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WWII - coming to a cinema near you....

Saints and Soldiers

Saints and Soldiers is a low budget film that tells the story of four American soldiers and one Brit who tries to get back to the Allies, after escaping the massacre of Malmedy. The film was made in 2003, and the aesthetics of the film makes me believe it was very much inspired by Band of Brothers. The fact that it takes place during The Battle of the Bulge intensifies the similarities. There is even a troubled medic as one of the main characters, but this medic is far more cynical than Doc Roe.

The film, as the title suggest, focuses quite a lot on faith and particularly the Mormon faith. The latter is perhaps not so strange since the Excel Entertainment Group that released the film is a Mormon company. That said the film isn't overtly preachy in any way, and the focus on faith is presented in very general terms, with the concept of "do onto others" being very much the film's core.

As with all films there are historical inaccuracies within the narrative, but none that are particularly painful and on the whole the film does a fairly decent job. The small budget means that there are no spectacular battle scenes and instead the focus is on character interaction. That is fine by me, as the characters are believable and the acting is quite good.

Young Lions

Somewhere in Young Lions there is the story of World War II, but it is one of those war films that uses WWII as a backdrop for moral reflection more than a historical re-enactment. At least I think that is the films intention. Sometimes it is hard to say..

Apparently Irwin Shaw, who wrote the book The Young Lions, was not particularly pleased with the film based on his work. In particular he disliked Marlon Brando as the German officer Christian Diestl. I haven't read the book, so I have no idea what changes were made - but I can kind of see where Shaw was coming from when it came to Brando. Brando's German officer is very blond, a bit dim and posseses a softspoken accent that seems to comprise of saying "Jaaa" a lot. "We have machine guns, jaa?", "We have occupied Paris, jaa?" and so forth. It all reminds me of the joke from Snatch about "ze Germans", and it becomes unintentionally funny when Brando, escaping with his superior officer on a motorbike, says to said officer "I know there waz ze good in you, jaa."

A blonde Brando, though you have to imagine the German accent

As the Americans we have Dean Martin, who is okay but with a rather two dimensional role, and Montgomery Clift who plays troubled Jewish soldier Noah Ackerman. If you've seen Clift in From Here to Eternity you know he can suffer and angst with the best of them, and although he does something similar here it all feels less angry and less angsty (and there isn't even a lush, slashy vibe with Burt Lancaster to heighten the tension).

In general Young Lions, though looking great, continuously feel like its reaching for something deep and profound without ever really managing to get there. The film is in black and white, so it would be easier to include original footage as part of the films narrative. A similar device was used in The Longest day two years later and it makes me wonder if the tradition of filming WWII in black and white were directly responsible for the colour saturation in for instance Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers

In Harm's way

In some sense this is "John Wayne does the Pacific", but the saving grace is that he does it well. Directed by Otto Preminger and starring pretty much everyone from Kirk Douglas, Dana Andrews to Henry Fonda, and is one of those solid pictures where you go "oooh..that was an interesting turn of events" or "Where have I seen this guy before?". I like those kind of pictures, and so I really liked In Harm's Way.

I admit I find the movie poster all kinds of cool

The story starts with Pearl Harbour where Rockwell "Rock" Torrey (John Wayne, naturally) together with his XO Eddington (Kirk Douglas) try to fight back the Japanese attack, but without much success. After this dramatic opening the rest of the film becomes one of those sprawling narratives that deals with these people affected by the war, and their various ways of dealing with it. The narrative glue, so to speak, is Wayne and his fight to get back onto a ship after being assigned desk duty after Pearl Harbour.

Wayne's Rock (called "The Rock of Ages" apparently) is just as haunted and honourable as John Wayne at his best. There is even a sub-plot involving an estranged son, and a romance with a no nonsense nurse. But for me the drama and tension in the film comes from Kirk Douglas' character whose manic cheerfulness covers up dark anger, and the film is at its best when it raises the question of whether a morally dubious character like Douglas' Eddington can truly be called a hero. I also loved Dana Andrews' small role as Wayne's superior officer, but then again I've loved Andrews in pretty mich everything since The Best Years of Our Lives

The cinematography is gorgeous, with the used of deep focus scope to create beautifully layered scenes, and despite a running time of nearly three hours the film is never dull.


Films seen in 2009.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 24th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)
I saw "The Best Years of Our Lives" without really knowing what to expect and must admit that I was blown away. It is one of those rare war films that manage to be profound without being preachy, and it is definitely the best film about the soldiers homecoming that I have seen. There are many great scenes, but my favourite is at the end with Dana Andrews inside the old plane and we hear all his memories and the source of his nightmares. Not only does Andrews do a stunning job here, but I also loved that we were not given a visual flashback, but are left to imagine the horrors he has been through.

And yes, I've seen Laura. As a direct result of loving "The Best Years.." actually. Now I find film noirs great fun, and really enjoyed the film - even if the solution to the plot was a bit strange.

there is a way in which they do not seem *as real* because they're not in color, so there's a distance between the viewer and the victims, IMO.

Hmm..yes, I see your point, and it is very interesting. For me b&w photos automatically attain this aura of historicity, in that I perceive a greater temporal distance between me and the motive than I would in a colour photo. Why this is I'm not sure.Maybe part of it is visual habit. We are used to history being depicted in b&w, and therefore connect this to an idea of the past and time lost. In any case the result is that I often find looking at colourphotos of WWII - particularly the kodachrome photos on the Library of Congress site - to be almost unreal. The colours are so strong and lush it feels like they could have been taken yesterday, and I have to remind myself that they are just as old as say Robert Capa's photos.

IIRC Susan Sontag said something in "On Photography" on how photographs create a new visual code and "now provide most of the knowledge people have about the look of the past and the reach of the present." Then again she also claimed that photos could numb you, which I'm not sure I agree with.
Apr. 23rd, 2009 02:52 pm (UTC)
I've seen all three of those, although the first two didn't make a huge impression on me one way or the other. (Well, except for Marlon Brando being kind of awful.)

For In Harm's Way, though, I have a deep and abiding love (except for the very beginning, in which all the female characters look straight out of the mid-1960s instead of 1941). I think that John Wayne, Patricia Neal, and Kirk Douglas knocked it out the park in that one, actingwise. Going to have to get the DVD out now and have a rewatch.

Random fandom fact: The new BSG's Colonel Tigh was based in part on Kirk Douglas's character in In Harm's Way.
Apr. 24th, 2009 03:54 pm (UTC)
except for Marlon Brando being kind of awful

I kept expecting Brando to turn at the camera and say: "Only kidding!" But he didn't, and at one point this French woman describes him as a golden god and I just started to snigger.

in which all the female characters look straight out of the mid-1960s instead of 1941)

Yeah, especially the hair cut and the little dresses. Personally I don't understand it because I've always found the 1940's aesthetics to be vastly superior to the 1960's, but oh well. Strangely enough it is usually the female haircuts and clothes you can date a movie on. Take Pearl Harbor for instance (or not, if you're not masochistic) where all the women look like the 1940's done Christina Aguilera style.

The new BSG's Colonel Tigh was based in part on Kirk Douglas's character in In Harm's Way.

This makes so much sense and is the coolest fact I've learned in a long time. Hee.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )