The Odd Angry Shot (1979) Australian SAS in Vietnam

A comment on my post Australian War Movies: A List put me in the mood to watch the Australian film  The Odd Angry Shot. The topic is quite unique as for once it doesn’t show Australians during WWI or WWII but Australians in Vietnam. The movie came with such high praise that I was really looking forward to it. However, before watching it, I had a look at Gary Freitas book on war movies and the movie had a rating of 1.5/5. I cannot remember having ever seen such a discrepancy between someone’s recommendation and Freitas’ assessment and was a bit puzzled and keen to find out for myself. The solution to the riddle is, in my opinion, that if you have the wrong expectations you might not like it but if you know what to expect chances are high you will.

The Odd Angry Shot tells the story of a group of Australian SAS soldiers who do a 12 month tour in Vietnam. Long stretches of boredom are broken up by recon and other missions during which there are casualties, some men are severely, others fatally wounded. During the periods in which there isn’t a lot to do, the men drink A LOT of beer, play games, tease each other. It’s an atmosphere of mateship and camaraderie and to watch them is nothing if not funny. Story-wise that’s it.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a war movie done like this and I can understand that if you think you are going to watch an intense war movie like Hamburger Hill or Platoon you will be very disappointed but that’s because you’re watching it with the wrong expectations. For me this is a war comedy, a movie that wants to show the spirit and the mateship in the Australian troops but still tries to show their sacrifice and achievements just without being graphic or gory. Judging from the reviews of a lot of Australian vets who commented on this movie, this is exactly how the Australians experienced Vietnam. They emphasized that most of the time, they were sitting around, waiting, being debriefed but that intense combat was pretty rare. Most of the time they were sent to capture the one or the other informant. In order to keep their spirits high, they did drink a lot, and try to have fun. A way to cope with the horrors of war.

The only real problem I had was that I still have no clue why the Australians felt they had to be in Vietnam. We hear absolutely nothing about the war as such, only that the majority of the people “back home” were not keen on it.

If you want to watch a gritty and graphic war movie in the vein of Platoon, don’t watch it. If you are interested in Australia and Australian movies, why not? If you look for an enjoyable and entertaining movie, it’s a great choice too. It’s very funny, the characters are extremely likable and Graham Kennedy does a great job. 

Here’s a short scene that captures the spirit very well.

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Sisters of War (2010 TV) The True Story of the Australian POW Nurses and Nuns

Sisters of War is an Australian TV movie based on the true story of Lorna Whyte and Berenice Twohill, a nurse and a nun who were held captive for several years by the Japanese during WWII. The film looks a bit “made for TV” but other than that I liked it. There are so many of these forgotten stories and it’s great when a director decides to bring them to our attention.

1942, Vunapope, Papua New Guinea, an Australian hospital camp and mission. Nurses and nuns help the wounded alongside the army doctors. When the troops withdraw, the doctors follow them to help them and, to everyone’s dismay, decide to abandon the nurses, nuns and the wounded. Some of the troops remain hidden in the surrounding forest.

The remaining sisters scan the horizon daily, hoping for the Americans to come to their rescue. When they see boats land they are at first extremely happy until they realize their mistake. The landing troops are Japanese and their mission is soon turned into a prison camp. In this mess and confusion two women, the nurse Lorna whose fiancé is among the troops hidden in the forest and the devoted sister Berenice become close friends and are a moral support for each other.

The months that follow are hard. The American bombard the mission thinking it is Japanese, while the Japanese rule with a fierce hand, punishing everyone who doesn’t comply and torturing and executing all the soldiers they capture. It’s particularly harrowing for Lorna when they capture her fiancé.

The food is scarce and the few buildings they have are constantly bombed. The mission has to be abandoned in the end. Bishop Scharmach decides to send the nurses away. They suspect that they have been sold as “comfort women” to the Japanese. This isn’t true but the plans the Bishop had, to have them exchanged against Japanese prisoners of war, doesn’t work and the nurses are sent to a labour camp in Japan.

I thought the movie was quite well done, not too sentimental and managed to show a forgotten story and is also a testimony to the great strength and courage of those nurses and sisters. As we are told in the closing credits, those nurses, as they were mostly not military nurses, didn’t get any recognition until quite recently.

It’s a nice touch that we see the real Lorna Whyte and Berenice Twohill, now elderly, sit together on a bench and chat at the end of the movie.

I really wonder how this could have happened, that the whole military, especially the doctors, just left those women on their own. They knew so well how the Japanese treated prisoners. At first I thought that the depiction of the Japanese soldiers was overly negative but towards the end, the portrayal is balanced.

The only instances in which you can see that it must have been a low-budget production is the make-up. They all look pretty odd but if you can forgive that, it’s a highly watchable movie, quite tragic but suspenseful and fascinating too.

Beneath Hill 60 (2010) Australian Miners Fighting in The Tunnels of WWI

I am really glad to be able to dedicate this year’s last review to a movie that came out in 2010. I am also glad that the Australian movie Beneath Hill 60 was one of the biggest surprises of this year. After having watched a few more recent war movies like Everyman’s War and Passchendaele my hopes were not too high. I was wrong. This is a thoroughly good movie in which everything is right. The main story, the accuracy, the flashbacks, the actors, the score, the pictures, all together make a great combination. Last but not least the movie is based on a true story that is maybe not universally known but truly amazing. In 1916 Australian miners were digging tunnels beneath the trenches. The worst of those tunnel systems was located beneath Hill 60, in Belgium. The aim was to blow up the whole hill and the trenches around it. The outcome was the biggest explosion ever. It could be heard as far as London and Dublin.

At the beginning of the movie the men around Captain Oliver Woodward are digging in the tunnels beneath the trenches in France. Woodward is a newbie and as  such has to prove himself first. Unfortunately he makes a mistake when he doesn’t realize that the sound one of the miners hears isn’t his own heart but digging sounds of the Germans. The movie is full of suspenseful moments when the digging miners have to stop and listen, if there are Germans close by. Whoever gets a chance will blow up parts of the tunnel system and the fight will rage underground. As claustrophobic as it is inside of the earth, it is still more secure than above. Every time the men get out of the tunnels, they see the madness of the war in the trenches, the constant shelling, the mud, the never-ending rain. The young miners can hardly handle to be outside; they are scared to death.

After his initial misjudgment Woodward soon proves to be more than worthy and he and his team achieve one difficult mission after the other, below and above ground. The story in the tunnels is interspersed with flashbacks. We see Woodward in Australia. He is an engineer with a mining company, freshly returned from Papua New Guinea. There is of course a love story but it is far from schmaltzy and just emphasizes Woodward’s character. He is gentle, intelligent, very able and has a great sense of humour. Newer war movies often operate with such flashbacks and mostly they are not successful. The flashbacks disrupt the movie and add a sugar-coating that is hard to swallow. This is not the case here. It’s a great diversion from the rest of the movie that shows mostly very dark scenes in the tunnels. Some of the tunnels are constantly under the threat to be flooded and water is dripping endlessly. A good sound system does come in handy. The sound effects are absolutely brilliant. Honestly, you will check your cupboards, to make sure, they didn’t start leaking.

The camaraderie between these fine men is depicted in a nice way, and every loss is felt by the spectator as well.

As far as setting goes, this is one of the most extreme. The men are in these tunnel systems almost day and night. Anything more claustrophobic is hard to imagine.

I would really urge you to watch this film. It is certainly the best that came out this year, and maybe one of the best of the decade. Australian filmmaking proves once more what it is capable of. The film director knew how to combine a well-told true story with the right amount of emotion. I couldn’t find the tiniest flaw.

I already attached the trailer in my List on Australian War Movies but decided to attach it again.