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. Continue reading
A profoundly Catholic movie, Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) is usually not perceived as such. The tale of two slum kids, Jerry Connolly, Pat O’Brien, and Rocky Sullivan, James Cagney, who attempt to steal fountain pens from a train. Sullivan, who can’t run as fast as his friend, is caught after the robbery. Connolly wants to share in the blame for the theft, but Sullivan tells him not to be a sucker and takes all the blame. Sentenced to a brutal reform school he embarks on a life of crime while his friend becomes a priest, assigned to the same slum parish which he and Sullivan attended as boys.
The priest and the gangster renew their friendship with Sullivan quickly becoming the idol of the slum boys that Connolly is trying to keep from a life of crime. Connolly embarks on a crusade against the local gangsters, including Sullivan. Sullivan murders his partner Jim Frazier, Humphrey Bogart, and Mac Keefer, George Bancroft, to save Connelly who they were planning to have killed to stop his anti-crime crusade.
Sullivan, who tells the authorities all he knows about the local criminal operations, is tried for these murders and sentenced to death.
The ending of the film is a powerful look at courage and redemption:
Father Jerry: We haven’t got a lot of time.
I want to ask one last favor.
Rocky: There’s not much left that I can do, kid.
Father Jerry: Yes, there is, Rocky.
Perhaps more than you could do
under any other circumstances.
If you have the courage for it,
and I know you have.
Rocky: Walking in there?
That’s not gonna take much.
Father Jerry: I know that, Rocky.
Rocky: It’s like a barber chair.
They’re gonna ask, “Anything to say?”
I’ll say, “Sure, give me a haircut, a shave
and one of those new electric massages.”
Father Jerry: But you’re not afraid, Rocky?
Rocky: No. They’d like me to be.
But I’m afraid I can’t oblige them, kid.
You know, Jerry, I think to be afraid,
you gotta have a heart.
I don’t think I got one.
I had that cut out of me a long time ago.
Rocky: Suppose I asked you to have the heart, huh?
To be scared.
Rocky: What do you mean?
Father Jerry: Suppose the guards dragged you out of here
screaming for mercy. Suppose you went to the chair yellow.
There have been surprisingly few movies on D-Day, as indicated by the fact that three out of the five videos looked at below are from television miniseries. Here are the five best from a scarce lot:
5. Ike: The War Years (1978)
Robert Duvall as Eisenhower gives his usual riveting performance. The late Lee Remick gives a good performance as Captain Kay Summersby, the British driver/secretary assigned to Eisenhower. Unfortunately the miniseries centers around the relationship of Eisenhower and Summersby, a relationship which is subject to historical dispute.
4. Ike: Countdown to D-Day (1995)
Tom Selleck gives a very good portrayal of Eisenhower in the days leading up to D-Day. The video does a first rate job of portraying the problems that Eisenhower confronted: getting prima donnas like Montgomery and Patton to work as a part of a team, concerns about the weather, the deception campaign to convince the Nazis that Calais would be the invasion site, etc. The video also shines a light on the weight of responsibility which Eisenhower bore, especially when we see him write out a note just before the invasion taking full responsibility on his shoulders if it failed.
3. Band of Brothers (2001)
The epic miniseries covering the exploits of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne, captures well the chaos of the parachute and glider operations behind German lines that were so critical a part of the Allied victory on D-Day. Continue reading
Abraham Lincoln, who padded up and down
The sacred White House in nightshirt and carpet-slippers,
And yet could strike young hero-worshipping Hay
As dignified past any neat, balanced, fine
Plutarchan sentences carved in a Latin bronze;
The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,
The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,
State-character but comparative failure at forty
In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,
Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,
Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,
And a self-confidence like an iron bar:
This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,
Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches
Which make the monumental booming of Webster
Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body
Film pioneer DW Griffith is chiefly remembered today for the 1915 film Birth of a Nation which was the film version of the 1905 novel The Clansman, a paean by Thomas F. Dixon to the Ku Klux Klan which, in his view, freed the South from carpetbagger and negro rule. As history the film is rubbish, but from its technical aspects it is an important development in the art of filmmaking. In response to his critics DW Griffith made the film Intolerance in 1916 which condemned religious, if not racial, bigotry.
In 1930 he made the first sound film biography of Lincoln. Several silent film bios of Lincoln had been made, but having Lincoln speak was going to be an added challenge. Walter Huston, the father of actor-director John Huston, portrayed Lincoln. Tall and lanky, Huston looked a bit like Lincoln, but his deep resonant tones helped establish in the public mind that Lincoln had that type of voice, rather than the high pitched voice that the historical Lincoln possessed.
The film script was co-written by Stephen Vincent Benet, a poet who in 1928 wrote the epic Civil War poem John Brown’s Body. The film takes considerable liberties with the life of Lincoln, but, like Benet’s historical poetry, it has a good feel for the period and gives overall a powerful impression of Lincoln. It is well worth the viewing even today, after so many Lincoln films. It is interesting that this son of a Confederate colonel opens the film with a scene aboard a slave ship and that the film is a celebration of the man who defeated the cause his father fought for. Continue reading
(I originally posted this in 2009 when the blog readership was much smaller. I posted this again in 2013, but the scene after the court-martial was not online. That pivotal scene is now available, so I am reposting this with the scene include in the review. The Caine Mutiny has always been one of my favorite films in that it examines two themes, the law and military service, that have ever fascinated me.)
For my sins, perhaps, I have spent my career as an attorney. Over the past 33 years I’ve done a fair number of trials, both bench and jury, and I am always on the lookout for good depictions of trials in films, and one of the best is The Caine Mutiny. Based on the novel of the same name by Herman Wouk, who served in the Navy as an officer in the Pacific during World War II, the movie addresses the question of what should, and should not, be done in a military organization when the man at the top of the chain of command is no longer in his right mind.
The cast is top notch. Humphrey Bogart, an enlisted man in the Navy during WWI and a member of the Naval Reserve, he tried to enlist again in the Navy after Pearl Harbor but was turned down because of his age, gives the performance of his career as Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the Caine. In the hands of a lesser actor Queeg could easily have become merely a two-dimensional madman. Bogart instead infuses Queeg with pathos and demonstrates to the audience that this is a good man who sadly is no longer responsible mentally for his actions. Van Johnson delivers his usual workmanlike job as Lieutenant Stephen Maryk, the “exec” of the Caine, a career officer who does his best to remain loyal to an obviously disturbed CO, while also attempting to protect the crew of the Caine from Queeg’s increasingly erratic behavior. Robert Francis, as Ensign Willis Seward Keith, is the viewpoint character, too young and inexperienced to make his own judgment he relies on Maryk and Lieutenant Keefer. Fred MacMurray is slime incarnate as Lieutenant Thomas Keefer, a reservist who hates the Navy, spends all his time writing a novel, and eggs Maryk on to take command away from Queeg. Finally, in a typhoon, reluctantly and only, as he perceives it, to save the ship, Maryk, with the support of Keith, relieves Queeg from command.
In the ensuing court-martial of Maryk and Keith, lawyer Lieutenant Barney Greenwald, portrayed with panache by Jose Ferrer, reluctantly agrees to defend them. Continue reading
Something for the Weekend. After hearing this week that Pope Francis plans to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, the Apostle of California, while he is in this country later this year, the musical score to the heavily fictionalized account of the first missionary journey of Serra, Seven Cities of Gold (1955) seems appropriate.
In 1955 Hollywood told the story of the 1769 expedition to Alta California in the film Seven Cities of Gold. Michael Rennie gave a very good performance as Father Serra and Anthony Quinn gave an equally fine performance as Governor Portolla. Of course Hollywood could not remain completely faithful to history, and a fictional hunt for the Seven Cities of Cibola was given as the reason for the expedition. A love story between an Indian girl and one of the Spanish officers was also grafted on to the story. In spite of the usually Hollywood twisting of history, the film is accurate in its depiction of the goodness and charity of Father Serra and his zeal to spread the Gospel. One scene from the movie has him denouncing the greed of the Spanish soldiers and their desire to exploit the Indians: Continue reading
American history tends to be ignored by Hollywood and therefore it is unusual for a battle to receive treatment in a Hollywood feature film. It is doubly unusual for a battle to be treated in two Hollywood feature films, but that is the case for the battle of New Orleans, the two hundredth anniversary of which is coming up this week on January 8, 2015. The 1938 film The Buccaneer was directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille and had Frederic March, an actor largely forgotten today but a major star in his time, as Jean Lafitte. Two future stars have bit parts in the film: Anthony Quinn and Walter Brennan. Hugh Sothern who portrayed Andrew Jackson would also portray Jackson in 1939 in the film Old Hickory.
The 1958 remake was also to have been directed by Cecil B. DeMille, but he was seriously ill at that time, and relegated himself to the role of executive producer, turning the director’s chair over to Anthony Quinn, his then son-in-law, the one and only film that Quinn ever directed. DeMille was unhappy with the film and it received fairly negative reviews, although I think the battle sequences are superior to the first film. Yul Brynner plays Jean Lafitte and Charlton Heston is a commanding Andrew Jackson. Like Hugh Sothern, Heston would portray Jackson twice, the first time being in The President’s Lady (1953), the tale of the great love story of Rachel Jackson (Susan Hayward) and Andrew Jackson. Future stars in this version include Inger Stevens, Claire Bloom and Lorne Green. Adequate coverage of the battle is given in each film, although not much detail. The battle of course is merely an adjunct to the romantic tale of Jean Lafitte. Without the pirate turned patriot, I am certain the battle of New Orleans would have likely received the same indifference that Hollywood has shown for most of American history.
“If I can take it, I can make it.”
Unbroken is the best picture that I have seen in many a year. Its themes are faith, patriotism and endurance in the face of seemingly overwhelming adversity. Everything about the film is superb. My review is below and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in effect. Continue reading
I went into this film assuming it was going to be bad based on what I had heard about it. In that assumption I was mistaken. Although not a film I would recommend, I can’t call it a bad film. My review is below with the usual caveat as to spoilers. Continue reading
Chistian Bale, star of Exodus: Gods and Kings, in reference to Moses, who he is portraying in the film.
One of the many services that TAC has provided to its readers over the years is me going to see bad films so you don’t have to. My bride and I are picking up our daughter on Friday from college and on Saturday our son will arrive by train, fresh from the rigors of first semester law school finals. We will eat after he arrives and then the family will go off to see Exodus: Gods and Kings. I suspect it will be a bad film from everything I have read about it. I hope it will be so bad that it may be a cult classic in the making rather like Dune (1984). Whatever it is, I will review it for the blog.
And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us? And I said: Lo, here am I, send me.
Isaiah 6: 8
If a man loves the world, the love of the
Father ain’t in him. For all in the
world, lust of the flesh, lust of the
eyes, the pride of life, is not of the
Father. But of the world.
Don “Wardaddy” Collier quoting John 2:15
I saw the movie Fury with my family on Saturday. It is a superb, albeit grueling, look at an American tank crew in Germany in April 1945. Go below for my review. The usual caveat as to spoilers applies. Continue reading
Well, I finally got around to seeing Noah. We picked up a $9.00 Blu-ray copy at a Black Friday special, and I think I was overcharged at least $8.99. Follow me below the fold for why I think this is one grand buzzard of a flick. The usual caveats regarding spoilers apply: Continue reading
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: Continue reading
The family and I went out and saw America, the latest film of Dinesh D’Souza. I enjoyed the film and found it an intriguing step in the development of a new form of conveying conservative messages. My review is below and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in effect. Continue reading
For those of you who want some patriotic movies to watch over the long Fourth of July weekend here are some suggestions for viewing. Longtime readers of this blog will see that this differs somewhat from earlier lists of top ten patriotic movies with some additions and deletions. Feel free to suggest additional movies in the comboxes.
10. National Treasure (2004)-Sure it’s cursed with a ridiculous plot involving the masons and a treasure, it is still a lot of fun and calls us back to the foundation document, the Declaration of Independence, that is the cornerstone of our Republic.
9. Hamburger Hill (1987)-Content advisory: very, very strong language in the video clip which may be viewed here. All the Vietnam veterans I’ve mentioned it to have nothing but praise for this film which depicts the assault on Hill 937 by elements of the 101rst Division, May 10-20, 1969. It is a fitting tribute to the valor of the American troops who served their country in an unpopular war a great deal better than their country served them.
8. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)-James Cagney in perhaps the greatest film bio of them all, a salute to George M. Cohan, the legendary composer, playwright and patriot.
7. Saving Lincoln (2013)- Overshadowed by the Lincoln film of 2012, this rendition of Lincoln’s years as President is first rate.
The human cost of the War is always at the core of the film, as we see in the delivery of the Gettysburg Address where some of the members of the crowd hearing Lincoln are holding pictures of soldier relatives who have died.
Lincoln in the film comes to believe that he will die in office and accepts his fate, hoping that God will spare him until his work is accomplished.
6. Gettysburg (1993)-The movie that I think comes the closest to conveying to us the passions of the Civil War. You really can’t understand America unless you understand the Civil War. As Shelby Foote, one of the greatest historians of the war, said: “Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.” Continue reading
Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.
I agree with historian Shelby Foote that it is impossible to understand the United States without understanding the Civil War, and it is “therefore fitting and proper” that over the Fourth Civil War movies come to mind. This is a repeat of a post I originally did in 2011, with changes to some of the video clips.
10. Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)-We begin with a non-Civil War movie with the video clip at the beginning of this post. In 1908 English Bulter Charles Ruggles, well played by actor Charles Laughton, comes to work in the American West. It is a hilarious fish out of water comedy, as Ruggles, with his culture and British reserve comes face to face with the Wild West. While living in America, Ruggles becomes interested in American history, and becomes a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln. When he recites the Gettysburg Address, the impact on his listeners is obvious, and reminds us that for Americans the Civil War will never be a matter simply relegated to books or memory, but is something that still has a vast impact on us to this day.
9. Friendly Persuasion (1956)-Starring Gary Cooper as Jess Birdwell, the head of a Quaker family in southern Indiana during the Civil War, the film is a superb mix of drama and comedy as the Quakers have to determine whether to continue to embrace their pacifist beliefs or to take up arms against General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry during his Great Raid of the North in June-July of 1863. When the oldest son of the Birdwell family, portrayed by Anthony Perkins in his pre-Psycho days, takes up arms, his mother, played by Dorothy McGuire is aghast, but Cooper, as Jess Birdwell, defends him. Although he remains true to his pacifist convictions, Birdwell understands that his son is acting in obedience to his conscience, and, as he tells his wife, ” A man’s life ain’t worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience.”
8. Major Dundee (1965)-Sam Pekinpah’s flawed, unfinished masterpiece, the film tells the fictional account of a mixed force of Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners who join forces to hunt and ultimately defeat an Apache raider, Sierra Charriba, in 1864-65. Charlton Heston gives an outstanding performance as Major Amos Dundee, a man battling his own personal demons of a failed military career, as he commands this Union-Confederate force through northern Mexico on the trail of the Apache, with fighting often threatening to break out between the Union and Confederate soldiers. Use of Confederate prisoners as Union soldiers in the West was not uncommon. Six Union infantry regiments of Confederate prisoners, called “Galvanized Yankees”, served in the West. The final section of the film involving a battle between Major Dundee’s force and French Lancers, the French occupying Mexico at the time, has always struck me as one of the best filmed combat sequences in any movie.
7. 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. Continue reading