And All His Empty Promises

Thursday, January 5, AD 2017

(I first posted this in 2014.  It is worthy of another posting.)

 

 

Back when I was a boy, I watched entirely too much television.  Of course, who could blame me?  Tempted by a luxuriant three, count them, three channels, albeit one of them fuzzy in bad weather, to choose from!  However, I do not regret watching the Early Show on Channel 3.  Back in those bygone days, many stations would run old movies from the thirties, forties and fifties, between 3:00 PM-5:00 PM.  Thus I first experienced some of the classics of cinema, and one of my favorites was Double Indemnity, 1944, the first of the film noire genre. Adultery and murder were perhaps too mature topics for me in my initial pre-teen viewings, but I was fascinated by it because it seemed to be a playing out on screen of what I was learning at the time from The Baltimore Catechism:  that sin will lead inevitably to destruction unless contrition and amendment are made.   The film was fortunate to have at its center three masters of the craft of acting.

Fred MacMurray, born in Kankakee, Illinois, 37 miles from my abode, in 1907, was a good guy in real life and usually in reel life.  A firm Catholic and staunch Republican, he tried to join the military after Pearl Harbor but a punctured ear drum kept him out of service.  He adopted a total of four kids with his two wives:  his first wife dying from cancer in 1953, and his second wife remaining his wife until his death.  (Such fidelity was as rare in Hollywood then as it is now.)  On screen MacMurray played to type and was almost always a good guy, but not always, and it is ironic  that the two best performances of his career came when he played bad guys:  weak, lustful and doomed Walter Neff in Double Indemnity and the scheming, cowardly Lieutenant  Thomas Keefer in The Caine Mutiny.

Barbara Stanwyck had a Dickensian childhood from which she was lucky to emerge alive, her mother dying of a miscarriage and her father going off to work on the Panama Canal and never being heard from again.  A series of foster homes followed, which Ruby Catherine Stevens, as Stanwyck was then named, constantly ran away from.  Dropping out of school at 14 to begin working, she never looked back.  Breaking into show business by becoming a dancer in the Ziegfield Follies at age 16, she was a star on broadway in the play Burlesque before she turned 20.  Changing her name to Barbara Stanwyck, she broke into films immediately thereafter, displaying a flair for both drama and comedy, specializing in strong independent women.  Her personal, as opposed to her professional, life was a mess.  Married in 1928 to her Burlesque co-star Frank Fay, they adopted a son, Stanwyck having been rendered sterile by an abortion at 15.  The marriage ended in divorce in 1935, Fay during the marriage often slapping Stanwyck around when he was drunk. Stanwyck got custody of their son.  Stanwyck was a hovering and authoritarian mother, leading to a life long alienation from her son after he became an adult.  Stanwyck married actor Robert Taylor in 1939, and, after numerous acts of infidelity on both sides, divorced in 1950.  Ironically Stanwyck and Taylor did stay friends after their divorce, Stanwyck, who never remarried, referring to him as the true love of her life.  In her politics Stanwyck was a staunch conservative Republican who supported the investigations of Congress into Communist infiltration into Hollywood.  Remaining in demand as an actress almost until her death in 1990, she filled her last years with charitable work.  Stanwyck was well equipped by her own tumultuous life to give depth to her portrayal of the murderous, scheming Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity.

Although remembered today chiefly for his gangster roles and his portrayal of the rat-like Dathan in The Ten Commandments, Edward G. Robinson was actually an actor with a very broad range of work:  comedies, dramas, historical epics, you name it.  By 1944 he was age 51 and realized that his days as a leading man were coming to a close.  His half comedic role as the insurance claims adjuster Barton Keyes in Double Indemnity he viewed as a step in his transition to being a character actor.  Always a liberal, Robinson was blacklisted in Hollywood due to his affiliation with Communist front groups.  Robinson admitted as much by an article he wrote for the American Legion Magazine entitled “How the Reds Made a Sucker Out of Me”.  His comeback came when anti-Communist director Cecil B. DeMille, who thought that Robinson had been treated unfairly, cast him in the scene-stealing role of Dathan in The Ten Commandments.

Spoiler alerts in regard to the following:

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Silence, Faith and Courage

Friday, December 30, AD 2016

“Like my Master, I shall die upon the cross. Like him, a lance will pierce my heart so that my blood and my love can flow out upon the land and sanctify it to his name.”

Saint Paul Miki, statement before his martyrdom in 1597 in Japan

 

Bishop Barron has a good hard look at  Martin Scorsese’s movie Silence, based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endo about two Jesuit missionaries who apostatized in Seventeenth century Japan:

The next day, in the presence of Christians being horrifically tortured, hung upside down inside a pit filled with excrement, he is given the opportunity, once more, to step on a depiction of the face of Christ. At the height of his anguish, resisting from the depth of his heart, Rodrigues hears what he takes to be the voice of Jesus himself, finally breaking the divine silence, telling him to trample on the image. When he does so, a cock crows in the distance. In the wake of his apostasy, he follows in the footsteps of Ferreira, becoming a ward of the state, a well-fed, well-provided for philosopher, regularly called upon to step on a Christian image and formally renounce his Christian faith. He takes a Japanese name and a Japanese wife and lives out many long years in Japan before his death at the age of 64 and his burial in a Buddhist ceremony.

What in the world do we make of this strange and disturbing story? Like any great film or novel, Silence obviously resists a univocal or one-sided interpretation. In fact, almost all of the commentaries that I have read, especially from religious people, emphasize how Silence beautifully brings forward the complex, layered, ambiguous nature of faith. Fully acknowledging the profound psychological and spiritual truth of that claim, I wonder whether I might add a somewhat dissenting voice to the conversation? I would like to propose a comparison, altogether warranted by the instincts of a one-time soldier named Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order to which all the Silence missionaries belonged. Suppose a small team of highly-trained American special ops was smuggled behind enemy lines for a dangerous mission. Suppose furthermore that they were aided by loyal civilians on the ground, who were eventually captured and proved willing to die rather than betray the mission. Suppose finally that the troops themselves were eventually detained and, under torture, renounced their loyalty to the United States, joined their opponents and lived comfortable lives under the aegis of their former enemies. Would anyone be eager to celebrate the layered complexity and rich ambiguity of their patriotism? Wouldn’t we see them rather straightforwardly as cowards and traitors? 

My worry is that all of the stress on complexity and multivalence and ambiguity is in service of the cultural elite today, which is not that different from the Japanese cultural elite depicted in the film. What I mean is that the secular establishment always prefers Christians who are vacillating, unsure, divided, and altogether eager to privatize their religion. And it is all too willing to dismiss passionately religious people as dangerous, violent, and let’s face it, not that bright. Revisit Ferreira’s speech to Rodrigues about the supposedly simplistic Christianity of the Japanese laity if you doubt me on this score. I wonder whether Shusaku Endo (and perhaps Scorsese) was actually inviting us to look away from the priests and toward that wonderful group of courageous, pious, dedicated, long-suffering lay people who kept the Christian faith alive under the most inhospitable conditions imaginable and who, at the decisive moment, witnessed to Christ with their lives. Whereas the specially trained Ferreira and Rodrigues became paid lackeys of a tyrannical government, those simple folk remained a thorn in the side of the tyranny. 

I know, I know, Scorsese shows the corpse of Rodrigues inside his coffin clutching a small crucifix, which proves, I suppose, that the priest remained in some sense Christian. But again, that’s just the kind of Christianity the regnant culture likes: utterly privatized, hidden away, harmless.  So okay, perhaps a half-cheer for Rodrigues, but a full-throated three cheers for the martyrs, crucified by the seaside.

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The Bishop’s Wife

Friday, December 23, AD 2016

 

A fine Christmas movie is The Bishop’s Wife from 1947.    David Niven is an Episcopalian bishop of a struggling diocese;  Loretta Young (ironically one of the more devout Catholics in the Hollywood of her time) is his wife;  and Cary Grant is Dudley, one of the more unimportant angels in Heaven, sent by God to lend the Bishop a hand.  The film is a graceful comedy which effectively and quietly underlines the central importance of faith in God as we see in this little scene when undercover angel Dudley, Cary Grant, uses his powers to summon a tardy boy’s choir for an unforgettable rendition of O Sing to God:

 

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The Three Godfathers

Thursday, December 15, AD 2016

 

 

An interesting film for Advent or Chistmas is a John Wayne flick.  John Wayne in a Christmas movie?  Yep, The Three Godfathers in 1948!   Another fruitful John Ford and John Wayne collaboration, the film was released in December 1948.  Three bank robbers, portrayed by John Wayne, Pedro Armedariz and Harry Carey, Jr.,  stumble across a dying woman and her newborn son in a desert in the American Southwest.  The three outlaws, although they are attempting to elude a posse, promise the dying woman to look after her son.

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Brother Orchid: The Seductive Power of Good

Friday, December 9, AD 2016

Brother Superior: When the heart speaks, Brother Orchid, other hearts must listen.

Brother Orchid (1940)

Interested in seeing a screwball-comedy-film noir gangster-western-religious flick?  I am always on the lookout for oddball films for Advent and they don’t come odder, or more heart warming, than Brother Orchid (1940).  Starring Edward G. Robinson with a fantastic supporting cast including Humphrey Bogart, Ann Southern, Ralph Bellamy and Donald Crisp, it is a trip back to the Golden Age of Hollywood when literate, thoughtful films were considered mass entertainment.  It also is a fine exponent of a facet of the human condition that is not much commented upon today:  the seductive power of good.  A review of the film is below with the usual caveat as to spoilers.

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Review of Hacksaw Ridge

Monday, November 21, AD 2016

 

Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard,
that the everlasting God, the Lord,
the Creator of the ends of the earth,
fainteth not, neither is weary?
There is no searching of his understanding.
He giveth power to the faint;
and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
and the young men shall utterly fall:
but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

 

I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.
Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!

William Tecumseh Sherman, address to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy (June 19, 1879)

 

 

 

My bride and I went to see Hacksaw Ridge last Saturday, Mel Gibson’s tribute to conscientious objector Desmond Doss who earned a Medal of Honor for heroism on Okinawa, and I was bowled over by it.  It wrenched more emotion from me than any film I have ever seen, except for Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.  My review is below the fold.  The usual caveat as to spoilers is in effect.

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Angel On My Shoulder

Monday, November 7, AD 2016

 

One of my favorite actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood is Claude Rains.  Throughout his career he brought vibrant intelligence and a world weary cynicism to his roles.  From his screen personae, it might be assumed that Rains was an English aristocrat educated at elite English “public” schools.  Actually he was London Cockney, and had a very pronounced Cockney accent and a speech impediment as he was growing up.  He served gallantly in World War I in the British Army in the London Scottish Regiment, rising from private to captain, and being blinded in one eye as a result of a gas attack.

He quickly achieved post war success in England as an actor.  He began acting in American films and became an American citizen in  1939.  His first big hit was the title role in The Invisible Man in 1933.  He went on to achieve stardom with unforgettable roles, such as Prince John in Robin Hood (1938), Senator Joseph Paine in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and, doubtless the role he is most known for, Captain Renault in Casablanca (1942):

In 1946 Rains appeared in probably the most unusual role in his career as Satan in Angel On My Shoulder.  The plot involves Satan’s attempt to use a deceased gangster, Eddie Kagle, played by Paul Muni, to discredit a living judge the gangster resembles.  The film is filled with bon mots by Rains, including him asking “What in my domain is that?” in reference to a ruckus caused by Eddie Kagle after he arrives in Hell.  The film has a rather profound sequence where Satan, or “Nick” as he is referred to in the film, expresses his exasperation with God for taking such concern over mortals.  He cannot understand why he loves them.  I suspect that is the case with the real Devil, and that the love of God is a complete mystery to him.  As CS Lewis noted in his The Screwtape Letters:

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J. Edgar Hoover in The FBI Story

Monday, September 26, AD 2016

The 1959 movie, The FBI Story, was a project near and dear to the heart of J. Edgar Hoover, founding director of the FBI, who ran it with an iron fist from 1935 until his death in 1972.  Based upon the best selling authorized history of the FBI, The FBI Story, Hoover wanted the FBI to be portrayed in heroic mode, with no controversial spots.  A squad of special agents supervised the film and everyone associated with the film, no matter how humble, had to be vetted by the FBI. 

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Sully: A Review

Monday, September 12, AD 2016

 

 

My bride and I last Saturday saw the movie Sully, Clint Eastwood’s take on airline Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s amazing landing of a distressed Airbus A320, US Airways Flight 1549, on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew on board.  We both loved the picture and my review is below the fold.  The usual warning as to spoilers is in full force.  

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Florence Foster Jenkins

Friday, August 19, AD 2016

 

One of the more curious cultural artifacts in the history of this country is the very odd musical career of Florence Foster Jenkins.  A rich heiress, she loved music.  She was a talented pianist in her youth but stopped taking lessons when she married in 1885 at age 18 Dr. Frank Thornton Jenkins.  The marriage was a rocky one, characterized by her contracting syphilis from him.  They parted after three years.  He passed away in 1917, but she retained her married name for the remainder of her life.  Moving to New York with her mother in 1900, she founded the Verdi Club in 1917, to share her love of music.  It was through this venue that she embarked upon her career as a singer, giving recitals to small groups of fans, with musical critics carefully excluded.  Jenkins was convinced she was a great singer.  In truth she was an an appallingly bad singer, with virtually no sense of rhythm or pitch.  She was a generous patron of various causes, most of them musical, and her audiences treated her with kindness, any titters being drowned by applause.

She would be forgotten today but for a memorable concert she gave for charity at Carnegie Hall on October 25, 1944.  The tickets for the event sold out immediately and about 2000 people were turned away the night of the performance.  Ticket prices were $20.00, the equivalent of $274.00 today.  (Privates in the US Army, with combat pay, earned $50.00 per month in 1944.)  Many celebrities attended.  As in her past outings, her fans covered over laughter during her performance with applause.  Alas music critics were among the crowd and their reviews were scathing.  She passed away a month and a day later of a heart attack.  She had been crushed by the bad reviews but, considering that she was in the tertiary stages of syphilis her death may well have had nothing to do with her reaction to the reviews.

Remarkably, in the past two years there have been two films about Jenkins, one in French and the other in English, Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep in the title role.  I saw this film last Saturday with my family and the Godmother of my children and my review is below the fold.  The usual caveat as to spoilers is in full effect.

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John Wayne Films For the Fourth of July

Thursday, June 30, AD 2016

 

This Fourth of July long weekend is made for a trip down American history courtesy of John Wayne films.  Wayne was an American original.  Thirty seven years after his death, in the annual Harris poll of favorite actors, he ranks number four overall, and number one among men voting.  In his day he was never shy about declaring his love of country, and he did so when patriotism was fashionable and when it was unfashionable.  An American icon, the deathbed convert to the Catholic Church is a symbol of this nation, instantly recognizable around the globe.  Here are some of his films set in the history of this land.

 

 

 

 

  1. Allegheny Uprising (1939)-The film tells the true story of the Black Boys Rebellion against the British in 1765, with Wayne portraying James Smith the leader of this proto-American Revolution.

 

 

 

2.  The Fighting Kentuckian (1949)-John Wayne costars with Oliver Hardy, yeah, that Oliver Hardy, in a tale of veterans of the War of 1812 helping French settlers battle land swindlers in Alabama.   Very loosely based on actual events.  In one scene Wayne explains that his family never had money due to his father’s health being ruined after he spent a winter at a place called Valley Forge.

 

 

 

 

 

3.  The Alamo (1960)-The epic story of the battle for Texan Independence.  Wayne’s love note to America and freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958)-One of the more successful American diplomats of the Nineteenth Century, Townsend Harris, a native of New York City, became wealthy in the China trade in the early part of the century.  He then turned to public service, serving as the President of the New York City Board of Education from 1846-1848.  He founded the Free Academy of the City of New York, later renamed as the City College of New York, in order to provide college educations to low income people in New York.

In July 1856, Franklin Pierce named him the first American consul general to the Empire of Japan.  He opened the first American consulate in Japan in the city of Shimoda.  Overcoming enormous difficulties, in two years he negotiated what has become known as the Harris Treaty, which established full diplomatic and trade relations between Japan and the US.

On the hundredth anniversary of the treaty in 1958, John Wayne, in one of the oddest films of his career, starred as Townsend Harris in the film The Barbarian and the Geisha.  Few men could have been more unlike John Wayne than Harris, and Wayne appears uncomfortable in the role of the diplomat to me.  The film played up an alleged romance between Harris and Okichi, a 17 year old housekeeper, which has long been a tale told in Japan.  Unfortunately, this aspect of the story is untrue.  Harris fired Okichi after she worked for him for three days due to the fact that he considered her to be an incompetent housekeeper.  However, the look of the film is splendid, even if the film is the usual Hollywood mix of lies and half-truths.

 

 

 

5.  The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid.

Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg.

John Wayne gives a fine, if surly, performance as Colonel Marlowe, the leader of the Union cavalry brigade.  William Holden as a Union surgeon serves as a foil for Wayne.  Constance Towers, as a captured Southern belle, supplies the obligatory Hollywood love interest.

Overall the film isn’t a bad treatment of the raid, and the period.  I especially appreciated two scenes.  John Wayne refers to his pre-war activities as “Before this present insanity” and Constance Towers gives the following impassioned speech:

Well, you Yankees and your holy principle about savin’ the Union. You’re plunderin’ pirates that’s what. Well, you think there’s no Confederate army where you’re goin’. You think our boys are asleep down here. Well, they’ll catch up to you and they’ll cut you to pieces you, you nameless, fatherless scum. I wish I could be there to see it.

Both scenes ring home with authenticity.  Not a bad effort from the usual history manglers of Hollywood.(Although there are still errors enough, including Union soldiers worrying about being captured and sent to Andersonville prior to the POW camp being constructed by the Confederates in 1864.)

 

 

 

6.  The Searchers (1956)-Set in Reconstruction Texas, John Wayne gives the performance of his career as embittered Confederate veteran Ethan Edwards and his vengeance ride against Comanches who slaughtered his family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7.  True Grit (1969)-Set in Reconstruction Arkansas, True Grit is the only film for which Wayne won an Oscar.  An accomplished actor, Wayne throughout his career made it all look so easy that he was always badly underestimated.  In this film, a skillful mixture of comedy and drama, Wayne was able to give life to Rooster Cogburn, one of the great literary creations of the last century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8.  Rio Grande (1950)-The final installment in Ford and Wayne’s cavalry trilogy was picked for inclusion due to the above rendition of Down by the Glenside.  The song of course would not be written until 1916, but any viewer with a drop of Irish blood will forgive the historical anachronism.

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Fortnight For Freedom: Top Ten Movies for the Fourth

Wednesday, June 29, AD 2016

fortnight for freedom 2016

 

Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.

John Adams

 

 

 

This is a repeat from a post last year, with some slight modifications, but I think the logic behind the post still holds true.  As we are embroiled now in a struggle to preserve our religious liberty, I think the Fourth of July is a good time to recall the price paid to establish our liberties.  It is trite to say that freedom is not free, but it is also true.  Winning the American Revolution took eight years and it was a definite David V. Goliath upset.  A people who forget this eternal lesson will not remain free for long.

 

 

A number of feature films and miniseries have been made about the events of the American Revolution.  Here are my top ten choices for Fourth of July viewing:

10.  Ben and Me (1953)- Something for the younger patriots.  Disney put to film the novel of Robert Lawson, Ben and Me, which related how many of Ben Franklin’s bright ideas came from his mouse Amos.  Quite a bit of fun.   Not a classic but certainly an overlooked gem.

9.  The Crossing (2000)-A retelling of Washington’s brilliant crossing of the Delaware on Christmas 1776 and the battle of Trenton.  This film would rank much higher on my list but for Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of Washington as sullen and out of sorts throughout the movie.  Washington had a temper, and he could give vent to it if provoked, although he usually kept it under control, but the peevish Washington portrayed here is simply ahistoric and mars an otherwise good recreation of the turning point of the Revolution.

8.  John Paul Jones (1959)  Robert Stack, just before he rose to fame in the Untouchables, is grand in the role of the archetypal American sea hero.  Bette Davis is absolutely unforgettable as Catherine the Great.  The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is well done, especially for those pre-CGI days.  The only problem with the film is that many of the details are wrong.  This is forgivable to a certain extent since scholarship on Jones was badly skewed by Augustus Buell in a two-volume “scholarly biography” which appeared in 1900.  Buell was a charlatan who made up many incidents about Jones and then invented sources to support his fabrications.  Buell was not completely exposed until Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard professor of history, and an Admiral in the Navy, wrote his definitive biography of Jones. Here is a list of the fabrications of Buell compiled by Morison.  Morison’s book appeared after the movie, which is to be regretted.

7.  The Patriot (2000) Finally, a film which depicts the unsung contribution of Australians to victory in the American Revolution!  Actually not too bad of a film overall.  Heath Ledger is quite good as Gibson’s oldest son who joins the Continentals at the beginning of the war against his father’s wishes.  Jason Isaacs is snarlingly good as the evil Colonel Tavington, very loosely based on Banastre Tarleton, commander of Tarleton’s Raiders during the Southern Campaign.  The film of course allows Gibson to carry on his over-the-top vendetta against all things English.  No, the British did not lock up American civilians in churches and burn them alive.  However, the ferocity of the partisan fighting in the South is well depicted, and Banastre Tarleton  at the Waxhaw Massacre earned a reputation for slaughtering men attempting to surrender.  The final battle of the film is based on the battle of Cowpens where General Daniel Morgan decisively defeated Tarleton.

6.  Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)-A John Ford classic starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert.  Through the eyes of a young newlywed couple, Fonda and Colbert, the American Revolution on the frontier is depicted in the strategic Mohawk Valley.  Full of the usual Ford touches of heroism, humor and ordinary life.

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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Admiral William Halsey, Jr.

Thursday, June 9, AD 2016

There are no great men, there are only great challenges, which ordinary men like you and me are forced by circumstances to meet.

Admiral William Halsey, Jr.

Earlier this week I was watching the movie The Gallant Hours (1960), starring James Cagney as Admiral William Halsey, Jr.  (Halsey hated the nickname “Bull” that the press fastened upon him during the War.)  The film focuses on the time in late 1942 to 1943 when Halsey was theater commander during the Guadalcanal campaign.  This was in tandem with my reading of the latest bio of Halsey, Admiral Bill Halsey:  A Naval Life, by Thomas Alexander Hughes.

Halsey is an interesting figure partially because his public image is so at odds with the reality.  During World War II Halsey was the “Patton of the Pacific”, a fighting Admiral who swore as he viewed the carnage of Pearl Harbor on December 7,  that by the time the US was done the only place that Japanese would be spoken was in Hell.  Halsey in the popular perception was a rampaging bull in a Japanese china shop.

The reality was different.  Halsey, who got his wings at the advanced age of 52, was an inspired commander of carriers.  Strike quick and run was his method in the early days of the War, when his daring carrier raids on Japanese held islands in the Pacific gave a very badly needed boost to national morale.  (“I hauled ass with Halsey” was a fond remembrance of veterans of those raids for decades after the War.)   However, unlike his unwelcome “Bull” image, Halsey was a thoughtful and careful planner, who paid close attention to such un-glamorous, but essential, topics as logistics and intelligence as he plotted every move his forces made.  He was also an officer beloved of his men because of his reputation of making sure that they were taken care of regarding food, leave and mail.  Throughout his career Halsey was known as a sailor’s officer who always looked out for the enlisted men under his command.  (A typical story told about Halsey by his sailors.  On board a carrier sailors were waiting in line for some prized ice cream.  An Ensign decides to cut to the head of his line.  He suddenly hears a stream of profanity directed at him.  He turns around to chew out the sailor cussing him.  He finds out that the man yelling at him is four star Admiral Halsey who has been patiently waiting his turn in the line with his men.)

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Risen: A Day Without Death

Monday, February 22, AD 2016

 

 

My bride and I saw the movie Risen in Kankakee, Illinois on Sunday at the Paramount Theater in downtown Kankakee.  The Paramount Theater is a well maintained movie palace that was built in 1931.  Sitting in its wide seats and viewing its art deco adornments, one is transported back to the Golden Age of Hollywood when attending movies was an event, and people did not expect to see films in cramped, one size fits all characterless shoeboxes.  By popular request, this review of the movie Risen will contain only minor spoilers, below the fold.  I highly recommend the film, and I thought that I would give the film some historical background that may enhance the enjoyment of viewers.

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Hail Caesar!

Saturday, February 13, AD 2016

 

My bride and I saw this film yesterday and vastly enjoyed it.  I often appreciate “quirky” and no film makers today are quirkier than the Coen brothers.  This film is an homage-spoof of filmmaking in Hollywood circa 1951.  The main character is a devout Catholic, a good family man, and, wonders of wonders, he is not depicted either as a hypocrite or a bigot, the de rigueur depictions of faithful Catholics in most films these days.  We found the film endlessly hilarious.  Some knowledge of the Golden Age of Hollywood is helpful but not essential to the enjoyment of the film.  Those of you who have seen the film let me know what you think in the comboxes.  I am not going to do a full review, because I think spoilers would really spoil this film.

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Chain of Memory

Wednesday, October 14, AD 2015

 

My wife and I were watching the movie The Way Ahead (1944), shown as Immortal Battalion in a truncated version in the US, last night, the story of the transformation of a grumbling group of British civilians into soldiers, and I was struck by this speech given by the platoon commander after his unit intentionally messed up on maneuvers:

 

“When this regiment was formed our country was doing pretty badly. Napoleon’s armies were just across the channel getting ready to invade us, we’d had defeat after defeat, and a great many people thought we were finished. We weren’t… But, not because we were lucky.

When the first battalion of this regiment marched it was against Napoleon… Talavera, eighteen hundred and nine, that was the first battle they made their own, and they marched 42 miles in 24 hours of a Spanish Summer, and every man jack of ’em carried a sixty pound pack. Talavera, look at your cap badges, you’ll see the name on it, and the other battles too… Barrosa, Sabugal… At Sabugal, together with four companies of riflemen, they defeated five times the number of Napoleon’s troops… Salamanca, Orthez, Waterloo, Alma, Sebastopol, Tel el-Kebir, Mons, Ypres, Somme… Those are battle honours!

You’re allowed to wear that badge with those names on it to show that you belong the the regiment that won them, and that when the time comes you’ll do as well as they did. Last year that badge was in France, this year, in Libya. It hasn’t been disgraced yet… Now you’re wearing it.

I know what went wrong today, it so happens that Captain Edwards doesn’t. You needn’t worry, I’m not going to tell him, he’s quite depressed enough as it is to think that it was his company that let the whole battalion down. But, I just want to tell you this… If you ever get near any real fighting… I don’t suppose you’ll ever be good enough, but, if you do… You’ll find that you’re looking to other men not to let you down. If you’re lucky, you’ll have soldiers like Captain Edwards and Sergeant  Fletcher to look to. If they’re lucky, they’ll be with another company!”

The actor delivering the speech was the late David Niven.  It is a brilliant evocation of history to remind members of a unit that they are part of a chain stretching through time and it is up to them not to dishonor by their actions those who came before in that chain.   As we make our way through this Vale of Tears it is something to remember since we all belong to such chains:  family, church, nation, fraternal organizations, bands of friends, etc.   Our actions do not impact only ourselves.

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