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 clich├ęs, 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+



Sunday, June 9, 2019

CONSENSUS #70. Battleground (1949)



SYNOPSIS: "Battleground" is the story of a squad of G.I.s from the 101st Airborne Division in the Battle of the Bulge.  They participate in the defense of Bastogne during its famous siege.  The movie is an ensemble piece that realistically (for a 1949 movie) portrays the hardships of the battle.  It is a classic heterogeneous small unit movie.

BACK-STORY: Battleground 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.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, TCM, Guts and Glory
1.  It is considered the first significant post-WWII film about the war.
2.  It was the pet project of producer Dore Schary.  He wanted to make a movie that answered the question “was the war worth it?”  Or as the chaplain in the film put it:  “was the trip necessary?”  He had a hard time getting studio support from RKO where he was production head and when Howard Hughes bought RKO he nixed the project.  Schary left RKO because of this after Hughes let him buy the script for a cheap $20,000.  Schary returned to production head of MGM, but Louis Mayer was also cold toward the making of a WWII picture.  Mayer felt audiences were not interested in WWII movies.  But Mayer did not stand in Schary’s way and was hoping he would fail.  He called the movie “Schary’s folly”.
3.  Director William Wellman had the cast put through training by twenty veterans who appeared as extras in the movie.
4.  Robert Pirosh based his screenplay on his experiences in the Battle of the Bulge.  Gen. McAuliffe acted as technical adviser for the script.
5.  The movie was shot in twenty days less than the schedule and for $100,000 less.
6.  President Truman was given a private showing before the premiere.
7.  It won Academy Awards for Cinematography (Black and White) and Screenplay.  It was nominated for Best Picture (losing to “All the King’s Men”), Director, Editing, and Supporting Actor (James Whitmore).
8.  Whitmore was a Marine in the Pacific.  He based his characters appearance and attitude partly on Bill Maudlin’s “Willie and Joe”.
9.   Douglas Fowley (Kippton) had false teeth like his character because he lost his teeth to an explosion while serving on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.
10  James Arness (Garby) was the most decorated cast member.  His medals included the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
11.  Robert Taylor was supposed to star in it but decided he did not want to do an ensemble piece.  He was replaced by Van Johnson.
12.  The movie was a big success and finished second at the box office.  Its timing and success is comparable to “The Big Parade” which was also predicted to be too late after the war
13.  It was shot almost totally in a soundstage.  Compare its realism to the exterior scenes from “The Battle of the Bulge”.
14.  Denise Darcel was cast solely for her boobs.  Check out the scene where she cuts a loaf of bread precariously close to her greatest assets.
15.  Wellman preferred his “The Story of G.I. Joe”, finding it more realistic and more a tribute to American soldiers.

Belle and Blade  =  1.5
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  5.0
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  #36
Channel 4             =  not on list 
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no
Rotten Tomatoes =  no

CONCLUSION: Battleground is fondly remembered by many war movie lovers. Some have it in their top 10. Some go so far as to call it superior to Saving Private Ryan. When it came out in 1949, it certainly deserved the acclaim it received. Its now sixty years later and I have to say it is a bit overrated. The action is lacking and is unrealistic. However, it has its charms and is a must-see.  The movie is very entertaining. It achieves its objective of humanizing the soldiers. The soldier interaction and talk are the best thing about the movie. What they say and how they react are realistic given the restraints of 1940s movies.  Pirosh, being a veteran, knew how soldiers talked. He obviously had to clean up the language, but he gets the complaining and humor down pat.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

D-DAY FILM: Storming Juno (2010)




               It's the anniversary of D-Day in Canada, too.   “Storming Juno” is a Canadian war movie about the Canadian army storming Juno beach on D-Day.  It was directed by Tim Wolochatiuk on a shoe string.  It follows three soldiers:  a paratrooper, an infantryman, and a tanker.  The movie has a docudrama feel to it, but there are no talking heads.  It is “based on real characters and events.”

                The movie leads with the paratrooper.  He is part of the 1st Canadian Paratrooper Battalion.  The film uses archival footage to coincide with his background information.  His unit’s mission is to take out an artillery battery.  The infantryman is in the first wave of the amphibious landing.  “Juno was one of the most heavily fortified sectors of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.”  You won’t be able to tell that from this movie, however.  He is not concerned with that since “given the naval bombardment, chances are nothing will be left.”  That’s an accurate feeling of over-optimism.  Juno is going to be a tough nut to crack considering that theirs is the only landing craft.  The landing is far from “Saving Private Ryan”, but there is some slo-mo and hand-held.  The deaths are random. One of the soldiers fires a mortar by holding it against a tree and firing it like a bazooka!  Now, here comes the tank.  The effects are decidedly cheesy.  It duels with a bunker.  The tank is alone and without infantry support.  The tactics in the movie are shaky.  There are several head-scratching moments in the movie.  Twice characters enter enemy positions alone, for instance.

                The movie’s makers had a legitimate reason for wanting to recognize the Canadian effort on D-Day.  How many people outside Canada even know that they were part of the invasion?  And Canadians deserved a movie highlighting their heroism. After all, what else do they have?  The movie accomplishes its mission in a low budget way.  It is not overly patriotic.  As a teacher, I can vouch for the fact that its intended audience prefers reenactments to historians talking about the historical event.  The problem is the cheesiness of the production.  Although the CGI is acceptable, the story it backs is low rent.  The decision to follow three character arcs was a good one, but there is little character development.  Their voices sound similar so the narration can be confusing.  When they are speaking in character, the banter is lame.  There is no cursing.  But maybe that’s because Canadians don’t curse.  The actors are amateurish, but not embarrassing.  They get lots of closeups.  The movie is very macro.  You may learn about Juno Beach, but you will not get the impression that it was arduous.  It was a beautiful day and so quiet.  The movie does do a decent job on deaths.  They are not too theatrical and although not graphic, the wounds are realistic.  That is very unusual for a movie like this, so kudos.

                “Storming Juno” is a sincere effort and should be seen by Canadians.  It has a following and I have to assume they are all Canadians because the movie is nothing special.  Actually, the documentary after the film entitled “Remembering Juno” is better than the movie.  It makes me wonder why they didn’t reenact the real stories?  One of the veterans talks about killing prisoners and another describes targeting a church steeple where a sniper was.  This latter would have been an improvement over the clicheish sniper incident depicted in the movie.

                I recommend “Storming Juno”, but only if you stick around for the documentary.  Or if you are a Canadian.

                You can go here if you want to see my list of other D-Day movies.

GRADE  =  C