Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

3A1ijr6gqT6zkfOoG3WUyGVBWd3

I wanted to finish the year in style and a review of the black and white movie Twelve O’Clock High seemed fitting. This is one of the most highly acclaimed war movies and while I wouldn’t exactly give it a five-star rating, like so many critics did, I still think it’s a very important movie and the acting is superb.

Most air combat movies I have seen so far, with very few exceptions, showed the point of view of the British or the Germans. This is one of the rare depicting the American side.

In 1942 the US Air Force conducted daylight bombing raids. They thought that the precision of daylight bombing would speed up things and end the war earlier. However this put the pilots under a lot of additional pressure. 918th Bombardment Group was one that took much higher casualties than others. Their morale was pretty low, their squadron leader on the brink of a breakdown. Their explanation for their losses was “bad luck”.

Brigadier General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) doesn’t want to hear any of this. He believes that leadership or rather the lack thereof is the main reason. The squadron leader is too attached to his men, identifies with them which clouds his judgement.

When Savage takes over the command he faces open resistance. The men don’t want such a hard and seemingly unfeeling leader and want to be transferred. Savage won’t let go. He works on their morale, assigns new leaders, regroups the men, even has the change their sleeping quarters. While they are hostile in the beginning, the first raids show, what he teaches makes sense as there are fewer casualties. On top of that he flies every mission with them.

Outstanding leadership, unflinching command, show results and soon the morale is high again and the men start to admire and even like Savage. Unfortunately the intensity of his assignment comes at a high cost.

While the beginning of the movie is extremely wordy, the second half is perfect. A lot of original footage heightens the authenticity and Savage’s character is one of the most interesting in any war movie. As said before, I wouldn’t exactly give this 5 stars (I found the beginning too slow) but it’s certainly a very good movie and Gregory Peck’s acting is outstanding.

Don’t let the poster fool you, by the way, Twelve O’Clock High is a black and white movie.

Reach For The Sky (1956) Biopic of a Famous RAF Bomber Pilot

Reach for the Sky

If Reach for the Sky wasn’t a true story it would be one of those movies which you’d just shrug off as way over the top but since it is based on a true story it leaves you astonished.

Reach for The Sky is the story of one man’s love for flying which was so intense that it made him  overcome one of the worst things that can happen to a man and later turned him into a legend.

Douglas Bader is a passionate and reckless young RAF pilot when in 1931, while showing off his talents in front of other pilots, he has a terrible accident which costs him both legs.

Determined and optimistic as he is, he makes the impossible possible and soon learns to walk on tin legs, without help or a crutch. Shortly after leaving the hospital, still on crutches during that time, he meets his future wife and love of his life Thelma.

The only bitter moment comes for him when they don’t accept him as a pilot anymore and he has to do desk duty.

If it wasn’t for WWII he may never have flown again but when war breaks out he undergoes tests and is judged fit for service.

The story which is already quite remarkable until that point, gets truly astonishing now. Not only does he fly one mission after the other, survives the Battle of Britain but he becomes one of the best-loved wing commanders until he is shot down in 1941.

He survives and is captured by the Germans. As a POW he shows the same determination as earlier in his life and escapes several times from different camps until he’s finally sent to Colditz castle where he remains until the end of the war.

Douglas Bader’s story is truly amazing. It would have been so easy to just fall into a deep depression and withdraw from life but Bader was a fighter and nothing, absolutely nothing, could put that man down or stop him. And he was a passionate pilot. As much as he loved his wife, we get the impression that he loved flying even more.

A story like this is quite inspiring but that wouldn’t make this a great movie. What makes it great is the way it is told. While the first half focusses on Bader, his accident and how he learned to walk again, the second half focusses on WWII, the Battle of Britain, the dog fights… It’s quite suspenseful and interesting. It’s not easy for Bader to be accepted at first. The young pilots are a bit taken aback when they find out their wing commander has no legs.

I wasn’t familiar with the main actors Kenneth Moore and the lovely Muriel Pavlow but they were both really good.

It’s certainly a movie I would recommend to anyone interested in WWII, the Battle of Britain and true stories about resilience and overcoming a tragedy.

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

Machine Gun Preacher is based on a true story, the story of ex Hell’s Angel and bad boy Sam Childers.

At the beginning of the movie Sam gets out of prison. He hasn’t learned anything from that experience and wants to get back to his former life. Drugs, booze, his Harley Davidson and his stripping wife. Unfortunately for him, his wife has found Jesus, works at a mall, doesn’t strip, drink or smoke anymore and goes to church on Sundays. Sam does what he always did, gets drunk and high and ends up fighting with everyone. Then, one night, something really bad happens and wakes him up for good. He joins the church to which his wife belongs, sobers up, sells his bike, gets a decent job.

But that’s not enough for Sam. The way he used to be, lies too heavy on his conscience, he wants more, do more, do better. He builds a church and travels to Africa to see what good the missionaries do there. When he crosses the border into Sudan with a soldier from the Sudanese Liberation Army whom he met in Uganda, he sees things he has never even heard of. Mutilated people, shot women and children, cruelty and violence. He hears about the child soldiers recruited by the LRA (Lords Resistance Army), led by Joseph Kony, sees the many orphans whose parents have been slaughtered. Sam decides that this is his cause. God wants him to help and he will help.

What makes him different from all the social workers down there is that he doesn’t only help and bring money, he also fights. He doesn’t only defend his property, he attacks the aggressors and intimidates them in using the same methods they use. Ultimately he doesn’t mind killing. For him – this is obvious – this is more than just helping, this is fighting a war. A war against oppression, exploitation, violence and cruelty.

If it wasn’t for that, the movie would be average but because of this, it’s a very interesting movie because it seems to state some uncomfortable things and ask interesting questions. Can there be a level of violence which makes it impossible to fight it with non-violence? Could it be dangerous to just try to do good without being prepared to kill and shoot people for the greater good?

I’m not saying I agree with Childers (I personally think we are not meant to intervene everywhere all the time but that’s my opinion. I think if we want to do good, we can start in our own cities, our own neighbourhoods and families.) but I understand his point and found the movie quite interesting.

Machine Gun Preacher reminded me of Lord of War and Blood Diamond and some other movies which make African civil wars and warlords their main topic. While I think it’s a movie which will generate a lot of discussions and I didn’t mind watching it, I still think that movies like Lord of War, Hotel Rwanda and some others were far better. But it’s decent and for Gerard Butler fans certainly a must-see.

Help Needed – We Are Looking For a War Movie

the-war-is-over

It’s been a while since I posted the last request like this. Since we have managed to find movies before, I thought it’s worth a try.

The person who wrote me this e-mail has seen this movie as a boy on TV. Some 35 – 40 years ago. It was a black and white movie, very probably British (maybe French). The main characters name could have been something like Oresti.

Here’s the very detailed description.

The film was black and white and I can’t tell you whether it was set in WWI or WWII, but I am fairly sure it was about the Belgian Resistance.
A male member of the resistance is being pursued by the Germans and hides on the balcony of a young female who he persuades to help him.
At some point, we see the young lady with a fortune teller who is predicting her getting married.
This is a dramatic scene because the psychic becomes agitated when trying to tell her about the wedding because she sees something disturbing. She sees a wedding dress which is scarlet, or red. She then becomes too upset to continue.

The young lady falls in love with the resistance guy and joins their work.
On the day of their wedding, the church is sprayed with bullets and her beautiful white wedding dress becomes covered in blood – the scarlet dress of the psychics predictions.

They are sent on a mission, separately, but the mission of the male is a rather cruel but necessary one.
Unknown to him, he is given misinformation about a military operation and then sent into the field with the deliberate intention of being caught, tortured and revealing the wrong info.
However, he was much tougher than they had anticipated and didn’t reveal anything under torture.
He escapes.
His wife finds out about his mission and goes to find him.
She is captured and sentence to death by firing squad.
Her husband rescues her at the last moment, the whole firing squad being resistance fighters, and he dressed as a German officer.

After he rescues her, he lifts her in his arms and they celebrate.
Unfortunately, some snipers, hiding in bushes, see them.
Because he is still wearing German uniform, they believe him to be the enemy and shoot them both as they are embracing. The tumble and fall of the steps of what looks like a disused amphitheatre.
They manage to hold hands as they die.

This is one of the most detailed descriptions I have received so far and I’m pretty sure, if someone has seen it, he/she will remember even if some things might have been different.

Any ideas and suggestions are very welcome.

The Haunted Airman (2006) BBC TV Drama

The Haunted Airman, starring Julian Sands, Robert Pattison and Rachel Stirling is a 70 minutes BBC TV production based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley (The Haunting of Toby Jugg). I thought it was a great choice for this time of the year as it is quite eerie; a mix between psychological drama and horror story.

A young RAF bomber pilot is shot down. His wounds are considerable and he becomes a paraplegic in a wheel chair. His aunt Julia, a widow, decides to bring him to an asylum where the mysterious Dr. Hal Burns treats soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. The asylum is located in one of those huge English country houses.

Toby suffers from different symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Nightmares, hallucinations, visions, phobias. He sees burning cities and dead civilians, relives the night in which he is shot down, imagines being attacked by giant spiders.

Julia is his aunt by marriage. She is gentle and beautiful and Toby is clearly very much in love with her and dreams of marrying her. He writes to her frequently but she never replies. One day he finds out that the sinister doctor has kept back all the letters.

From then on tragic and dramatic things happen. The end is a bit weird and mysterious.

I didn’t mind watching this, it had a gothic, haunted house feel, the images were quite beautiful and Pattison and Sands act quite well. Still, I didn’t really know what to make of it all and didn’t get the end. I went to IMDb and saw that the reviews were extremely mixed. Either 8-10 or 1-2 stars.

I’d say it’s a movie you either love or hate. Being a Robert Pattison fan would certainly influence the reaction.

I don’t like rating movies this much, but in this case, I’ll try to. I’d give it 4 stars for the actors and the cinematography and 1.5 stars for the story. Whether it is OK to turn PTSD into entertainment…

Senso (1954) – A Guest Post by nem baj

https://i2.wp.com/static.omdb.si/posters/active/298217.jpg

Let’s face it, my self-imposed “One Month of Watching German War Movies” was a bit of a failure. The problem was, I wasn’t in the mood for the movies I had here. Instead of watching other war movies I stayed clear of the genre altogether and that’s why – once again – I’m grateful that nem baj stepped in with a review of a Visconti movie. I’ve seen a lot of Visconti’s movies, he used to be one of my favourite directors. However I haven’t seen Senso yet but I think I should watch it. I have a feeling I would like ti very much. 

In a nutshell: on the eve of the third Italian war of independence, in the Austrian-occupied city of Venice, the Contessa Serpieri (Alida Valli), a married Italian aristocrat, falls hopelessely in love with a younger Austrian lieutenant (Farley Granger), a notorious seducer. For him, she will betray both her social position and her beliefs in Italian independence, while he will exploit her love, and in turn betray his own career and country, up to a tragic ending.

Had it not been for the censorship, Luchino Visconti’s movie would have been called Custoza, after the second battle of Custoza, near Verona, where the Italian independence army was defeated by the Austro-Hungarian forces in 1866. Fortunately for the Italians, their opponent’s defeat at Königgrätz against Prussia prevented them for pushing their advantage and keep the Venetia region. However, in spite of its name reverting to that of its (loosely adpted) source short story, Senso certainly remains a war movie.

Of course, it is also a melodrama, an operatic portrait of the desperate, nefarious, masochistic love of an educated woman for an adventurer. I will not insist upon this aspect here. Yet, although there isn’t much combat to be seen, in part due to the censors, war is everywhere. War, in Senso, is at the same time the driving force of its protagonists’ lives, and the telltale device which reveals their character. And on a historical level, war is at the same time the developing bath and the accelerator of global changes.

As Renoir’s Grand Illusion demonstrated, a war movie isn’t always about those who fight. In this case, it’s about those who choose not to – those who, confronted with a crisis which reveals that their world is crumbling down (a theme dear to Visconti), choose not to join either side, and instead pursue their self-centered interests, their passions. Here, the battle of Custoza is a defeat for both sides. For Italy, it is the defeat of idealists betrayed by the aristocracy. For Austria, it is the beginning of the end of a decaying empire.

Visconti’s images of the battle of Custoza remind me a lot of the way many cinematographers chose to render the American Civil War. There’s a strongly suggested state of confusion, which brings the idea that the opponents belong to the same culture. It’s not so much a war beetween foreign and domestic as it is a conflict beetween the old and the new. Here, the new is a nation-state in the making, forged by ideals: Italy. While the old is a multi-cultural empire held by social allegiances, bent for dissolve: Austria-Hungary.

Senso might not be as achieved as The Leopard, as it is sometimes difficult for the viewer not to give priority to one of its two main streams (the love story and the historical statement) over the other. However, the narrative use of tracking shots is wellesian. The settings, composition and costumes are magnificent, well in line with what we know of the director’s personal background, knowledge, and career in the opera and theatre. Yet the camera never indulges in sheer production show-off: these elements constantly add meaning to what’s going on – and in the interior scenes, the games with the mirrors, paintings and doors are quite devilish. Last but not least for European music lovers, the double use of Verdi (for politics) and Brückner (for love) should make for an unforgettable experience.

PS: Blu-Ray restored edition recommended. You may have a peek at the results here