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Johnny's Blog

Blog – Episode 01: Premiere

Johnny June 6, 2019

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During this episode I mentioned several movies detailing various portrayals of wars fought by members of the US military.

This subject was selected for our inaugural podcast because we were recording it during the week of the Memorial Day Holiday. I was moved to comment because I had recently watched a couple of films from the World War II area that week and one, Memphis Belle, resonated with me because it detailed the actions and fears experienced by the crew of a B-17 air craft. It was significant for me because my father had served on a B-17 and flew 24 bombing missions over Germany.

The Memphis Belle was important because it was it was the first plane and crew to complete a full 25 missions which was the required service period for those crews. Unfortunately, the chances of completing that number of missions was slim. Only about 20% of crews would likely accomplish that number. It was extremely doubtful to occur, especially during that period early in the bombing campaign (May, 1943 is the time covered in the movie) while Germany was still near its zenith in war capacity.

When the war finally engaged the US following Pearl Harbor my father was not initially called because he was married and in the transportation industry. It was only when the demand for additional manpower was needed for crews and pilots that he was called. He originally was in pilot training but was moved to gunnery school because there were sufficient pilots but there was a greater need for crews to man the ever increasing number of aircraft built for use in Europe. This resulted in his arriving in England to commence his service for the period of late 1944-1945. He beat the odds and made it through 24 missions and was spared the need to go for 25 when the war ended in May, 1945.

Like most veterans who had seen combat he never spoke about the war other than those times spent with his fellow mates while on leave in London. He also echoed what most World War II veterans tend to say when they are asked about their service. Relieved at having survived and committed to commemorating the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, Dad always said, “the heroes are the ones who didn’t come back.”

That is one reason, I believe, for us to watch these older as well as more recent films (such as Saving Private Ryan and Dunkirk). Not only can we reconnect with such events and have a better understanding of the challenges individuals face in war, we can also have an appreciation for the actors and the times in which these films were created. Those produced during or shortly after WWII have a different feel than those made in the 1960’s. Likewise, films depicting Viet Nam when compared to films of other wars often reflect a cynical or somewhat outraged viewpoint. This is another reason film can help us understand the thoughts and feelings of other times and places.

In case you are unfamiliar with many of the films in the “war” genre I mentioned on the podcast I am providing a list of those mentioned along with this commentary. I also have taken the liberty of including a few I did not mention which will serve to expand the selection and include a few more from an era other than World War II for younger listeners

I hope this will encourage you to learn more about those events that had a profound effect on the world and our society. And, it will serve to further reinforce the power and influence that film can have when they depict monumental events as experienced by the characters.

Until next time.

The following lists detail a selection of war movies for our listeners to seek out for viewing if they wish. The first list denotes films Eddie and I discussed during the podcast. The second list contains films that I have arbitrarily selected so our listeners can attain a broader exposure to films of which many may not be aware. To help in deciding if you wish to view, I have provided a brief synopsis of each film.

  • A Bridge Too Far – Richard AttenboroughDepiction of British General Montgomery’s failed “Operation Market Garden” that faltered at Arnhem Bridge in Holland.
  • Hacksaw Ridge – Mel GibsonMel Gibson’s film hailing the heroic efforts of a pacifist US Army medic to save lives during the Battle of Okinawa. Desmond Doss became first man to win the Congressional Medal of Honor without firing a shot.
  • In Harm’s Way – Otto PremingerDirected by Otto Preminger, John Wayne and Kirk Douglas star in film dealing with father-son conflict set against naval battles in the Pacific.
  • Memphis Belle – Michael Caton-JonesFilm details challenges and fears of B-17 crew as they attempt to be first crew to achieve their 25th mission and the chance to go home in 1943.
  • Patton – Franklin J. SchaffnerGeorge C. Scott’s Oscar winning portrayal of the dynamic, profane and controversial WWII general.
  • The Dirty Dozen – Robert AldrichLee Marvin leads a stellar cast of ex-cons who will be rewarded with their freedom if they accomplish mission against Nazis.
  • The Devil’s Brigade – Andrew V. McLaglenComing a year after “Dozen”, William Holden fulfills a similar role leading misfit Americans and a more disciplined Canadian contingent, led by Cliff Robertson, on a mission against Nazis in Italy.
  • The Longest Day – Bernhard Wicki, Ken Annakin & Andrew MartonBased on the book by Cornelius Ryan, this film, with an international all-star cast, dramatizes the audacious June 6, 1944 landing by American, British and Canadian forces at Normandy.
  • Sands of Iwo Jima – Allan DwanJohn Wayne is superb as a tough drill instructor, Sergeant Stryker, preparing and leading Marines in battle against the Japanese in the Pacific.
  • Unbroken – Angelina JolieBased on Lauren Hillenbrand’s bestselling novel, director Angelina Jolie tells the tale of USC and Olympian track star’s WWII survival from being lost at sea through surviving Japanese prison camps.
  • The Bridges At Toko-Ri – Mark RobsonWilliam Holden, Grace Kelly and Mickey Rooney star in this film adaptation James Michener’s detailing the lives of carrier fighter pilots and the effect on families during the Korean conflict. The bridges are a target for a mission that leads to the climactic conclusion.
  • Apocalypse Now – Francis Ford CoppolaFrancis Ford Coppola’s seminal Viet Nam film starring Marlon Brando as a wayward officer and Martin Sheen is the young soldier sent on a special mission to assassinate him. The film is famous for the various production, weather and other issues that hampered filming. One event was a minor heart attack that felled Martin Sheen. Also film is remembered for the helicopters flying to “Ride of the Valkyries” and Robert Duvall’s character exclaiming his love for the smell of napalm in the morning.
  • Forrest Gump – Robert ZemeckisWinston Groom’s novel brought to life through the sensitive portrayal by Tom Hanks. Gump moves through an array of historical events from challenges of his youth through Viet Nam and his quest to own a shrimp boat. Those closest to him come to realize the impact of Forrest’s simple, yet enduring, understanding of life.

II. Johnny’s additional selections that may be of interest to view. Some are not specifically “war” movies but are related to events that happened during war. Those are noted as such (*).

  • Command Decision – Star vehicle for Clark Gable detailing issues surrounding command decisions during early phases of US daylight bombing in World War II. Story is built around actual effort of first major bombing effort over Schweinfurt.
  • The Heroes of Telemark – Film starring Kirk Douglas details allied efforts to thwart Nazi heavy water production in Norway.
  • MacArthur – Joseph Sargent– Gregory Peck’s portrayal of the famous general and primarily covers his service in the Pacific, dismissal by President Truman and hints of political aspirations. Best part of the film is Peck’s climactic presentation of MacArthur’s farewell speech at West Point. 
  • Twelve O’Clock High – Henry King – Brilliant portrayal of the strain of command and wear-and-tear on US bomber crews bombing Germany from a base in England. Gregory Peck heads stellar cast.
  • Schindler’s List – Steven Spielberg (*) – Steven Spielberg’s film detailing the efforts of German industrialist, Oskar Schindler, to save Jewish prisoners from Nazi death camps by employing in his factories. Liam Neesom plays Schindler.
  • Woman In Gold – Simon Curtis (*) – Helen Mirren with the help of her attorney, Ryan Reynolds, battles the Austrian government in attempt to gain return of valuable family painting that was taken by the Nazis. The painting of her aunt was done by Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt.
  • Battle Hymn– Rock Hudson vehicle based on true story of Ohio pastor who flies fighters in combat in Korea.
  • The Hunters – Dick PowellRobert Mitchum and a young Robert Wagner serve as fighter pilots in Korea. Directed by Dick Powell there is some romance but best parts are attempts by downed pilots to avoid capture.
  • Mash – Robert AltmanRobert Altman’s iconic, award winning illustrating the strain and absurdities of war as seen through the eyes and antics of surgeons aiding the wounded in Korea. Donald Southerland and Elliot Gould lead cast. This film was the inspiration for the award winning TV series starring Alan Alda.
  • Men in WarGritty look at infantry soldiers serving in Korea starring Robert Ryan.
  • The Steel Helmet – Samuel FullerEarly 1950’s effort, released during 1951, starring Gene Evans. Primarily known as a character actor, Evans and cast provide another glimpse of the challenges facing the infantry in war.
  • Full Metal Jacket – Stanley KubrickStanley Kubrick’s take on the stress of training and combat in Viet Nam. Provided starring turn for former Marine drill instructor R. Lee Ermey. The late actor got a Golden Globe nomination and became a successful character actor appearing in many later films.
  • Gardens of Stone – Francis Ford CoppolaFrancis Ford Coppola’s film detailing the duties of the Old Guard unit that provides honor guard for the Tomb of the Unknown and accompanies burial of fallen Viet Nam soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Supported by James Earl Jones and James Caan, D.B. Sweeney plays the young soldier determined to live up to his father’s military legacy.
  • Platoon – Oliver Stone– Oliver Stone’s critically acclaimed take on Viet Nam. Influenced by his own Viet Nam experiences, Stone showcases an array of strong, young actors dealing with the horrors of war. 
  • We Were Soldiers – Randall Wallace – Terrific film, starring Mel Gibson, that  vividly recreates the battle which marked the first direct conflict between US troops and 2,000 North Vietnamese troops in the la Drang Valley in 1965. Solid support by Sam Elliott as the sergeant and Greg Kinnear as a rescue helicopter pilot. Based on the book by Joseph Galloway, who was covering and became involved in the event.
  • American Sniper – Clint EastwoodClint Eastwood film creates star turn for Bradley Cooper as US Navy Seal, Chris Kyle, the former Iraq sniper dealing with issues upon his return home. 
  • Lone Survivor – Peter BergMark Wahlberg stars in film detailing fight to survive by US Navy Seals who are ambushed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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