Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Veteran (2006)


                “The Veteran” is a made-for-TV film.  It was the third in Sidney Furie’s Vietnam War trilogy.  The other two were “The Boys in Company C” and “Under Heavy Fire”.  One of my sources said his trilogy was similar to Oliver Stone’s. I had to laugh at that.  Yes, they are comparable in that they each have three movies and they are about the Vietnam War.  That’s it.  While Stone is considered a good director, Furie is mostly noted for straight-to-DVD movies that are mostly crap.  Let’s see if this is one of them. 

                The movie opens with a title card telling us there are 1,835 prisoners of war that are still missing.  (This was the issue that Ross Perot became famous for.  Oh, and Rambo, too.)  In modern day Ho Chi Minh City (what used to be Saigon), a black clergyman named Watson (Bobby Hosea) visits his old lover’s home.  Queue the flashback.  She had a child by him, but then he left her to go back to the States.  She is not happy to see him.  When he returns to his hotel room, the camera focuses on the ceiling fan.  Seriously?  Did Furie really want to steal from “Apocalypse Now”?  The next flashback is to a chaotic battle featuring Capt. Ramsey (Casper Van Dien through footage from “Under Heavy Fire”).  Watson earned a Bronze Star.  Suddenly, he is confronted by a creepy dude named Jordan (Michael Ironside).  He was a medic in that chaotic scene and was left behind.  He has issues.  He was held prisoner for six years and when released he decided to stay in Vietnam.  He didn’t even let his mother know he was alive!  Meanwhile, Watson’s room is bugged by the CIA.  Agent Sara Reid (Ally Sheedy) is trying to locate missing in action.  And then some Furie-ous things happen.  A chaplain (don’t ask what a platoon is doing with a chaplain) goes into no man’s land to pop smoke.  Later, he throws a grenade to save Jordan’s life.  A chopper drops a bunch of dead bodies on a village.  One of the Americans sets fire to a hootch.  This is considered an atrocity even though no one was hurt!  A later scene looks like it is set in Hue.  Don’t expect Kubrich’s Hue.  Stick around for the ridiculous twist ending.

                Sorry I spent so much time on the plot.  It really didn’t deserve it.  Much of what happens makes little sense.  I didn’t even mention the offensive gay subplot.  The acting matches the plot.  It’s bad.  Ironside chews scenery and the rest of the actors are second-rate.  Apparently, Van Dien turned down the opportunity to star in this one.  When you can’t get Casper, you know you are in trouble.  But, you do get to see a fighting Chaplain. The combat is B-movie and some of it is recycled.  There are a lot of gas explosions.

                I can now die in peace now that I have seen Furie’s Vietnam War trilogy.  I know some of you have a positive view of “Boys of Company C”, which is clearly the best movie of the three.  However, if you are like me and you think it is a bad movie, there is absolutely no reason to watch this movie.  It’s worse than bad.  Did I mention it has a stupid title?


Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Screaming Eagles (1956)


            “Screaming Eagles” is an homage to the American paratroopers who dropped the night before D-Day.  It was a black and white drive-in movie.  Director Charles Haas made a living making B-rated movies.  This was his only war movie.  He was allowed to film at Fort Benning, Ga.  Richard Case, a veteran of D-Day with the 101st Airborne, acted as a technical adviser.  Also on set was Werner Klingler, a German director who had a role in the film.

            “This is the story of 15 paratroopers of Company D, 502nd Paratrooper Regiment, 101st Airborne”.  (For you Band of Brothers fans, their unit was the 505th.)  Right before D-Day, a platoon receives replacements that includes Pvt. Mason (Tom Tryon).  He’s a jerk with a chip on his shoulder.  Everyone in the barracks, except Corliss (Martin Milner), takes an instant dislike to him.  He does not ingratiate himself when he trashes the barracks after getting a Dear John letter.  Lt. Pauling (Jan Merlin) convinces the men to give him another chance.  Before he can earn redemption, they get the word to go.  Their mission is capture and hold a bridge.  Footage of paratroopers boarding a plane. Typical banter on board.  Practicing with those clicker thingies.  No one yells “Geronimo!”  They land 20 miles from the bridge.  SNAFU.  Mason is blamed for starting a firefight that gets the popular Cpl. Dreef killed.  This guy just keeps digging his hole deeper.  As penance, he is put in charge of the blinded Lt. Pauling.  They attack a house where they find a comely French lass named Marianne (Jacqueline Beer – 1954’s Miss Universe runner-up).  They decide to Trojan Horse a German truck to get to the bridge.

            “Screaming Eagles” seems awfully quaint compared to Band of Brothers.  It is closer to an episode of Combat!, but worse.  It does have a decent cast going for it.  Tryon has ben largely forgotten, but he was a second tier star in the 1960s.  This was his second movie.  He went on to co-star in “The Longest Day” and “In Harm’s Way”.  He was a good actor, but he has little to work for here.  Mason is your classic a**hole who no one wants in his fox hole.  Weirdly, he is set up for redemption that doesn’t come because he is not allowed to do anything heroic.  The cast is decent for a low budget film.  I mentioned a young Martin Milner, but Robert Blake is also in it.  Jacqueline Beer’s role smacks of stunt casting, but she is not an anchor.  (She reminds of Denise Darcel in “Battleground”.)  Ms. Beer only made three movies and is probably most famous for being Thor Heyerdahl’s (of Kon Tiki fame) second wife.  Her Marianne earns her place on the poster with a feisty attitude and genuine support for the boys.  Surprisingly, there is no time for romance, or even a kiss. 

            The biggest problem with the movie is it is just not that entertaining.  The mission is unrealistic and the way they carry it out defies credulity.  I know it’s not a documentary, but we can expect some effort if you are honoring real heroes.  The combat is poorly staged.  It looks like some boys playing soldier on a sound stage.  All the vehicles are obviously American with German markings.  There is too much reliance on footage.  The film even uses footage of Germans moving, as though they couldn’t get enough uniforms and extras to shoot that.  The best I can say for it is it lasts only 79 minutes.  Band of Brothers “Day of Days” only lasts 49.  That is a much better investment of your time.


Friday, September 23, 2022

Friendly Persuasion (1956)


                It is based on the novel The Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West.  West, a Quaker, based the novel on her Quaker experiences and family tales from the 19th Century.  The novel covers forty years in the lives of the family, but her treatment narrowed it down to a year during the Civil War.  She served as the technical adviser.  It was directed by William Wyler (“The Best Years of Our Lives”).  The movie was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Anthony Perkins), Song (“Friendly Persuasion – Thee I Love”), Art Direction, and Sound Recording.  It famously was also nominated for Adapted Screenplay, but was disqualified because it had no screen credit for the screenplay because it was written by the blacklisted Michael Wilson.  It was a moderate hit.  It was originally supposed to be a Frank Capra film starring Bing Crosby and Jean Arthur.

                “Friendly Persuasion” is a comedy/drama set in southern Indiana in 1862.  The Birdwells are a Quaker family who live an bucolic farm life.  The movie immediately establishes that Quakers use the words thy, thee, and thou a Hades of a lot.  The biggest conflict for these Quakers during the Civil War is Jess’ (Gary Cooper) Sunday buggy races with his frenemy Sam (Robert Middleton).  The duels occur every Sunday as the neighbors go to their churches.  In an effective intercutting, Sam’s Methodist service is hymnful and takes advantage of Technicolor, whereas the Quaker meeting is virtually black and white and silent other than the occasional testimony by a Friend.  One young lady gets the courage to stand up and asks God to give her the courage to not wear earrings.  The pin-drop proceedings are interrupted by the arrival of a wounded veteran who urges the congregation to support the war effort.  He emphasizes that they should not let others do their fighting for them and they should defend their homes.  Those pesky Rebels might someday be on their doorsteps.  The Quakers greet the call to patriotism and self-survival stonily.  Having established the situation and dynamic, the movie proceeds to character development.

                Jess is a believer, but his wife Eliza (Dorothy McGuire) is a true believer and a minister to boot.  Their daughter Mattie (Phyllis Love) is focused on one thing -  a marriage to Sam’s hunky soldier son Gard (Peter Mark Richman).  Their oldest son Josh (Anthony Perkins in his second role) is not rebellious and does not chafe at his parents’ pacifism.  And then they have a Disneyesque tyke called Little Jess whose job is to be a pest. He has a running war with the family goose (another Disney nod).  They also have a runaway slave named Purdy (Richard Hale) who is like a member of the family.  For most of the movie, the war has little impact on them, other than the occasional sneer from locals.  For instance, a trip to the county fair is used not only to give us an excellent and witty taste of Americana, but to check off some of the temptations Quakers had to avoid (gambling, dancing, music, wrestling) and so Josh can be bullied by belligerents.  At the shooting gallery, the elder Jess proves that if humans were squirrels, the Rebels would be in trouble.  He also proves to be a closet culture-lover by purchasing an organ unbeknownst to his holier than thou spouse.  Where he has been able to hide his passion-filled races on Sunday, he finds it impossible to hide an organ.  This leads to a marriage crisis that is not exactly an allegory of the war between the states.  It’s in this atmosphere of a 1950’s sitcom that the war finally intrudes in the form of a raid by Rebel cavalry.  Josh will have to decide whether to defy his parents and bow to peer pressure (and the smoke from nearby farms).  Will big Jess drop his plow under extreme provocation?  Will little Jess donate the goose to the Rebels?

                I was skeptical about this movie as a war movie and it does start with one of the least war movie songs ever.  However, it turned out to clearly be in the genre and although predominantly a home front tale, it does have a nifty, if brief, battle scene.  It can best be described as a family drama with some humor thrown in.  You would expect the humor to be trite, but the film actually has a quite a few grins and no groans.  It does tend to be groaningly saccharine.  There are no villains.  The local Protestants may be blunt and a bit bullying, but they do have a leg to stand on and could easily represent a mid-50s majority of Americans with regards to the Cold War.  With that analogy established, the movie does not mean to present the Quakers as the equivalent of communist sympathizers.  The Birdwells are positively portrayed.  Even Eliza, who starts off as an insufferable Jesus freak, warms up a bit.  Her husband goes from being hen-pecked to a traditional 50s dad.  He choses music over momma knowing full well that no female is going to stay in the barn when Gary Cooper is in the house (or chopping wood barechested).  This leads to a humorous exchange with Sam where Sam figures some canoodling in the hay restored their relationship.  That’s about as PG as the film gets.

                 The movie is not aiming for a realistic depiction of the Civil War in a border state.  It is not the tearjerker that the similar “Shenandoah” is.  The skirmish near the end can be likened to an incident where the Indiana Home Guard attempted to block a raid by the infamous Confederate John Hunt Morgan.  Morgan’s much larger force of seasoned warriors brushed the militia aside and occupied the local town with looting ensuing.  Undoubtedly, some heavy-handed foraging also occurred on any farms the unit passed through.  The movie has a rabble of rebels taking advantage of Eliza’s hospitality, but the Johnny Rebs are gentlemen.  I doubt Morgan’s boys could be described that way.

                The movie is nicely entertaining and holds up well for a movie that is firmly of its time.  Wyler traded humor for tension.  Some of the humor is of the running gag variety.  There are three races to church and there is the running battle between ‘lil Jess and the goose.  Throw in big Jess’ attempts to salvage something of his lay pleasures while being married to Mother Theresa.  Cooper is fine in a role that he did not enjoy.  He did not want to play the father of adult children and was upset that his character was not a man of action.  He also was opposed to playing opposite McGuire who he considered to be an inferior actor.  He may have been right about that because her Eliza is wooden.  Perkins is a revelation, however.  He became the successor to James Dean because of this movie.  He has a show-stealing skirmish scene that involves the 6th Commandment.  It being a Wyler film, the movie is very well made.  It was Wyler’s first color feature film and the movie is vibrant. It is a beautiful film.  The soundtrack matches the mood well.  Unfortunately, the movie does not reach the heights of “The Best Years of Our Lives” because of its unrealistic depiction of life in a border state during a civil conflict.  It is marred by a simplistic ending.  It is a must-see if you want to see an honest to goodness movie about pacifism that is not anti-war.  That must have been hard to pull off and still be entertaining.