Friday, March 21, 2008

The Golden Age of the Military-Entertainment Complex
Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Pentagon-Style
By Nick Turse

Mulling over my favorite military-themed movies.
The list shortens considerably if I limit it to American productions.
Which eliminates Kon Ichikawa's Fires On the Plain (1959), one of the most
brutal war movies I've ever seen. Clint Eastwood may have had a look at it before filming Letters from Iwo Jima.

Many of them aren't "war" movies.

From Here To Eternity. Lancaster, Kerr, Sinatra, Cliff, Reed, Borgnine. This movie never gets old.

Bridge On the River Kwai. Colonel Saito & the American prisoner Shears are the two complex characters. The Best Actor nomination shoulda gone to Wiliiam Holden, not Alec Guinness. But Holden had won an Oscar for another great WWII movie, Stalag 17.

The Longest Day. Revelatory when released, it now seems too large in scope, too episodic, bloodless, too much pithy dialogue, & the cameos are distracting. John Wayne nearly ruins it. But there's some great b&w cinematography. The Germans are more sympathetic characters than the Allies. Spawned over a decade of bad big budget war movies: Midway, Tora! Tora! Tora!, In Harm's Way, The Bridge at Remagen, A Bridge Too Far.

Donald Sutherland:
The Dirty Dozen: Psychopaths make the best soldiers, if they are commanded by Lee Marvin & Richard Jaeckel.
M*A*S*H: War as tedium broken by episodes of gut-wrenching horror.
Kelly's Heroes: WWII tank commander as proto-hippie.

Soldier In the Rain: Nothing much happens in this accurate "comedy" of routine noncom Army life on a large base just prior to Vietnam. Steve McQueen. Tuesday Weld calls Jackie Gleason "Jelly Belly." Lovely score by Henry Mancini.

Patton: Does get at one essential about the great general; he was sickened that American G.I.s were ordered to die huddling in foxholes for days on end & fighting their way through villages with no strategic value.

Kirk Douglas:
Paths of Glory: WWI, three French soldiers selected at random, scapegoated & sentenced to death for cowardice in failure of a suicidal attack. This form of punishing entire army units dates back at least to the Romans. Directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Seven Days In May: Kirk uncovers a military plot to take over the government. Fine followup to director John Frankenheimer's paranoid masterpiece, The Manchurian Candidate. Screenplay by Rod Serling.

The Victors (1963): Long, realistic, underrated Carl Foreman film culminating in a bleak execution of a deserter, inspired by the execution of Eddie Slovik, the only death sentence for desertion carried out in WWII.

Sayonara: With Marlon Brando. Interracial love in occupied Japan. Was the featured movie for the 1957 Radio City Christmas show, odd because it climaxes in a double suicide.

Halls of Montezuma (1951): Timely subplot, Marine Lieutenant Anderson, a high school teacher in civilian life whose command is being cut to pieces by rockets, must decide if he should torture information out of a Japanese prisoner. He does not torture.

G.I. Blues (1960). Elvis as Spec. 5 Tulsa McLean.


I don't believe I have seen any of these movies. It is, however, the second time I've seen Steve McQueen's name today.
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