Sunday, May 31, 2020


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

“A story. A man fires a rifle for many years. And he goes to war. And afterwards he comes home, and he sees that whatever else he may do with his life—build a house, love a woman, change his son's diaper—he will always remain a jarhead. And all the jarheads killing and dying, they will always be me. We are still in the desert.”

3.  What movie is this?

It is a WWII aviation picture based on the best seller and Pulitzer Prize winning novel by John Hersey.  It was filmed in England and directed by Philip Leacock.  Two RAF bases were used for the exterior shots.  The producers found three B-17s in America.  Famous aviation writer Martin Caidin helped restore them and flew one across the Atlantic to be used in the film.  He wrote a book about the experience entitled Everything But the Flak.  A stuntman died during a stunt when he drowned parachuting into the English Channel.  Warren Beatty was first choice for the lead role but he turned it down because he had recently caused the breakup of Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood.  Another leading man got the part and was his usual difficult self.  He did not get along with Shirley Anne Field and once pushed so hard she went over a sofa and cut her lip.  In a subsequent kissing scene, she bit him on his lip in revenge.  Director Leacock was lenient with star’s contractual stipulation that he avoid racing cars during the filming.  He proceeded to get into an accident, so those injuries from his fight with the Bolland character are not the result of make-up.

Friday, May 29, 2020

PT-109 (1963)

                Joseph Kennedy had been a Hollywood producer and still had connections to the studios.  He convinced Warner Brothers to buy the rights to Robert Donovan’s PT-109:  John F. Kennedy in World War II.  He saw a film about his son as a political plus.  Jack Warner took a personal interest in the project.  There would be some problems.  Kennedy had input on casting and the script.  He insisted on historical accuracy and that the profits would go to the men and families of PT-109.  (Unfortunately, there were no profits as the movie got a lukewarm reception.)  He sent his good friend and war buddy Alvin Cluster as liaison to the studio.  Cluster had been a PT boat commander during the war and had been Kennedy’s commanding officer for a while.  Several actors were considered for the lead.  Jackie wanted Warren Beatty, but he did not like the script.  The studio suggested teen idol Edd Byrnes, but JFK did not want “Kookie” playing him.  Cliff Robertson got the job, even though he was 40 years old playing a 26 year-old.  Robertson got approval to not attempt the accent, but he did change the part in his hair.  The studio wanted Raoul Walsh to direct, but after the White House screened his “Marines, Let’s Go!” and JFK hated it, he was out.  Lewis Milestone of “All Quiet…” fame landed the job, but he didn’t last either because he did not like the script or the studio did not like his cost overruns.  Leslie Martinson, a career TV director, was a big step down.  However, he was a safe choice who did not make waves about the standard, unchallenging story.  The filming was done in the Florida Keys using Air Sea Rescue boats modified to look like patrol torpedo boats.  They did not bother to paint them the wartime dark green.  The movie was released five months before the assassination and became the first movie about a President to be released while he was in office.

                Narration by Andrew Duggan tells the audience that the setting is the Guadalcanal campaign in the Solomon Islands.  The mission of the PTs is to harass the enemy and buy time for “a navy that was still on the drawing board.”  The craft were fragile wooden boats that were described as “wooden coffins”.  Kennedy (Robertson) pulls strings to get a combat assignment.  He is given a lemon with a motley crew.  It has just survived an attack by Zeros (actually AT-6 Texans, of course) dropping bombs they don’t have.  The boat will need fixing and the crew will need firm leadership.  This will be easy as the crew has no dysfunction and a future President in charge.  Their first mission is to rescue a Marine raiding unit from an island.  It gets hairy with some suspense and plenty of noise.  Later, the boat is buzzed by a Zero that doesn’t bother to strafe them.  I guess it just wanted some screen time.  (In a head scratcher, PT-109 shoots down the plane, but does not fire a torpedo in the whole movie.)  This all leads to the dark night when the boat gets rammed by a Japanese warship.  Two of the crew are killed, but Kennedy helps get the survivors to a nearby island.  Now it’s a matter of maintaining morale and arranging a rescue.  The future President will be up to the tasks.

                Kennedy supposedly enjoyed the movie, but later told Warren Beatty that he had been right about the inadequacies of the script.  Of course, what could he have expected?  A warts and all biopic like “Patton”?  The studio chose well when it tabbed Martinson to direct.  The movie has the vanilla flavor of a 1960’s TV movie.  It is a standard small unit movie with the requisite leadership arc for the main character.  Unfortunately, since JFK obviously had fond memories of his crew, none of the characters rock the boat.  There’s no tension.  There’s some minor grumbling when they are shipwrecked, but nowhere near a mutiny.  Normally, in a picture like this, the leader makes some mistakes to learn from.  But this is Kennedy.  He’s basically a saint in the movie.   And his crew is bland.  With that said, the movie does not lay his story on thick.  Nothing happens that is ridiculous.  Kennedy is no superhero.

                The cast is full of familiar faces.  Ty Hardin is the exec, Robert Culp plays a Ens. Barney Ross.  (The real Ross has a role as a CPO who chews Kennedy out.)  We also get Robert Blake and Norman Fell.  James Gregory plays Kennedy’s a-hole commanding officer because someone had to.  They are all competent and manage to take the dialogue seriously, no mean feat.  Luckily for their thespian efforts, the music was put in during the editing stage.  This movie has some of the most generic, lame war movie music you will ever hear.  It’s not often you can say that a score is the biggest flaw of a movie.  The action scenes are well done, especially the ramming.  That reenactment is fairly close to reality.  Overall, the movie is as accurate as you could expect.  Kennedy was a legit hero and his story was entertaining enough without enhancement.  Speaking of heroes, the movie gives some recognition to the coast watchers.

                I remembered “PT-109” fondly from my childhood.  It is the kind of movie that had an impact on teenage boys in the 1960’s.  It does not hold up well under scrutiny as a war movie, but it is not an embarrassment and I don’t question myself for having liked it.  The more war movies I have seen, the more the generic elements stand out.  Like the music and the dialogue.  Plus since the trend has been to deal with personality flaws in biopics, this movie has the feel of hagiography.  There is not even a hint that Lt. Kennedy screwed up that fateful night.  There’s no irony that a Presidency may have been launched from a mistake.   But then, we would not have had the movie if questions were raised or character was questioned.

GRADE  =  C+

HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  Kennedy’s father pulled strings to get him into the Navy.  His son suffered from a bad back, ulcers, and asthma.  And then he convinced Lt. Commander John Bulkeley (of “They Were Expendable” fame) to take him into PT boats.  He did well, in spite of his health problems.  Next, a senator used his influence to get JFK transferred to combat in the Solomons.  On the transport on the way over, an attack by a number of Japanese planes killed the captain.  Kennedy helped pass shells to an anti-aircraft gun.  When he arrived at Tulagi, he was given PT-109, but it was not a bad boat.  It had been in combat for several months and the crew was veteran.  Kennedy did help with routine repairs.  There was a big attack on the base.  The incident involving the rescue of the Marines actually happened a few months after the sinking of PT-109 when Kennedy was captain of the PT-59.  The boat did run out of gas and had to be towed, but the Japanese firing on it was probably Hollywood.  The mission when the ramming occurred involved more than a dozen boats attempting to intercept four Japanese destroyers.  Although numerous torpedoes were fired, none hit.  PT-109 did not fire any.  The ramming occurred as the Japanese were egressing.  The official version is Kennedy attempted to evade the warship, but the boat did not maneuver quickly enough.  This could have been slow response from Kennedy or possibly a mess-up by a crewman that Kennedy took responsibility for.  The Amagiri probably did not even know it had sliced through the little boat.  PT-109 was cut in two and two crewmen were killed instantly.  They swam four hours to a nearby island with Kennedy towing a badly wounded man.  Unfortunately, the island was devoid of food or water.  The next night, Kennedy swam into the passage to try to contact another PT boat.  Two nights later, the crew swam to another island where they found coconuts, but still no water.  Then JFK and George Ross swam to a third island where they encountered two natives.  Unlike in the movie, the natives were not typical.  They worked with a coast watcher who had been searching for Kennedy’s crew since he had seen the explosion of the boat.  Kennedy sent a note carved on a coconut shell by way of the natives and a PT was sent to pick them up.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

CONSENSUS #42. Battle of Britain (1969)

SUMMARY: This all-star epic is a dramatization of the Battle of Britain from WWII. It concentrates on the RAF pilots, but gives some coverage to the Luftwaffe. There are some soap operaish elements to it. The movie has excellent aerial combat.

BACK-STORY: “Battle of Britain” was released in 1969 and was specifically meant to be a tribute to “the few”. The movie fits into the sub-genre of old-school all-star epics with vignettes supporting the main story line. It’s sisters are “The Longest Day” (1962) and “The Battle of the Bulge” (1965). In some ways it can be viewed as England’s response to those earlier films. It was directed by Guy Hamilton of “Goldfinger” fame. The screenplay is based on the book The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster. The book gives a traditional retelling of the Battle of Britain and thus the movie stands as the definitive film treatment of the battle. It is not a revisionist film.  The film was big budget and it shows. Not only did the producers round up most of the great British actors of the time, but they went to a lot of trouble and expense to round up military hardware appropriate for a 1940 air battle. During the filming, more bullets (in the form of blanks) were fired than in the actual Battle of Britain.  The movie has a very impressive list of technical advisers which included famous aces Adolf Galland and Robert Stanford Tuck. Several airfields that were part of the battle were used in the film. The scenes at RAF Fighter Command were filmed at the headquarters of Fighter Command. Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding's original office was used.

TRIVIA:  wikipedia, imdb,TCM

1.  Technical advisers included three of the greatest aces of WWII:   Robert Stanford Tuck, Ginger Lacey, and Adolf Galland.  Lacey was the main adviser.  He shot down the second most German planes in the battle and finished with a total of 28 for the war.  Tuck shot down 29 and was captured and imprisoned for much of the war.  Galland became head of Luftwaffe fighters and was famous for speaking his mind to authority.  He is portrayed in the film as Major Falke who gets to say Galland’s famous line about Goring giving his squadron some Spitfires.  Galland wondered why they did not use his name for the character.  So do I?  Tuck and Galland became close friends because of the experience and Tuck became Galland’s son’s godfather.

2.  The movie had the use of over 100 aircraft including 12 flyable Spitfires and 3 Hurricanes.  The Germans were played by 32 Spanish versions of the He-111 and 27 versions of the Me-109.  This “air force” was the 35th largest in the world at the time.  The Ju-87 Stukas were models.  Models that dropped their bombs AFTER they dropped their bombs.

3.  The main filming platform was a B-25 Mitchell.

4.  Queen Elizabeth II attended the premiere at Leicester Square in London.

5.  Two samples were used in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”.  The noise of the Stukas diving and the phrase “Where the hell are you, Simon?”

6.  The aerial footage was reused in “Midway”, “Dark Blue World”, “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, “Piece of Cake”, and in the video for “Skeet Surfing” in the movie “Top Secret!”.

Belle and Blade  =  2.5
Brassey’s              =  3.0
Video Hound       =  3.8
War Movies         =  3.1
Military History  =  #90
Channel 4             =  #29
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  yes
Rotten Tomatoes  =  no 

OPINION: “Battle of Britain” is a good movie, but probably does not deserve the fondness many war movie buffs have for it. As a tutorial, it does a fine job in informing about this important event in history. It is fair-minded and does not treat the Germans as evil and the British as saints. In fact, it is not even very patriotic, which is surprising considering it was made in England in the 30th anniversary of the beginning of WWII. It covers both strategy and tactics so you get the pilots perspective as well as what the commanders were thinking.  Unlike “Midway”, BOB makes better use of its cast. The heavy-weights (with the exception of Olivier) are put in officer rather than high command roles. This allows Shaw, Plummer, and Micheal Caine (Squadron Leader Canfield) to put their stamps on their roles. They are all effective.  The dogfights are spectacular, but tend to be repetitive as the movie goes along. The stand-out is the “silent” scene which is almost surreal. Interestingly, the score for this scene is from the original composer and differs from the more bombastic, patriotic music that backs the rest of the movie.
                In conclusion, “Battle of Britain” is the best movie on its subject. It could have been better, but it could also have been much worse. The producers tried hard and deserve to be credited with a game effort. You can learn a lot from this movie and if you hate to read it’s the best tutorial you will get.

Friday, May 22, 2020

TCM Movie Marathon

This weekend in honor of Memorial Day, Turner Classic Movies is showing war movies.  I am providing the schedule for you along with a star rating (on a scale of 1-5) from Brassey's Guide to War Films and the IMDB summary for the films that are not famous.  Some of the movies are very obscure and there are several that I have not seen yet.  It just goes to show, you can watch over 800 war movies for your blog, but there will still be war movies that you have not seen yet.  Don't get me wrong, I am not planning to watch any obscure 1 star movies this weekend.  The movie I recommend the most is "Westfront 1918" which just so happens to be celebrating its 90th anniversary on Saturday.  (You'd think TCM would be aware of that, but it is showing it on Monday.  All the times are Eastern.

06:00 a.m. Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)  ***  Newlyweds Gil  (Henry Fonda) and Lana Martin (Claudette Colbert) try to establish a farm in the Mohawk Valley but are menaced by Indians and Tories as the Revolutionary War begins.
08:00 a.m. Captain Caution (1940)  **  When her father dies, a young woman helps a young man take command of the ship to fight the British during the war of 1812.
09:30 a.m. Glory (1989)  ****
11:45 a.m. Sergeant York (1941)  ****
02:00 p.m. D-Day the Sixth of June (1956)  *
04:00 p.m. The Steel Helmet (1951)  ****
05:30 p.m. The Green Berets (1968)  **
08:00 p.m. Casablanca (1941)  *****
10:00 p.m. Waterloo Bridge (1940)  ***  During World War I, believing her fiance to be dead, a young ballerina loses her job and is forced to turn to prostitution.
12:00 a.m. Cornered (1946)  N/A  Canadian flyer Laurence Gerard finds that his wife has been murdered by a French collaborator. His quest for justice leads him to Switzerland and Argentina.
02:00 a.m. Uncertain Glory (1944)  **  After a career criminal (Errol Flynn) is recaptured and knows he faces the guillotine, he offers to exchange his life for 100 hostages slated for execution by the Nazis.
03:45 a.m. Edge of Darkness (1943)  **  After two years under German rule, a small Norwegian fishing village rises up and revolts against the occupying Nazis.  (another Flynn movie)

Sunday, May 24

06:00 a.m. Reunion in France (1942)  *  In German-occupied Paris, a Frenchwoman (Joan Crawford) hides a downed RAF pilot  (John Wayne) and tries to smuggle him into Portugal despite the strict surveillance by the suspicious Gestapo officers.
08:00 a.m. Assignment in Brittany (1943)  *  A French captain (Jean-Pierre Aumont) poses as a Nazi to pinpoint a U-boat base off the coast of France, while assuming the identity of a "look-a-like" French citizen.
10:00 a.m. Cornered (1946)
12:00 p.m. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)  ****
02:30 p.m. The Wings of Eagles (1957)  N/A  A biography of Navy flier-turned-screenwriter Frank W. "Spig" Wead (John Wayne).
04:30 p.m. The Sand Pebbles (1966)  ***
08:00 p.m. Hell to Eternity (1960)  **  When his adoptive Japanese-American family is sent to Manzanar after Pearl Harbor, a young Chicano (Jeffery Hunter) enlists in the marines to become a hero in the Battle of Saipan.
10:15 p.m. Pride of the Marines (1945)  ***  Marine hero Al Schmid (John Garfield)  is blinded in battle and returns home to be rehabilitated. He readjusts to his civilian life with the help of his soon to be wife.
12:30 a.m. Wings (1927)  *****
03:00 a.m. Westfront 1918 (1930)  *****  A group of German infantrymen of the First World War live out their lives in the trenches of France. They find brief entertainment and relief in a village behind the lines, but primarily terror fills their lives as the attacks on and from the French army ebb and flow. One of the men, Karl, goes home on leave only to discover the degradation forced on his family by wartime poverty. He returns to the lines in time to face an enormous attack by French tanks.
04:45 a.m. The Red Badge of Courage (1951)  ***

Monday, May 25

06:00 a.m. Battle Cry (1955)  **  A group of young Marines have adventures in love and war.
08:30 a.m. Where Eagles Dare (1968)  ****
11:15 a.m. The Great Escape (1963)  *****
02:15 p.m. The Dirty Dozen (1967)  ****
05:00 p.m. Battle of the Bulge (1965)  ***
08:00 p.m. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)  ****
11:00 p.m. Till the End of Time (1946)  N/A  Drama about former WW2 Marines readjusting to civilian life and dealing with their mental and physical traumas.
01:00 a.m. Coming Home (1978)  **
03:30 a.m. Homecoming (1948)  *  At the end of WW2, aboard a repatriation ship, an Army doctor reminisces about his war years while being interviewed by a reporter.  Clark Gable & Lana Turner

Thursday, May 21, 2020

CLASSIC or ANTIQUE? The Eagle and the Hawk (1933)

                        “The Eagle and the Hawk” is a forgotten WWI air combat movie.  I have seen a lot of these and this one flew under my radar, so to speak.  It was directed by Stuart Walker and Mitchell Leisen.  The original story was by John Monk Saunders, who also wrote “Wings” and “The Dawn Patrol”.  Saunders had been in the Air Service during the war, but was stuck in Florida as a flight instructor.  The movie casts Cary Grant and Carol Lombard before they made it big.  It was Lombard’s 37th film and her fifth in 1933!  She does not appear on the original poster but made it onto the rerelease poster.  Grant and Frederic March were almost killed when a premature explosion collapsed some beams on them.  Grant held up a beam while March was pulled out.  Grant suffered some internal injuries.  The movie had a nice set of vintage aircraft to work with.  These included five Thomas-Morse Scouts, four Nieuport 28’s, two de Havilland DH-4’s, and a Curtiss JN-4.

                        The movie opens with Lt. Young (March) and Lt. Crocker (Grant) having joined the Royal Flying Corps.  Crocker makes a poor landing resulting in the pair being upside down.  Crocker takes it with a laugh, but Young begins to think Crocker is not cut out to be a pilot.  When the squadron gets sent to France, Young makes sure Crocker is held back.  Young becomes a photo reconnaissance pilot.  He flies, the backseater takes pictures and uses a machine gun to defend the plane if pounced on.  On his first mission, he shoots down two Germans.  The footage was from “The Dawn Patrol” (1930).  But upon returning to base, he discovers that his comrade is dead.  This becomes a pattern as Young is as bullet proof as his photographers are bullet magnets.  Squadron mates are dying to fly with him.  Get it?  Nobody seems to hold this against him because he becomes a celebrated flying ace.  But at what cost?  He’s not Stachel from “The Blue Max”.  After two months, he has reached the point where his job description is:  “I’m a chauffer for a graveyard, driving men to their deaths, day after day, for what?”  For medals, apparently.  He begins to drink and not the usual WWI air combat movie drinking.  More the Gresham from “Aces High” alcoholism.   He also has nightmares.  His victims (the Germans and his observers) are just kids!  Kids!   Into his morose life comes his foil, Crocker.  Crocker has conceded his dream of being a pilot and now is a fearless observer.  Although they loath each other, they pair up.  The mutual animosity goes up to 10 when Crocker shoots a parachuting German.  Young is the tormented, chivalric knight of the air and Crocker is the Machivellian, stone cold killer.  Young belongs in WWI, Crocker belongs in WWII.  They are grudgingly going to learn to respect each other, but will it be enough to halt Young’s descent into alcoholic depression?  Maybe if he meets a Beautiful Lady (Lombard) on R&R, that will turn him around.

                        Recently I have seen “Ace of Aces” and “Lafayette Escadrille” and I figured this movie would be a similarly low-quality dogfighting movie.  I was wrong.  “The Eagle and the Hawk” is one of the better WWI air combat movies.  It avoids most of the clich├ęs so prevalent in this subgenre.  Nobody rides a motorcycle, but the main character does lose his best friend, the squadron does party hard, and there is an enemy ace (Voss, apparently based on Werner Voss) they joust with, but he is not a villain.  The cannon fodder replacements are enthusiastic, as usual.  However, although the movie is predictably antiwar, it is otherwise unpredictable.  In fact, for a Cary Grant movie, it is shockingly downbeat.   It’s closest to “Aces High” in its depressing take on the war in the air.
                        “The Eagle and the Hawk” is realistic in showing the stress the war could put on even the best pilots.  Young and Stachel are at opposite extremes of the spectrum when it comes to how pilots must have reacted to shooting down fellow human beings.  With Young, you have to add that he also loses a lot of comrades and could argue to himself that he was at fault.  What makes the movie a cut above is the movie literally puts Young and Stachel in the same plane because Crocker is a Stachel-like character.  The cast is strong with March great as the tormented Young and Grant his usual debonair self, but with an edge that he showed in movies like “Notorious”.  He is not humorous.  Jack Oakie provides the comic relief you often see in otherwise serious WWI movies.  Lombard has basically a cameo.  She is billed as “Beautiful Lady” and she certainly matches the description.  Her short time on screen is crucial in showing how far down the well Young has fallen.  She throws him a rope, but does he even want redemption?  While her role is as developed as her billing, the three main characters are well-developed.  We know what makes these guys tick.  The dialogue helps with this as the movie has the feel of a play in parts.

                        I would hesitate to call it a dogfighting movie.  It has a small amount of actual combat, but the quality makes up for the lack of quantity.  Although the producers had those vintage aircraft to work with, most of the action is footage from other movies like “The Dawn Patrol”, “Wings”, and “Young Eagles”.  You can’t tell, though.  The sound effects are good and match the footage well.  But don’t watch it to learn about dogfighting in WWI.  Don’t even watch it to learn about photo recon.  It’s a movie with a main character that has a character arc that has to spiral downward, so we’ll overlook the fact that every observer he takes up gets machine gunned and yet the German pilots can’t hit the guy sitting three feet in front of them.  We’ll also overlook having an observation pilot become a famous ace.  I can guarantee you Young is not based on an actual pilot! 

                        “The Eagle and the Hawk” got positive reviews, but did not make a splash at the box office.  I theorize this was due to Grant and Lombard not being big box office draws yet.  It could also be explained by the far from happy ending.  The public had been conditioned by this time to expect good WWI movies to be anti-war, but “The Eagle and the Hawk” takes it up a notch.  I won’t give it away, but I will mention that the original ending was even more down-beat.  Some things are beyond the public’s ability to handle.


Monday, May 18, 2020

CONSENSUS #43 - Last of the Mohicans (1992)

SYNOPSIS:  A modern interpretation of the James Fenimore Cooper classic. Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his two Mohican pals attempt to protect two English lasses from the villainous Magua (Wes Studi). Throw in the siege of Fort William Henry during the French and Indian War.

BACKSTORY:  The Last of the Mohicans was released in 1992. It was the first big budget feature from director Michael Mann. It was very loosely based on the John Fennimore Cooper novel, but actually is closer to the 1936 Randolph Scott film. The movie is set in 1757, three years into the French and Indian War. Although the action takes place in upstate New York, it was actually filmed mostly in North Carolina. The production used 1,000 Native American actors and extras. Mann had a 20 acre frontier farm, a Huron village, and a replica of a British fort built. The directors obsessive quest for authenticity was matched by his star Daniel Day-Lewis who completely immersed himself in his role. Part of his preparation involved a colonial boot camp experience in the backwoods. Mann used a respected authority named Mark Baker to vet the film. Baker is an expert on frontier life, Indians, and weaponry. Mann provided him with a copy of the script and in most cases made changes suggested by Baker. The movie was a box office success and critically acclaimed. It was awarded an Oscar for Sound.

TRIVIA:  wikipedia, imdb, TCM

1.  It relies more on the 1936 version than the book.  Thank God!

2.  The Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina stood in for the Adirondacks.

3.  Daniel Day-Lewis lived in the wilderness for several weeks to prepare for his role.  He got into the role so much that after the shoot he suffered from claustrophobia and mild hallucinations.

4.  Randy Edelman finished the score because Trevor Jones had another commitment and there may have been some artistic differences between Jones and director Michael Mann.

5.  Recreation of Fort William Henry cost $6 million.

6.  The film used hundreds of Native American extras, mostly Iroquois. 

7.  Russell Means was making his film debut.  He was famous for being a leader of the American Indian Movement and participated in the Wounded Knee occupation.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  3.0
Video Hound       =  3.8
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #95
Channel 4             =  #35
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  yes
Rotten Tomatoes  =  no 

OPINION:   This is a magnificent movie. It combines an interesting plot with great acting and a real concern for historical accuracy. Kudos to Michael Mann for getting the little details right. Lets face it, even war movie nuts do not care if the moccasins are circa 1757. However, when a director insists on accuracy down to the ground and cares if anyone will notice, you get a better movie for purists.  Also commendatory was the tampering with the plot of the novel. I admit I get upset when a nonfiction source is changed to Hollywoodize a movie, but I do not think it is hypocritical to endorse what Mann and the screenwriters have done. Especially since most literary critics are not big fans of the novel. As long as you get the historical facts mostly right, why not make the tale better?  The movie also looks good. The scenery is breathtaking. Parts of North Carolina really do look like the frontier of colonial America. The score is perfect.  So here we have a movie with great acting, a moving score, realistic sound, romance, action, suspense, violence, and historical accuracy.  I would rank it higher, but I think #43 is fair.

Friday, May 15, 2020


1.  What movie is the picture from?

2.  What movie is this quote from?

“He better be worth it. He better go home and cure a disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb.”

3.  What movie is this?

  It is based on the acclaimed novel by James Jones .  The film marked the return of its legendary director after a twenty year hiatus.  Many A-list actors were interested in being directed by him in whatever movie he made his comeback with.  In fact, several major actors worked on the movie and were left on the cutting room floor ( e.g. Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen, Gary Oldman ).  The movie did not do well at the box office, but did garner seven Oscar nominations ( including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography ).  It won none.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

55 Days at Peking (1963)

                    “55 Days at Peking” is an epic set in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 China.  It was based on the book by Noel Gerson.  It was directed by Nicholas Ray (“Flying Leathernecks”) until he suffered a heart attack.  Guy Green and Andrew Martin finished it uncredited.  It was filmed in Spain where a huge set was constructed.  3,000 extras were employed, including 1,500 Chinese, many of whom were brought in from all over Europe.  The production was problematical and involved numerous rewrites by four different screenwriters.  Some of the problems revolved around Ava Gardner.  She was very difficult to work with:  showing up late, bemoaning the script, and drinking.  At one point, she walked off the set, shutting down production, because someone took a picture of her.   Charlton Heston did not have a pleasant experience and claimed later that Gardner’s character was killed off to get her off the set.   The movie was nominated for two Academy Awards, both to Dmitri Tiomkin for Best Original Song (“So Little Time”) and Best Original Musical Score.  The movie was a box office bomb and has been criticized for historical inaccuracies and the use of Occidentals in Chinese roles, like Flora Robson as the Empress.

                    The movie begins in the foreign compound with all the foreign nations raising their flags and playing their anthems, at the same time.  One old Chinaman says:  “What is that terrible noise?”  His friend:  “Different nations all saying ‘we want China’”.  Many Chinese are upset with the presence of all these European powers and the Dowager Empress (Robson) decides to encourage a rebellion by the Boxers.  Maj. Matt Lewis (Heston) is the head of the military detachment.  When the compound is besieged, he forms an alliance with a British diplomat named Robinson (David Niven).  He begins a romance with a Russian Baroness (Gardner) who has a checkered past.   The clock starts ticking on the 55 days until the cavalry will arrive in the form of a multinational relief force.  During this time, Lewis and his soldiers will have to hold off horde attacks similar to those of “Zulu” and many Westerns. There are plenty of fireworks, literally and figuratively.  In one scene, Lewis and action hero / diplomat Robinson sneak through the sewer system to blow up an ammunition depot.  This all builds to a rousing storming of the fort/castle/compound by Indians/knights/Boxers.  And then Lewis rides off into the sunset with a little orphaned girl he befriended.  And that’s the story of the Boxer Rebellion.

                    When CinemaScope debuted in the 1950’s, historical epics became popular to take advantage of the bigness and as a way to compete with the small screen TV.  Samuel Bronston became a major producer of big budget spectacles.  He built a huge studio in Spain to facilitate his epics which included “King of Kings”,  “El Cid”, and “The Fall of the Roman Empire”.   His success ran out with “55 Days at Peking”.  His chaotic producing style contributed to the problems, but there were many problems as I have already outlined.  All things considered, the finished product is entertaining in a pompous sort of way.  And boy does that Technicolor look vibrant.  The plot is stodgy and the movie is too long, but there are some good set pieces that will sate the tactically ignorant.  There are despicable villains in the Empress and her abetting Prince Tuan.  Plus you get the savage horde to hiss at.  (Don’t dwell on the fact that, like the Indians and the Zulus, they were fighting against foreign oppression.)  Which reminds me to point out that Heston’s role is similar to Gen. Gordon in “Khartoum”.  Who’s going to root against Moses?  In this case, Lewis is not mentally challenged and is more of a straight arrow hero.  It’s a shame he was not celibate because the romance with the Baroness is bizarre.  It can best be explained by knowing the back-story of Gardner’s participation in the movie.  Knowing Heston did not want to act with her will clear up some head-scratching plot developments.  Ironically, Heston also had a fraught relationship with Sophia Loren in “El Cid”.  Maybe he needed to look in the mirror, more.


HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  As far as historical accuracy, the movie is as good as could be expected and since you are unlikely to read up on it, it will give you a rudimentary knowledge of the siege of the Peking Legation Quarter during the Boxer Rebellion.  The Boxers were Chinese peasants who were mobilized in a rebellion against Christianity and foreigners.  The insurrection was brought on by years of provocation including Europeans forcing the importation of opium which resulted in an addicted country, several ass-kickings in wars, the pushing of Christianity, and unequal, forced trade treaties.  The movie does a good job portraying the Qing government’s dilemma of who to side with.  The Empress Dowager Tzu-His was torn between the anti-foreign Prince Duan (Tuan in the movie) and the anti-Boxer Gen. Rong Lu (Jong-Lu) and eventually decided to support the Boxers.  The movie implies Rong-Lu was the voice of reason and if you look at the bet that the Empress lost, you could argue that.  However, in some ways she had little choice to side with the Boxers.  Granted, they were already killing Chinese civilians in the countryside, but the siege of the foreign quarter began, not with the killing of the German minister, but with the execution of a young Boxer by order of the German minister.  The enraged Boxers began their assault soon after.  The Empress actually tipped in favor of Prince Duan after European warships shelled some Chinese forts.  The fighting was more consistent and less spectacular than depicted in the movie.  Basically it involved probings of the walls by Boxer forces.  Both sides built barricades and the small European military contigent was hard pressed repelling the attacks.  Lewis is based on Lt. John Myers, who led the Marines, but did not have command over all the foreign troops.  His greatest exploit was leading a multi-national assault on a Boxer barricade that had advanced perilously close.  Victory here was the turning point in the siege, but Myers was wounded and hospitalized for the rest of the siege, which had several more weeks to run.  Niven’s character was based on Claude MacDonald, who was more of a military man than the effete Robertson and did participate in the defense.  Obviously, Myers and MacDonald did not do a sewer system raid on an ammo dump. As far as the conclusion, the relief expedition did arrive in the nick of time, but not in the middle of a final assault.