Monday, July 15, 2019

PICTURE, QUOTE, MOVIE QUIZ #63


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

I didn't see much of the war... I was stationed in a repair shop below decks. Oh, I was in plenty of battles, but I never saw a Jap or heard a shell coming at me. When we were sunk, all I know is there was a lot of fire and explosions. And I was ordered topsides and overboard. And I was burned. When I came to, I was on a cruiser. My hands were off. After that, I had it easy... That's what I said. They took care of me fine. They trained me to use these things. I can dial telephones, I can drive a car, I can even put nickels in the jukebox. I'm all right, but... well, you see, I've got a girl.


3.  What movie is this? 


It is a German/Italian/Austrian production directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel.  It covers the last ten days of the main character's life.  It is based partly on historian Traudl Junge’s Until the Final Hour and several other memoirs.  It was nominated for Best Foreign Film.  Bruno Ganz studied Parkinson’s patients to get the main character's  twitching down.  The opening and closing interviews with Junge are from the documentary “Blind Spot”.


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

BOOK/MOVIE: Cross of Iron




                This is another in my series informing you about how war movies differ from their source material.  I also take the liberty of comparing the two.  I have a belief that a movie should be better than the novel it is based on and most war movies are.  The screenwriter has the advantage of having the book as his foundation and he can make improvements to the plot and make it more entertaining.  The disadvantage is that the movie can not go into the detail that a  book can.  I am mainly arguing that movies should be more entertaining than the novel.  If you read on, be aware that I am assuming two things.  One, you have seen the movie already.  Two, you are not planning on reading the book, so you don’t care about spoilers.  I hope what you do care about is how the book differs from the movie and which is better, in my opinion.

                Cross of Iron” is a war movie directed by Sam Peckinpah.  It is set on the Eastern Front in WWII.  A platoon led by a Sgt. Steiner (James Coburn) is part of the perimeter defense of a German salient that is threatened by superior Red Army forces.  Steiner is a great soldier, but is anti-authority and cynical about the war and the army.  His new company commander Capt. Stransky (Maximilian Schell) has been transferred to Russia so he can win an Iron Cross.  He is a martinet who realizes Steiner will be a thorn in his side and Stransky is determined to eliminate Steiner as an obstacle to his medal.  Steiner and his men have to go on a trek behind enemy lines to get back to their lines after they are left behind in the army’s withdrawal.  The movie was based on the novel The Willing Flesh by Willi Heinrich.  Heinrich served on the Eastern Front and was wounded five times.  The screenplay was written by Julius Epstein, James Hamilton, and Walter Kelley.  They changed the chronology of the book, but adapted some of the key scenes and kept most of the characters.

                The novel opens with Steiner’s platoon in the front lines of the German perimeter.  We are introduced to his men, who have pretty much the same personalities as in the movie.  For example, Schnurrbart is a mustachioed rock, Kern is a slacker jerk, Kruger is a slob, Dietz is boyish, Zoll is a troublemaker (but not the resident Nazi like in the movie).  The book has a key character named Dorn who is an intellectual that Steiner likes to discuss philosophy with.  The movie Steiner is more laconic than philosophical.  When the German army pulls back, Steiner’s group is ordered to stay by his battalion commander (unlike in the movie where the nefarious Stransky purposely leaves them behind).  In the trek back to German lines, Steiner and crew (they start with eleven men) encounter the Russian female soldiers and the scene plays out similar to the movie except that at one point Steiner decides to go off on his own.  He changes his mind and returns after an escaping Russian runs into him.  This allows Steiner to avoid the difficult decision of killing the women to protect their continued journey.  Zoll’s rape and death are essentially the same, but Dietz is not killed until a little later when he runs into a Russian patrol.  Meanwhile, Stransky gets Triebig to admit he prefers men, but Keppler is not in the room.

                When Steiner and the others reach the Russian front lines, they assault some bunkers with extreme prejudice.  They capture a Russian officer and force him to radio that they are a Russian patrol going out.  They proceed into no man’s land and Steiner goes ahead to identify them and they successfully make it in.  Nine of the eleven make it back.  Steiner meets Stansky for the first time.  He offers to promote him to Sgt., but Steiner does not react.  The conversation enrages Stransky and it doesn’t help that when he snidely asks if Steiner was an actor before the war, Steiner responds:  “Not before the war”.  (How did that line not make it into the movie?)   Brandt gives Steiner two weeks R&R.  He meets a nurse who he had an affair with when he was convalescing in a hospital thirteen months before.  It turns out that she had seduced him and when he dumped her, she framed him for robbery which resulted in his being put in a penal battalion.  At the rest area, he has an affair with another nurse named Gertrud.  Steiner is not a ladies man and the romance is awkward.  While he is gone, Dorn and Anselm are killed by a random shell. 

                When he returns, Steiner catches Triebig and Keppler in bed and beats Triebig up because he had sided with Stransky in the chewing out of Steiner earlier.  The big Russian attack featuring tanks in the movie occurs at this point.  Steiner leads the counterattack with Kruger, Hollerbach, Kern. and Faber (recruited by Steiner after their return across no man’s land).  The Russians are caught between two forces and routed.  Steiner is wounded and on the way to the evacuation station, his companion Hollerbach is run over by a tank.  Steiner is away three months and returns to Schnurrbart, Kruger, Faber, and Maag.  He finds out that Stransky is claiming to have led the counterattack and needs Steiner to sign off on his Iron Cross.  The movie covers the meeting with the skeptical Brandt, but leaves out a central section where Keisel explains that Steiner wants time to think on it because Steiner does not want to be a witness in a court-martial.  Keisel convinces Brandt to drop the matter, but threaten Stransky with consequences if he doesn’t back off of Steiner.  Steiner has guilt feelings about how he did not appreciate all that Brandt had done for him, but he did not say he hates all officers, including Brandt. 

                The big set piece in the book is an attack on a Russian factory.  This is barely recognizable in the movie in the scene where the Russian tanks break into a building the platoon had taken refuge in.  Stransky plots with Triebig to kill Steiner in the factory.  When Brandt calls to cancel the attack, Stransky does not pass the word.  Steiner and the men negotiate the maze of corridors in the dark, eliminating the defenders.  Triebig shoots Schnurrbart, mistaking him for Steiner.  Steiner then insures that Triebig is killed by the Soviets.  Upon returning, Steiner sets up an ambush for Stransky.  Brandt is aware, but does nothing to stop this.  Steiner ends up not killing Stransky and soon after Steiner is wounded by an artillery round and Faber loses his eyes.  At the end of the book, Stransky is about to be transferred.  Keisel is still with Brandt but he has told him he will be saved to help start a new Germany.  The movie ending is not even remotely connected to the book.  And since it is a poor ending to a great movie, you have to wonder what the screenwriters were thinking.

                As you can read, the book has more scenes than in the movie.  It is unclear why the screenwriters changed the order of the ones they kept.  Subtracting scenes was inevitable, but resequencing was questionable. The movie jumps immediately into the Steiner/Stransky dynamic and structures the plot around it.  The book does not really kick into this until midway through, allowing for some vignettes that develop the whole squad instead of just Steiner.  The trek is pushed all the way to the last third of the book as a way to build to the confrontation between Stransky and Steiner.  The novel is a multi-layered story of a platoon fighting a losing war whereas the movie is boiled down to a lost patrol movie with an evil brass cliché.  Steiner completely dominates the movie, but in the book he is the main character and the rest of the unit get good coverage, too.  As you would expect, the novel fleshes out the characters quite a bit more than the movie.  The movie does borrow the basic personality traits, but the novel actually puts you into the characters’ heads and Heinrich gives each member of the platoon a chance to have their moment.  Most importantly, Steiner is a multi-dimensional character, unlike the simply cynical, laconic movie Steiner.  Heinrich’s Steiner is mercurial.  He even pouts occasionally.  He is quick-tempered and unstable.  Significantly, for those of you who care about motivation, we find out why Steiner is the way he is.  He lost his fiancé in mountain climbing accident that would scar anyone.  There was also that frame-up by the nurse.  Another difference between the movie platoon and the novel platoon is that in the book the men are much more dysfunctional.  They are far from a band of brothers.  Some of them hate each other and not all are enamored with Steiner, although all recognize that without him they are doomed.

                The movie does retain the Brandt/Keisel dynamic, but obviously the book includes much more of their interesting discussions.  Keisel is one of my favorite fringe characters in war movies and Brandt is a key figure in the theme that even some of the German leaders were cynical.  It was certainly unfair when Steiner lumped him in with all officers.  At least in the book, Steiner is remorseful.  Keisel is the conscience of the book (along with Dorn).  Keisel defines courage thus:  “In 99 out of 100 cases, courage is nothing more than expression of common politeness or sense of duty.  [The other 1%] is an expression of insanity.”  Keisel gets almost as much ink as Stransky, since Stransky is a smaller character than in the movie.  However, the movie does give us the full Stransky.  By the way, there is no Russian boy-captive in the book.  I would have to give the movie that one.

                I have mentioned that in most cases I believe that war movies based on novels are better than the novel.  However, “Cross of Iron” is not one of those movies.  The main reason why the book is superior is because it is able to flesh out all the characters.  Even the main character is more multi-dimensional and less mysterious.  Clearly, a book should do this better than any movie, but the main reason why the movie is inferior is the dubious decisions on changing the sequence of events in the book’s plot.  It would have been much smarter to use the novel as an outline and then eliminate scenes due to time pressures.  The movie wisely condenses the theme to glory-hunting (Stransky) versus cynical survival (Steiner) and focuses on that aspect from the get-go.  It is pretty effective in that single-mindedness, but blows it in the end with the ridiculously unrealistic ending that sees Steiner abetting Stransky.  To have the officer-hating Steiner kill Triebig for killing his men and then have him spare the much more odious Stransky is bizarre.  Heinrich’s Steiner also spares Stransky, but in a much more believable manner.  And having Stransky get his transfer hammers Heinrich’s own cynical attitude toward the war he fought in.

BOOK = A
MOVIE  =  B+

Sunday, July 7, 2019

CONSENSUS #66. Hope and Glory (1987)




SYNOPSIS:  “Hope and Glory” is a British dramedy about a British family in London during the Blitz.  It focuses on ten year-old Billy (Sebastian Rice-Edwards) who finds having his world upside down to be fascinating.  The family home ends up getting bombed and they have to go live in the countryside with their eccentric grandpa.

BACK-STORY:   “Hope and Glory” is a war movie set in London during the Blitz of WWII. It was directed by John Boorman and was based on his own experiences as an eight year-old boy. It was a British-American endeavor that was released in 1987.  It did not do well at the box office, but was critically acclaimed.  It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Original Screenplay (Boorman), Director, and Picture. It won the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy.  It was nominated for 13 BAFTA awards including Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay.  Susan Wooldridge won for Best Supporting Actor for her performance as Molly.
 TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb
1.  The title comes from a patriotic song entitled “Land of Hope and Glory”.
2.  In 2014, Boorman wrote and directed a sequel called “Queen and Country” which has Billy as a soldier in Britain during the Korean War.
3.  The newsreel footage is from the movie “Battle of Britain”.
4.  A 650 foot street was constructed with 17 houses.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  5.0
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #52
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes
Rotten Tomatoes  =  no 

OPINION:  “Hope and Glory” is one of the best movies depicting the effects of war on children. Everything Billy experiences feels real. The excitement, instead of fear, is apparent. The school and gang scenes are authentic. It also does an excellent job showing the variety of effects on different family members. The characters are vivid and human. The actors help make them so. Special kudos to Sarah Miles (the mother), Ian Bannen (grandpa), and Davis (Dawn, the loose daughter) . The child actors are strong.  This is a wonderful little movie. The best word to describe the humor is it is “droll”. Not laugh out loud. More smile out loud. There is no better movie about the Blitz from a family point of view. There are few movies about the home front in any war better than “Hope and Glory”.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

NETFLIX STREAMING: The Wolf’s Call (2019)



                        “The Wolf’s Call” (Le Chant du Loup) is a French submarine movie.  It was written and directed by Antonin Baudry.  He seems to have read some Tom Clancey.  The film is set in the near future and fits in with  recent modern sub movies.  It is currently appearing on Netflix streaming.  Unfortunately, it is dubbed, although not badly.

                          The movie leads with: “Humans come in three types:  the living, the dead, and those who go to sea.”  If you are the first type and want to see a movie about the third, this may be the movie for you.  Or just watch “Jaws”.  The Titan is on a mission to recover some French commandoes who are doing some business in Syria.  Complications ensue when an Iranian frigate arrives and starts pinging them using a sonar boom lowered by a helicopter.  They refer to the sonar as “the wolf’s call”.  A depth charging forces them to the surface, but not to worry, they happen to carry an RPG on board.  It’s not as silly as it sounds.  It turns out the main character is the acoustics expert Chanteraide (Francois Civil).  He’s like an acoustics savant.  He can tell you if a dolphin is male or female.  He could swear he was picking up a stealthy Russian sub aiding the frigate, but no one believes him.  He’s in need of some redemption.  But first he’s in need for some romance and some skullduggery.

                        When they return to port, Capt. Grandchamp (Reda Kateb) is promoted to skipper of a new ballistic sub called Formidable.  His exec D’Orsi (Omar Si) takes command of the Titan.  This is going to get awkward as the Russians invade Finland (again) and the Formidable is sent just in case and the Titan is its escort.  Things get hairy when a Russian sub launches a nuke at France and the Formidable is ordered to retaliate.  If you’ve seen “Fail Safe”, you know where this is headed.

                        “The Wolf’s Call” avoids most of the submarine clichés.  There is a commando raid, but it is not a big part of the plot and is merely an excuse to introduce future plot elements and lead off with some action.  There’s no significant depth charging.   There’s no command dysfunction.  What it does have is the ridiculously over the top action of modern sub movies.  And this escalates in silliness to reach a blazing finale.  It’s no more ridiculous than “Hunt for Red October” and “Crimson Tide”, and much better than “Phantom”. 

                        Baudry does a competent job directing.  He must have gotten some cooperation from the French navy because those are real subs surfacing and diving.  The underwater CGI is fine and not distracting.  The interiors are realistic and operational procedures are nicely done.  The acting is adequate.  Apparently, Omar Si is a major star in France.  Civil is hunky, but you won’t mistake him for Tom Cruise.  He spends a good bit of time listening on ear phones and looking like a student who is trying hard to look like he is thinking about the correct answer.  Everyone keeps a straight face throughout the escalating mayhem.  The movie has no humor in it.  Not intentional humor, anyway.  I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to laugh when D’Orsi approaches the Formidable using a diver propulsion device and carrying a hammer for communication purposes.

                        If you found “Fail Safe” to be too cerebral, “The Wolf’s Call” may be for you.  It has some nice twists and is not totally predictable.  It also differs from most of its ilk by not being afraid to kill off major characters.  I won’t tell you whether it kills off France.

GRADE  =  B-   



Saturday, June 29, 2019

CONSENSUS #67. Hell’s Angels (1930)




SYNOPSIS: "Hell's Angels" is a Howard Hughes' directed film set in WWI. It is the story of two brothers (Ben Lyon, James Hall) - a boring hero and a playboy coward. A loose woman (Jean Harlow) is thrown in to provide a love triangle. The brothers join the RAF and become fighter pilots. They volunteer for a suicide mission to bomb a German munitions plant.  The movie is very famous for its dogfighting scene.

BACK-STORY: “Hell’s Angels” is a WWI aerial combat war movie released in 1930 and memorably directed by Howard Hughes in his debut. The production is legendary. The movie was intended to be Hughes’ answer to “Wings”, but the advent of “talkies” prompted him to convert it to sound at great additional cost. At around $4 million, it was the most expensive motion picture released to that date. The switch to sound also necessitated the dumping of the thickly accented Greta Nissan with Jean Harlow. Hughes insisted on going big so the famous dogfight scene used 70 pilots (many of them WWI vets) and many actual WWI biplanes. Three of the pilots died in filming and Hughes himself crashed and broke some bones filming a sequence none of the pilots would agree to attempt. The movie had one of the grandest openings ever at Grauman’s Theater and was a hit although it had difficulty recouping the cost.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb
1.  The movie was originally to be a silent picture, but during production “The Jazz Singer” came out and producer Howard Hughes decided to convert it to a talkie.  This supposedly meant reshooting half the film, but you can see in some scenes that they just synched the sound with the earlier footage.  The change to sound meant that the original Helen, Greta Nissen, was out because of her Norwegian accent.  Hughes brought on the unknown eighteen-year old Jean Harlow.  Harlow brought a lot of charisma and sex appeal, but little acting ability.  Even personal coaching by the director and Hughes only marginally improved her performance.  Males in the audience did not care.
2.  Hughes directed the aerial scenes from a plane above using radio control.
3.  The main stunt pilot was Paul Mantz.  He was a daredevil but he and all the others refused to do a dangerous stunt involving pulling out of a steep strafing dive.  Hughes took on the stunt himself and proceeded to crash suffering a skull fracture and requiring several days in a hospital for facial surgery.  But he showed them! 
4.  Three pilots and a mechanic were killed during the production. 
5.  Hughes sued “The Dawn Patrol” for plagiarism in an attempt to delay its release until after “Hell’s Angels” came out first.  He failed as “The Dawn Patrol” rushed post-production and won the law suit. 
6.  It was nominated for Cinematography.
7.  It was the most expensive film up to that time.  It cost a whopping $2.8 million. 
8.  It was the top box office hit in 1930, but not enough to cover the cost.
9.   Hughes used 72 pilots and 65 mechanics.
10.  They shot 250 feet of film for every foot used in the movie.
11.  50,000 people showed up for the premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. 
12.  The movie famously took advantage of the lack of enforcement of the movie code.  The Hays Code did not kick in until 1934.  In the movie, pilots say terrible things like “don’t be an ass” and “son of a bosch” and of course, there is Miss Harlow’s wardrobe.  The infamous line “Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?” would not have been allowed in 1934.
Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  4.4
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #43
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no
Rotten Tomatoes  =  no 

OPINION:   “Hell’s Angels” is a special movie. It was revolutionary at the time and still stands out today. The Zeppelin scene and the dogfight are iconic. You have to admire Hughes for his commitment to making a great war movie. While the plot keeps it from being outstanding, it is certainly memorable. It was a grand effort by Hughes and the film belongs in the trio of significant WWI air combat movies with “Dawn Patrol” and “Wings”. As far as the ranking at #67, that seems overrated. Although entertaining in a hokey sort of way and marked by some remarkable scenes, it is not better than a lot of movies that did not make the list.  I would not put it in the top 100.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

PICTURE, QUOTE, MOVIE


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

My robe, Antoninus. My taste includes both snails and oysters.

3.  What movie is this? 


It was the first significant WWII movie to come out after the war and it proved there was still an audience for war films provided they were excellent and realistic.  The film wisely avoided the flag-waving of pictures made during the war.  Because of the timing and the grittiness, the studio was skeptical about its potential and it almost was not made.  The suits proved wrong as the movie was a huge hit and is now considered a classic.  It was released in 1949 and directed by William Wellman (“Wings”, “The Story of G.I. Joe”).  Robert Pirosh based the script on his own experiences in the Battle of the Bulge.  Twenty members of the 101st Airborne were used as extras.  They were put through acting boot camp.  The movie won Academy Awards for Cinematography and Screenplay (Pirosh).  It was nominated for Picture, Director, Editing, and Supporting Actor (James Whitmore).  Gen. Anthony McAuliffe vetted the script and joined Pres. Truman for a private showing. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

TLD WANNABE: Anzio (1968)




          “Anzio” came out in 1968 in the middle of the blockbuster, all-star epic battle string started by “The Longest Day”.  Since D-Day had been done already, someone decided the disastrous invasion of Anzio in Italy would bring audiences flocking to theaters.  American love to see defeat!  It was produced by the king of cheap big budget movies – Dino De Laurentiis.  His name in the credits is the first red flag.  The movie needed two directors – Edward Dmytryk (Back to Bataan) and Duilio Coletti (Hell Raiders of the Deep).  This reflects the American – Italian cooperation which consisted of American actors and Italian everything else, including locations.   The movie was loosely based on the book Anzio by British war correspondent Wynford Vaughn-Thomas.  Robert Mitchum plays the correspondent character.  Peter Falk was brought in as second-billed, but wanted out after finding the script to be too cliched.  De Laurentiis promised him his name above the title and allowed him to rewrite his lines.  He also apparently allowed him to ham it up.  Wolfgang Preiss was cast as Field Marshall Kesselring, cementing his iconic stature as the go-to actor for portraying German generals.  Incredibly, the opening song “This World is Yours” was pushed by the studio.

                        The movie opens with the most bizarre song in war movie history.  Topping even the one in “Kelly's Heroes”.  Actually, at least it has something to do with war.  (See the lyrics below).  But wait, it gets worse. Cynical reporter Dick Ennis (Mitchum) gets embedded with a Ranger unit that consists of boisterous American boys who party as hard as they fight.  One of them, Cpl. Jack Rabinoff (Falk) is first seen with three Italian babes in the back of an ambulance.  The Rangers have to cut short their carousing to invade Anzio.  The invasion is unopposed.  In fact, there are no people anywhere near. It’s a ghost beachhead!  Ennis and Rabinoff jump into a jeep, and with birds chirping, drive into Rome.  That was easy.  Unfortunately, Gen. Leslie (Arthur Kennedy) decides it’s too easy and he needs to build up his forces first.  On the other side of the coin, Field Marshall Preiss, I mean Kesselring, rushes forces to the hills around the beachhead and the cork is in the bottle.  It will be up to the Rangers to lead the breakout.  The movie shifts to a small unit combat film and then to a “lost patrol” movie.  The first gunfire comes at the 55 minute mark, in case you want to fast-forward.

                        I’ll skip over the rant about who the hell green-lit a movie about Anzio.  Let’s concentrate on how bad the movie is.  For a big budget film, it looks cheap.  We first meet Ennis standing in front of a the fakest background painting ever.  The sets are also fake looking.  The one-minute shore bombardment preceding the invasion is clearly of a model.  The acting performances match the production.  The movie is painful to watch.  Falk might have written his own lines, but no one forced him to chew the scenery.  It’s almost like he didn’t want to be in the movie and decided to sabotage it.  Mitchum is stiff, but he doesn’t have to lift much to take your eyes off the rest of the less-than-stellar cast.  All-star is definitely an exaggeration.  Good violence could have overcome the flaws of the narrative, but that doesn’t happen.  Halfway through, the movie shifts to combat mode, but it is second-rate.

                        First, the movie reenacts the Battle of Cisterna where the Rangers get ambushed.  The deaths are of the touchdown-signal twirling variety. In this respect, the movie is similar to the similarly lame “Battle of the Bulge”.  This scene features perhaps the greatest fall in war movie history.  Mitchum does a swan dive into a shell-hole while maintaining his cigarette.  “They don’t shoot dead people” he says when asked if he’s hurt. It turns out he was just faking it!  Later, the survivors of the ambush get pinned down by snipers in an otherwise deserted area of Italy.  There’s also the mine field scene.  And the hiding in a farm house scene.  And the big explosive finale.  This all sounds great, right?  Watch a Korean war film instead.

                        The only redeeming factor is the movie gets the basics of Operation Shingle right.  In an eight grade textbook sort of way.  (See below)  Since it came out in the middle of the Vietnam War, it focuses on command buffoonery and Anzio cannot be topped if you want that theme.  However, the movie bludgeons you with it’s ‘war is hell” preaching.  Did you know that there is no such thing as a good war? “Men kill because they like to.”  Ennis joins the club when he first picks up a weapon and kills.  This theme would have worked better if it was not stuffed with cheese.

                        In conclusion, if you thought “Battle of the Bulge” was a misfire (and you’d be right), imagine a half-ass version of it.  At least “Battle” had Robert Shaw and tanks.

GRADE =  D

The World Is Yours” by Doc Pomus (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter);  sung by Jack Jones

                        Where have you gone you bright-eyed gentle dreamer
                        Where is the man you thought you knew so well
                        When did you change into a fearsome soldier
                        Who finally found the war is necessary evil
                        When did you learn how much life is worth living
                        And that his land is worth everything you’re giving
                        Are you so brave and are you so cold-hearted
                        Or was it fear that started that rage inslde you
                        [chorus
                        This world is yours, you men who found no answers
                        You lost your dream, who lost your way and went to war 
                        And this world is yours, all you men
                        Take the land, take the sea, It’s yours!

HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  Operation Shingle was the brainchild of Winston Churchill (he of Gallipoli fame).  He thought second time was the charm for an outflanking invasion to change the course of the war.  In this case, the Anglo-Americans were butting their heads against the Gustav Line and the liberation of Rome seemed far away.  The idea was to land a force behind the Germans and cut off their retreat as well as quickly march on Rome.  Commanding general Mark Clark was skeptical and he chose an even more skeptical Gen. Lucas to carry out the plan.  As shown in the movie, the landing was virtually unopposed.  Lesley in the movie represents Lucas and is a caricature, but Lucas was indeed a terrible general in this operation. Lucas was the opposite of Patton.  Instead of quickly pushing inland with the aid of surprise, he hunkered down on a beach that featured marshy ground and surrounding hills.  The exact opposite of what Churchill had intended.  “I had hoped we were hurling a wildcat onto the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale.”  There was a jeep patrol that drove all the way to Rome early on, but Lucas did not want to risk moving until the beachhead was totally secured.  To make matters worse, he faced one of Germany’s best.  Kesselring immediately rushed forces to bottle up the beachhead and soon the Americans were stuck and under constant bombardment.  Lucas had no answer to this Dien Bien Phu situation and was eventually relieved of command by his boss Clark.  (When Lucas visited Anzio veteran Audie Murphy on one of his sets, Murphy saluted him, but refused to shake his hand.)  Speaking of bad leaders, Clark was one.  He did not prod Lucas.  Lucas did eventually try to bludgeon his way out which led to the Battle of Cisterna.  A Ranger battalion led the attack and got surrounded. Only 6 of 767 returned to the American lines.  I don’t need to tell you that the big explosive destruction of the construction site is pure bull shit.  The actual breakout was less cinematic and involved slugging our way out. Then Clark shifted the offensive toward the publicity jewel of Rome instead of cutting off the German retreat from the Gustav Line.  A documentary would do a better job than this movie if you wanted to show the incompetence of the Anzio campaign. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

CONSENSUS #68. Three Kings (1999)




SYNOPSIS:  In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, a quartet of bored American soldiers (George Clooney, Mark Wahlburg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze) find a map to a horde of Iraqi gold and decided to pull a heist behind enemy lines.  In the process, they encounter Iraqi soldiers still loyal to Saddam Hussein and dissidents intent on his overthrow.  The trek is fraught with escapades and ends with the newly altruistic Americans helping some refugees find haven.

BACK-STORY:  Three Kings” is a black comedy directed by David O. Russell.  It is his only war film.  He made it for $48 million and it made over $100 million.  He filmed in the deserts of Arizona, California, and Mexico.  The movie used numerous Iraqi refugees as extras.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, mental floss
 The movie originated with John Ridley challenging himself to write and sell a script in a short time.  He wrote “Spoils of War” in a week and sold it in eighteen days.  Director David O. Russell was intrigue by the description “heist set in the Gulf War” and claimed he never actually read the script.  Apparently he used just the concept and wrote the movie’s script from scratch.  He did not consult with Ridley which created some bad blood.  Ridley had to settle for a “story by” credit. 
Russell wrote the Ving character with Spike Jonze in mind, even though Jonze had never acted in a movie.
 The first thought for Gates was Clint Eastwood, but he was too old.  Nicholas Cage was going to do it, but ended up doing “Bringing Out the Dead” instead.  Clooney campaigned for the role so he could break out of “ER”.  Russell was skeptical, but got worn down.
 There was a lot of conflict between Russell and Clooney on the set.  Russell tended to be hard on the crew and extras and Clooney took on the role of defender of the little guys.  It got so bad that they got into a fist-fight towards the end.
 The show-stopping shot of a bullet going through a body originated from a conversation Russell had with a doctor.  Russell asked him what the worst wound he ever saw was.
Russell went a little loopy during an interview and told Newsweek that the shot used a real corpse.  The studio got a complaint from a mortician’s organization.
Clooney loves to play pranks and one was catapulting an apple using a car antenna which hit Nora Dunn in the face.
Pres. Clinton requested and got a private screening at the White House.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  N/A
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #50
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes
Rotten Tomatoes  =   #37 (100 rating)

OPINION:  The movie is very entertaining. It came out after “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Thin Red Line” and joined them in juicing up the war movie genre for modern audiences.   It is different and more unorthodox than those other films. It is the MTV version of war. It’s a war movie for the new generation, "Three Kings" is the modern equivalent of "Kelly's Heroes".  The movie is not just eye candy. The acting is stellar from the ensemble. Even the novice Jonze holds his own. Clooney’s charismatic performance conclusively proves that his decision to jump from TV was a wise one. Wahlberg cemented his status as a major star. More importantly, the screenplay is thought-provoking. It does not preach, but makes it clear that the period at the end of the Persian Gulf War was a messed up situation and the U.S. should not be proud of our role in the Iraqi Insurrection. In some ways it is a biting satire of the military and the media. Although the bigger picture is conveyed, the movie dwells at the human interest level. It depicts how government decisions affect civilians.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

CLASSIC or ANTIQUE? Minesweeper (1943)



                        In its attempt to lionize every branch of the military in WWII, Hollywood finally got around to minesweeping in this 1943 B-film.  It was directed by William Berke and it is his only war movie.  It is also the only war film to feature minesweeping.  I doubt we will ever see another.

                        The movie opens, predictably, with “Anchors Aweigh” playing over the credits.  Also not surprising is the credit to the cooperation of the U.S. Navy.  It provided a technical adviser – Commander Louis Gwinn.  He helped with the screenplay, although that was probably not something he told his grandkids about.  The story begins with hoboes on a train.  It’s the Great Depression after all.  One of the bums is a deserter from the peacetime navy.  Lt. Richard Houston (Richard Arlen) went AWOL because it was the only way to pay off his gambling debts.  News of Pearl Harbor convinces alias “Tennessee” Smith that the war will not be won by hoboes.  He enlists under his new name.  He befriends Chief Petty Officer “Fixit” Smith (that’s right, the two main characters have the same last name!) and wants to be more than just friends with his niece Mary (Jean Parker).  This being a 1940s war movie, Tennessee will be in a love triangle with Seaman Nash (Russell Hayden).  Speaking of clichés, Tennessee goes through boot camp, but at least it’s different than most cinematic boot camps as it includes semaphore.  They do have rifle practice and before you ask why, they might have to shoot mines, duh.  Specifically, mines in San Diego harbor.  Tennessee decides to seal the deal with Mary by buying her a nice wedding ring.  But where to get the money?  How about from his addictive gambling?  He’ll have to go AWOL again to find a game.  Someone will have to cover for him and take his place on a dangerous minesweeping operation.  This will lead to drama and eventually to redemption.  And a solution to the love triangle by subtraction.

                        Sorry minesweeping fans, but your movie is rather lame.  And forgettable.  It is a waste of time, but at least its short – only 66 minutes.  Actually, it would be better if it had been longer.  Maybe then we could have gotten a true tutorial on minesweeping.  The boot camp and minesweeping scenes are truncated.  Weirdly, for a movie supported by the Navy which presumably was hoping for a recruiting bump, the movie does not appeal to hoboes hoping to serve their country.  Unless they had a death wish.  Two of the three main characters die.  You do have a chance at glory in this service, however.  Ask Tennessee, who singlehandedly solved the problem of Japanese mines blocking San Diego harbor.  Don’t ask why Tennessee’s minesweeper is in port the whole movie (he sleeps each night on shore) while the war wages throughout the Pacific and Atlantic.

                        “Minesweeper” might deserve an F, but it is inoffensive and that would be insensitive to the real minesweepers.  It is low budget and it shows.  The acting is average.  The love triangle is lacking in chemistry.  The cinematography is the stand in front of a screen type.  And the underwater scenes are murky, like a bad submarine movie.  It reminds me of 1943’s “Destroyer” which had similar weaknesses, but had Edward G. Robinson and Glenn Ford.  That’s a big difference.

GRADE  =  D

Sunday, June 16, 2019

CONSENSUS #69 Beau Geste (1939)



SYNOPSIS: Three brothers (Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Robert Preston), one of whom has stolen a precious jewel,  go off to join the French Foreign Legion in North Africa. Two of them get caught in a desert fort that is surrounded by Berber tribesmen laying siege. The defenders are led by a tyrannical sergeant (Brian Donlevy). It's a last stand with a mystery thrown in.

BACK-STORY: This is the 1939 version of the oft-made action/adventure film. Obviously it is considered to be the 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 in Beau Geste go to Brian Donlevy as the sadistic Markoff. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

TRIVIA:  imdb

1.  It was filmed on the same sets and in the same Arizona locations as the 1926 version.
2.  In 1990, it was one of several classic films from 1939 that were honored with $.25 stamps.  The others were Stagecoach, Gone With the Wind, and Wizard of Oz.
3.  Buttercup Valley was renamed Beau Geste Valley because the two movies were shot there.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  4.4
War Movies         =  3.8
Military History  =  #52
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no 
Rotten Tomatoes  =  no


OPINION: Beau Geste is old school entertainment. Check your intellect at the door, it will get in the way of your enjoyment of the film. Dont think too much about the details after viewing, it might wipe the smile off your face and replace it with a look of perplexion.  The movie is very well acted. You would expect that from this cast. It especially works because the trio of Cooper, Preston, and Milland are adept at comedy. Their chemistry is apparent. It looks like the actors had fun making the movie.  The key to making the movie a classic is the mystery that is integral to the plot. This makes it a rare war movie that doubles as a whodunit. The mystery is well done and the resolution will surprise most viewers. The structure of flash-backs and flash-forwards greatly enhances the mystery.  However, it seems a bit overrated at  #69.  Relative to modern war movies, it is a bit quaint.  But it is better than the 1966 version.  Newer is not always better.

Friday, June 14, 2019

PICTURE, QUOTE, MOVIE QUIZ #61


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

Colonel Von Luger, it is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape. If they cannot escape, then it is their sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them, and their sworn duty to harass the enemy to the best of their ability. 

3.  What movie is this?

This biopic is a silent classic written, directed, produced, and acted in by Abel Gance.  It is a French film that was released in 1927.  It was planned as the first of six episodes, but only the first was made because of cost.  Just this first one was originally over six hours long (in one of the many versions).  In spite of its importance in cinema history it did not do well in the U.S., partly because audiences were making the transition to “talkies”.  The film rose from the dead in 1981 when after twenty years of searching the world for copies of the movie, silent film historian Kevin Brownlow (the first film historian to win an Academy Award) restored the movie.  Recently it was shown in Oakland sponsored by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival to rave reviews.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

WAR DOC: The Cold Blue (2018)




                With the ending of “Game of Thrones”, people have been considering cancelling their subscriptions to HBO.  Let me assure you, there is more to HBO than GoT.  I originally subscribed because of “Band of Brothers” and stayed with it through “The Pacific” and “Generation Kill”.  Before that, HBO gave us one of the best WWII movies – “When Trumpets Fade”.   I’ll hang onto my subscription as I wait for the series on the 8th Air Force.  Meanwhile, to tide war movie fans over, HBO provides us with a magnificent documentary on the bomber crews of the 8th.  Recently, fifteen hours of footage shot by William Wyler’s cinematographers in 1943 were discovered in the vaults of the National Archives.  The footage was comprehensive and included life at the bases and in the air.  Wyler and his three cinematographers flew on many dangerous missions.  Wyler (“Mrs. Miniver”) used the footage for his acclaimed documentary “The Memphis Belle:  A Story of a Flying Fortress”, which was released in 1944 and wowed audiences with its color photography.  Director Erik Nelson restored the footage and interviewed nine veterans. 

                The documentary begins with a reference to the “Memphis Belle”, but once the connection is made, the film becomes an tribute to all the bomber crews.  It is structured around chapters on various aspects of the veterans’ experiences.  There is no narration, but Nelson does provide title cards giving interesting facts and background information.  Some of the “chapters” are on topics like pre-flight, briefing, take-off, forming up, testing guns, flak, the bomb run, fighters, and the return.  Even the ground crews get their due.  The memories of the vets are coordinated with the footage flawlessly.  And we don’t see repetitive footage like in many similar documentaries.  All of it is color, and not colorized.  The visuals are stunning, especially the aerial views.  There is an ode to contrails.  It seems incongruous that war can be so beautiful, but the shots of the ground and the bombers in formation are amazing.  Nelson’s addition of the sounds of aerial combat and the mainly orchestral score complete the picture.
                  
                 I’m sure the 8th Air Force series will be very entertaining, but it might not be as informative as this doc.  Nelson does not hammer away at the various topics, but some themes develop.  One is that war requires young men because they do not think anything will happen to them.  This despite the title cards telling us that the chances of reaching 25 mission like the Memphis Belle did were not good.  It wasn’t just death that claimed the men, the conditions included freezing temperatures that made frost bite a problem.  The vets speak movingly about mates who were wounded and killed.  Another theme is the crew were like family and they all worked together to do their duty.  The documentary makes it clear that death was random and unpredictable.  At least you were with your mates, but it was very tough to see other bomber crews go down.  One of the veterans chokes up remembering a friend who died the day his son was born.  An unexpected theme is that the men did not care about the damage they were doing.  It was a job and the German people were on the receiving end of it.  Their comments covers footage of homeless Germans and their bombed-out cities.  The documentary finishes strong with interviews with the veterans so we get to see these remarkable men.  (They are all in their nineties now.)  Naturally, they don’t claim to be heroes, but the documentary belies that.  Although one of them charmingly points out that if he was a hero, he would have reupped.

                Considering its mission statement, “The Cold Blue” could not be better.  It is as close to perfect as any could expect.  In a nice touch, the film is dedicated not only to the 28,000 men who gave their lives, but specifically Harold Tannenbaum.  He was one of Wyler’s cinematographers.  His bomber went down over France.  That footage was lost, but his and the other two cinematographers was enough to put together this great documentary.  If you have HBO, you paid for it.  It’s worth the subscription. 

GRADE =  A+