Monday, April 29, 2019

CHINESE SPECIAL FORCES: Operation Red Sea (2018)

                “Operation Red Sea” is a Chinese war movie loosely base on the rescue of 225 foreign nationals and 600 Chinese civilians during the 2015 Yemeni Civil War.  Chinese special forces participated in the operation.  The movie was timed to the 90th Anniversary of the Peoples’ Liberation Army.  It was directed by Dante Lam, who had been an assistant director under action icon John Woo.  The apprenticeship shows in this movie.  It has been described as China’s “first modern naval film”.

                The movie begins in the Gulf of Aden in 2015.  Somali pirates capture a Chinese cargo ship and hold the crew for ransom.  Their leader wears an eye patch, but he does not have a parrot on his shoulder.  The Jiaolong Assault Team (basically the equivalent of Navy SEALs) is sent in.  The movie does not bother with the negotiation or planning stages.  Who cares?  We’re here for the action.  And that action includes super slo-mo.  So slow that we see the entire trip of bullets.  Now that the aperitif is downed, it’s time for the main meal and it will have several courses.  There is an ISIS type terrorist group called Zaka that will have to be dealt with.  They are trying to get yellow cake to build a dirty bomb.  A female reporter named Xia is hot on the trail.  She will link up with the eight-person (one of them is a woman) commando unit, but first they have to rescue the Chinese embassy staff from an ambush.  Then survive their own ambush.  Then rescue a Chinese diplomat from a village full of Zaka.  Not subtly.  Then stop the acquisition of the yellow cake by Zaka’s Bin Laden.  There’s a little talking in between the set pieces.

                “Operation Red Sea” is combat porn, but it is done with flair and a big budget.  There are breathers shoe-horned in, but the movie is basically a series of gonzo action scenes.  There is a very high percentage of action in this film.  Although supposedly based on actual events, it jumps the reality fence early and never looks back.  In some ways it copies from American special forces movies, but adds the Asian action that John Woo is famous for.  And where an American SEAL movie might have two missions, this movie has four.  More is better, right.  There are two ambushes.  There are two sniper duels.  The violence is graphic and unrelenting.  So unrelenting that no one has time to reload.  Which is good, because they don’t seem to carry any extra ammo.  As is required in movies like this, each action scene has to top the last.  Before the audience can limp out of the theater, they got a tank chase/duel!  They also got to marvel at the technology the Chinese military has for battling terrorism.  For instance, they have a mini-drone that can be maneuvered over bad guys to explode onto them.  Twice.

                You won’t get much character development, but at least the names of the commandoes is flashed on the screen when they first appear.  (Nice touch for those of us who had a hard time telling them apart.)  The movie does have two strong female characters.  Xia is the feisty investigative reporter (outside China, of course) and she is capable of morphing into an action hero.  Tong Li is the female operative and she holds her own with the guys.  She’s the Vasquez (“Aliens”) of the group.  The acting is good and they are not forced to say mindless snark.  The movie may be over the top, but it is not silly.  It clearly is meant to laud the Chinese navy, but it is not overly propagandistic.

                I don’t know whether to compliment the Chinese for copying American movies.  Why should our plots be off limits when everything else isn’t?  You will recognize cribbing from “Black Hawk Down”,  “Act of Valor”, “Lone Survivor”, and “American Sniper”.  This movie might not be in a league with those movies, but it puts China in the game.  I still prefer South Korean war movies, but the Chinese have some potential.  And if their special forces are like the movie depicts, we don’t want to fight them.  By the way, the last scene has a Chinese fleet warning American ship to stay out of Chinese waters.

                “Operation Red Sea” is an entertaining action extravaganza for guys.  Even with the two female characters, it is as far from a chick-flick as you can get.  If you are not a big fan of reality and prefer ammo-expenditure, explosions, slaughter of terrorists, and tanks dueling in a sand storm, it is a movie for you.  Just don’t watch it as a documentary of how the Chinese military evacuated civilians from Yemen in 2015.

GRADE  =  B    

Saturday, April 27, 2019

CONSENSUS 76. Oh! What a Lovely War

SYNOPSIS:  Oh! What a Lovely War” is a unique war musical.  Based on a play, it was directed with flair by Richard Attenborough.  The movie intercuts between the five Smith brothers who are enthusiastic volunteers, but soon to be cannon fodder, and the generals and leader who put them in the trenches.  The script mixes a large number of period songs and actual quotes from the historical figures who were to blame for Great War being so horrendous.  The cast is filled with familiar British stars.

BACK-STORY:  “Oh! What a Lovely War” was the child of author Len Deighton.  He became enthused with the project after he saw the hit play “Oh What a Lovely War” by the esteemed Joan Littlewood.  Littlewood had adapted a radio play by Charles Chilton entitled “The Long Long Trail”.  Chilton used only period music and quotes.  Deighton wrote his screenplay along with producing.  In a fit of pique over others wanting credits for work they did not do (including Attenborough getting a producing credit he did not earn), he had his name removed from the screenwriting credit.  Attenborough was chosen over Gene Kelly to direct even though it was his debut.  Deighton insisted Attenborough agree not to make any changes in the script.  A promise he kept.  Historian A.J.P. Taylor acted as historical consultant on both the play and the movie.  Most of the movie was filmed on the West Pier in Brighton.

TRIVIA:  wikipedia, imdb
1.  Because the Beatles were interested in making an anti-war movie, Paul McCartney met with producer Len Deighton about playing the Smith boys.  It could not be arranged.
2.  The 16,000 crosses for the final scene were put in pre-dug holes.
3.  The song “La Chanson de Craonne” is about the French army mutiny of 1917.  The singing of it was deemed an act of mutiny and it was banned in France in 1974.  The French government offered a million franc reward for revealing the author of the song.
4.  No one is shown dying in the film.  There is no blood.
5.  The trench scenes were shot at Brighton Municipal Rubbish Dump, in spite of the stench.
6.  The song “The Moon Shines Bright on Charlie Chaplin” was part of a campaign in Great Britain to criticize him for not volunteering for the war.  Actually, Chaplin was turned down because he was puny.
7.  Every time a poppy appears, someone dies.  Starting with Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
8.  There are 37 songs in the movie. 
Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  3.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #40
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes

OPINION:  As you can see above, “Oh! What a Lovely War” is not a well-known war movie.  This is perplexing because it is the best in its subgenre of war musicals.  It is one of the most clearly anti-war films ever made.  If you know little of WWI, this movie will fill in some of the gaps.  It is also a great primer on WWI songs.  It belongs much higher on the list, but I am happy that it made the list at all.

Thursday, April 25, 2019


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

Labiche! Here's your prize, Labiche. Some of the greatest paintings in the world. Does it please you, Labiche? Give you a sense of excitement in just being near them? A painting means as much to you as a string of pearls to an ape. You won by sheer luck: you stopped me without knowing what you were doing, or why. You are nothing, Labiche -- a lump of flesh. The paintings are mine; they always will be; beauty belongs to the man who can appreciate it! They will always belong to me or to a man like me. Now, this minute, you couldn't tell me why you did what you did.

3.  What movie is this?

  It is based on the book by Howard Fast.  The star was fascinated by the novel and wanted to ease his disappointment over losing the starring role in “Ben Hur”.  When Fast proved unable to make the jump to screenwriter, noted commie Dalton Trumbo was brought in.  This was a daring move as Trumbo was, at that time, blacklisted as a member of the Hollywood Ten.  He had run afoul of the House Unamerican Activities Committee during McCarthyism and was writing screenplays under pseudonyms.  After completion of the film, the star insisted Trumbo be credited by his real name – a move that ended the blacklisting movement. Kudos!   The first director (Anthony Mann) did not meet the stars’ standards so he was replaced.  It was not exactly smooth sailing after the change.  The massive egos of the stars made each scene difficult.  The director looked back on the film with far from fond memories.  Based on his recollections, you would think the movie was terrible.  He wanted the movie to be more gritty and less a hagiography.  He wanted more battle scenes, but test audiences reacted negatively (boo!).  The movie was the most expensive to date ($12 million). 

Monday, April 22, 2019

2018 MOVIE - Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero

                        “Sgt. Stubby” is the rare animated film based on a true story and the rarer animated war movie and the even rarer animated war movie based on a true story.  This separates it from “Chicken Run” and “Valiant”.  Another thing that separates it is it is not a comedy.  It is the story of a dog named Stubby who went from homeless to hero in WWI.  Stubby became a newspaper celebrity after the war, but had been largely forgotten since then.  The movie attempts to bring him to a modern audience, of kids.  It is a computer animated feature.  The first major one that was based on a true story.  It was co-written and directed by Richard Lanni and produced in Montreal and Paris.  A low budget film ($25 million) with little marketing, it bombed.  The lack of box office was partly attributed to competition from the behemoth “Rampage” and the oxygen-sucking “Isle of Dogs”.  It and Stubby deserved better.  It did garner recognition at numerous film festivals.

                        The movie opens in 1917 with the U.S. preparing for war.  A homeless bull terrier is befriended by a recruit named Conroy (Logan Lerman) in a training camp.  Stubby’s first big obstacle is overcome by Conroy teaching him to salute.  This makes him a better soldier than Conroy and his mates, according to the commanding officer.  His mates are a German-American named Schroeder and a dog-hater named Olsen.  The second obstacle is solved by stowing away on the troop ship.  They end up in the trenches with a French poilu named Gaston (Gerard Depardieu) as their tutor.  He shows them the ropes.  They, and today’s four-year olds, learn about life in the trenches (there are cute rats that try to eat their food!)  They also learn that war is heck with its artillery bombardments and poison gas.  The doughboys used bolt-action rifles.  They used periscopes to look out the trench.  Stubby proves adept at locating wounded soldiers, alerting about poison gas, and capturing spies.  He even saves a whole village.  That dog is magnifique!
                        “Sgt. Stubby” should have a future for middle school substitute teacher days.  At least the kids would learn something.  It hits the headlines of Stubby’s bio (see Historical Accuracy section below).  The tutoring is done in a kid-friendly way, but the facts are effectively chronicled.  The movie is surprisingly accurate although hardly realistic.  No man’s land is not a particularly scary place and the trench is like you want your four-year old’s room to be.  Why can’t your room look like a WWI trench?  To its credit, the film does feature a bombed out church.

                          Stubby is rendered as cute and charming, but he is not anthropomorphic.  He does not talk and he has no special powers.  He cannot talk.  He whimpers well.  Kudos to the voice actor.  The rest of the cast is fine.  Helena Bonham Carter voices Conroy’s sister.  The framing device is her narration (which is a nice touch because you wonder if Conroy survives).  Gerard Depardieu provides the French accent for Gaston.

                         As usual with computer generated, the dog looks more life-like than the humans.  Overall, the animation is fine.  They thrown in some cool animated maps to give the audience some geographical perspective.  Did you know that the Chemins des Dames is near Soissons?  It’s not Pixar, but it matches the material.  Balto goes to the Western Front.  The animation also matches the PG depiction of the war.  The trenches are pristine (and amazingly vacant) and there are little of the aspects of the war that made it so horrific.  The movie is more about the bond of a man and his dog than it is about man’s inhumanity toward man.  It does not rain and there is little mud on this Western Front, for instance.  Your children may get the impression that WWI was pretty cool if you had your pet with you.  However, there is a death thrown in at the end to give some perspective.  And you may have to explain that poison gas is unlikely to be used in your neighborhood.

                        In conclusion, “Sgt. Stubby” is effective edutainment.  Kids will like it and parents will not feel cloyed at.  It even includes a cameo from George Patton and his tanks so war movie buffs can show off their knowledge.  Kids, you know who that is?  But you won’t have to tell them who Sgt. Stubby was, the movie will do that nicely.

HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  Stubby was the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, 26th Infantry Division (as called in the movie – The Yankee Division).  He was either a Bull Terrier or Boston Terrier that hooked up with a training unit in Massachusetts in 1917 after America’s entry.  Robert Conroy adopted the dog and taught him to salute, which impressed the leadership enough to allow him to stick around.  He stuck around for the full 18 months and 17 battles.  He became the most decorated war dog of WWI.  The movie does not cover all seventeen battles, but it does begin at the Chemins des Dames and ends in the Argonne.  The maps are very helpful with this.

                        It manages to catch most of Stubby’s resume.  He did get wounded by grenade fragments in a raid on Seicheprey.  He did warn of poison gas attacks and was eventually given his own gas mask (but not until after being a victim).  Saving the village was an exaggeration, but he was given his chamois coat by villagers.  He did warn of artillery bombardments with his doggie senses.  He did locate wounded soldiers in no man’s land.  And he apparently did capture a German scout by biting him on the ass.  Now, keep in mind, this biography was based on newspaper accounts and there’s a good chance that the dog’s exploits were enhanced.  You can’t blame the screenwriters for this.  It was a nice touch adding Patton with his M1917 tanks (American-made French Renaults), although it smacks of pandering to fanatics like me.  Kudos for showing him afoot!
                        As a post script, Conroy smuggled Stubby home where he became a celebrity.  He attended Georgetown Law School with Conroy and became the football team mascot.  He led military parades and met Presidents Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge.  He was presented a Humane Education Society medal by Gen. Pershing.  He died in 1926 and is now on display in the Smithsonian.


Friday, April 19, 2019

CONSENSUS #77 - Catch-22

77. Catch-22
SYNOPSIS: Catch-22” is a satire set in WWII.  The setting is an air base in the Mediterranean.  The main character (Alan Arkin) is suffering from PTSD and wants to be declared insane so he can stop flying the hazardous missions.  Unfortunately, the fact that he knows the situation is insanely dangerous means that he is sane enough to go on missions.  The squadron is filled with odd-balls, including incompetent, scheming commanders and a war profiteer which allows the movie to satirize command and capitalism.
BACK-STORY:    Mike Nichols (“Charlie Wilson’s War) took on one of the more difficult novels when he decided to make “Catch-22”.  Joseph Heller’s novel is nonlinear and full of bizarre characters and labyrinthian dialogue.  Buck Henry wrote the screenplay and Heller assembled an eclectic cast.  Paramount gave Nichols a big budget and he used part of it to get 17 vintage B-25 Mitchell bombers.  Six months were spent on the camerawork for the bombers alone.  This required 1,500 flight hours.  Unfortunately, little of the footage made it into the film as it is not an aerial combat movie.  It is an anti-war satire that is often compared to “M*A*S*H”, which was released the same year.  It was this coincidental release that probably contributed to the box office failure of “Catch-22”.  The increasing unpopularity of the Vietnam War seemingly left room for only one successful war satire and the public chose “M*A*S*H”.
 TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, Guts and Glory
1.  Joseph Heller was pleased with the film and praised the changes and additions by screenwriter Buck Henry.
2.  The aerial sequences took six months and 1,500 hours of flying time.  All of this resulted in ten minutes of screen time.
3.  The film used 17 flyable B-25 Mitchell bombers.
4.  The Second Unit Director John Jordan refused to use a safety harness to film from one of the bombers and fell to his death.
5.  This was the first American movie to show a character (Martin Balsam’s Col. Cathcart) on the toilet.  Balsam claims it is the greatest moment of his career.  Just kidding.
6.  This was Art Garfunkel’s first film.  Paul Simon was supposed to also appear, but his role got cut.  The film caused Garfunkel to be late for a recording session with his partner and Simon wrote a critical song about Art because of this.
7.  Heller was a bombardier on B-25s.  On one mission, a gunner was wounded and bled all over him.
Belle and Blade  =  5.0
Brassey’s              =  3.0
Video Hound       =  3.1
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #42
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes

OPINION:  “Catch-22” did not get a lot of love when it was released, but it’s reputation has gone up over the years.  Having read the book, it is a worthy effort to bring a complex story to the screen.  Buck Henry’s screenplay actually makes some improvements, while keeping much of the dialogue from the book.  The cast is excellent and the characters are intriguing.  It has several scenes that are iconic.  It seems well-placed at #77.

Monday, April 15, 2019


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

We're responsible for the protection of 100,000 square miles of territory. And against us are ranged thousands of the finest light cavalry on earth. I found that out this morning. It's a big job, gentlemen... and it's gonna need a fine regiment. Our job is to make this the finest regiment that the United States ever saw. I needn't tell most of you that a regiment is something more than just six hundred disciplined fighting men. Men die. But a regiment lives on; because a regiment has an immortal soul of its own. Well, the way to begin is to find it. To find something that belongs to us alone. Something to give us that pride in ourselves that'll make men endure - and, if necessary, die... with their boots on. As for the rest it's easy: since it's no more than hard work, hard riding and hard fighting. Thank you, gentlemen, I know I can count on you.

3.  What movie is this?

It is Buster Keaton’s masterpiece, although it took a while for the critics and public to realize that.  The movie was a commercial and critical bomb when it was released in 1926.  Thankfully Keaton lived to see the revival of its reputation in the 1960s.  Recently the American Film Institute ranked it the 18th greatest film and the 18th greatest comedy (don’t ask).  This must have been heartening since he co-wrote, co-directed, and co-produced it.    He based it on The Great Locomotive Chase by William Pittenger.  Keaton used 500 Ohio National Guardsmen for the battle scene and even had them switch uniforms to give the armies more size.

Friday, April 12, 2019

STREAMING: Sword of Vengeance (2015)

                “Sword of Vengeance” is a film by the esteemed Jim Weedon.  It was released in 2015 to less than universal acclaim.  Instead of standing in the long lines at the theater, you can now stream it on Netflix.  Thank God for Netflix!  The movie is historical fiction (heavy emphasis on the fiction) set in the time after the Norman Conquest.  William the Conqueror has sent an army to northern England to carry out a campaign of “furious destruction”.  This is known as the Harrowing.  William’s most feared war lord Earl Devant is responsible for killing 100,000 Saxons.  Boy were his arms tired!  He now rules with his sons Artus (Gianni Giardinelli) and Romain (Edward Akrout).  They are both good boys.  Just kidding.

                In an ominous development, the movie goes to slo-mo in the first minute.  And an amputated hand within two minutes.  A mysterious cloaked stranger called the Shadow Walker (Stanley Weber) has an encounter with some lackeys with predictable results.  It’s very graphic, naturally.  Two men are dead before the severed hand hits the ground.  The Shadow Walker then walks (slow motion) through the woods.  There will be a lot of walking in this movie.

                Artus and Romain don’t get along.  Artus is a bully.  He sends Romain to bring back Shadow Walker’s  head.  The encounter does not go well for Romain who loses an eye.  That’s better than the heads three of his men lose.  Shadow Walker hooks up with a woman named Anna.  They have a slo-mo bonding scene.  This movie would be half as long without the slow motion.  Artus begins a scorched earth program because in the Middle Ages if someone offends you, the peasants have to pay.  A blood spraying melee ensues and Artus is captured.  Romain arrives to negotiate, but the Shadow Walker is not the talkative type.  It looks like daddy will need to get involved.  Defensive preps montage.  In slo-mo.  Bare-chested sword honing.  Flashback – it turns out Durand killed Shadow Walker’s father right in front of him (is there any other way in movies like this?)  Slo-mo sally from the fort.  Durand has brought six berserkers with him just so he can say “release Hell!”  Shadow Walker has to take on four baddies.  Lucky for him, they nicely take him on one at a time.  These prelims lead to the main bout with Durand.  Clang and woosh go the double swords and double axes.  Post script:  the village is being assaulted.  This looks like a job for Shadow Walker.  Handing out weapons and gearing up montage.  They have plenty of time because the enemy is coming in slo-mo.

                “Sword of Vengeance” is slow-moving.  Get it?  In fact, it would be better titled “The Slow Walker”.  It is poorly acted and the characters are all cliché.  The central hero is a dud and so is the main hero.  The dialogue does not help the actors.  If you took a drink every time the Shadow Walker speaks, you’d have only a slight buzz.  If you drank every time he said something intelligible, you’d be completely sober.  There is a butch chick (Anna) who adds some girl power.  It would have been nice if the director had added some color.  The film is close to being black and white.  Does it cost more to be more colorful?  There is a lot of blood splattering, but it’s drab.  All the throat cuttings don’t redden the screen much.  Speaking of which, there is not a lot of variety in the deaths.  Usually in a movie like this the director has a check list of various decapitations and amputations.  Weedon’s list was not long.  The fights are blah, including the climactic duel.  In other words, the movie should have been entertainingly bad.  Instead, it’s just bad.


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

CONSENSUS #78. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

SYNOPSIS: A soon to retire trooper (John Wayne) has an action-packed last few weeks as the Southern Cheyenne have left their reservation and are on the war path. Throw in a love triangle involving the commanding officer's daughter and two wooing troopers and we have one of John Ford's iconic Westerns.

BACK-STORY: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is a western/war movie released in 1949. It was the second of John Fords cavalry trilogy and the only one in color. The other two were Fort Apache and Rio Grande. All three starred John Wayne. The movie was set in Monument Valley. Ford used the paintings of Frederick Remington for inspiration and ideas. The title is a song associated with the U.S. Cavalry and alludes to the cavalryman giving his love a yellow ribbon. One of the stars is the horse Steel ridden by Ben Johnson. This horse was popular with western stars. The movie was awarded the Oscar for Best Color Cinematography to Winton Hoch. The film was a big hit.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, TCM
1.  It was the second in John Ford’s cavalry trilogy coming between “Fort Apache” and “Rio Grande”.
2.  Cinematographer Winton Hoch based some of the scenes on sculptures and paintings by Frederic Remington.  This means the film links the two men most responsible for our image of the West – John Ford and Frederic Remington.  Hoch won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color.  Part of the reason for his win is the iconic thunder storm scene.  Supposedly, Hoch was shutting down filming when the storm appeared on the horizon.  Ford demanded he continue shooting despite Hoch claiming the lighting was not sufficient and mentioning the threat of lightning.  Hoch filed a complaint with the American Society of Cinematographers.
3.  Ford did not want John Wayne because he was uncomfortable with Wayne playing a character twenty years older.  Wayne was 41 at the time.  Ford changed his mind after seeing Wayne in “Red River”, remarking that the SOB could actually act.
4.  Wayne felt it was one of his favorite roles and thought he should have been nominated for Brittles instead of Stryker in “Sands  of Iwo Jima”.  He was bitter due to the critics not praising him for expanding his range and claimed that the result caused him to never stretch again.  “The Searchers” seems to refute this.
5.  Ben Johnson rode the famous horse “Steel”.  “Steel” had a lot of charisma, but was easy to ride.  The horse made a lot of money for Johnson’s father-in-law who ran a horse-renting business.  If you wanted to use “Steel”, you had to rent all the other horses from him.  “Steel” had his own double for galloping scenes.  He was ridden by Wayne in “Tall in the Saddle”, Gregory Peck in “Yellow Sky”, and Randolph Scott in “The Tall T”.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  3.8
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #55
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  She Wore Yellow Ribbon is an entertaining Western, but it is not a war movie and does not belong on this list. I have a problem with taking a movie that is firmly in one genre and then putting it on a list of great movies in another genre. There are few Westerns that I feel can clearly be considered war movies and Westerns. A rare example of this hybrid would be Son of the Morning Star which is specifically and accurately about a battle in the Indian Wars (the Battle of Little Big Horn).

Sunday, April 7, 2019


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

Saving that Kraut was the final joke of the whole goddamned war. I mean we had more in common with him than all our replacements who got killed whose names we never even knew. We'd all made it through we were alive. I'm gonna dedicate my book to those who shot but didn't get shot, because it's about survivors. And surviving is the only glory in war, if you know what I mean.

3.  What movie is this?

It is a WWII 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.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

CONSENSUS #79. The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)

SYNOPSIS: This is the story of famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith). He hooks up with a unit in Tunisia and then reunites with it in Italy. It's a dogfaces' view of the war with no big battles, but a realistic portrayal of soldier life.

BACK-STORY:  The Story of G.I. Joe was released in 1945 and is based on the columns of war correspondent Ernie Pyle. It was directed by William Wellman who had been a pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille in WWI and at first refused to do a movie about the despised infantry until he met Pyle and saw the adoration the infantry had for him. Once on board, Wellman insisted on realism and convinced the Army to loan him 150 soldiers training near the production. The movie also used several actual war correspondents. So the actors would not look foolish alongside real soldiers, Wellman put them through the first actors boot camp. Sadly, Pyle was killed before the opening of the movie and many of the real soldiers were killed on Okinawa. For this reason, Wellman never watched the movie after its release. The movie was a hit and is considered one of the most realistic war films. It was nominated for four Oscars (Supporting Actor - Mitchum, Song (“Linda” by Ann Ronell), Score, and Screenplay).
TRIVIA:    Wikipedia, imdb, TCM

1.  Also known as “Ernie Pyle’s Story of G.I. Joe”.
2.  James Gleeson and Walter Brennan were considered for the role of Pyle.  Burgess Meredith was chosen because he was the lesser known and Pyle wanted him.  The Army refused to release Meredith, but Harry Hopkins intervened and Gen. George Marshall approved his honorable discharge.  He spent some time with Pyle at his home in New Mexico where Pyle was recovering from being in France for the terrible friendly bombing incident at the start of Operation Cobra.
3.  Nine war correspondents acted as technical advisers (besides Pyle himself).  Three of them had speaking roles in the scene where Pyle finds out he has won the Pulitzer Prize.
4.  William Wellman had been a pilot in the Lafayette Flying Corps in WWI.  He hated the infantry and did not want to have anything to do with directing the movie.  Producer Lester Cowan persisted and even showed up with presents for Wellman’s children.  He was not impressed.  Cowan got Pyle to write to and later call Wellman, but it wasn’t until Wellman spent some time with Pyle that he changed his mind.
5.  Wellman’s wife Dorothy plays Wingless Murphy’s bride.
6.  Cowan saw the movie as the Army’s answer to the movie “Air Force”.
7.  The movie reenacts Pyle’s most famous column:  “The Death of Captain Waskow”.
8.  The Army provided 150 extras.  The men were back in the U.S. after serving in Italy.  They were being trained for redeployment in the Pacific.  Many of the men ended up dying on Okinawa.  Pyle himself was killed by a Japanese sniper during that campaign.  He did not live to see the movie.  Several of the extras were given speaking roles because Wellman wanted real G.I.s speaking the lines.
9.  The creator of the G.I. Joe doll got the name from this movie.
10.  Freddie Steele, who played Warnicki, had been World Middleweight Boxing Champ in 1937.
11.  Eisenhower felt it was the best WWII film.
12.  The screenplay was based on columns from Pyle’s book Here Is Your War.
13.  Cowan’s first choice for director was John Huston base on his wartime documentaries like “The Battle of San Pietro”, but the Army refused to release him.

Belle and Blade  =  2.5
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  5.0
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  #45
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
            101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  This is another classic black and white WWII movie similar to “Twelve O’Clock High”.  It honors the greatest war correspondent in WWII and Ernie Pyle must have been happy with the modest portrayal of him.  Because it does not aim at entertaining through action, it can give a realistic look at the actual experiences that G.I.s went through.  This is exactly what Pyle did in his columns.  It’s ranking seems about right.

Monday, April 1, 2019

SHOULD I READ IT? Divided We Fall (2000)

                “Divided We Fall” is a Czech movie directed and co-written by Jan Hrebejk.  It was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards.  The movie is part of the Holocaust subgenre of war movies, but does not involve a concentration camp or ghetto.

                The movie is a character-driven study of various people who are impacted by the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in WWII.  The plot revolves around a childless couple who hide a concentration camp escapee.  Josef (Bolek Polivka) is a Jew who hates Nazis. He decides to take in David (Csongok Kassai) despite the reluctance of his wife Marie (Anna Siskova).  Josef establishes an obvious theme of the movie when he says:  “You wouldn’t believe what abnormal times can do to normal people.”  Josef has an uncomfortable friendship with a Nazi collaborator named Horst (Jaroslav Dusek).  Horst has a habit of showing up with presents, which is awkward because David is hiding in a closet.  Adding to the awkwardness is that Horst has a thing for Marie and even tries to force himself on her.  He did give her presents, remember?  To complicate matters, Josef and Horst have to lie about Marie being pregnant when it is not totally a secret in the neighborhood that Josef is infertile.  It comes to the point where they are going to need a miracle birth.

                “Divided We Fall” is a Holocaust movie with a sense of humor, or the absurd, if you prefer a Holocaust movie without humor.  It has a weird vibe to it. Is it a comedy or a drama?  The scene where David hides under the covers of the sick Marie borders on silly.  But that just highlights the movie’s main strength – it’s unpredictability.  Part of this unpredictability comes from Hrebejk’s theme that every person has some bad and some good in them.  No character in this movie is pure.  For instance, Josef decides to take a job delivering eviction notices to Jewish families in order to deflect suspicion about his hiding David.  A corollary of good people being corrupted by war is also well advanced.  All of this is done by a good cast of actors unknown in America.  The threads come together a little too conveniently in the end, and there is quite a bit of implausibility to the conclusion.  However, the film wanted to close with reconciliation as another theme.  This was something of a message to the Czech audience, although I’m not sure how meaningful it could be 55 years after the war.  Lastly, the movie has a religious theme involving the “miracle birth” of David and Marie’s child.  Heck, there are even three wise men at the birth – a Czech, a German, and a Russian.  Not really subtle, but I did not pick up on it at first.  With all that going on, the movie is not instructive about the Holocaust or the war.  It is very micro.  The city seems unaffected by the war.  There are no bombings.  It is a movie that is more interested in dynamics created by the war, than the Holocaust itself.

                “Divided We Fall” is a must see for anyone interested in Holocaust movies.  It is not among the best of the subgenre.  I found It a little too manipulative in advancing its themes.  That does not mean it was not good at presenting those themes and it does it in an intriguing way.  Watch it and see.

GRADE  =  B-