Sunday, October 27, 2019

CONSENSUS #56 - The Searchers

SYNOPSIS: "The Searchers" is a John Wayne Western that is a quest film. Wayne plays Uncle Ethan who spends years tracking his niece who was taken by Comanche raiders. Ethan is a racist and it is unclear what he will do when he finds the Indianized girl.

BACK-STORY: “The Searchers” is a “war” movie based on the eponymous novel by Alan LeMay. It was released in 1956 toward the end of the great period of black and white Westerns and is considered by many to be the best movie of that genre. It is marked by peak performances by director John Ford and his perennial star, John Wayne. Shockingly, although the film did well at the box office, it did not get a single Academy Award nomination.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb

1.  In 2007, AFI declared it to be the greatest Western ever made.  It was voted #12 overall.

2.  Director Henry Ford wanted Fess Parker to play Jeffrey Hunter’s role.  The Disney Company told him Parker was not available and did not tell Parker that he was being considered for the role.  Parker later said his loss of the role was his biggest disappointment.  Parker later starred with Hunter in Disney’s “The Great Locomotive Race”.

 3.  It has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

4.  David Lean watched it lots of times to prepare for the vistas in “Lawrence of Arabia”.

5.  John Wayne considered Ethan Edwards to be his best performance and the movie was his favorite.

6.  Natalie Wood was still in high school and Wayne and/or Hunter would come pick her up to go to the set.  This created quite a stir among her classmates.

7.  When a Navajo child got sick with pneumonia, Wayne offered his private jet to take her to the hospital.  After this the Navajo actors called Wayne “The Man With the Big Eagle”.

8.  The Comanche were played by Navajo.

9.  Natalie’s younger sister Lana played the younger Debbie in the early scenes.

10.  Temperatures during shooting sometimes reached over 120 degrees.

11.  The story was loosely based on the abduction of Cynthia Parker who became the mother of the famous Comanche war chief Quanah Parker.

12.  Hunter was a 29 year old playing a teenager.

13.  The movie was the subject of the first “making of” documentary.

14.  Steven Spielberg, John Milius, Paul Schrader, William Wenders, Jean-Luc Goddard, and George Lucas are among the directors who were influenced by and paid homage to the film.

15.  Buddy Holly got the idea for the title of his hit “That’ll Be the Day” from the oft used line in the movie.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  5.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #49
Channel 4             =  no
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no
Rotten Tomatoes  =  no 

OPINION: While certainly a great movie and possibly the best Western ever made,
The Searchers is not even close to being a war movie.  The Searchers is a great Western. It has all the ingredients of a classic. The music fits the movie well. So do the typical Ford touches of humor.  The vistas of Monument Valley have never been more awesome. The directing is robust with Ford at the top of his game. The acting is strong across the board and is anchored by what most consider to be Waynes greatest performance (and his personal favorite).  The best thing about the movie is it is not the usual white hat/horse hero versus either bad guys or Indians.  The main character is a racist and a fascinating character. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


1.  What movie is the picture from?  

2.  What movie is this quote from?

You're a brave man. Go and break through the lines. And remember, while you're out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in be in here thinking what a sucker you are.  

3.  What movie is this?

It was released in 1936 and is one of the “British Empire movies” like “Lives of the Bengal Lancers”.  It falls into the historical adventures subgenre.  The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”).  The film was one of twelve made by Curtiz and his star (with Olivia de Havilland appearing in eight).  It was filmed in California with the Sierra Nevadas standing in for the mountains of India.  The movie had a large budget of $1.23 million.  It was a box office success and was nominated for Academy Awards for Sound and Original Score (Max Steiner).  The production was difficult with the star and director at odds and the star tormenting de Havilland with schoolboy pranks including the use of a whoopee cushion.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

CLASSIC or ANTIQUE: Eight Iron Men (1952)

                        “Eight Iron Men” is a movie directed by Edward Dmytryk (The Young Lions, Back to Bataan, Anzio, The Caine Mutiny) based on a screen play by Harry Brown (A Walk in the Sun- book and movie).  Brown adapted his play “A Sound of Hunting” which had a short run starring Burt Lancaster as Sgt. Mooney.  Lancaster was discovered and went to Hollywood to make his first film “The Killers”.  Lee Marvin was cast in the Mooney role because Lancaster was unavailable.  It was Marvin’s first big role.  He was a veteran of WWII.  As a Marine, he was wounded on Saipan.  In some ways, he was the unofficial technical adviser.  During production, when the German machine gun was malfunctioning, Marvin fixed it by breaking it down and putting it back together.    He taught the other cast members how to fall when wounded.  This alone sets it apart from most war movies.

                        “Eight Iron Men” is a classic small unit movie.  It takes place in a bombed out Italian town.  From the point of view of a German bunker, a machine gun opens fire on a G.I. patrol.  Small gets pinned down in a shell crater and the other two withdraw to the squad’s basement outpost.  Here we enter the play phase as the men flesh out their personalities.  Collucci (Bonar Colleand in his American debut) is the wisecracker/slacker/ladies’ man.  He daydreams about dames to the accompaniment of stripper music.  This lasts several minutes!  (The poster above is one of the most inaccurate posters I have ever seen.  It literally has nothing to do with the movie!)   Sgt. Mooney is a pansy.  Just kidding, he’s played by Lee Marvin and Marvin ain’t acting – he plays himself.  Coke (Richard Kiley) is tightly wound.  Sapiros (Nick Dennis) is Greek.  He and Collucci have a Rivera/Friedman type relationship (“A Walk in the Sun”).  Muller (Dickie Moore in the Richard Jaekel role) has received a fruit cake from home.  Presumably because his mother hates him.  He divides it into eight pieces – one for each.  Including Small.  Collucci volunteers to eat Small’s piece, but Mooney takes a “leave no man behind” position.  There is a discussion about whether the sad sack Small is worth the risk.  Coke argues that they have been lucky so far and if they lose Small, it could open the flood gates.  To complicate matters, the squad gets word that they are pulling out.  Mooney goes to Captain Trelawny (Barney Phillips) to get permission to rescue Small.  The captain believes one man’s life is not worth several men’s lives.  Apparently, Army philosophy underwent a change in Vietnam.  Will they disobey orders and go after Small?  If they don’t, we won’t have much of a movie.

                        “Eight Iron Men” has the same vibe as “A Walk in the Sun”, “Attack!”, and “Hell is for Heroes”.  In other words, it is dialogue driven and has the feel of a play.  The soldiers’ talk is authentic.  They gripe a lot.  When Mooney brings the dilemma to the captain, the captain says:  “Before the war, I used to be a car salesman.  I used to smile all the time.”  He adds:  “I came up here with a company and I’ll be lucky to leave with a platoon.”   Hence, the reluctance to risk more men.  You can see his point of view and the point of view of Mooney.  The movie is thought-provoking.  Trelawny is not Cooney (“Attack!”).  There are no villains in this movie and the Germans are faceless.  The movie is excellent in delving into the pressures of command.  It also daringly focuses on the reality of war being mostly boredom that is occasionally broken by stressful action.  This might explain the fact that the movie was not a hit.  Audiences don’t want reality. 

                        The movie is well-made.  Dmytryk likes deep focus, which works well in what is essentially a one set movie.  When the camera leaves the basement, the outdoors is appropriately rubbly. Although the cast is not all-star, the actors act like soldiers (except they are not grubby enough).  The characters are all stereotypes, but at least the movie is not full of clichés.  It is not predictable and has a neat twist ending.  Colleand gets star billing, but did not get a career boost.  He returned to Great Britain where he was more of a star and died in a car accident six years later.  His Collucci could have been obnoxious, like most war movie wolfs, but he is likeable and he gets to say this line which somehow got by the censors:  “Tonight I’ll be whistling at every dame in the country.  You can’t keep a healthy guy like me stuck away like this for too long – I go crazy – I get hair on the palms of my hands – the beast rises in me.” 

                        “Eight Iron Men” is not for the combat porn junkies.  There is a little action, but it is more cerebral than most 1950’s WWII movies.  It fits snuggly into the niche of small unit, play-like movies.  It’s entertaining and manages to overcome two ridiculous dream sequences.  Those scenes, which almost torpedo the movie, apparently were added so the poster artist could honestly add a female.  Do not expect what the poster implies.  What you will actually get is a minor classic that holds up well because it concentrates on an intriguing scenario and the soldiers in the scenario behave like G.I.s would have behaved.

GRADE  =  B           

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

CONSENSUS #57 - Notorious (1946)

SYNOPSIS: "Notorious" is a Hitchcock film set in Rio De Janiero after WWII. Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) is the daughter of an executed Nazi who is recruited by the FBI to infiltrate a gang of Nazi refugees that is plotting in Argentina. The plan is for her to renew her relationship with the gang leader (Claude Rains) and find out what they are planning. Things get compilicated as she develops a love/hate relationship with her FBI contact (Cary Grant).

BACK-STORY: “Notorious” is a classic Hitchcock film released in 1946. It was shot in crisp black and white and has many of the iconic Hitchcock touches. It was one of four movies where Hitchcock teamed with Cary Grant and his second picture in a row with Ingrid Bergman ( the first was “Spellbound” ). The film was a big hit and was nominated for two Academy Awards – Claude Rains for Best Supporting Actor and Ben Hecht for Best Original Screenplay. Leopoldine Konstantin ( Rains’ mother ) made her only appearance in an American movie. She was actually only four years older than Rains. Another problem that the magic of movies handled was Rains being several inches shorter than Bergman. This was overcome with ramps and elevator shoes so well that in the movie Grant and Rains appear to be the same height. The use of uranium for an atomic bomb as the Maguffin the plot needed supposedly was prescient by Hitchcock and Hecht and got Hitchcock tailed by the FBI for a while. The movie has a famous two and a half minute kissing scene where Hitchcock circumvented the Production Code rule of maximum of three seconds of lip-locking by having Grant and Bergman nuzzle between smooches. This actually works on film.
TRIVIA:  Wikipedia
1.  Hitchcock got around the Production Code’s restriction of kisses to three seconds by having Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman disengage every three seconds to nuzzle and whisper sweet nothings for two and a half minutes. 
2.  The studio wanted Joseph Cotton to play Devlin (for contract reasons), but Hitchcock insisted on Grant. 
3.  Hitchcock wanted Clifton Webb to play Sebastian, but David Selznick talked him into Claude Rains for box office reasons.
4.  It was Leopoldine Konstantin’s only American movie.
 5.  Hitchcock makes his appearance drinking champagne at the party at Sebastian’s party.
 6.  Rains was three inches shorter than Bergman so ramps and boxes were used to fix it.  He also wore elevator shoes.
 7.  Grant kept the UNICA key and later gave it to Bergman.  She delighted Hitchcock by presenting it to him at a tribute dinner for him sponsored by AFI to present him with a lifetime achievement award.
 8.  Hitchcock claimed the FBI had him under surveillance for several months because of the use of uranium as a plot development.

Belle and Blade  =  no
Brassey’s              =  5.0
Video Hound       =  no
War Movies         =  no
Military History  =  #57
Channel 4             =  no
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no
Rotten Tomatoes  =   no

OPINION: I am a big Hitchcock fan, but I have to swim upstream and state that I do not think this is one of his best films. It is well written and well acted. It has its moments of standard suspense.  By far the best reason to watch the film is the dialogue and acting. The sparring between Alicia and Devlin is priceless. Grant and Bergman are at the top of their games, but Rains is outstanding as well. He portrays a sympathetic Nazi who ironically is more in love with Alicia than Devlin is. He also has those terrible mommy issues that we can sympathize with. You almost feel sorry for him. He is a cultured, urbane Nazi sap. As his mother, Konstantin is one of the great villains of filmdom.  This is the second Hitchcock film on the list and it is even less of a war movie than “Foreign Correspondent”.  Even the loosest definition of war movie would not include this movie.  

Saturday, October 12, 2019


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

People on the street corners, they looked at this picture and they took hope. Don't ask me why, I think it's a crappy picture, myself. You can't even see your faces! But it said we can win this war, are winning this war, we just need you to dig a little deeper. They want to give us that money. No, they want to give it to YOU.

3.  What movie is this?

It was the first important major motion picture about the Vietnam War.   Its success marked the rise of the subgenre that has produced some great war movies.  The director also co-wrote the screenplay and marked the peak of his career.  It was downhill after this.  He battled the suits to get his vision on the screen and succeeded for the most part.  The movie was a big critical hit and did well at the box office.  It was awarded Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Editing, and Sound.  It was nominated for Actor,  Supporting Actress, Cinematography, and Original Screenplay.  It is ranked #53 on the most recent AFI’s greatest movies list.  The film was Meryl Streep’s first big movie role and ironically, John Cazales’ last film.  He was dying from cancer and passed before he saw the finished product.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

SHOULD I READ IT? Tangerines (2013)

                        “Tangerines” was an Estonian-Georgian production that was written, directed, and produced by Zara Urushadze.  It was filmed in Georgia (the European one).  It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.  The movie is set in the War in Abkhazia (1992-3).  This extremely nasty and complicated civil war was the Georgian government versus Abkhaz separatists who were supported by Russians and militants from the North Caucasus.  The conflict was marred by numerous human rights violations and atrocities.  Urushadze dedicated his film to Levan Abashidze – a famous Georgian actor who was killed in the war.  The movie is a small story set in that giant mess.

                        In 1992, two ethnic Estonians are the sole remaining inhabitants of a village.  The rest of the villagers have fled the war by going back to Estonia.  Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) is a box maker.  He makes wooden boxes for his neighbor Margus (Elmo Nuhanen) who grows tangerines.  They are living in no man’s land and not taking sides.  One day, Ivo has a firefight in his front yard between Caucasians and Georgians.  There are only two wounded survivors – one each.  Ivo takes in Nika (Mikheil Meskhi) and Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze) who want to kill each other.  They agree to a tension-filled truce.  This situation continues for weeks as the two recover.  It is definitely awkward.  And it’s going to get more awkward when the war knocks on the door again. 

                        “Tangerines” should not be as good as it is.  The premise is trite and unoriginal and could have been set in many other wars, including the American Civil War.  It is one of those movies that within five minutes you know it is going to be unambiguously anti-war.  Given the set-up, you are just wondering who will survive because you know at least half of the quartet ain’t gonna make it.  That turned out to be true, but how we get to the bleak ending is nicely done.  The movie is thought-provoking.  There are long takes and provocative dialogue.  The cast is great and the characters are finely drawn.  By the way, there are no females in the movie.  There is also no villain.  The four men who are thrown together are all positive characters.  Ivo is a bit of a saint in a movie that has no religion.  The relationship arc of Nika and Ahmed is predictable and unrealistic for two men on opposite sides of this horrific war.   I think if the movie had come out soon after the war (instead of 25 years later), Georgians would have said:  “yeah, right!”   If you are not familiar with the war (and I wasn’t), it does not really explain it.  It is a very micro view.  The war invades Ivo’s life, he does not go seeking it.  However, you will find out that the war was f’ed up. 

                        I have seen similar movies that point out how civil wars are messy and especially for civilians.  Movies like “No Man’s Land”, “Pretty Village, Pretty Flame”, and “Prisoners of the Mountain”.  “Tangerines” is better and if you have not seen any movies about modern European shit-storms, it is a good starter.  You really won’t have to watch any of the others, you’ll get the basics from “Tangerines”.  First, migrate as soon as the conflict begins (just not to America).  Second, you know that neighbor you are best friends with, you should kill him now.  You know that other ethnic group that resides in your country (and your best friend belongs to), they are subhuman.  But, if you really got to know an individual in that group, you would learn they are actually human like you.  Lastly, you will find that neither side is right.  So, if you are using movies like “Tangerines” to find out who the good guys were in the war, forget it.  If you are an American, you might want to watch it to get ready for when Texas tries to secede from the Union.

GRADE  =  A-        

Sunday, October 6, 2019

CONSENSUS #58 - Duck Soup (1933)

SYNOPSIS: This is the Marx Brothers' movie about war. Groucho is appointed ruler of Freedonia and chaos ensues. Chico and Harpo play spies for the rival country of Sylvania. Groucho's lack of tact leads to war with Sylvania. Zeppo is not funny.

BACK-STORY: “Duck Soup” was the last Marx Brothers’ movie made for Paramount. It was the last film where all four brothers starred. Zeppo gave up his fabled acting career after the film was finished. The Marx Brothers were never funny again. The movie was released in 1933, coincidentally (and I do mean coincidentally) the year Hitler came to power. The movie was banned in Italy because Mussolini was personally offended (you can’t buy publicity like that) and in Germany (as with all their films) because the brothers were Jewish. It was directed by the only decent director that dealt with them – Leo McCarey (who did not enjoy the experience). The movie underperformed at the box office possibly because its irreverence did not fit the Depression-era mood of the populace and its anti-government satire ran up against the optimistic mood of the early New Deal. Critics were pretty brutal and the movie was not highly thought of until a revival in the 1960s. Today it is considered to be the Marx Brothers’ masterpiece and is ranked #60 (up from #85) on AFIs most recent list of great American movies. It is #5 on the Comedy list.
TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, TCM
1.  It was Zeppo’s last movie.  He finally had enough of people describing him as the unfunny one.
2.  The original name of Firefly was to be Rufus T. Firestone. 
3.   The term “duck soup” was slang for something that was easy.
4.  It was not the bomb people think, but it was a disappointment after the success of “Horse Feathers”. 
5.  The director Leo McCarey was by far the best the Marx Brothers ever worked with.  He suggested the famous mirror scene based on an old vaudeville act.  It was not the first time the scenario had been played on film, however.  Harold Lloyd had done something very similar in a short called “The Marathon”.  McCarey was most responsible for the anti-war satire.  The Brothers were only interested in laughs.
6.  The movie did not coin the term “This means war!”, but it popularized it.  The phrase was often used by Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.
7.  One of the few Marx Brothers’ movies where Harpo does not play the harp.  And Chico does not play the piano.  Some theater owners complained that this was the reason the movie underperformed.
8.  The mirror scene took only two minutes to perform.  Amazingly, Groucho does not crack a single joke in the scene.
9.  In the battle scene, Groucho switches uniform five times:  Union general, Confederate general, Boy Scout troop leader, British Revolutionary War general, and Davy Crockett.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A 
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #27
Channel 4             =  no
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no
Rotten Tomatoes  =  no 

OPINION:  This is without a doubt the best Marx Brothers’ movie, in my opinion. I am not a big fan of the musical interludes and romantic subplots that tend to bring their films to a screeching halt. “Duck Soup” has less of those weaknesses. The movie is manic with its mix of sight gags, slapstick, one-liners, and puns. Many of the jokes are laugh out loud funny which is unusual for a movie that goes back to the 1930s. Of course, you also have a few groaners. However, the percentage of jokes that work is surprisingly high. Many of the lines are classics.  I do not buy that the Marx Brothers intended the movie to be recognized as a great anti-war movie. I take Groucho at his word that they were trying to make a funny movie without a deep meaning.  However,  “Duck Soup” is overrated as the 5th best comedy of all time according to AFI, but it certainly is in the top 100 comedies. It is very funny (or specifically, Groucho and Chico are funny). I am not sure it belongs in the 100 Greatest War Movies, especially when the much better “To Be or Not to Be” did not make it.

Friday, October 4, 2019

900th POST

WAR DOC:  The Fighting Lady:  A Drama of the Pacific  (1944)
                        It is hard to believe this is my 900th post.  Who would have ever thought?  I still am enthusiastic about this blog and have big plans for the future.  I certainly will get to 1,000, God willing.  For this special post, I decided to get personal. 

                        This summer I took a trip to Corpus Christi to visit the USS Lexington.  The aircraft carrier is the second Lexington.  The first was sunk in the Battle of Coral Sea.  The carrier is now a museum and an outstanding one.  It was like going back in time to a period of history that fascinates me.  I have, since middle school, been intrigued by the Pacific Theater more than any other theater of war.  I started reading military history as a teenager and have read many books about the war in the Pacific, especially the naval war.   A visit to an aircraft carrier has been on my bucket list for a while.  I have already been on board two battleships (the Alabama and the Texas), a submarine (the Drum) and a destroyer (the Kidd).   This was the cherry on top.  To walk on the flight deck and explore the ship was awesome.  To prepare for the visit, I watched the Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature for 1944.  “The Fighting Lady:  A Drama of the Pacific” was produced by the U.S. Navy and narrated by Lt. Robert Taylor.  The popular actor, who starred in “Bataan”, was in the Navy during the war.  He served as a flight instructor and made instructional films.  This film covers the Yorktown (CV-10) from its passage through the Panama Canal.  The ship sees action at Marcus Island, Kwajalein, Truk, and the Marianas.  

                        The first half of the film covers life aboard the ship.  One theme is that everyone in the crew is there to serve the pilots of the aircraft.   The fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo bombers are the reasons for the existence of the carrier.  The ship is like a floating city.  There are a wide variety of jobs.  There are cobblers, barbers, laundrymen, dentists, and many others.  There are the men who take care of the planes and the sailors who man the anti-aircraft guns.  And there are the damage control personnel.   The narrator personalizes some of the crew, including “Smokey”.  Smokey was a veteran of Guadalcanal who became an ace.  He is held out of flight operations until the final air battle chronicled in the movie.  Another theme is only a small percent of the time is combat.  The men have to find pastimes to alleviate the boredom when they are off duty.  The main time-waster is scuttlebutt (rumors).  They also watch movies.

                         The sound of “general quarters” breaks the routine.  The Yorktown’s first action is a raid on Marcus Island.  Gun camera footage shows fighters strafing.  Sounds are edited in, including dialogue.  Then the “ballet” of recovering planes.  Next is Kwajalein and Truk.  Footage includes shooting down Japanese planes, bombing and strafing, and some crash landings.  Later, cameras on board the ship provide footage of a Japanese attack on the ship.  Some of this is from the Marianas Turkey Shoot.  Lots of Japanese planes go down.  There are more crash landings.  The film ends poignantly with a funeral at sea.

                        “The Fighting Lady” (an unusual title since the Lexington was usually referred to that way) is very effective propaganda.  Mainly because it is not overt.  It does have its moments like “these little monkeys [the Japanese] think they are fancy fliers”.  But this leads to an accurate analysis that the reason we won air battles was our discipline trumped their acrobatics.  For the most part, the narrator concentrates on explaining the roles of the men and the role of the carrier.  As a tutorial on carrier warfare in WWII, it has no equal.  You get a day in the life and some historical events.  It is better and more entertaining than its closest fictional equivalents – “Wing and a Prayer”, “Flat Top”, and “Men of the Fighting Lady”.  It must have had a positive impact on audiences in 1944.  It’s one thing to read about it in newspapers and in letters home, it’s another to see it.  The footage is amazing and the sound effects editing matches it.  Surprisingly, the footage is not repetitive.  And the faux dialogue adds to the footage, rather than coming off as hokey.  There are many air combat movies that don’t get those two things right. 

                        “The Fighting Lady” is a must-see for anyone interested in carrier warfare in the Pacific.  It certainly deserved the Academy Award.  Make sure you watch it before visiting the USS Lexington, or the actual USS Yorktown.  The actual ship is a museum at Patriot’s Point near Charleston, South Carolina.  I know that if I’m ever in the area, I’m going to go.  After watching the movie, again.  It is available on YouTube.


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

CRACKER? Northern Limit Line (2015)

                “Northern Limit Line” is a South Korean film by Kim Hak-soon.  It took him seven years to get funding for the production.  Some of the funds came from a crowdfunding effort that included contributions from the South Korean national soccer team.  The movie was well-received and was nominated for best picture at the South Korean equivalent of the Academy Awards.  It is based on the novel by Choi Soon-jo.  It tells the story of the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong Island.

                The movie takes place in 2002.  South Korea is in the midst of patriot fervor over the third place World Cup match with Turkey.  Patrol boat 357 is assigned to patrol the sea border between the Koreas.  This line is called the Northern Limit Line.  It is disputed as the North Koreans claim it should be further south.  The boat has a new commander – Lt. Commander Yoon (Kim Mu-yeol).  Also new is a medic named Park (Lee Hyan-woo).  They join a tight-knit crew that has pictures of kids, wives, and girlfriends posted on a bulletin board.  Oh oh.  They are watching the soccer match when they get an emergency order to sail.  Yoon questions the Rules of Engagement that forbids them to open fire first.  357 picks up some “fishermen” who are obviously North Koreans.  They are told to release them.  Meanwhile, in Pyongyang, silent planning is taking place.

                On June 29, North Korean patrol boats cross the line.  They have T-34 tank turrets on them!  Waste not, want not.  Those turrets open fire and 357 catches hell.  The running battle is intense.  We get slo-mo, sound dilution, and graphic wounds including dismemberments. The bodies pile up.   In other words, it’s a South Korean war movie. 

                “Northern Limit Line” is a worthy addition to one of my favorite subgenres – the South Korean war film.  It takes a while to get to the balls to the wall battle scene.  There is some good character development.  Yoon, Park, and the helmsman Han (Jin Goo) get back-stories.  For example, Yoon’s father was a captain who was demoted for refusing to execute a spy.  There are some clichés.  Yoon is a martinet in need of humanizing.  He also has daddy issues.  Han needs redemption.  Park must earn respect under the pressure of combat.  The main actors perform well.  You care about these men and there is some heart-tugging.  There must have been some tears in South Korean movie theaters.  In fact, the families had been reluctant to sign off on the film until another incident occurred.  The movie definitely pushes patriotic buttons, but it also depicts some of the crew performing less than bravely.

                The film is well made.  The music is low key during the battle and then shifts to more pompous during the aftermath.  The post script includes actual footage of the funerals.  The movie is nothing special until the combat scene.  But is worth the wait.  The combat section takes up a big chunk of the film.  If you have seen any South Korean war movies, you know what to expect.  Basically it’s “Tae Guk Gi” on the water.  Since it is a naval combat movie, we get a good taste of South Korean naval culture.  Unlike “Tae Guk Gi”, this one is based on a true story.


HISTORICAL ACCURACY:    The movie is based on the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong Island on June 29, 2002.  This battle was the most volatile encounter of many between the patrol forces of the two Koreas.  It began with an incursion by a North Korean boat.  That boat was warned by Chamsuri 357 with no effect and then a second joined it.  The two intruders attacked and a fire fight broke out with 357.  The boat was hit in the wheelhouse and Yoon was killed.  357 was joined by Chamsuri 358 and a ten minute fire fight broke out.  A total of six crewmen on the 357 were killed including Park.  Han’s body was found at sea.  The battle ended when reinforcements arrived and the North Koreans withdrew.  The North Koreans lost 13 killed in action.  The 357 sank while under tow.  

I classify "Northern Limit Line" as a Korean War movie.  After all, the war did not officially end.  Here is my ranking of the Korean Korean War movies:

1.  Tae Guk Gi
3.  Northern Limit Line