.  Note:  Recently it was proven that Bradley was not in the famous picture.  One wonders what he felt as he reenacted the raising for the movie.  If his original credit was a misunderstanding, surely he knew during the production that he had not participated in the photo.
9.  Wayne was pleased with the Academy Award nomination, but felt he was better in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”.
10.  The cast was put through such strenuous training that they were left exhausted, then physically fit.  They stopped carousing with Wayne at night.
11.  The movie created the image of Wayne as the iconic American soldier.
12.  The movie is the prime example of how the Marines made use of Hollywood for recruiting more than any of the other branches.  The Corps was the easiest to get cooperation from and was the least hands-on when it came to the scripts.  It provided a technical adviser and he jumped out of his seat on set when Stryker butt-strokes a private.  He insisted the scene be changed, but the higher ups decided not to insist on it.
13.  The movie actually covers Tarawa more and better than Iwo Jima.

Belle and Blade  =  3
Brassey’s              =  4
Video Hound       =  4.4
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  76
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes

OPINION:   “Sands of Iwo Jima” helped make John Wayne a superstar and there is a lot of nostalgia associated with the movie.  It is undoubtedly a classic, but it does not hold up well in comparison to modern war movies. Just compare it to “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” to see what I mean.  Essentially a small unit movie, it is full of clichés and stereotypes.  The humor is lame and the acting, aside from Wayne, is average.  But the main problem is the two big set piece battles are lacking in realism and bang for your buck.

Monday, December 10, 2018


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

Hello, hello, York? I want you to get twenty-four B-25's and volunteer crews down to Eglin Field as soon as you can. The job'll take 'em out of the country for about three months. Tell 'em it's a secret mission. They won't know where they're going until they get there. Thats's right, volunteers. tell them they're not to talk to anybody. That's an order!

3. What movie is this?

 This is the 1939 version of the oft-made action/adventure film.  Obviously it is considered to be best version.  It is based on the novel by Percival Christopher Wren.  The book was aimed at the teenage boy in all of us and the movie puts this to film.  It was one of the first movies to link war and adventure.  But in an entertaining twist, the book and film add a dash of mystery.  It explores the themes of loyalty, duty, and honor.  The movie was a big hit and helped launch the subgenre of the French Foreign Legion film.  It is unique in that it features four actors that would subsequently win Oscars as Best Actors or Actresses (Cooper, Milland, Crawford, and Hayward).  Interestingly, considering that line-up, the acting honors go to Brian Donlevy as the sadistic Markoff.  He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

CRACKER? Shot Through the Heart (1998)

                “Shot Through the Heart” is a made-for-HBO movie about two snipers in the Bosnian War.  It was directed by David Attwood.  It was based on an article entitled “Anti-Sniper” by John Falk.  It was well-received and won a Peabody Award.  The movie is set in the siege of Sarajevo during the war.  Until the war broke out, Muslims, Serbs, and Croats were living peacefully with each other.   The movie shows how quickly pre-war fraternity can quickly evaporate when ethnic groups are involved.

                The movie is based on the experiences of Vlado Sarzinsky (Linus Roache).  He was a Croat married to a Muslim woman.  Vlado was a stable family man.  His best friend was Slavko Simic (Vincent Perez).  Slavko was a bachelor, ladies’ man.  The two were like brothers and had been teammates on the Yugoslavian Olympic team.  They were sharpshooters.  You can see where this is heading from a mile away.  Things are fine in Sarajevo until the war comes to town.  Slavko gets called up into the Bosnian Serb army.  He tries to convince Vlado to evacuate for the safety of his family, but Vlado is overconfident that the Serbs would never open fire on the city.  Plus, he refuses to become a refugee.  This is our home!  Yada, yada, yada. 

                The decision to stay looks shaky when a lone artillery shell hits the Sarzinsky apartment.  He decides to join the militia and is not man enough to get his wife to flee.  “If you’re staying, I’m staying.”  Okay, dear.  Meanwhile, Slavko has gone over to the dark side and is training a sniper team.  And not just training, why let your pupils have all the fun?  Serbian snipers, including Slavko, are targeting civilians.  Vlado witnesses the deaths of children and recognizes the style and ability of his former friend.  He decides to do something about this situation.  Only one of these buddies is going to survive this duel.

                “Shot Through the Heart” is based on a fascinating story.  A story that you would assume is fictional if you did not find out it is based on fact.  Since I could not get hold of the article, I cannot vouch for how accurate the movie is.  I have to assume that because the plot is predictable and lays it on thick, the movie has probably enhanced the story for entertainment purposes.  Before the artillery hits the fan, these two guys are the stereotyped best friends.  The movie takes them from one extreme to the other, as movies often do.  This means the character arc of Slavko is hard to swallow.  This likeable fellow becomes a child-killing sociopath?  Nothing in the movie justifies this change of personality.  That is not the only unrealistic aspect of the film.  The resolution of the conflict is weak, but to be expected from a movie that is cookie-cutter.

                Everything about the movie is average.  The actors are average. Roache and Perez are not exactly A-Listers. The cinematography is not noteworthy.  The soundtrack is bland.  The plot is unrealistic and does not give a clear impression of the hellish nature of the siege.  There is little artillery bombardment, for instance.   I’m not saying you should avoid the movie.  It is an entertaining premise and is competently done, but it is not going to challenge you.  Don’t watch it if you want to learn the basics of the Bosnian War.  That is not what the movie is designed to do so don’t make this the first movie about this war that you watch.

                Cracker?  Nope.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

CONSENSUS #95 - The Alamo (1960)

SYNOPSIS: "The Alamo" is John Wayne's take on the famous siege during the Texas Revolution. It covers the campaign and the battle. Wayne plays Davy Crockett.  He throws in a romantic sub-plot and command dysfunction between Travis (Laurnece Harvey) and Bowie (Richard Widmark). The movie concludes with an Old School Hollywood spectacular Mexican assault.

BACK-STORY: The Alamo is a war movie released in 1960 about the famous siege of 1836. It was directed and produced by John Wayne. He did not intend to star in his directorial debut, but the studio refused to back the project without Wayne starring. Wayne deserves a lot of credit for overcoming every obstacle to finish a project that was obviously important to him. He assembled a good cast and did a competent job as director. He also put a lot of his own money into it and did not recoup his investment. The movie did not do particularly well at the box office but did get Oscar nominations for Sound, Cinematography, Editing, Score, and Song. The money does show up on the screen with the recreation of the Alamo from the ground up at Alamo Village in Bracketville near the actual site in San Antonio. The set took two years to construct and looks more authentic than the original. Rumor has it that the fake Alamo has a basement with a bicycle in it.

TRIVIA:  classic movie hub, imdb, Wikipedia, TCM
1.  Chill Wills took out a tasteless ad in Variety to push for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  The ad claimed the crew were praying more for Wills’ victory than the defenders in the Alamo were praying to survive.  There was such a backlash that Wayne had to take out a counter ad.  Wills lost to Peter Ustinov from “Spartacus”.  It would have taken more than a brilliant ad to change that outcome.
2.  Charleston Heston turned down the role of Bowie partly because his moderate Democratic political philosophy (at the time) clashed with Wayne’s conservatism.  Also, he was skeptical about Wayne as a first-time director.   He later regretted the decision.  Clark Gable turned down the Travis role.
3.  Wayne and Richard Widmark did not get along.  It started when Wayne called him “Dick” to try to bond and Widmark coldly insisted on Richard.  After that Wayne emphasized “Richard”.  It did not help that Widmark was a liberal Democrat who supported civil rights and gun control and was opposed to black-listing.  He also questioned Wayne’s directorial talents.
4.  Wayne, who felt guilty about avoiding WWII, saw the movie as his way to join the fight against communism.  That’s why the movie has a big liberty and democracy theme.
5.  Wayne wanted to play the small role of Sam Houston so he could concentrate on directing, but the studio insisted he take on a bigger role to boost the box office potential.
6.  Wayne was all-in for the movie and went into his own pocket to pay for cost overruns.  He did not recoup his money until the TV rights were sold years later.
7.  During filming, a cannon rolled over Laurence Harvey’s foot breaking it.  Harvey finished the scene.
8.  The production used 7,000 extras, 1,500 horses, and 400 cattle.
9.  The set took two years to construct and became a major tourist attraction.  It was used in over 200 Westerns.
10.  Bowie’s seven-barreled gun was called a Nock Volley Gun and developed for use in the Royal Navy.  It had limited use because the kick was more than most men cared to endure.
11.  The movie was banned in Mexico.
12.  Wayne intended to shoot the film in Mexico until the Daughters of the Republic of Texas threatened him with tanking the film in Texas theaters.
13.  After a few weeks of release, the movie was cut by 30 minutes.
14.  Wayne hired Frankie Avalon because of the successful casting of Ricky Nelson in “Rio Bravo”.
15.  Several days in, Widmark wanted to drop out because he felt he was not right for playing the much larger Bowie.
16.  Historians James Frank Dobie and Lon Tinkle insisted their names be removed from the credits.
17.  The movie won the Academy Award for Sound.  It was nominated for Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Editing, Music, Picture (losing to “The Apartment”), and Song (“The Green Leaves of Summer”).
18.  Sammy Davis, Jr. wanted to play the slave, but his controversial marriage to a white woman nixed it.
20.  It was the only film Wayne directed.
21.  John Ford showed up on set and started giving Wayne advice.  Wayne solved the problem by sending Ford off to do some second unit shooting of Mexican cavalry.  Most of which did not make it into the film.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  5
Video Hound       =  2.5
War Movies         =  3.8
Military History  =  #61
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  If you want to know the legend of the Alamo told through the lens of democracy versus communism, this is the movie for you.  If you are interested in accuracy, this movie should not be shown in an American History classroom.  Although it is probably required viewing in Texas classrooms.  It is entertaining in an old school Hollywood epic sort of way.  The final battle is epic for sure. It is a bit hard to believe it is in the top 100 because it was not critically acclaimed when it came out and it’s reputation has not improved over the years.