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.

ANZACS Part I Gallipoli (1985)

I need to thank Soldier’s Mail who left a comment on my post Australian War Movies: A List mentioning ANZACS. This is really, really worth watching.

ANZACS has five episodes in total and I have just watched the first one that could be called “Gallipoli”. I would say it is easily as good – if in parts not even better – as Peter Weir’s movie Gallipoli (one of my top 10!).

The series starts in Australia where the young guys, full of enthusiasm and inspired by a sense of adventure, enlist. While some of their parents think it is their duty towards their motherland (some can still not fully grasp the idea of being independent by now), the young men see the war as a means to travel and see the world. A bit of fighting will be great as well. Why not bash some Germans? Sounds sporting, right?

They are a composite little group heading off to Europe (as they think). Some are farmers, some are sports heroes, others are students.

When they finally arrive in Gallipoli, they are told that they will fight the Germans by entering the back door. Once they have overrun the Turks there will be no stopping them and victory will be certain.

Gallipoli is one of those names that stands for an unsuccessful campaign and battles in which losses were extremely high. The young lads are mown down by Turkish guns like weeds and the sporting spirit dies as soon as they have lost the first among their ranks. I couldn’t help wondering whether the British sent the Australians on purpose on this futile mission but considering that they lost as many and more of their own in France and Belgium, it seems more likely that high command had simply no clue what they were doing. Anyone reading this who is better informed is welcome to explain/contradict.

I liked the way this first part was told. It seems very accurate, very realistic, not overly emotional. There is a couple of brothers and friends who are devastated by the loss of their siblings and friends but this isn’t overly exploited.

I’m extremely curious to see how this will develop and whether the next episodes will be equally good or even better. At the end of episode one they were ready to move on to France.

Here is part one of episode I

Australian War Movies: A List

Australia, like so many other countries, has participated in many wars and  it is actually amazing that, even though it hasn’t done all that many war movies, has done some that are considered to be the best of their kind. I am talking about the three movies of the Australian New Wave, Gallipoli, Breaker Morant and The Lighthorsemen. They are very different but all three are outstanding. When just starting this blog I watched and reviewed another, much more recent movie, Kokoda. It is flawed but still a very good movie. I started to wonder if there are any other ones and found a few that I haven’t seen. The latest one on the list is from 2010.

Whoever is familiar with my blog knows that I make lists that I often consider to be a work in progress. It is very possible that this list will change over the months and years.

40’000 Horsemen (1941): WWI

The Rats of Tobruk (1944): WWII; North Africa.

The Odd Angry Shot (1979): Australians in Vietnam.

Breaker Morant (1980): Second Boer War. True story. The court-martial of Breaker Morant. Three officers are accused of a war crime. Outstanding legal drama and a truly tragic story (see my post on Breaker Morant).

ANZACS (1985, TV mini-series): Thanks to Soldier’s Mail I can add this one to my list. WWI, ANZACs are followed from Gallipoli to the battlefields of the Somme, Vimy Ridge etc.

Gallipoli (1981): WWI, ANZACs on the Turkish front. Intense infantry combat. Magnificently displays the senselessness of it all.

The Highest Honor (1982): WWII. True story. British and Australian raid on Japanese occupied Singapore harbour.

Attack Force Z (1982): WWII, Southwest Pacific.

An Indecent Obsession (1985): WWII, Pacific (?)

The Lightorsemen (1987): Australian cavalry. WWI. There aren’t many movies on cavalry combat that are truly outstanding. This is one of them (see my post on The Lighthorsemen).

Blood Oath (1990): WWII, Indonesia. Australian POWs suffers abuse from Japanese captors.

The Last Bullet (1995, TV): WWII, South Pacific

Changi (2001, TV mini-series): WWII, Singapore, Australian POW’s.

My Brother Jack (2001, TV): Outbreak of WWII.

Kokoda (2006): The war in the Pacific. On the Kokoda trail. Pretty gruesome look at an untrained group of volunteers who meet a fierce enemy in the jungle. Focuses on the story of two brothers. Not bad at all (see my post on Kokoda).

Beneath Hill 60 (2010): WWI, Western front. Australian miners fighting in the tunnel systems.

Any important movies that I left out?