My family and I went to see Incredibles 2 on Saturday. Most sequels I find disappointing, but this one more than lived up to my expectations. Review below the fold and the caveat as to spoilers is in full effect: Continue Reading
I have been reading a biography of Lawrence of Arabia the past few days, Hero by Michael Korda, and it has directed my attention back to the magnificent film, Lawrence of Arabia (1962). I have always thought highly of the below scene:
Veteran British actors Donald Wolfit and Claude Rains were at the top of their games. Wolfit portrays General Archibald Murray as a military martinet. Claude Rains is the cynical, intelligent and slightly sinister British civil functionary, Mr. Dryden, a fictional amalgamation of several historical figures. Peter O’Toole, in his first major film role, gives the performance of his career as T.E. Lawrence, a mysterious messianic figure for the Arabs, driven more than half mad by what he experiences in the film. Throughout his career O’Toole would specialize in characters who were close to being crazy.
The interesting thing about the scene is that Murray, clearly meant to be an unsympathetic character, says nothing but the truth. The war against the Turks was a sideshow, and the revolt among some of the Bedouin against the Turks was a sideshow of a sideshow, with all of it having close to zero impact on the outcome of World War I, which was decided by the fighting in France.
The scene also demonstrates the ability of film to mangle history. Murray, rather than contemptuous of Lawrence, thought highly of him, and it was largely due to Lawrence’s reports that Murray supported the Arab Revolt. Murray also, rather than being a military buffoon, was instrumental in amassing the forces that his successor General Edmund Allenby utilized with such smashing success.
The scene, as does the entire film, rewards careful observation. I have always regarded the following back and forth as wryly personally meaningful to me:
Now, the Arab Bureau seem to think you
would be of some use to them in Arabia.
Why? I can’t imagine! You don’t seem able
to perform your present duties properly.
I cannot fiddle, but I can make a great
state from a little city.
Themistocles, sir. A Greek philosopher.
I know you’ve been well educated,
Lawrence. It says so in your dossier.
If any readers have not seen this film, they should remedy that lack as quickly as they can.
From a distance, Kennedy has long seemed like a man playing a role: the role his staff expected him to play, the role his public expected him to play, the role his brothers and their retainers expected him to play, the role his father expected him to play. “Ted Kennedy, Liberal Icon” was performance art which dragged on for decades. One of his more vigorous opponents over the years, Raymond Shamie, pointed out that his signature issue was ‘national health insurance’, but that his proposal had never got out of subcommittee, and he was chairman of the subcommittee. Maybe all along what he really cared about was making waitress sandwiches.
Art Deco, commenter, The American Catholic, April 7, 2018
My son and I saw the movie Chappaquiddick on Saturday. It is a superb evocation of time and place and a damning indictment of the cowardice of Ted Kennedy that led to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. My review is below the fold, and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in full force. Continue Reading
I finally saw The Death of Stalin (2017) with my bride and son last Saturday. Most films that I have high expectations for often leave me at least slightly disappointed. This film exceeded my expectations. It is a superb evocation of the power struggles that ensued in the wake of the death of Stalin in 1953. The blackest of black comedies, it is also hilarious, albeit with quite a bit of very rough language. The language however in this context works. The men of the Politburo were gangsters, murderers. We would no more expect them to use decent language than we would expect the demons to do so in Dante’s Inferno. However, if there are gradations in Hell, the worst was Stalin’s Himmler, Lavrentiy Beria. A Georgian like Stalin, and head of the NKVD for the latter part of Stalin’s rule, Beria had the blood of millions on his hands. However, his colleagues were little better than him. None of them had the courage not to go along with Stalin’s paranoia that executed millions and sent millions of others to living deaths, and often simply deaths, in the Gulag. All of them had to sign off on execution lists and imprisonment lists of people they knew to be completely innocent.
Beria is the villain of the film, as the film depicts, albeit in truncated fashion, his rise and fall post Stalin. The film’s comedic tone leaves it right at the very end when during his “trial” Beria is denounced for his habit of taking advantage of his position to rape women at will, to have women prostitute themselves to him in usually futile efforts to save themselves or their men and children and Beria’s involvement in pedophilia. Only then do we see moral outrage from his colleagues, because here, for the first and only time in the film, they are talking about crimes they did not engage in themselves.
Communism is back in vogue on the Left, and thus this film appears at an opportune time to remind us of the gruesome reality of Communism in practice.
Hollywood, when it goes into the realms of History and Faith, often does justice to neither, getting the History wrong and making a complete hash of the presentation of religious faith on the screen. I am pleased to report that Paul: Apostle of Christ defies this usual litany of failure. My review is below, and the usual caveat as to spoilers applies:
This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourselves.
Kambei, leader of the Seven Samurai
Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts takes a look at Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, The Seven Samurai.
I finally did it. My entire life, I’ve heard of the almost mythical movie The Seven Samurai. Considered one of the greatest foreign language films by American critics and universally praised by critics around the world, I just never got around to watching it. When I did look for it, it was difficult to find. And when you could find it, it was always expensive.
Finally, this last Christmas, The Seven Samurai ended up under the tree. Because of its length of 3 1/2 hours, we couldn’t find time to see it. Since the two oldest have moved on with college, they’re not around to watch things like they used to, but they wanted to watch it with us for the first time. So it wasn’t until Tuesday night that we could get everyone together for the first viewing.
It was worth the wait. Long and short, it lived up to the hype and then some. Everyone knows of its influence. We all know The Magnificent Seven was just an American version of the film. We know that from Guns of Navarone to A Bug’s Life, the movie has been considered one of the most influential and copied movies of all time.
Despite this high expectation, and I can’t put my finger on why, it lived up to all I had heard and more. I think, when the dust settles, it was the interaction between the players. Oddly, in the end (without giving away too much), the seven Samurai do little of the fighting, instead funneling the fight over to the village farmers and letting them do most of the heavy lifting. The movie is mostly about the relationships between the villagers and the Samurai, and the Samurai (technically mostly Ronin) and each other.
But here’s what dawned on me. In America, there is this notion that only in America, and all because of that infamous ‘Code’ of the 1930s, our films were repressed and unable to express themselves openly. We have this notion that the sex and drugs culture, with explicit and open and unrestrained sexuality and hedonism, accompanied by increasingly gory and bloody violence shown graphically in film and on television, were all just the logical result of the ‘Code’ finally crumbling and true artistic expression emerging.
Furthermore, we are now just getting back to how it always was, when sex and sex and graphic sex and gore and graphic violence were just the way it should have been or always was or both. Without saying it directly, we have this notion that we’re finally getting things back to the rest of the world, where gay sex, group sex, graphic violence, drugs and all the explicit ‘invite the camera in the bedroom’ movies were common around the world.
Except, it wasn’t. The Seven Samurai, a movie where hired guns come in to save a village from rampaging bandits, is violent. There are dozens of deaths. And yet, you never really see much. No blood. No gore. No guts hanging out. You see a few fights at the end. You see some duels. But no explicit violence. You see a case where a village girl and a young Samurai get together in a barn, much to the father’s dismay. Later, the head Samurai chuckles that they’ll expect more from the youngster now that he has ‘become a man.’ We all know what that means, just as I’m sure audiences did back then. But they didn’t show it. And all that restraint without the evil Hollywood Code, driven by the nefarious Catholic Church.
And that got me to thinking, as I am wont to do. The fact is, there was no real ‘Hollywood Code’, at least any different than anywhere else in the world. Oh, there was a code. And it had its demands and its expectations from films, just like today. If you think on it, there isn’t a lack of movies coming out of Hollywood that question homosexual normality, or challenge abortion rights, or reflect on the failures of the Civil Rights movement over the last quarter of a century, because there is nobody out there imagining these things. They simply aren’t allowed. If they were made, they would be boycotted, banned, attacked and even sued. Codes have always been around. I’m sure they always will be.
And not just in America. Being a fan of old, silent movies, I’ve seen my share from around the world before there was this mythical Hollywood Code. Heck, a few predate Hollywood. Sometimes you get a little more than you would in 1930s or 1940s Hollywood fare. Sometimes you might catch a bit of skin in some old, silent Italian film, or see some more direct examples of innocents dying in an old Soviet propaganda film. If there was any nudity at all, it came off as more artsy than anything sexual, and that’s stretching it since I don’t recall anything, but I’m willing to allow for the possibility. Yes, you could get a little more nitty-gritty at times, like the original King Kong, but like 1954’s The Seven Samurai, there just isn’t a case of flagrant, porn like sex and graphic blood and gore violence that I have found. There just isn’t. Anywhere. Around the world.
This is something that has arisen only over the last fifty years or so of film making and other visual entertainment. Sure, the ‘themes’ were there. Samurai was about the real, down in the trenches lives of these legendary warriors as much as it was anything. It was taking the chivalrous knight down a notch, by showing warts and all. But it didn’t show it with the camera. It showed it with the dialogue and the mind of the viewers.
Somewhere, however, filmmakers in America, Europe and around the world began showing us, rather than pointing our minds to think it through. By the fifties, violence was starting to creep into the explicit levels. By the sixties, sex was getting more open as violence became more graphic. No longer did a mixture of camera angles and convenient barricades mixed with clever dialogue point the audience to what happened. Nope. By the late sixties, the cameras were going into the bedroom or showing the gunshots and saying ‘here you go, this is what happened.’
It was about then that the same began happening around the world, to a greater or lesser extent. By the late seventies, everything was on the table. Explicit sex (not counting the porn film industry that had been developing apace for a couple decades by then) and graphic violence were the name of the game.
And it was right around that time, if memory serves, that the mass killings began, at least as we know them today. And not just here in the old US of A. Of course movies and entertainment around the world have become pretty graphic – including in Japan. And it seems that mass killings are quite the global phenomenon. Oh, not the shootings like we have. But mass knifings, mass bombings, basically attempts to kill as many innocent people you might or might not know as possible.
Could it be connected? Based on the film record, there simply was no culture at the dawn of the film industry that threw all manner of graphic sex, violence, gore and smut out there for public consumption. Even outside of the Hollywood ‘Code’, there seemed to be pretty strict codes around the world. But all of that changed by the mid to late 20th century.
Could there be a connection with this relatively new phenomenon of people seeking to slaughter as many innocents as possible for no other reason than to slaughter them, and the rather graphic level that entertainment has risen to? We already elevate celebrity and entertainment to the place that religion and national identity enjoyed in ages past. Could there be a connection?
It turns out that this whole ‘Code’ thing wasn’t reserved for America, just like this phenomenon of mass killing of innocents isn’t confined to America. Because the breakdown of barriers in cultural output, and the rise of mass killings through terrorism and personal crime seem linked in the timeline, could there be a connection worth examining?
Just curious and sort of thinking out loud after watching one fine romp of a film.
Go here to comment. In his capacity for endless violence Man reveals himself as lower than the beasts. In his capacity for self-sacrificial violence in defense of others Man stands above the angels. Once upon a time, film makers understood that central truth of the human condition.
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940
My bride and I and our son saw Darkest Hour on December 23, 2017. It is a very good film, perhaps a great one. My review is below the fold. The usual caveat as to spoilers is in full effect. Continue Reading
I didn’t think much of the film Dunkirk (2017). Go here to read my review. I like it better as a re-imagined silent film.
Hawkins: If I die, just pray that I die bravely.
Witch: You’ll not die, you’ll not have to fight him. Griswold dies as he drinks the toast.
Witch: Listen. I have put a pellet of poison in one of the vessels.
Hawkins: Which one?
Witch: The one with the figure of a pestle.
Hawkins: The vessel with the pestle?
Witch: Yes. But you don’t want the vessel with the pestle, you want the chalice from the palace!
Hawkins: I-I don’t want the vessel with the pestle, I want the chalice from the what?
Jean: The chalice from the palace!
Witch: It’s a little crystal chalice with a figure of a palace.
Hawkins: Th-the chalice from the palace have the pellet with the poison?
Witch: No, the pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle.
Hawkins: Oh, oh, the pestle with the vessel.
Jean: The vessel with the pestle.
Hawkins: What about the palace from the chalice?
Witch: Not the palace from the chalice! The chalice from the palace!
Hawkins: Where’s the pellet with the poison?
Witch: In the vessel with the pestle!
Jean: Don’t you see? The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle.
Witch: The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!
Jean: It’s so easy, I can say it!
Hawkins: Well then you fight him!
Witch: Listen carefully. The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.
Hawkins: Where the pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.
Jean: Good man!
Witch: Just remember that.
Random Guard: Sir Giacomo! Sir Giacomo, into your armor! And you, to your place in the pavilion.
Hawkins: The pellet with the poison… the pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the true that is brew. Eh… brew that is tru- The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the true that is brew. Eh, eh, brew that is true. Eh. The chestle with the pal- eh, eh, palace with the…
Random Guard: Look out!
[lighting strikes armor, magnetizing it]
Random Guard: Hurry, now, get into your armor!
Hawkins: The pestle with t… the pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle, the palace from the chalice has the brew that is blue. Eh, no… The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle. The cha- eh, the pellet with the plip… the pellet with the poisle’s in the vessel with the plazzle. Eh, the plazzle with the vlessle. Eh, the the bless… The vessel with the plozle is the plazzle with the…
Random Guard (interrupting): Come along, Sir Giacomo. His majesty is waiting.
Hawkins: The pestle with the poilet…
Random Guard: And take your helmet!
Hawkins: (Muttering “pellet with the poison”) Thank you.
Hawkins: The pellet with the poisley’s from chalice with the pazley.
Hawkins: I’ve got it! I’ve got it. The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true, right?
Witch: Right. But there’s been a change. They broke the chalice from the palace.
Hawkins: They broke the chalice from the palace?
Witch: And replaced it with a flagon.
Witch: With a figure of a dragon.
Hawkins: Flagon with a dragon.
Hawkins: Did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle?
Witch: No! The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon, the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!
Hawkins: The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon, the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.
Witch: Just remember that.
Hawkins: Yes, thank you very much. The pellet with the chasley, eh… the pellet with the poison is in the pasley with the chazzle. Eh, just remember that.
Griswold’s Lackey: Beware of the drinks. One of them is poisoned.
Griswold: Poisoned! Are you sure?
Griswold’s Lackey: I heard the witch.
Hawkins: The poisel with the plesley is the chaz… eh…
Griswold: The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon, the pestle with the pizzle… the pizzle with the f- the, the, the viss…
Griswold’s Lackey: No, no, no…
Hawkins: The pellet with the poisley is the chalice with the… he he (laughs nervously at guards)
Griswold’s Lackey: …Vessel with the pestle.
Griswold: The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.
Griswold’s Lackey: Right. Don’t forget it.
Griswold (mutters): The palace with the dragon… no, no, no.
MC: The knights will approach each other!
Hawkins: The pellet with the poisle is in the flaggle with the chalice.
Griswold: The poison’s in the dragon with the pestle.
Hawkins: Eh, ah, the chazzle is in the poisley with the plellice with the plan- eh, plaglice.
Griswold: The pellet with the dragon’s in the pestle with the poi-
Hawkins: The pezley with the poisle is…
Griswold: The dragon with the poisle’s in the pestle…
Hawkins: Pazzle with the fleegle…
Griswold: (Retrieves helmet magnetically held by H’s armor)
Hawkins: The poisley with the plazzle is the plazzle with the ploizle
Hawkins: The chalice with the pa… the flagon with the cha… the floizle with the flagon is the chalice with the poison.
MC: The knights will face the king!
Hawkins & Griswold: (muttering) (sight gags)
MC: They will approach the royal pavilion!
Hawkins: The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon!
Griswold: The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!
Hawkins: Oh, no, pglk, you’ve got the wrong one!
Roderick: Stop this mockery! There will be no toast! Put them to horse, let them choose weapons, and fight!
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
William Shakespeare, Prologue, Henry V
My bride and I, along with our son, will finally see Darkest Hour, the film that depicts the period in 1940 when Churchill became Prime Minister. I will have a full review next week.
Churchill was a remarkable man for any number of reasons, but I have always been intrigued by the fact that he was both a first class statesman and a first class historian. He understood the turning point in history where he stood, and his speeches resonate with that knowledge:
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
How to bring such a man to the screen? Of course the film making industry has a dismal record when it comes to historically based film. Generally the history is mangled and the film produced has all the historical value of a bobble headed toy depicting a historical figure. As the Shakespeare quote at the beginning of this post indicates, this was a problem that long predated films when it came to entertainment recreation of a tale from history.
However, there are exceptions to the usual run of failure of historical epics. Failures in costuming, and the telescoping of events, even distortions of fact do not bother me, if the film gives us a good evocation of the period. The film Spartacus (1960) comes to mind.
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 formations used by the legions in the battle sequences were two centuries out of date. 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.
Similarly the film Lincoln (2012) captures with preternatural accuracy both the man and his time:
Shakespeare in Henry V, with his magnificent poetry, brought to the Englishmen of his day the pride their ancestors had in their great warrior kings.
Next week I will report if Darkest Hour may be numbered in this august company of movies and plays that get history right. If it does, I assure you that Churchill will be smiling in the world to come.
Have you ever heard of some fellows who first came over to this country? You know what they found? They found a howling wilderness, with summers too hot and winters freezing, and they also found some unpleasant little characters who painted their faces. Do you think these pioneers filled out form number X6277 and sent in a report saying the Indians were a little unreasonable? Did they have insurance for their old age, for their crops, for their homes? They did not! They looked at the land, and the forest, and the rivers. They looked at their wives, their kids and their houses, and then they looked up at the sky and they said, “Thanks, God, we’ll take it from here.”
John Wayne, Without Reservations
An early example of the political philosophy of John Wayne from the movie Without Reservations (1946). A light-hearted romp, Claudette Colbert portrays the author, Kitt Madden, of a best selling novel Here Is Tomorrow which features a hero who bears a striking physical resemblance to Marine Corps Captain “Rusty” Thomas, portrayed by John Wayne. On her way to Hollywood for the making of a movie on the novel, Madden learns to her dismay that Cary Grant has turned down the role of the hero of her novel. When she meets “Rusty” Thomas she decides that he should star in the picture. One problem: Thomas hates the book! The film is very funny and an interesting satire on both novelists and Hollywood. (I wonder if Kitt Madden was supposed to be an anti-Ayn Rand, who was shopping her novels around Hollywood at the time.) Wayne and Colbert have magnificent chemistry in the film in spite of their different world views. (Ironically in real life both Wayne and Colbert were conservatives and staunch Republicans.) At the end of the film when Madden and Thomas admit their love for each other, Madden looks heavenward and modifies the line first uttered by Thomas, “Thanks, God, I’ll take it from here!”.
Peripetchikoff: While they are putting Uncle Sam in cuckoo clock, we will put Soviet cosmonaut on moon.
C.R. MacNamara: Okay, so you guys may be the first to shoot a man to the moon, but if he wants a Coke on the way, you’ll have to come to us.
One, Two, Three (1961)
Ah, One, Two, Three (1961), a howlingly funny Billy Wilder movie and one of the most anti-Communist films ever made by Hollywood. The last film that James Cagney made before his retirement, I do not count his ill-starred reappearance in a few films very late in life, it is a fitting cap to his career, even though Cagney personally had a terrible time making the film. Bonus: torture scene:
Donald Sutherland as Confederate General Pierre Beauregard calms a group of Confederate civilians under bombardment by Union forces in besieged Charleston by singing The Bonnie Blue Flag. This is from the 1999 movie The Hunley, a film about the Confederate proto-submarine. Sutherland has always been a Hollywood liberal, and this scene demonstrates just how recent the politicization of all things Confederate has been by the left in this country.
You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs—Victory in spite of all terror—Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.
Winston Churchill, May 13, 1940
The second Winston Churchill movie this year will appear in the US at Thanksgiving. The first was a bigger bomb than any dropped by the RAF in World War II. Go here to read British historian Andrew Robert’s scorching review. However Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldham in the title role, looks magnificent. It focuses on Churchill’s role in summoning the British people to fight on alone after the Fall of France.
If the English had negotiated peace with Nazi Germany in 1940, I have no doubt that Hitler would likely have conquered the Soviet Union in the next year. In circa 1948-1952 the US might have faced Japan and a nuclear armed Nazi Germany, controlling Europe and the former Soviet Union, with missile technology, and the world may well have been a much darker place indeed after the rubble settled from such a conflict. The resolution of one man, Churchill, likely changed history for the better, and no greater accolade can be given to any statesman. I am looking forward to seeing this film with great anticipation.
The things you find on Youtube. Thirty-two year old Wilbur H. Durborough, an American reporter, for seven months in 1915 followed the German army taking photographs for the Chicago Newspaper Enterprise Association. He was also producing a movie documentary on the German army in the field, the documentary being financially backed by several Chicago businessman. Durborough hired cameraman Irving G. Ries, who would later work in Hollywood and who received an academy award nomination for his work on the movie Forbidden Planet (1956). Driving a Stutz Bearcat, one of the fastest cars of its time, flying an American flag, Durborough and Ries followed in the wake of the German army on the Eastern front, creating a historically priceless visual record of the German army in action. Lost for decades, the film was restored recently by the Library of Congress. Durborough went on to serve in the US Army as a public relations officer after the US entered the War.
My son and I saw Dunkirk (2017) yesterday. I was looking forward to seeing it, but I am afraid I found it disappointing overall. My review is below the fold, and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in full effect. Continue Reading
The delivery of the Hiroshima bomb by the crew of the USS Indianapolis to Tinian on July 26, 1945 received screen immortality in Quint’s (Robert Shaw) speech in the movie Jaws (1975). Although historically inaccurate on several points, the scene has an understated power that makes it a gem of the filmmaker’s art:
“Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into her side, Chief. We was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte. We’d just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes.
Didn’t see the first shark for about a half-hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that in the water, Chief? You can tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know, was that our bomb mission was so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’ by, so we formed ourselves into tight groups. It was sorta like you see in the calendars, you know the infantry squares in the old calendars like the Battle of Waterloo and the idea was the shark come to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin’ and hollerin’ and sometimes that shark he go away… but sometimes he wouldn’t go away.
Sometimes that shark looks right at ya. Right into your eyes. And the thing about a shark is he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’… ’til he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then… ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin’. The ocean turns red, and despite all your poundin’ and your hollerin’ those sharks come in and… they rip you to pieces.
You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don’t know how many sharks there were, maybe a thousand. I do know how many men, they averaged six an hour. Thursday mornin’, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boson’s mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. He bobbed up, down in the water, he was like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he’d been bitten in half below the waist.
At noon on the fifth day, a Lockheed Ventura swung in low and he spotted us, a young pilot, lot younger than Mr. Hooper here, anyway he spotted us and a few hours later a big ol’ fat PBY come down and started to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened. Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went into the water. 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945.
Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”
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.
This is a repeat from a post last year, but I think the logic behind the post still holds true. I think the Fourth of July is a good time to recall the price paid to establish our liberties. It is trite to say that freedom is not free, but it is also true. Winning the American Revolution took eight years and it was a definite David v. Goliath upset. A people who forget this eternal lesson will not remain free for long.
A number of feature films and miniseries have been made about the events of the American Revolution. Here are my top ten choices for Fourth of July viewing:
10. Ben and Me (1953)- Something for the younger patriots. Disney put to film the novel of Robert Lawson, Ben and Me, which related how many of Ben Franklin’s bright ideas came from his mouse Amos. Quite a bit of fun. Not a classic but certainly an overlooked gem.
9. The Crossing (2000)-A retelling of Washington’s brilliant crossing of the Delaware on Christmas 1776 and the battle of Trenton. This film would rank much higher on my list but for Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of Washington as sullen and out of sorts throughout the movie. Washington had a temper, and he could give vent to it if provoked, although he usually kept it under control, but the peevish Washington portrayed here is simply ahistoric and mars an otherwise good recreation of the turning point of the Revolution.
8. John Paul Jones (1959) Robert Stack, just before he rose to fame in the Untouchables, is grand in the role of the archetypal American sea hero. Bette Davis is absolutely unforgettable as Catherine the Great. The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is well done, especially for those pre-CGI days. The only problem with the film is that many of the details are wrong. This is forgivable to a certain extent since scholarship on Jones was badly skewed by Augustus Buell in a two-volume “scholarly biography” which appeared in 1900. Buell was a charlatan who made up many incidents about Jones and then invented sources to support his fabrications. Buell was not completely exposed until Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard professor of history, and an Admiral in the Navy, wrote his definitive biography of Jones. Here is a list of the fabrications of Buell compiled by Morison. Morison’s book appeared after the movie, which is to be regretted.
7. The Patriot (2000) Finally, a film which depicts the unsung contribution of Australians to victory in the American Revolution! Actually not too bad of a film overall. Heath Ledger is quite good as Gibson’s oldest son who joins the Continentals at the beginning of the war against his father’s wishes. Jason Isaacs is snarlingly good as the evil Colonel Tavington, very loosely based on Banastre Tarleton, commander of Tarleton’s Raiders during the Southern Campaign. The film of course allows Gibson to carry on his over-the-top vendetta against all things English. No, the British did not lock up American civilians in churches and burn them alive. However, the ferocity of the partisan fighting in the South is well depicted, and Banastre Tarleton at the Waxhaw Massacre earned a reputation for slaughtering men attempting to surrender. The final battle of the film is based on the battle of Cowpens where General Daniel Morgan decisively defeated Tarleton.
6. Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)-A John Ford classic starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert. Through the eyes of a young newlywed couple, Fonda and Colbert, the American Revolution on the frontier is depicted in the strategic Mohawk Valley. Full of the usual Ford touches of heroism, humor and ordinary life. Continue Reading
I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!
Eliot Ness, The Untouchables (1987)
Hard to believe it is 30 years since The Untouchables (1987) movie was released. My bride and I saw it in Joliet that year and we both loved it. A year or two later and I was sitting next to one of the last of the surviving members of Al Capone’s gang. A truckdriver for Capone, he had invested in Central Illinois farmland and by the time I knew him he was a grey headed and kindly great grandfather. I never worked up the courage to ask him if Capone had asked him to bury some gangland slaying victims in the ground he purchased, as local rumor indicated.
The film was magnificent with the screenplay by David Mamet and the haunting, and period appropriate, musical score by Henry Mancini. De Niro gave the performance of his career as Capone and Sean Connery, who won a best supporting Oscar for his performance, was completely believable as honest cop Jimmy Malone, joining Ness in his crusade against the corruption that sickened Malone. Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness was superb as an innocent who learns the terrible cost that is sometimes demanded when evil is confronted. Continue Reading
In honor of my bride who is a descendant of King Harald Hardrada.
Ernst Janning: Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, You must believe it!
Judge Dan Haywood: Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.
Judgment at Nuremberg, (1961)
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), loosely based on the trial of German jurists after World War II, is a powerful film. 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.
Yet even this respect is taken away from Janning in the final scene of the film where he attempts to justify himself to Judge Haywood, superbly portrayed by Spencer Tracy, by saying that he never believed that it would all come to the millions of dead in the concentration camps. Judge Haywood delivers his verdict on this attempt by Janning to save some shred of self-respect: “Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”
I have a crowded day today. The centerpiece is six bankruptcy first meetings of creditors that will extend from noon to two-thirty PM. As is usually the case when I am in a hearing over the lunch hour, I will grab some fast food in my travels and eat in my car. About 50% of the time the food comes from a McDonald’s, as will be the case today. (No, having done this for thirty-five years I neither lose control of the car nor suffer from indigestion, although sometimes my ties end up the worse for wear.)
On Sunday my bride and I watched the Blu-ray of Founder (2017) the biopic starring Michael Keaton in the role of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. The film is a dark comedy and Michael Keaton’s manic comedic drive is a good fit for the film. The film tells a somewhat fictionalized tale of how Ray Kroc took the idea of the McDonald brothers for fast service of hamburgers, fries and pop and turned it into a globe-spanning corporation.
The film depicts Kroc as both hero and villain. Without his endless energy and resourcefulness the McDonald’s concept of fast food would have remained in San Bernardino and a handful of southwest locations. However, Kroc is also shown cheating the brothers and divorcing his wife of 39 years to pursue a younger woman. The latter charge is correct. It is even worse than the film depicts. When the younger woman did not divorce her husband, Kroc married wife number two and dumped her and married the younger woman, Joan Kroc, in 1969 when she finally did divorce her first husband and became wife number three. That tells you all you need to know about Ray Kroc as a human being. However, the wheel always comes round. Joan Kroc was a liberal airhead who gave away Kroc’s hard earned fortune after his death to such worthless causes as a million bucks to the Democrat party and 235 million to NPR. Ray Kroc, who was a political conservative, was doubtless grinding his teeth in the world to come. Hopefully he wasn’t outraged by the billion and a half she left on her death to the Salvation Army, a worthy cause. The allegation that Kroc cheated the McDonald brothers by denying them royalties is an urban myth. Kroc had to scramble to raise the 2.7 million they wanted as a buyout in 1961, the equivalent today, after taxes, of eight million apiece. When Kroc suggested that they accept installment payments, the brothers said they might as well then continue getting their royalties of 0.5% per annum of the franchise profits. It was understood that no royalties would be paid to the brothers after the sale. Kroc was a rough business man, but an outright cheat, no. Continue Reading
My bride and I went to see The Case for Christ last Saturday. I must admit to some trepidation on my part. I have seen quite a few “Christian” films that had their hearts in the right place but were also simply bad, even laughably bad, films. I was fearful this film would be more of the same. I am pleased to report that The Case for Christ is a very good film, and a profound one. I heartily endorse it for anyone who wishes to see a well-acted and well-made film that asks profound questions about the human condition. My review is below the fold and the usual caveat about spoilers is in full force: Continue Reading
On one side, millions of starving peasants, their bodies often swollen from lack of food; on the other, soldiers, members of the GPU carrying out the instructions of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They had gone over the country like a swarm of locusts and taken away everything edible; they had shot or exiled thousands of peasants, sometimes whole villages; they had reduced some of the most fertile land in the world to a melancholy desert.
Malcolm Muggeridge – British foreign correspondent, “War on the Peasants“, Fortnightly Review, 1 May, 1933
Eighty-five years too late, a movie on the Great Famine of 1932-1933 in the Soviet Union is being released tomorrow. Some six million people were murdered by starvation in Stalin’s man made famine, and almost all of these people died in the most agriculturally fertile areas of the Soviet Union, especially the Ukraine. This was Stalin’s way of imposing collectivization on the recalcitrant farmers of his empire, while eliminating the opposition to Communist rule in the countryside. For Stalin the mass deaths were a feature not a bug. While all this was going on most Western journalists in the Soviet Union actively attempted to conceal the existence of the famine. Only a few brave journalists like Malcolm Muggeridge, then a partisan of the left, had the courage to speak out and tell honestly what they had seen with their own eyes. Walter Duranty, who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his reports from the Soviet Union, of the New York Times denounced journalists who reported on the famine. “Fake news” has a long pedigree on the left in this country.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), perhaps the greatest of Westerns, contains this gem of a scene with John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Jimmy Stewart, Strother Marvin, Lee Van Cleef and Woody Strode. Marvin as Liberty Valance is the archetypal mercenary gunslinger, his days, and the days of his kind, about to come to an end. Wayne as Tom Doniphon, rancher, is the obverse of Marvin, a man just as tough as Valance, if not tougher, but no bully. However, his time is also closing. Their destroyer? The almost clown like figure of Ransom Stoddard, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart. He knows nothing about guns, but he knows a lot about law, and law and civilization are fast coming to the range. This is John Ford’s eulogy to the Old West, and to this type of Western. Continue Reading
I was watching the movie Captains Courageous with my bride last night, the 1937 film based on Kipling’s novel of the same name. I was struck by the performance of Spencer Tracy as Manuel Fidello, for which he won an Oscar, the happy go lucky Portuguese fisherman who rescues a spoiled rich kid from the sea, Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew), and who helps put his feet on the path to becoming a good man. Not a learned man, he has a deep faith as symbolized by the crucifix he wears around his neck and this bit of dialogue from the movie:
The film Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith’s masterpiece, was controversial at its release and remains so. At three hours the film was a pioneering effort using then cutting age technology to produce a movie that stunned viewers with its cinematic quality, something that no one had ever seen before. At the same time the film, based on the pro-Ku Klux Klan novel the Clansman by Thomas Dixon, a friend of President Woodrow Wilson, drew outrage from Grand Army of the Republic Union veterans and black groups with its depiction of the Klan as noble heroes attempting to fight against evil Unionists and its depiction of blacks as little better than beasts who walked erect. Race riots broke out in cities where the film was shown. President Wilson viewed the film in the White House and was reported to have said, “It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true”. The White House denied the remark, and in the wake of continuing protests, Wilson eventually condemned the “unfortunate production”. The film used quotes from Wilson’s scholarly works to buttress its negative depiction of Reconstruction and its positive depiction of the Klan. Considering the fact that Wilson imposed segregation on the Civil Service it is difficult to discern what he found to be “unfortunate” about the film. Continue Reading
What is it with liberals and coups? Recently several liberals, including entertainer? Sarah Silverman, and Obama era Pentagon bureaucrat Sarah Brooks, have been calling for/predicting a military coup against the Trump administration. Such fools have no concept of our military where the officers are trained from day one of their careers in the essential fact of civilian control of the military. If the impossible ever happened and some rogue faction of the military ever did move against Trump, the shots fired in such a coup attempt would merely be the opening shots in Civil War II. Liberals have often fantasized about a conservative military coup against the government of the United States, perhaps most famously in the novel and film of the Sixties entitled Seven Days in May. From current calls for a military coup emanating from the portside of our politics, such concerns about a conservative coup apparently were a case of the left projecting upon the right what the left would be tempted to do if confronted by a civilian government they viewed as a menace.
Hard to believe that it is more than half a century since the film Seven Days in May (1964) was released. Directed by John Frankenheimer with a screenplay by Rod Serling based on a novel published in 1962, the movie posits a failed coup attempt in the United States, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General James Mattoon Scott, played by Burt Lancaster, being the would be coup leader. Kirk Douglas plays Scott’s aide Marine Corps Colonel Martin Casey who, while agreeing with Scott that President Jordan Lyman’s nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets is a disaster, is appalled when he learns of the proposed coup, and discloses it to the President, portrayed by Frederic March.
The film is an example of liberal paranoia in the early sixties and fears on the port side of our politics of a coup by some “right wing” general. The film is unintentionally hilarious if one has served in our military, since the idea of numerous generals agreeing on a coup and keeping it secret, even from their own aides, is simply ludicrous. Our military leaks like a sieve, and general officers almost always view each other as competitors for political favor, rather than as co-conspirators.
Ironies abound when the film is compared to reality: Continue Reading
(I first posted this in 2014. It is worthy of another posting.)
Back when I was a boy, I watched entirely too much television. Of course, who could blame me? Tempted by a luxuriant three, count them, three channels, albeit one of them fuzzy in bad weather, to choose from! However, I do not regret watching the Early Show on Channel 3. Back in those bygone days, many stations would run old movies from the thirties, forties and fifties, between 3:00 PM-5:00 PM. Thus I first experienced some of the classics of cinema, and one of my favorites was Double Indemnity, 1944, the first of the film noire genre. Adultery and murder were perhaps too mature topics for me in my initial pre-teen viewings, but I was fascinated by it because it seemed to be a playing out on screen of what I was learning at the time from The Baltimore Catechism: that sin will lead inevitably to destruction unless contrition and amendment are made. The film was fortunate to have at its center three masters of the craft of acting.
Fred MacMurray, born in Kankakee, Illinois, 37 miles from my abode, in 1907, was a good guy in real life and usually in reel life. A firm Catholic and staunch Republican, he tried to join the military after Pearl Harbor but a punctured ear drum kept him out of service. He adopted a total of four kids with his two wives: his first wife dying from cancer in 1953, and his second wife remaining his wife until his death. (Such fidelity was as rare in Hollywood then as it is now.) On screen MacMurray played to type and was almost always a good guy, but not always, and it is ironic that the two best performances of his career came when he played bad guys: weak, lustful and doomed Walter Neff in Double Indemnity and the scheming, cowardly Lieutenant Thomas Keefer in The Caine Mutiny.
Barbara Stanwyck had a Dickensian childhood from which she was lucky to emerge alive, her mother dying of a miscarriage and her father going off to work on the Panama Canal and never being heard from again. A series of foster homes followed, which Ruby Catherine Stevens, as Stanwyck was then named, constantly ran away from. Dropping out of school at 14 to begin working, she never looked back. Breaking into show business by becoming a dancer in the Ziegfield Follies at age 16, she was a star on broadway in the play Burlesque before she turned 20. Changing her name to Barbara Stanwyck, she broke into films immediately thereafter, displaying a flair for both drama and comedy, specializing in strong independent women. Her personal, as opposed to her professional, life was a mess. Married in 1928 to her Burlesque co-star Frank Fay, they adopted a son, Stanwyck having been rendered sterile by an abortion at 15. The marriage ended in divorce in 1935, Fay during the marriage often slapping Stanwyck around when he was drunk. Stanwyck got custody of their son. Stanwyck was a hovering and authoritarian mother, leading to a life long alienation from her son after he became an adult. Stanwyck married actor Robert Taylor in 1939, and, after numerous acts of infidelity on both sides, divorced in 1950. Ironically Stanwyck and Taylor did stay friends after their divorce, Stanwyck, who never remarried, referring to him as the true love of her life. In her politics Stanwyck was a staunch conservative Republican who supported the investigations of Congress into Communist infiltration into Hollywood. Remaining in demand as an actress almost until her death in 1990, she filled her last years with charitable work. Stanwyck was well equipped by her own tumultuous life to give depth to her portrayal of the murderous, scheming Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity.
Although remembered today chiefly for his gangster roles and his portrayal of the rat-like Dathan in The Ten Commandments, Edward G. Robinson was actually an actor with a very broad range of work: comedies, dramas, historical epics, you name it. By 1944 he was age 51 and realized that his days as a leading man were coming to a close. His half comedic role as the insurance claims adjuster Barton Keyes in Double Indemnity he viewed as a step in his transition to being a character actor. Always a liberal, Robinson was blacklisted in Hollywood due to his affiliation with Communist front groups. Robinson admitted as much by an article he wrote for the American Legion Magazine entitled “How the Reds Made a Sucker Out of Me”. His comeback came when anti-Communist director Cecil B. DeMille, who thought that Robinson had been treated unfairly, cast him in the scene-stealing role of Dathan in The Ten Commandments.
Spoiler alerts in regard to the following: Continue Reading
“Like my Master, I shall die upon the cross. Like him, a lance will pierce my heart so that my blood and my love can flow out upon the land and sanctify it to his name.”
Saint Paul Miki, statement before his martyrdom in 1597 in Japan
Bishop Barron has a good hard look at Martin Scorsese’s movie Silence, based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endo about two Jesuit missionaries who apostatized in Seventeenth century Japan:
The next day, in the presence of Christians being horrifically tortured, hung upside down inside a pit filled with excrement, he is given the opportunity, once more, to step on a depiction of the face of Christ. At the height of his anguish, resisting from the depth of his heart, Rodrigues hears what he takes to be the voice of Jesus himself, finally breaking the divine silence, telling him to trample on the image. When he does so, a cock crows in the distance. In the wake of his apostasy, he follows in the footsteps of Ferreira, becoming a ward of the state, a well-fed, well-provided for philosopher, regularly called upon to step on a Christian image and formally renounce his Christian faith. He takes a Japanese name and a Japanese wife and lives out many long years in Japan before his death at the age of 64 and his burial in a Buddhist ceremony.
What in the world do we make of this strange and disturbing story? Like any great film or novel, Silence obviously resists a univocal or one-sided interpretation. In fact, almost all of the commentaries that I have read, especially from religious people, emphasize how Silence beautifully brings forward the complex, layered, ambiguous nature of faith. Fully acknowledging the profound psychological and spiritual truth of that claim, I wonder whether I might add a somewhat dissenting voice to the conversation? I would like to propose a comparison, altogether warranted by the instincts of a one-time soldier named Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order to which all the Silence missionaries belonged. Suppose a small team of highly-trained American special ops was smuggled behind enemy lines for a dangerous mission. Suppose furthermore that they were aided by loyal civilians on the ground, who were eventually captured and proved willing to die rather than betray the mission. Suppose finally that the troops themselves were eventually detained and, under torture, renounced their loyalty to the United States, joined their opponents and lived comfortable lives under the aegis of their former enemies. Would anyone be eager to celebrate the layered complexity and rich ambiguity of their patriotism? Wouldn’t we see them rather straightforwardly as cowards and traitors?
My worry is that all of the stress on complexity and multivalence and ambiguity is in service of the cultural elite today, which is not that different from the Japanese cultural elite depicted in the film. What I mean is that the secular establishment always prefers Christians who are vacillating, unsure, divided, and altogether eager to privatize their religion. And it is all too willing to dismiss passionately religious people as dangerous, violent, and let’s face it, not that bright. Revisit Ferreira’s speech to Rodrigues about the supposedly simplistic Christianity of the Japanese laity if you doubt me on this score. I wonder whether Shusaku Endo (and perhaps Scorsese) was actually inviting us to look away from the priests and toward that wonderful group of courageous, pious, dedicated, long-suffering lay people who kept the Christian faith alive under the most inhospitable conditions imaginable and who, at the decisive moment, witnessed to Christ with their lives. Whereas the specially trained Ferreira and Rodrigues became paid lackeys of a tyrannical government, those simple folk remained a thorn in the side of the tyranny.
I know, I know, Scorsese shows the corpse of Rodrigues inside his coffin clutching a small crucifix, which proves, I suppose, that the priest remained in some sense Christian. But again, that’s just the kind of Christianity the regnant culture likes: utterly privatized, hidden away, harmless. So okay, perhaps a half-cheer for Rodrigues, but a full-throated three cheers for the martyrs, crucified by the seaside.
A fine Christmas movie is The Bishop’s Wife from 1947. David Niven is an Episcopalian bishop of a struggling diocese; Loretta Young (ironically one of the more devout Catholics in the Hollywood of her time) is his wife; and Cary Grant is Dudley, one of the more unimportant angels in Heaven, sent by God to lend the Bishop a hand. The film is a graceful comedy which effectively and quietly underlines the central importance of faith in God as we see in this little scene when undercover angel Dudley, Cary Grant, uses his powers to summon a tardy boy’s choir for an unforgettable rendition of O Sing to God:
An interesting film for Advent or Chistmas is a John Wayne flick. John Wayne in a Christmas movie? Yep, The Three Godfathers in 1948! Another fruitful John Ford and John Wayne collaboration, the film was released in December 1948. Three bank robbers, portrayed by John Wayne, Pedro Armedariz and Harry Carey, Jr., stumble across a dying woman and her newborn son in a desert in the American Southwest. The three outlaws, although they are attempting to elude a posse, promise the dying woman to look after her son.
Brother Superior: When the heart speaks, Brother Orchid, other hearts must listen.
Brother Orchid (1940)
Interested in seeing a screwball-comedy-film noir gangster-western-religious flick? I am always on the lookout for oddball films for Advent and they don’t come odder, or more heart warming, than Brother Orchid (1940). Starring Edward G. Robinson with a fantastic supporting cast including Humphrey Bogart, Ann Southern, Ralph Bellamy and Donald Crisp, it is a trip back to the Golden Age of Hollywood when literate, thoughtful films were considered mass entertainment. It also is a fine exponent of a facet of the human condition that is not much commented upon today: the seductive power of good. A review of the film is below with the usual caveat as to spoilers. Continue Reading
Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard,
that the everlasting God, the Lord,
the Creator of the ends of the earth,
fainteth not, neither is weary?
There is no searching of his understanding.
He giveth power to the faint;
and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
and the young men shall utterly fall:
but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint.
I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.
Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!
William Tecumseh Sherman, address to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy (June 19, 1879)
My bride and I went to see Hacksaw Ridge last Saturday, Mel Gibson’s tribute to conscientious objector Desmond Doss who earned a Medal of Honor for heroism on Okinawa, and I was bowled over by it. It wrenched more emotion from me than any film I have ever seen, except for Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. My review is below the fold. The usual caveat as to spoilers is in effect. Continue Reading
The 1959 movie, The FBI Story, was a project near and dear to the heart of J. Edgar Hoover, founding director of the FBI, who ran it with an iron fist from 1935 until his death in 1972. Based upon the best selling authorized history of the FBI, The FBI Story, Hoover wanted the FBI to be portrayed in heroic mode, with no controversial spots. A squad of special agents supervised the film and everyone associated with the film, no matter how humble, had to be vetted by the FBI. Continue Reading
My bride and I last Saturday saw the movie Sully, Clint Eastwood’s take on airline Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s amazing landing of a distressed Airbus A320, US Airways Flight 1549, on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew on board. We both loved the picture and my review is below the fold. The usual warning as to spoilers is in full force. Continue Reading
One of the more curious cultural artifacts in the history of this country is the very odd musical career of Florence Foster Jenkins. A rich heiress, she loved music. She was a talented pianist in her youth but stopped taking lessons when she married in 1885 at age 18 Dr. Frank Thornton Jenkins. The marriage was a rocky one, characterized by her contracting syphilis from him. They parted after three years. He passed away in 1917, but she retained her married name for the remainder of her life. Moving to New York with her mother in 1900, she founded the Verdi Club in 1917, to share her love of music. It was through this venue that she embarked upon her career as a singer, giving recitals to small groups of fans, with musical critics carefully excluded. Jenkins was convinced she was a great singer. In truth she was an an appallingly bad singer, with virtually no sense of rhythm or pitch. She was a generous patron of various causes, most of them musical, and her audiences treated her with kindness, any titters being drowned by applause.
She would be forgotten today but for a memorable concert she gave for charity at Carnegie Hall on October 25, 1944. The tickets for the event sold out immediately and about 2000 people were turned away the night of the performance. Ticket prices were $20.00, the equivalent of $274.00 today. (Privates in the US Army, with combat pay, earned $50.00 per month in 1944.) Many celebrities attended. As in her past outings, her fans covered over laughter during her performance with applause. Alas music critics were among the crowd and their reviews were scathing. She passed away a month and a day later of a heart attack. She had been crushed by the bad reviews but, considering that she was in the tertiary stages of syphilis her death may well have had nothing to do with her reaction to the reviews.
Remarkably, in the past two years there have been two films about Jenkins, one in French and the other in English, Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep in the title role. I saw this film last Saturday with my family and the Godmother of my children and my review is below the fold. The usual caveat as to spoilers is in full effect. Continue Reading
Squadron Leader Adams: Well, at least the rockets won’t happen.
Air Vice Marshal Davis: Of course they’ll happen. But they won’t start tomorrow, or this month or on D-Day, and that’s important.
Squadron Leader Adams: Then what’s it all add up to? All their sacrifice?
Air Vice Marshal Davis: A successful operation.
Squadron Leader Adams: But they’re probably all dead. All 633 Squadron.
Air Vice Marshal Davis: You can’t kill a squadron.
Ending, 633 Squadron (1964)
Something for the weekend. The theme song from 633 Squadron. In my misspent youth I spent endless hours watching old war movies on TV. One of my favorites was the British flick 633 Squadron (1964) which recounted the fictional tale of a British Mosquito bomber squadron and their self sacrificial attempt to take out a well-defended Nazi V2 rocket fuel plant in occupied Norway. The film won praise for its aerial sequences, cutting edge in 1964, and George Lucas has cited the squadron’s attack on the plant as influencing the trench run sequence attack on the Death Star in Star Wars. Continue Reading
The first trailer for the movie Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s tribute to conscientious objector, and Medal of Honor awardee, Desmond Doss. The film is out in November. Go here to learn more about Doss. In an election year it is easy to get cynical about humanity, but when we contemplate a man like Doss we begin to understand why God bothered to make us in the first place.
I went to see Dinesh D’Souza’s Hillary’s America on Friday with with my bride and my son. We all loved it. My review is beneath the fold. The usual caveat as to spoilers is in force. Continue Reading
This Fourth of July long weekend is made for a trip down American history courtesy of John Wayne films. Wayne was an American original. Thirty seven years after his death, in the annual Harris poll of favorite actors, he ranks number four overall, and number one among men voting. In his day he was never shy about declaring his love of country, and he did so when patriotism was fashionable and when it was unfashionable. An American icon, the deathbed convert to the Catholic Church is a symbol of this nation, instantly recognizable around the globe. Here are some of his films set in the history of this land.
- Allegheny Uprising (1939)-The film tells the true story of the Black Boys Rebellion against the British in 1765, with Wayne portraying James Smith the leader of this proto-American Revolution.
2. The Fighting Kentuckian (1949)-John Wayne costars with Oliver Hardy, yeah, that Oliver Hardy, in a tale of veterans of the War of 1812 helping French settlers battle land swindlers in Alabama. Very loosely based on actual events. In one scene Wayne explains that his family never had money due to his father’s health being ruined after he spent a winter at a place called Valley Forge.
3. The Alamo (1960)-The epic story of the battle for Texan Independence. Wayne’s love note to America and freedom.
4. The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958)-One of the more successful American diplomats of the Nineteenth Century, Townsend Harris, a native of New York City, became wealthy in the China trade in the early part of the century. He then turned to public service, serving as the President of the New York City Board of Education from 1846-1848. He founded the Free Academy of the City of New York, later renamed as the City College of New York, in order to provide college educations to low income people in New York.
In July 1856, Franklin Pierce named him the first American consul general to the Empire of Japan. He opened the first American consulate in Japan in the city of Shimoda. Overcoming enormous difficulties, in two years he negotiated what has become known as the Harris Treaty, which established full diplomatic and trade relations between Japan and the US.
On the hundredth anniversary of the treaty in 1958, John Wayne, in one of the oddest films of his career, starred as Townsend Harris in the film The Barbarian and the Geisha. Few men could have been more unlike John Wayne than Harris, and Wayne appears uncomfortable in the role of the diplomat to me. The film played up an alleged romance between Harris and Okichi, a 17 year old housekeeper, which has long been a tale told in Japan. Unfortunately, this aspect of the story is untrue. Harris fired Okichi after she worked for him for three days due to the fact that he considered her to be an incompetent housekeeper. However, the look of the film is splendid, even if the film is the usual Hollywood mix of lies and half-truths.
5. The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid.
Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana. Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg.
John Wayne gives a fine, if surly, performance as Colonel Marlowe, the leader of the Union cavalry brigade. William Holden as a Union surgeon serves as a foil for Wayne. Constance Towers, as a captured Southern belle, supplies the obligatory Hollywood love interest.
Overall the film isn’t a bad treatment of the raid, and the period. I especially appreciated two scenes. John Wayne refers to his pre-war activities as “Before this present insanity” and Constance Towers gives the following impassioned speech:
Well, you Yankees and your holy principle about savin’ the Union. You’re plunderin’ pirates that’s what. Well, you think there’s no Confederate army where you’re goin’. You think our boys are asleep down here. Well, they’ll catch up to you and they’ll cut you to pieces you, you nameless, fatherless scum. I wish I could be there to see it.
Both scenes ring home with authenticity. Not a bad effort from the usual history manglers of Hollywood.(Although there are still errors enough, including Union soldiers worrying about being captured and sent to Andersonville prior to the POW camp being constructed by the Confederates in 1864.)
6. The Searchers (1956)-Set in Reconstruction Texas, John Wayne gives the performance of his career as embittered Confederate veteran Ethan Edwards and his vengeance ride against Comanches who slaughtered his family.
7. True Grit (1969)-Set in Reconstruction Arkansas, True Grit is the only film for which Wayne won an Oscar. An accomplished actor, Wayne throughout his career made it all look so easy that he was always badly underestimated. In this film, a skillful mixture of comedy and drama, Wayne was able to give life to Rooster Cogburn, one of the great literary creations of the last century.
8. Rio Grande (1950)-The final installment in Ford and Wayne’s cavalry trilogy was picked for inclusion due to the above rendition of Down by the Glenside. The song of course would not be written until 1916, but any viewer with a drop of Irish blood will forgive the historical anachronism. Continue Reading
The charge of the Scots Greys scene from the movie Waterloo (1970), one of the greatest of war flicks. Rod Steiger as Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as Wellington gave bravura performances. My favorite section of the film: Continue Reading
Something for the weekend. You’re A Grand Old Flag sung by James Cagney in the film biopic of George M. Cohan Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). Cohan wrote the song in 1906 after an encounter with a Union veteran of Gettysburg who was carrying a torn American battle flag. The old soldier smiled at Cohan and said the flag was “A grand old rag!”
I cannot have a post that mentions the film Yankee Doodle Dandy without showing the scene of Cagney as Cohan tap dancing down the White House steps. Cagney did the scene completely impromptu. Continue Reading
There are no great men, there are only great challenges, which ordinary men like you and me are forced by circumstances to meet.
Admiral William Halsey, Jr.
Earlier this week I was watching the movie The Gallant Hours (1960), starring James Cagney as Admiral William Halsey, Jr. (Halsey hated the nickname “Bull” that the press fastened upon him during the War.) The film focuses on the time in late 1942 to 1943 when Halsey was theater commander during the Guadalcanal campaign. This was in tandem with my reading of the latest bio of Halsey, Admiral Bill Halsey: A Naval Life, by Thomas Alexander Hughes.
Halsey is an interesting figure partially because his public image is so at odds with the reality. During World War II Halsey was the “Patton of the Pacific”, a fighting Admiral who swore as he viewed the carnage of Pearl Harbor on December 7, that by the time the US was done the only place that Japanese would be spoken was in Hell. Halsey in the popular perception was a rampaging bull in a Japanese china shop.
The reality was different. Halsey, who got his wings at the advanced age of 52, was an inspired commander of carriers. Strike quick and run was his method in the early days of the War, when his daring carrier raids on Japanese held islands in the Pacific gave a very badly needed boost to national morale. (“I hauled ass with Halsey” was a fond remembrance of veterans of those raids for decades after the War.) However, unlike his unwelcome “Bull” image, Halsey was a thoughtful and careful planner, who paid close attention to such un-glamorous, but essential, topics as logistics and intelligence as he plotted every move his forces made. He was also an officer beloved of his men because of his reputation of making sure that they were taken care of regarding food, leave and mail. Throughout his career Halsey was known as a sailor’s officer who always looked out for the enlisted men under his command. (A typical story told about Halsey by his sailors. On board a carrier sailors were waiting in line for some prized ice cream. An Ensign decides to cut to the head of his line. He suddenly hears a stream of profanity directed at him. He turns around to chew out the sailor cussing him. He finds out that the man yelling at him is four star Admiral Halsey who has been patiently waiting his turn in the line with his men.) Continue Reading
My bride and I saw the movie Risen in Kankakee, Illinois on Sunday at the Paramount Theater in downtown Kankakee. The Paramount Theater is a well maintained movie palace that was built in 1931. Sitting in its wide seats and viewing its art deco adornments, one is transported back to the Golden Age of Hollywood when attending movies was an event, and people did not expect to see films in cramped, one size fits all characterless shoeboxes. By popular request, this review of the movie Risen will contain only minor spoilers, below the fold. I highly recommend the film, and I thought that I would give the film some historical background that may enhance the enjoyment of viewers. Continue Reading
My bride and I saw this film yesterday and vastly enjoyed it. I often appreciate “quirky” and no film makers today are quirkier than the Coen brothers. This film is an homage-spoof of filmmaking in Hollywood circa 1951. The main character is a devout Catholic, a good family man, and, wonders of wonders, he is not depicted either as a hypocrite or a bigot, the de rigueur depictions of faithful Catholics in most films these days. We found the film endlessly hilarious. Some knowledge of the Golden Age of Hollywood is helpful but not essential to the enjoyment of the film. Those of you who have seen the film let me know what you think in the comboxes. I am not going to do a full review, because I think spoilers would really spoil this film. Continue Reading
My family and I went to see 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi on Saturday. I found the movie to be an exciting and moving recreation of the actions of the CIA contractors, all former members of elite American military units, who fought against the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya on 9/11/12, and a damning indictment of the lack of action by the administration which left these men in the lurch, their criminal inaction leading to the death of former Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. A strong language advisory as military men under fire have been known to swear on occasion, and I would further note that my wife had to leave the theater because she found the movie too intense. My review is below the fold and the usual warning as to spoilers is in full effect.
The movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is being released tomorrow. From what I have been hearing from people who have had access to advance screenings, it is a gripping tribute to the CIA operatives, former members of special forces units, who during the attack on the American consulate on 9/11/12 in Benghazi, Libya, on their own initiative and against orders from higher ups, rescued 32 Americans from the consulate and then stood off the terrorists at the CIA compound until the people they rescued could be evacuated. Their urgent requests for air support went unanswered, the Obama administration, paralyzed due to the attack spoiling the mendacious campaign slogan of the Obama campaign that Al-Qaida was finished, was unwilling to make the story larger by sending military units to support the brave men holding the compound. In the fighting, two former Seals, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, were slain. It is outrageous that the effort to award each of these heroes the Congressional Gold Medal has been stalled in Congress, but that pales to insignificance in that the villains who left these two men to die have incurred no penalties for the betrayal of the fundamental duty owed by a government to those who fight our enemies: to render them every assistance possible.
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.
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