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Zulu!

A prayer’s as good as a bayonet on a day like this.

Colour Sergeant Frank Bourne, Zulu

 

 

Tony Rennell at the Daily Mail Online has a grand salute to one of the greatest war flicks:  Zulu:

Yet Zulu thankfully avoids taking sides in this moral morass. It doesn’t play on manufactured guilt, or lecture and hector us from some anachronistic ethical high ground. It avoids self-righteous, self-serving politics and pays pure and simple tribute to human endeavour.

The moment that, for me, elevates it into a different dimension is when a young British soldier stares open-mouthed at the huge enemy  army encircling Rorke’s Drift. The situation looks hopeless, and death — skewered agonisingly in the dust — a certainty.

‘Why does it have to be us?’ he wails. ‘Why us?’

The handlebar-moustachioed colour sergeant next to him, erect and unflinching, could have replied with windy patriotic zeal and flag-waving imperialist grandeur.

Instead, this paragon of British backbone — played incomparably by Nigel Green — says calmly: ‘Because we’re here, lad. Just us. Nobody else.’

His is the authentic voice of  soldiering through the centuries — as true today for our troops in Afghanistan as it was for Queen Victoria’s footsoldiers. Men doing their duty, facing death because that’s their job. No hint of glory. No pleasure in killing.

British grit holds out against  hopeless odds, and defeat is turned to triumph of a sort. But war, we   conclude, is always terrible, an evil — if sometimes a necessary one.

And there is a price to pay for the victors as well as the defeated. As the smoke of guns disperses over the final battle scene, the British  soldiers stare in horror at the piled-up bodies of Zulu around their  sand-bagged last redoubt.

They are not triumphant but appalled at the ‘butcher’s yard’ — as Lt Chard  (Stanley Baker) puts it — which they have inflicted. ‘I feel sick,’ says Lt Bromhead (Caine), ‘and ashamed.’ Continue Reading

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Review of the Hobbit Trilogy

(Language advisory for the video;   apparently the first film made the reviewer extra grumpy.)

The above video shall serve as a review for the entire Hobbit trilogy.  I saw part II last week and I was certain, perhaps in what felt like the fiftieth hour, that time had ceased and eternity begun.  You know a movie based on The Hobbit is bad, when by the end you are rooting for Smaug to be unleashed on Peter Jackson and his merry band of let’s-see-how-much-money-we-can-flog-out-of-this-dead- Hobbit!  Ah, well, we will always have The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Continue Reading

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The Bishop’s Wife

Continuing our look at Advent and Christmas movies:  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:

Continue Reading

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Brother Orchid

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 goodness.  A review of the film is below with the usual caveat as to spoilers. Continue Reading

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A Review of Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners

 Christians in the Movies

 

As faithful readers of this blog know, I am a film buff.  I therefore was pleased when Dr. Peter Dans, a friend of mine and commenter on the blog, brought to my attention his book Christians in the Movies:  A Century of Saints and Sinners.  Peter is a medical doctor and a former professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins.  Go here to learn about his professional activities.  He is also a faithful Catholic, a skilled writer and an all around good guy.  However, I am here to review the book and not to review the author!

Published in 2011 by Sheed & Ward, the book is a fairly comprehensive look at how film has portrayed Christians and Christianity from 1905-2008.  The book proceeds chronologically with chapters devoted to films of the silent era, films of the forties, etc.  The chapters open with a general overview of the film period being discussed and then a look at selected films.  The films are not limited to those self-consciously religious, but also those in which religion is a major plot element.  Thus the Oscar winning film Sergeant York (1941) is included because of its examination of the religious conflict that World War I hero Alvin C. York had to resolve before he could in good conscious fight for his country.  Dr. Dans also looks at the impact of the films examined, for example in regard to Sergeant York he mentions that the film was denounced by the isolationist Senator Nye as propaganda to get America into World War II.  Some of the facts that the author discusses were news to me.  For example I have watched the film Song of Bernadette (1943) about Bernadette Soubirous and Lourdes but I was unaware that it was based on a book written by Franz Werfel, a Jew, who made a vow to write a book about Bernadette  when he and wife were hidden from the Gestapo by nuns and families at Lourdes.  In regard to Going My Way, 1944, Dr. Dans reveals that Pope Pius XII was so taken by the film that he granted a private audience to Bing Cosby and credited the film with helping to spur priestly vocations.  I like it when a book gives me information that I was unaware of, and this book accomplished that task.

The book is not limited to films that have become well known.  For example there is a section devoted to one of my favorite westerns, Stars in My Crown, 1950, in which Joel McCrea portrays a Union veteran who becomes a Protestant minister and his travails as he brings religion to a town and fights the Ku Klux Klan.

Continue Reading

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Twelve O’Clock High

Something for the weekend.  The score from the movie Twelve O’clock High (1949).  A film shorn of any Hollywood glamor or heroics, it tells the story of the fictional 918th bomb group as it pioneers daylight precision bombing in the early days of the Eighth Air Force in England and suffers harrowing losses as a result.  Veterans of the Eighth Air Force applauded the film for its stark realism and its demonstration of the impact of war on the men called upon to fight it.  Anyone who has not seen this masterpiece should do so as quickly as possible.

Here is the opening of the film:

Continue Reading

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Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?

Something for the weekend.  Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott by the Statler Brothers.  A 1974 lament of how tawdry the movies had become, it fastened on Randolph Scott, king of B-movie westerns, as an icon for a better day when kids could be taken to the movies without parents being concerned about what they would be exposed to.  I heard this song endlessly when it came out,  my parents’ radio blaring it most mornings in the kitchen in 74 in the hour before I and my brother got up to prepare for yet another day in high school.

Scott was born as far from the West as it was possible to be in Virginia and raised in North Carolina.  His family had money so he was educated in private schools.  During World War I he served as an artillery observer in France, a highly dangerous post.  (After Pearl Harbor, the 43 year old Scott attempted to enlist as a Marine, but was rejected due to his bad back.)

After his service in World War I, he worked for a time with his father in the textile industry in North Carolina.  In 1927 he moved to California to embark on an acting career with a letter of introduction from his father to Howard Hughes.  The next few years saw him develop his acting skills with bit parts and small roles.  In 1931 he had his first leading role in the film Women Men Marry. In the film Heritage of the Desert (1932) Scott played his first leading role in a Western, the first of ten films he would make based on Zane Grey novels.

Until the conclusion of World War II, Scott starred in a variety of film genres, but after the War he concentrated solely on Westerns.  Scott was a modest man and always underestimated his considerable skill as an actor.  He was comfortable in Westerns and decided to stick with them.  It was an inspired choice.  As he aged his handsome features took on a weathered, stoic look, and helped make him a Western icon.

Scott did not financially need to make films after the War.  Shrewd land purchases in California helped make him a multi-millionaire, and he increasingly looked upon his acting as a hobby.   By 1962 he was ready to retire, but he was convinced to make one last Western with his friend Joel McCrea.  McCrea and Scott had much in common:  both had become very wealthy through land purchases and neither needed to work in film, post World War II McCrea had gravitated to B Westerns, and both he and Scott were staunch Republicans.

The film that they made in 1962 is now regarded as a classic.   Ride the High Country was the second film to be directed by Sam Pekinpah.  It tells the tale of two former Old West lawmen who have fallen on hard times.  Steve Judd, Joel McCrea, has been hired by a bank in the early years of the last century to bring back 20,000 in gold from a mining camp.  Judd is elated because this is the first lawman like job that he has had in a very long time.  He runs into his old friend Gil Westrum, Randolph Scott, who is making a meager living running a shooting gallery in a circus.   Judd invites Westrum and his young friend Heck Longtree, Ron Starr, to join him in the job.  They agree, Westrum and Longtree planning to steal the gold.  As the film proceeds it becomes obvious that Judd still holds to the same code of honor and honesty that he upheld as a law man.  Westrum does not, having grown bitter with age and viewing the gold as his reward for his courage as a lawman, a courage that was not rewarded monetarily and has left him facing a hard scrabble old age.  Ultimately Judd realizes what Westrum is up to and disarms both him and Longtree, planning to put them on trial for attempted robbery.   The plot is complicated by Elsa Knudsen, Mariette Hartley in her screen debut, who the trio rescue from a miner she has just married who plans to have her serve not only as his bride but also as the “bride” of his four brothers.  Longtree grows to admire Judd for his courage and stubborn honesty while Westrum escapes, only to ride to the rescue at the end of the film to help Judd. Continue Reading

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The Caine Mutiny: A Review

(I originally posted this in 2009 when the blog readership was much smaller.  The Caine Mutiny has always been one of my favorite films and I am taking the excuse of my vacation from the blog to repost this review.)

For my sins, perhaps, I have spent my career as an attorney.  Over the past 31 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.

What I admire most about the film is the realistic way that the defense is depicted.  A legal case consists of the facts, the law and people. Continue Reading

Saving Lincoln: A Review

 

In the past year three films on President Lincoln have been released:  the truly odious Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, the superb Lincoln and now the low budget, funded by Kickstarter, Saving Lincoln.  I am pleased to report that I think Saving Lincoln is much closer in quality to Lincoln than Vampire Hunter.  The film has an intriguing take on Mr. Lincoln and I was both amused and moved by it.  My full review is below.  The usual caveat regarding spoilers ahead is given. Continue Reading

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Top Ten Patriotic Movies for the Fourth

(This post originally ran in 2010.  The movies listed would make excellent viewing tomorrow and any day.)

 

 

Last year I listed here my top ten picks for movies about the America Revolution for the Fourth.  This year here is my list of patriotic movies for the Fourth.

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.    The Alamo (1960)-“The Republic” scene from The Alamo, a film which was basically John Wayne’s love note to America.

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

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Fortnight For Freedom: Top Ten Movies For The Fourth of July

 

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

 The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have proclaimed a second Fortnight for Freedom from June 21-July 4th, and, as last year, The American Catholic will participate with special blog posts each day.

 

 

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.  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. Continue Reading

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Report From the Aleutians

If there is a forgotten theater where American troops fought in World War II, it is most definitely the Aleutians.  The Japanese took Attu and Kiska, islands in the Aleutian chain,  in June of 1942, to forestall the Aleutians being used as a base for a move on the Japanese Home Islands from the Aleutians.  Due to the rugged weather conditions, the US had never seriously entertained using the Aleutians as a staging area for future offensives.  However, Attu and Kiska were American territory, and national pride, as well as alarm from the Alaskan territorial government, made inevitable an American campaign to take back the strategically worthless islands. Continue Reading

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Screen Pilates: Stephen Russell

 

Continuing our series on screen portrayals of Pilate that I began in 2011 during Holy Week.    The posts on portrayals of Pilate by Rod Steiger, Richard Boone, Barry Dennen, Hristov Shopov, Telly Savalas and Frank Thring may be read here, here, here, here  here and here.

Stephen Russell portrays Pilate in The Gospel of John (2003) which is a straight forward no frills presentation of the Gospel of John.  As in the Gospel of John Pilate is shown in the film as first curious about Jesus and then sympathetic to Jesus.  He attempts to save Jesus by giving the mob a choice between Jesus and the bandit Barabbas.  When that fails he presents Jesus after He has been beaten and utters the phrase Ecce Homo, Behold the Man. Continue Reading

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Red Badge of Courage

He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death. He was a man.

The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

I recently was watching The Red Badge of Courage, (1951) and I was struck yet again by what a forgotten masterpiece it is.  Filmed in stark black and white, the film has almost a documentary feel to it, as if a World War II era newsreel camera had magically transplanted itself to the Civil War.  The combat scenes are highly realistic depictions of Civil War combat, and the actors speak and act like Civil War soldiers and not like 1951 actors dressed up in Civil War costumes.

As one critic said at the time, watching the film is like watching a Matthew Brady photograph of the Civil War come to life.

It was a stroke of genius for director John Huston to have as star of his film Audie Murphy, as the youth who, in Stephen Crane’s unforgettable novel, has his first taste of combat in the Civil War.  Murphy looked like a typical Hollywood “pretty boy” but he was anything but.  From a family of 12 in Texas, Murphy had dropped out of school in the fifth grade to support his family after his father ran off.    His mother died in 1941.  In 1942 he enlisted in the Army at 16, lying about his birthday, partially to support his family and partially because he dreamed of a military career.  By the end of the war, before his 19th birthday, he was a second lieutenant and had earned in hellish combat a Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, a French Legion of Honor, a French Croix de Guerre, a Belgian Croix de Guerre, two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.  He was the most decorated soldier of the US Army in World War 2.

Murphy’s co-star in the film was also an Army combat veteran, Bill Mauldin, the famed cartoonist who drew the Willie and Joe cartoons in Stars and Stripes, the Army newspaper, during World War II. Continue Reading

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Films While Waiting for the White Smoke

This is a joint post with commenter Dr. Peter Dans.  Pete has written a fine book which I will be reviewing, Christians in the Movies, A Century of Saints and Sinners, and he has given suggestions about films to watch while we are waiting to shout Habemus Papam.  Here are the films in Chronological order of the Pope depicted:

1.  Quo Vadis (1951)-The historical spectacle film to end historical spectacle films, it brings to the screen the novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz of the persecution of Christians under Nero.  The film is a great work of Art with inspired performances by Peter Ustinov as Nero, Robert Taylor as the tough Roman legate Marcus Vinicius who finds himself, very much against his will, becoming a Christian from his love of the Christian Lygia, portrayed by Deborah Kerr, and Leo Genn, as Petronius, the uncle of Vinicius and Nero’s “arbiter of taste”, who wounds Nero to the core with the following suicide note:

To Nero, Emperor of Rome, Master of the World, Divine Pontiff. I know that my death will be a disappointment to you, since you wished to render me this service yourself. To be born in your reign is a miscalculation; but to die in it is a joy. I can forgive you for murdering your wife and your mother, for burning our beloved Rome, for befouling our fair country with the stench of your crimes. But one thing I cannot forgive – the boredom of having to listen to your verses, your second-rate songs, your mediocre performances. Adhere to your special gifts, Nero – murder and arson, betrayal and terror. Mutilate your subjects if you must; but with my last breath I beg you – do not mutilate the arts. Fare well, but compose no more music. Brutalize the people, but do not bore them, as you have bored to death your friend, the late Gaius Petronius.

Peter in the movie is portrayed by Finlay Currie.  Here is the classic scene from the film that depicts Peter informed by Christ that He is going to Rome to be crucified a second time:

In the film he goes to the arena where the Christians are being murdered for the amusement of the crowds and cries out, “Here where Nero rules today, Christ shall rule forever!”  The film movingly depicts Peter’s martyrdom, crucified upside down since he had stated that he was not worthy to have the same death as Christ.

2.  Sign of the Pagan (1954) -Jack Palance, a great actor who was consistently underrated throughout his career, portrays Attila the Hun. Here we have depicted the meeting between Attila and Pope Leo the Great, portrayed by Leo Moroni, which convinces Attila to spare Rome.

3.  Becket (1964)-A masterful, albeit heavily fictionalized retelling of the life of the “holy, blessed, martyr”.  Here we have Archbishop Becket, Richard Burton,  in exile having an interview with Pope Alexander III, Paolo Stoppa:

4.  Francis of Assisi (1961)-A film biography of Saint Francis, ably acted by Bradford Dillman.  Go here to see the depiction of the interview between Saint Francis and Pope Innocent III,  the role assayed by Finlay Currie who was Peter in Quo Vadis.   Dolores Hart had the role of Saint Clare in the film.  She went on to become a nun.  Pete has some information in regard to that:

It has the extra added attraction of an interesting  backstory involving Dolores Hart, the actress who played Clare and  later became a nun.  She is now the Prioress of Regina Laudis Abbey  which itself has an interesting backstory connecting back to the 1949  film Come to the Stable.

By the way, I sent her a copy of the book and she sent me a  delightful note in 2009 saying that the documentation of the abbey’s  founding and her journey was “absolutely on target” and that it made her  want to read the whole book. Then she added “Said like a real actress.”  I  was especially touched when she said that she would keep me in her “heart and  prayers.”  I’m sure that has been a big help to me along the  way. Continue Reading

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Theme From Lawrence of Arabia

Something for the weekend.  In the middle of winter it is no accident, as the Marxists used to say, that I have chosen for our musical selection the theme song from Lawrence of Arabia (1962).  One of the last great historical epics, the film tells the tale of Colonel T.E. Lawrence’s involvement in the Arab uprising.  It is largely historically inaccurate, although a magnificent story.  One reason for the historical inaccuracy, other than the usual transmogrification of history in the hands of filmmakers, is that it relied too heavily on Lawrence’s war memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  Lawrence was a brilliant writer and a talented leader of guerrilla forces, but he never let a little thing like truth stand in the way of a good yarn.  Continue Reading

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Film and Faith

Film, at its best, can convey a hint of the overwhelming impact of religious faith on those who believe.  For me, the best example of this is Jesus of Nazareth (1977), as amply demonstrated I think in the video clip above.  When we read about Jesus in the Gospels it requires a leap of imagination to conjure up the scenes depicted.  Some people are better at doing this than others.  A good film can provide us with the emotional impact of the Gospels without the necessity of our providing the imagination to bring the event alive for us.  The Church has long understood this.  Hymn singing can also accomplish this, as do Passion Plays, as does the Rosary.   God appeals to our souls, our hearts and our minds, and we make a mistake if we ever forget this.

The History Channel in March will have a miniseries that dramatizes portions of the Bible.  Below is a trailer.

Continue Reading

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Thaddeus Stevens: Film Portrayals

 “I repose in this quiet and secluded spot, not from any natural preference for solitude, but finding other cemeteries limited as to race, by charter rules, I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life, equality of man before his Creator.

Inscription on the Tombstone of Thaddeus Stevens

As regular readers of this blog know, I greatly enjoyed the film Lincoln and praised it for its overall historical accuracy.  Go here to read my review.  One of the many aspects of the film that I appreciated was Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens (R.Pa.), a radical Republican who rose from poverty to become the leader of the abolitionists in the House, and one of the most powerful men in the country from 1861 to his death in 1868.  There haven’t been many screen portrayals of Stevens, but they illustrate how perceptions of Stevens have shifted based upon perceptions of Reconstruction and civil rights for blacks.

The above is an excellent video on the subject.

The 1915 film Birth of a Nation, has a barely concealed portrayal of Stevens under the name of Congressman Austin Stoneman, the white mentor of mulatto Silas Lynch, the villain of the film, who makes himself virtual dictator of South Carolina until he is toppled by heroic Klansmen.  The film was in line with the Lost Cause mythology that portrayed Reconstruction as a tragic crime that imposed governments made up of ignorant blacks and scheming Yankee carpetbaggers upon the South.  This was the predominant view of scholarly opinion at the time.  The film was attacked by both the NAACP and the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization, as being untrue to history, a glorification of mob violence and racist.

By 1942 when the film Tennessee Johnson was made, we see a substantial shift in the portrayal of Stevens.  Played by veteran actor Lionel Barrymore, best know today for his portrayal of Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, Stevens is portrayed as a fanatic out to punish the South and fearful that the too lenient, in his view, treatment of the South in Reconstruction will lead to a new Civil War.  This leads up to the climax of the film, the trial in the Senate of Johnson, with Stevens as the leader of the House delegation prosecuting Johnson, with Johnson staying in office by one vote.  The portrayal of Stevens is not one-dimensional.  Stevens is shown as basically a good, if curmudgeonly, man, consumed by fears of a new Civil War and wishing to help the newly emancipated slaves, albeit wrong in his desire to punish the South.  Like Birth of a Nation, Tennessee Johnson reflected the scholarly consensus of the day which still painted Reconstruction in a negative light, although not as negative as in  1915.  Additionally,  the issue of contemporary civil rights for blacks was beginning to emerge outside of the black community as an issue, and Stevens in the film is not attacked on his insistence for civil rights for blacks. Continue Reading

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Lincoln, a Review

Well, on Saturday I went with my family to see Lincoln. Considering that the screenplay was written by Tony Kushner and the film directed by Steven Spielberg, I wasn’t expecting much. I wouldn’t have been totally surprised to see something along the lines of “Gay Illinois Lincoln and the Confederacy of Doom!’.  Instead I was pleasantly surprised by the film. It is a great film and perhaps a minor masterpiece. It is definitely one of the finest screen representations I have ever seen of Lincoln, and it is a worthy tribute to the Great Emancipator. Read below for the rest of my review, and the usual caveat regarding spoilers is in full force. Continue Reading

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Let There Be Light

to care for him who shall have borne the battle

Abraham Lincoln

During World War II director John Huston produced three films for the US government.  Let There Be Light was shot for the Army Signal Corps.  It covers the treatment of 75 US soldiers traumatized by their combat experiences in World War II.  The film is narrated by Walter Huston, the academy award-winning actor father of John Huston.  The Army brass did not like the finished product, thinking that its focus on men who suffered psychological damage from their service could be demoralizing to the troops, and banned the film on the grounds that it invaded the privacy of the soldiers featured in the film and that the releases they signed had been lost.  (This reason was pretextual, but as a matter of law I would not place any reliance on a release signed by someone undergoing mental treatment standing up for an instant in court.) Continue Reading

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Father Barron Reviews For Greater Glory

The Blu Ray and DVD releases of For Greater Glory are coming out on September 11, 2012For Greater Glory tells the story of the Cristeros who bravely fought for religious freedom and the Church in the 1920s in Mexico.  I heartily recommend this film.  The above video is Father Robert Barron’s insightful review of the film.   (I believe he is too sanguine as to the effectiveness of purely non-violent movements in the face of regimes who don’t care how many people they kill, but that is a debate for another day.)   The below video has additional remarks by Father Barron on the film.  Go here for my review of the film. Continue Reading

21

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!

 

One of my least favorite trial dramas is Twelve Angry Men (1957).  As a defense attorney with thirty years experience I find it hilarious as Henry Fonda convinces his fellow jurors that the Defendant is not really guilty.  Why do I find it hilarious?  It is such a stacked deck!  Just like a Socratic “Dialogue” the argument is tailored to make the case for the Defendant, and no contrary arguments are allowed to stand as Fonda steamrolls all opposition and saves the day for truth, justice and the American way! Or did he?  Mike D’Angelo at AV Club has a brilliant analysis of why Fonda and his fellow jurors likely let a murderer off the hook:

Here’s what has to be true in order for The Kid to be innocent of the murder:

  • He coincidentally yelled “I’m gonna kill you!” at his father a few hours before someone else killed him. How many times in your life have you screamed that at your own father? Is it a regular thing?

AND

  • The elderly man down the hall, as suggested by Juror No. 9 (Joseph Sweeney), didn’t actually see The Kid, but claimed he had, or perhaps convinced himself he had, out of a desire to feel important.

AND

  • The woman across the street saw only a blur without her glasses, yet positively identified The Kid, again, either deliberately lying or confabulating.

AND

  • The Kid really did go to the movies, but was so upset by the death of his father and his arrest that all memory of what he saw vanished from his head. (Let’s say you go see Magic Mike tomorrow, then come home to find a parent murdered. However traumatized you are, do you consider it credible that you would be able to offer no description whatsoever of the movie? Not even “male strippers”?)

AND

  • Somebody else killed The Kid’s father, for reasons completely unknown, but left behind no trace of his presence whatsoever.

AND

  • The actual murderer coincidentally used the same knife that The Kid owns.

AND

  • The Kid coincidentally happened to lose his knife within hours of his father being stabbed to death with an identical knife.

The last one alone convicts him, frankly. That’s a million-to-one shot, conservatively. In the movie, Fonda dramatically produces a duplicate switchblade that he’d bought in The Kid’s neighborhood (which, by the way, would get him disqualified if the judge learned about it, as jurors aren’t allowed to conduct their own private investigations during a trial), by way of demonstrating that it’s hardly unique. But come on. I don’t own a switchblade, but I do own a wallet, which I think I bought at Target or Ross or some similar chain—I’m sure there are thousands of other guys walking around with the same wallet. But the odds that one of those people will happen to kill my father are minute, to put it mildly. And the odds that I’ll also happen to lose my wallet the same day that a stranger leaves his own, identical wallet behind at the scene of my father’s murder (emptied of all identification, I guess, for this analogy to work; cut me some slack, you get the idea) are essentially zero. Coincidences that wild do happen—there’s a recorded case of two brothers who were killed a year apart on the same street, each at age 17, each while riding the same bike, each run over by the same cab driver, carrying the same passenger—but they don’t happen frequently enough for us to seriously consider them as exculpatory evidence. If something that insanely freakish implicates you, you’re just screwed, really. Continue Reading

8

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter Review

The reviews of the film had been dismal, but I felt duty bound to watch it, and give the film a review.  On  July 3, having closed my law office for the afternoon, my family and I went to the movies.  While the rest of my family, not sharing my duty to report on the film, joined the folks seeing Spider-man III, I strolled over to see the Great Emancipator dispatch vampires.  The viewing was rather like a private showing.  The audience in the vast theater consisted of me and one individual in the back.  I found this aspect of the film quite pleasant.  Alas that is the first and last positive aspect of this film that I can report.  Intrepid souls who wish to can follow me into the bowels of ALVH below, the usual spoiler  caveat being in force. Continue Reading

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Just Seen It Reviews For Greater Glory

The hard working film mavens of Just Seen It give For Greater Glory an enthusiatic review in the video above.  It is one of the more perceptive reviews of the film that I have seen.  The two reviewers come at the film from a purely secular viewpoint and had little if any knowledge of the Cristero War prior to viewing it.  The message of religious freedom that the film conveys is obviously the most important part of the film, but even leaving that aside the movie is a masterpiece of the filmmaker’s craft.

6

Ed Morrissey Reviews For Greater Glory

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air saw a rough cut of For Greater Glory back in March, so I was curious to read his review, and here it is:

 

 

For Greater Glory tells the story of the Mexican government’s attempt to stamp out the Catholic Church under President Calles (played by Ruben Blades), and the uprising that followed, a civil war that killed 90,000 people. Calles attempted to enforce the anti-clerical laws put into Mexico’s 1917 socialist Constitution by demanding the expulsion of foreign priests, banning public demonstrations of faith (including the wearing of clerical garb), and making criticism of the government by priests punishable by five years in prison. A boycott organized by the Catholic Church prompted Calles to get even tougher, and open war broke out. Enrique Gorostieta (Andy Garcia), a general who had fought for the winning side in the revolution, chose to lead the Cristero rebellion, and the film focuses mainly on Gorostieta, two of his lieutenants, and a young boy named Jose Sanchez del Rio, who was later beatified by the Catholic Church.

Back in March, I was fortunate enough to see a rough cut of the film, and wrote a semi-official review at the time (from which I borrowed the synopsis above) with the caveat that I would wait to see the theatrical release.  Last night, my wife and I saw it in its limited Twin Cities release, and the final cut has significantly improved the narrative flow of the film. One of the few areas of concern I had from the rough cut was the difficulty in following the constant shifting between subplots in the first half of the film, and some ambiguity about the intent in some scenes.  Those problems were resolved nicely, with additional footage in some areas and smoother transitions throughout. Continue Reading

7

The Fugitive (1947)

A Fugitive: I have a question, Lieutenant. When did you lose your faith?

 A Lieutenant of Police: When I found a better one.

The film For Greater Glory has reminded me of director John Ford’s forgotten The Fugitive (1947).  Very loosely based on Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory (no priest in an American film in 1947 was going to have the moral failings of Greene’s whiskey priest) the film did poorly at the box office and soon fell into oblivion, except among film critics who regard it as one of Ford’s more interesting works.  Ford said it was  his favorite film.

The film is set in a nameless country, obviously Mexico where the movie was filmed, where religion has been abolished by the government.  Henry Fonda is the last priest hunted by a police lieutenant, played maniacally by Pedro Armendáriz.  Armendariz is a whole-hearted convert to atheism, and views the capture of Fonda as a noble task.   Continue Reading

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A Film For Our Time, and All Times

 

No one, surely, Venerable Brothers, can hazard a prediction or foresee in imagination the hour when the good God will bring to an end such calamities. We do know this much: The day will come when the Church of Mexico will have respite from this veritable tempest of hatred, for the reason that, according to the words of God “there is no wisdom, there is no prudence, there is no counsel against the Lord” (Prov. xxi, 30) and “the gates of hell shall not prevail” (Matt. xvi, 18) against the Spotless Bride of Christ.

Pius XI, INIQUIS AFFLICTISQUE

 

I knew that my viewing of For Greater Glory was going to be something special when two Dominican nuns, in habits,  came out of the showing before the one my family and I attended and one of them remarked to me that it was a very powerful film.  I replied that we were looking forward to seeing it.  Well, that wasn’t completely true.  My worldly, jaded 17 year old daughter would much have preferred to have been back home killing zombies online with her internet chums.  By the end of the film  she was weeping over the scene in which 14 year old Blessed  José Sánchez del Río, stunningly portrayed by Mauricio Kuri,  was martyred.  I did not blame her.  I have not been so deeply moved by a film since I saw The Passion of the Christ.

Before we go any farther, I should announce the obligatory spoiler alert.  I will be mentioning plot elements that people who have not seen the film might not wish to have revealed to them.  For those wishing to continue on, if you have not read my initial post here on the historical background of the Cristeros War, you might find it helpful to look at it before reading this review. Continue Reading

13

Happy New Year and Welcome to Arrakis!

Happy New Year to all our readers.  Clan McClarey spent New Year’s Eve in our usual fashion in watching the movie Dune (1984) a movie so wretchedly bad that it is good, if watched as  an unintentional comedy!  When the film was originally released the introduction to the film consisted of the above video by Princess Irulan, portrayed by Virginia Madsen, a very minor character in the film.  When it was determined that the introduction merely confused already confused moviegoers more, at least those who had never read Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, a new introduction was made up when the film was released on television:

Upon its release the film was nearly universally panned.  David Lynch, the director, disowned the film, and adopted the pseudonym of Alan Smithee, a name traditionally adopted by directors of films that turn out so badly that the directors do not want their names attached to it.  The film earned the title of worst film of the year by film reviewers Siskel and Ebert.  Janet Maslin in the New York Times gave the film one star, and regarded it as completely incomprehensible: “Several of the characters in Dune are psychic, which puts them in the unique position of being able to understand what goes on in the movie”.

Why is Dune such a grand buzzard of a film?

1.  Confusing.  Audiences were simply asked to take in too much of an immensely complicated science fiction setting.  Now if they had simply had this catchy tune at the beginning of the film, perhaps some of the confusion could have been eliminated:

2.  Overacting.  A prime example:

3.  Sting.  Dune was the movie where Sting amply demonstrated that he could not act to save his singer soul.  His role is actually fairly minor.  But he does have a climatic fight scene where he jumps around like a deranged gerbil and comes off as silly rather than menacing:

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6

William Roper v. Richard Rich

 In good faith, Mr. Rich, I am more sorry for your perjury than mine own peril; and know you that neither I nor any one else to my knowledge ever took you to be a man of such credit as either I or any other could vouchsafe to communicate with you in any matter of importance.

Saint Thomas More

 

Two arresting scenes from A Man For All Seasons, (1966).  Usually the second scene in the video clip is remembered for the statement by Sir Thomas More that he would give even the devil benefit of the law.  I have written about that statement here.  However there is another interesting facet to the pairing of these two scenes:  a comparison of William Roper and Richard Rich.

Sir Thomas is fond of Roper the suitor of his daughter, and the fondness is obvious in the scene.  However, he will not allow him to marry his daughter because he is a heretic.  More notes that at one time Roper was a passionate churchman and now he is a passionate Lutheran and hopes that when his head stops spinning it will be to the front again.  (Roper did become an orthodox Catholic again and remained one till his death, even under the reign of Bad Queen Bess.)  In spite of Roper being something that Sir Thomas detests, that does not alter either his liking or his high regard for the young man.  Why is this?  Because Roper is obviously seeking after the truth and attempting to do what he thinks is right.  Such good motivation is to be respected even when it reaches erroneous conclusions.

Richard Rich on the other hand lacks such motivation.  More likes him also, but recognizes that he has no character.  Rich will do whatever it takes for him to rise in the world, and if that involves immoral actions, so be it.  Unlike Roper he lacks any good motivation or honest intent.  (The historical Rich was a complete scoundrel and recognized as such at the time.  He specialized in betrayals and making himself useful to whoever was in power at the time.  Under Henry and Edward he persecuted Catholics, under Mary he persecuted Protestants, and under Elizabeth he was whatever she was.  It is a sad commentary on the human condition that such an open, time-serving villain prospered and died in his bed, the founder of an aristocratic dynasty.) Continue Reading

6

The Horse Soldiers

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.

The video at the beginning of the post shows an interview done of Harold Sinclair during the making of the film.  Go here to read a note by Sinclair at the beginning of his novel in which he describes the liberties taken in the novel from the historical events.

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

17

Senator Jefferson Smith, the Tea Party and America

My colleague Michael Denton has a thought provoking post which may be read here, in which he contends that the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington does not stand for the ideals of America, but rather that the Christian message of Love Thy Neighbor is what saves Senator Smith.  Michael makes many valid points in his cogent post, but I respectfully disagree that the film is as negative about America as Michael contends, and I think that if the fictional Senator Jefferson Smith were brought to life in our day, he would be a leader of the Tea Party movement.  Here are my reasons for making these statements:

1. The Founding Fathers:  Like the Tea Party movement, Jefferson Smith takes his inspiration and his political principles from the Founding Fathers (with Lincoln thrown in).  We see this clearly in this scene:

Smith is a reminder to a jaded world that, “Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!”

When he momentarily loses his idealism about these principles he is reminded that the principles are true by his formerly cynical secretary Clarissa, stunningly portrayed by Jean Arthur, who he, unbeknownst to himself, has converted to his point of view:

“Your friend, Mr. Lincoln had his Taylors and Paines. So did every other man who ever tried to lift his thought up off the ground. Odds against them didn’t stop those men. They were fools that way. All the good that ever came into this world came from fools with faith like that. You know that, Jeff. You can’t quit now. Not you. They aren’t all Taylors and Paines in Washington. That kind just throw big shadows, that’s all. You didn’t just have faith in Paine or any other living man. You had faith in something bigger than that. You had plain, decent, everyday, common rightness, and this country could use some of that. Yeah, so could the whole cockeyed world, a lot of it. Remember the first day you got here? Remember what you said about Mr. Lincoln? You said he was sitting up there, waiting for someone to come along. You were right. He was waiting for a man who could see his job and sail into it, that’s what he was waiting for. A man who could tear into the Taylors and root them out into the open. I think he was waiting for you, Jeff. He knows you can do it, so do I.”

2.  Faith in the People-This of course is an axiom of democracy.  Democracy makes absolutely no sense unless one believes that most people do wish to do the right thing most of the time, once they are sure of what is right.  Jefferson Smith has this faith as does the Tea Party with its populist appeals.  He believes that once the people of his state know the type of political corruption that controls their state, they will rise up to crush Taylor and his machine.  The villains of the film agree with him:

James Taylor to Senator Paine:  “If he even starts to convince those Senators, you might as well blow your brains out, you know that, don’t ya? This is the works, Joe! Either we’re out of business or we’re bigger than we ever were before. We can’t miss a trick. We can’t stop at anything until we’ve smashed this yokel and buried him so deep…”

Taylor fears the people of his state and that is why he uses gangster tactics to keep the news of what Jefferson Smith is saying on the floor of the Senate from getting to them.

When Smith is confronted with Taylor’s astroturfed messages denouncing him, he refuses to give up, his body giving way, but not his spirit.  Ironically, I think if a vote were cast thereafter in the Senate, Smith would have won.  The Senators are viewed in the film as listening to him intently towards the end of the filibuster and are portrayed in the film as increasingly sympathetic to him:

Senator:  “I didn’t like this boy from the beginning. But most of us feel that no man who wasn’t sincere could stage a fight like this against these impossible odds.” Continue Reading

8

300 Spartans, Freedom and Faith

 

Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat, but the Alamo had none.

Thomas Jefferson Green

The heroic last stand at Thermopylae of the 300 Spartans under King Leonidas, along with a few thousand other Greek hoplites in 490 BC, has long fascinated Americans.   Fighting to the last for freedom has served to inspire Americans in times of war.  The recent movie 300, although I greatly enjoyed portions of it, especially the final speech which may be viewed here, was more a comic book brought to the screen, Mark Miller’s graphic novel, rather than any attempt to be historically accurate.  Perhaps the finest living expert on classical Greek warfare, Victor Davis Hanson, points out just a few of the inaccuracies in the film:

300, of course, makes plenty of allowance for popular tastes, changing and expanding the story to meet the protocols of the comic book genre. The film was not shot on location outdoors, but in a studio using the so-called “digital backlot” technique of sometimes placing the actors against blue screens. The resulting realism is not that of the sun-soaked cliffs above the blue Aegean — Thermopylae remains spectacularly beautiful today — but of the eerie etchings of the comic book.

The Spartans fight bare-chested without armor, in the “heroic nude” manner that ancient Greek vase-painters portrayed Greek hoplites, their muscles bulging as if they were contemporary comic book action heroes. Again, following the Miller comic, artistic license is made with the original story — the traitor Ephialtes is as deformed in body as he is in character; King Xerxes is not bearded and perched on a distant throne, but bald, huge, perhaps sexually ambiguous, and often right on the battlefield. The Persians bring with them exotic beasts like a rhinoceros and elephant, and the leader of the Immortals fights Leonidas in a duel (which the Greeks knew as monomachia). Shields are metal rather than wood with bronze veneers, and swords sometimes look futuristic rather than ancient.

However, Hanson was a fan of the film:

Again, purists must remember that 300 seeks to bring a comic book, not Herodotus, to the screen. Yet, despite the need to adhere to the conventions of Frank Miller’s graphics and plot — every bit as formalized as the protocols of classical Athenian drama or Japanese Kabuki theater — the main story from our ancient Greek historians is still there: Leonidas, against domestic opposition, insists on sending an immediate advance party northward on a suicide mission to rouse the Greeks and allow them time to unite a defense. Once at Thermopylae, he adopts the defenses to the narrow pass between high cliffs and the sea far below. The Greeks fight both en masse in the phalanx and at times range beyond as solo warriors. They are finally betrayed by Ephialtes, forcing Leonidas to dismiss his allies — and leaving his own 300 to the fate of dying under a sea of arrows.

But most importantly, 300 preserves the spirit of the Thermopylae story. The Spartans, quoting lines known from Herodotus and themes from the lyric poets, profess unswerving loyalty to a free Greece. They will never kow-tow to the Persians, preferring to die on their feet than live on their knees.

 

 

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7

Conquest

Something for the weekend.  Conquest theme from the 1947 film Captain From Castile.  As all University of Southern California alums know, the work was composed by Alfred Newman who bequeathed all rights in the work to the University to play at football games.

The movie Captain From Castile, based on the novel of the same name by Samuel Shellenbarger, is quite worth watching.  Tyrone Power plays Pedro de Vargas, a nobleman on the run from the inquisition who becomes one of Hernan Cortez’ captains.  Cortez is portrayed by Caesar Romero who steals every scene he is in.  He captures Cortez perfectly:  larger than life, endlessly innovative, always optimistic no matter the challenge, and overflowing with raw charisma.  The film ends before the campaign to conquer Tenochtitlan which is a disappointment. Continue Reading

5

Spartacus

Something for the weekend.  The intro to the movie Spartacus (1960), one of the best film intros, with a superb melding of the music and “Roman” statuary.  I saw this film initially in 1967 when it was first broadcast on television and it awakened a lifelong love of ancient history in me. 

 The film is full of historical howlers, par for the course for Hollywood.  Crassus, the richest man in Rome, was not a proto-Fascist dictator.  Spartacus, who is a shadowy figure because the source material is sparse (only Plutarch’s Life of Crassus and a brief section in Appian’s Civil Wars), did not simply march to the sea to escape Italy with his liberated slaves, but marauded throughout Italy, defeating several Roman consular armies in the process.  There was no  Senator called Gracchus, magnificently portrayed in the film by Charles Laughton, who led the  opposition to Crassus, and Crassus wasn’t interested in personal dictatorship in any event during the time he put down Spartacus and his slave army.  The list of substantial factual errors in the film could go on for considerable length. 

However, all that is beside the point.  The film is a magnificent work of art, and it gets the atmosphere of the late Roman Republic right:  old Roman morality being forgotten, a growth of decadence fueled by ever more wealth from foreign conquests, endless amounts of slaves flooding into Italy from the same foreign conquests, factions in the Senate engaging in what amounted to a cold civil war between bouts of hot civil war, the Roman Republican government teetering on the brink of military dictatorship, the movie presents all of these elements more clearly than any  classroom lecture could. Continue Reading

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Inception's Leap of Faith: Christianity v. Neo-Conservatives

My wife and I went to see Inception this weekend and I’ve been mulling over it the past two days. I’ve been looking through the internet to find a good analysis and, not finding one fully to my satisfaction, look Tolkien & Lewis’s advice and just wrote my own. If you haven’t seen the movie, I don’t know why you’re reading this but rest assured you will be lost. For those who did see it, I’ll see you after the break.

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Toy Story 3

I’ve become a very big fan of Pixar’s works, especially their recent works of Wall-E and Up. I don’t know what Pixar’s philosophical leanings are, but I think there’s a lot in their movies for Catholics of all ages to chew on. Indeed, Pixar provides some of the few films that are excellent visually and in plot, a rarity in Hollywood these days.

If you haven’t seen Toy Story 3, I recommend you (and your family) go do so. While I don’t think viewing the previous ones is an absolute necessity, much of the emotional punch of the film is added by the backstory and so I would do so.

If you have, come on below for all the spoilers and discussion of the movie.

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5

Now Showing: The Tudors

The following is a column posted by Brad Miner of The Catholic Thing on Monday, March 1, 2010 A.D.:

John Timothy McNicholas, Cincinnati’s archbishop from 1925 until 1950, went to a New York convention in 1933 and heard the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, Amleto Cicognani (future Vatican Secretary of State), rail against Hollywood’s “massacre” of American moral innocence and call for the “purification of cinema.” McNicholas took the message to heart and founded the Catholic Legion of Decency (CLOD). As TIME magazine reported in 1934, the organization’s mission was simple: the faithful should stay “away from all motion pictures except those which do not offend decency and Christian morality.” So popular did the Legion’s campaign become that Jews and Protestants joined the crusade, and the organization was quickly rechristened the National Legion of Decency.

The Legion’s descriptions of films were exclusively condemnatory; calling only for protests about and boycotts of films deemed impure. And some of the films CLOD listed have been subsequently delisted by its successor, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Office for Film and Broadcasting. For instance, “Finishing School,” a Thirties production starring Billie Burke, Ginger Rogers, and the too-often ignored Frances Dee, was condemned by CLOD as portraying an “attempted seduction and an accomplished seduction. . . . Protest. . . . Protest. . .” Today, the USCCB rating of the film is A-III, in essence: It’s a quality movie. Go ahead and watch it – you’re grown-ups.

Archbishop McNicholas

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5

Judgment at Nuremberg

Very loosely based on the Justice Trials of Nazi judges and Reich Ministry of Justice officialsJudgment at Nuremberg (1961) is a masterful exploration of justice and the personal responsibility of good men trapped in a totalitarian state.  Burt Lancaster, an actor of the first calibre, gives the performance of his career as Ernst Janning.  The early portion of the movie makes clear that Ernst Janning is in many ways a good man.  Before the Nazis came to power Janning was a world respected German jurist.  After the Nazis came to power evidence is brought forward by his defense counsel that Janning attempted to help people persecuted by the Nazis, and that he even personally insulted Hitler on one occasion.  Janning obviously despises the Nazis and the other judges who are on trial with him.  At his trial he refuses to say a word in his defense.  He only testifies after being appalled by the tactics of his defense counsel.  His magnificent and unsparing testimony convicts him and all the other Germans who were good men and women, who knew better, and who failed to speak out or to act against the Nazis.  Janning’s testimony tells us that sins of omission can be as damning as sins of commission.  When he reveals that he sentenced a man to death he knew to be innocent because of pressure from the Nazi government, we can only agree with his bleak assessment that he reduced his life to excrement.  Yet we have to respect Janning.  It is a rare man who can so publicly take responsibility for his own evil acts. Continue Reading

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Go For Broke

My wife gave me for my birthday on Saturday a compilation collection of 15 World War II films.  I immediately noticed one of the titles:  Go For Broke (1951).  It had been over thirty years since I last viewed that film and I watched it last night and greatly enjoyed it.

Go For Broke, tells the story of the 442nd regimental combat team during World War II.  Made up of first generation Japanese-Americans, Nisei, the 442nd, along with the 100th Infantry battalion, made up of Nisei from Hawaii and which became associated with the 442nd, fought in Italy, France and Germany.   Many of the Japanese-American actors in the film were combat veterans of the 442nd which lends the film a very realistic, almost documentary feel, especially in the combat sequences.

The film opens in 1943 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi where the men of the 442nd are being trained.  Van Johnson, portraying Lieutenant Michael Grayson, is a “90 day wonder”, an enlisted man commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant after completing a 90 days officer’s candidate school.  Prior to officer’s candidate school he had been a member of the 36th National Guard Division, one of several National Guard units from Texas that fought in World War II, sometimes waggishly refered to as the Texan Army.   Grayson was hoping that he would be reassigned to the 36th and is dismayed to find that he will be leading Japanese-American troops, sharing to the full the prejudice that most Americans felt against everything Japanese following Pearl Harbor.  He immediately asks Colonel Charles W. Pence, portrayed by Warner Anderson, for a transfer to the 36th.  Pence quickly realizes, despite the denials of Grayson, that he is prejudiced against the Japanese-Americans, and informs him in no uncertain terms that his men are loyal Americans, that there will no be transfer, and that he is to take up his duties as a platoon commander, a 40 man unit, immediately.  The scene shifts to the platoon, where the men are relaxing in the barracks.  Other than their ancestry, and different slang, viewers quickly realize that they are like other American soldiers, griping about the Army, wondering what is going on back home, playing craps, etc.  Grayson and his men are a poor fit initially, but he does his job and helps turn them into soldiers.  Continue Reading

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Movie Review: District 9

MrsDarwin and I grabbed a rare chance to take an evening out last night and went to see District 9, a science fiction movie that came out a couple weeks ago. Contrary to stereotype, it was actually MrsDarwin who had latched onto this as the movie to see, and I’m glad she did as it was one of the more enjoyable SciFi flicks that I’ve seen in a while. (Movie Trailer here.)

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7

The Scarlet and The Black

Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty

Here, at 8:39, in my opinion, is one of the more profound observations on film about the Catholic Church and History.  The evil that men do make many a blood stained page of History, but the Church survives throughout History as Caesars, Emperors, Kings, Prime Ministers, Presidents, Commissars, Fuhrers, Caudillos, Duces, General Secretaries, would be fake messiahs, etc, pass away.

The Scarlet and the Black (1983) is one of the better films dealing with the Catholic Church.  Gregory Peck is brilliant as Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, who during World War 2, hid 4000 escaped Allied POWs and Jews from the Nazi occupiers of Rome.  Christopher Plummer gives the performance of his career as Obersturmbanfuhrer (Colonel) Herbert Kappler, the head of the Gestapo in Rome.  John Gielgud gives a stunningly good performance as Pius XII.  At one point when he confronts a Nazi delegation he merely stares at them with steely disdain until they get the hint and leave.  I imagine the actual Pius XII used a similar look of disdain when, on March 11, 1940, his response to a complaint by the Nazi  Foreign Minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop that the Church was siding with the Allies, was to read to Von Ribbentrop a long list of atrocities committed by the Nazis in Poland, which had been compiled by the Church.  This is a superb film that should be seen by every Catholic.

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Greatest Movie Pope

Hands down for me the best film portrayal of  a pope is Rex Harrison of Julius II in The Agony and the Ecstacy.   A sympathetic portrayal of the soldier pope, Harrison portrays him as strong, cunning, a biting wit, a true lover of the arts, and a man of deep faith who fears his service to God has been a failure.   Michelangelo was the master artist of his time, perhaps of all time, but he required a rough hewn pope to hold him to his task.

Here we see Michelangelo explaining to the Pope his conception for the ceiling.

At this link here we have the great Pope and the great Artist discussing art and faith in one of the more profound discussions to be found in a popular film.  The death bed revival of the Pope is also one of the more hilarious sequences to be found in a non-comedy!  I think both Michelangelo and the Pope would have been pleased by their portrayals in this film.  It does justice to both of them, and no subject of any work of art can ask for better.

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"Taken" Some Life Lessons

I saw the movie with Liam Neeson entitled “Taken”, the other night. It is the ultimate ‘Dads protecting daughters’ fantasy. It plays on a whole lot of primal emotions- particularly the temptation to give oneself over to extreme violence to protect the lives and sanctity of one’s children. Every father wants to imagine himself capable of defending his beloved children from any and all threats- and the father in “Taken” was that ultimate fatherly force. He represented more of a divine Angelic father who slays spiritually evil forces, than a realistic earthly dad- and as such I was able to excuse the incredible violence as something of a parable of ultimate accountability for those humans who perpetrate the evils of human trafficking and slavery.

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The Caine Mutiny: A Review

For my sins, perhaps, I have spent my career as an attorney.  Over the past 27 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.

What I admire most about the film is the realistic way that the defense is depicted.  A legal case consists of the facts, the law and people. Continue Reading