Laurel & Hardy at War – Pack Up Your Troubles (1932)

Pack up your Troubles is only one of many Laurel & Hardy movies showing them at war. There are better examples but it still has a few iconic and quite hilarious scenes. I grew up with Laurel & Hardy, during my childhood they were always on Sunday TV and so, no matter how silly, I’m fond of them.

The US are entering WWI. In his typical boasting way Hardy pretends he would join up if only he was given a chance. The chance is given soon enough in form of a conscription officer but the moment Hardy sees him, he tries to escape and weasel out. To no avail. They are drafted and end up in the trenches of France where they go about their own business pretty oblivious of the mess around them. Food, warmth and a few other things are more important for them. While this was certainly essential for all the soldiers, in Laurel and Hardy’s case it’s center stage. They behave in the trench like an old couple at home. The shelling and bombing is perceived as a major nuisance but not as the real danger it is. Sent to make a few prisoners, they turn a dangerous mission into a hilarious adventure that ends with a surprising success.

Edie Smith, a fellow soldier, tells them about his little daughter. He had to leave her behind with a couple of really abusive folk. When he goes missing, our two heroes decide that after the war they will bring the girl to her rightful grandparents.

The second part of the movie takes place after the Armistice and shows their adventures with the little girl and all their troubles and mishaps until they finally find the grand parents.

Pack Up Your Troubles is one hour long. It’s amusing, not one of my favourites, but still entertaining. They pack all the elements of WWI movies into a film –  the trenches, the barbed wire, the mud, the bombings – and add a humorous twist. Laurel & Hardy’s humour is slapstick, it’s not satirical, nor very profound. If you like it, you will enjoy this as well.

Do you have a favourite Laurel & Hardy at war? Or another favourite Laurel & Hardy?

My Best Enemy – Mein bester Feind (2011)

The central theme of the Austrian movie My Best Enemy – Mein bester Feind is art robbery and expropriation of Jews during WWII. It starts in 1943 with a plane crash. Two SS officers and a Jew are on board of that plane. They must be found. Especially the Jew. We don’t know why but the movie rewinds to the year 1938 and the back story will be told.

Vienna, 1938. The rich Jewish gallery owner Jakob Kaufmann just recently arrived with his family in Vienna. They have left Germany, fearing Hitler’s rise may bring difficulties. The Kaufmann’s have only one child, Victor (Moritz Bleibtreu), who grew up together with Rudi (Georg Friedrich), the son of their housekeeper. For the Kaufmann’s Rudi is like a son and the two young men are close friends. At least that’s how Victor sees it. Rudi’s point of view is slightly different. He is bitter and jealous and resents all the good things the Kaufmann’s did for him. Fact is, they are rich and he is poor. Victor will be a rich heir, while he will have to work hard. On top of that Lena, the girl Rudi fancies, is in love with Victor.

When the SS give him the opportunity to lead a better life, he takes it and joins them. He doesn’t even care that the price is high. He will have to spy on his former friends and benefactors and find out where one of Michelangelo’s original drawings is hidden. The drawing which has been stolen centuries ago from the Pope, is meant for the Führer Adolf Hitler who wants to offer it to his ally Mussolini.

It is easy for Rudi to find out where the painting is as Victor trusts his friend. Not long after he showed him where it is hidden, the villa is stormed, the drawing confiscated and the Kaufmann’s sent to labour camps.

If the drawing they have confiscated had been the original, the movie would have ended here but as it is a fake, this is just the beginning. Rudi is threatened and has to try to find the original at any cost. He goes and fetches Victor in the labour camp and together they fly to Berlin. On their way their plane crashes.

What follows is more humorous than dramatic and the roles of the parties involved are reversed more than once. Hunter becomes hunted and vice versa. Every time when we think: that’s it, this is the end, something happens and the hunt and qui pro quo starts again.

I didn’t know anything about this movie but I like Moritz Bleibtreu and Marthe Keller (she plays Victor’s mother)  and I knew the producers of The Counterfeiters have produced this movie too. I expected something more tragic so was slightly puzzled at first. This isn’t a drama, it’s much more a comedy. While it isn’t hilarious, it is amusing and I enjoyed watching it, especially the end. This is surprising as from a purely psychological point of view it isn’t very believable. Rudi’s change from friend to foe is more than abrupt. And as much as I like Bleibtreu, he is rather on the chubby side and most certainly doesn’t look like someone who spent years in a labour camp.

I’m not sure how Jewish people feel about a movie like this. Is it OK for them to see their trials and tribulations – in this case expropriation and art robbery by the Nazis – told in form of a comedy? I cannot answer this question. There were a few moments at the beginning of the movie when I felt uneasy but on the other hand, using this lighthearted tone, the movie gets our full attention and it is still explicit about the horrible things that happened.

I have a hard time to put into words why I liked My Best Enemy but I really did. It’s well done, glossy, entertaining, with a nice pace and a really appealing energy. If they had told this story like all the other similar movies it would have been just one more Holocaust movie. Like this it’s a movie that will stay in your mind.

Goodnight Sweetheart (1993- 1999) A British WWII Time Travel Comedy Series

One thing is for sure, the British comedy series Goodnight Sweetheart is quite different. I watched the first few episodes now and thought it was quite funny and certainly not known by too many.

Gary Sparrow, a young married man, lives in a little house, somewhere in London, with his wife. Their marriage is a bit shaken as she is on a steep career path and reproaches Gary his lack of ambition. He does try though, but gets something wrong all the time. Either he isn’t dressed appropriately for his job interview or his lack of stamina keeps him from moving up.

He and his new friend Ron spend a lot of time drinking beer and moaning about their wives.

Gary works as a TV technician and one day, looking for an address in London’s East End, he lands in an alley called the Duckett’s Passage. In a bar he asks for directions when he realizes people are dressed in clothes of the 40s. At first he thinks he is in a theme pub but soon he realizes that he really is in war-torn London in the 40s.

He falls in love with the barmaid and for some 58 episodes we will be able to travel with him back and forth between 90s and 40s London and watch him lead a double-life with two wives.

It is quite amusing and the period pieces are well done. A lot of the fun stems from Gary’s mentioning things that will happen much later or sing songs that haven’t been written yet, pretending they are his. But it’s equally funny to see him forget, that he is really in the 40s and how shocked he is when there’s an air raid.

I think it’s a fun twist on WWII, amusing and entertaining alike and infused with some serious 40s nostalgia.

I attached one scene and a nostalgic fan video.

Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder (2008) Hilarious or Bad Taste?

Before I knew what  Tropic Thunder was all about I saw it mentioned a few times on people’s Top 10 Favourite war movies lists. Aha?  And then I saw several really angry and infuriated reviews. Definitely a movie that polarizes. Those who love it think it’s genius, those who hate it think it is hateful, despicable, in bad taste and politically incorrect.

I actually think it is extremely funny. It’s a huge piss take and quite multilayered. Yes, it is vulgar and there is a lot of foul language and swearing but it has to be like that. That is part of the parody. There is a lot of swearing in some war movies, especially in the boot camp parts, so that had to be a theme.

Tropic Thunder foremost makes fun of the US Vietnam war movies (I guess there aren’t many others anyway), of the macho type gung-ho flicks à la Rambo as well as of the great movies like Platoon. These movies, as good as some of them are, live to a certain extent of stereotypes and stereotypes are great material for parodies.

The most important part in the movie however is the acting. The actors are absolutely outstanding. Ben Stiller playing a retard, Jack Black a dumb-ass comedy star, Nick Nolte as Vietnam vet gone writer, Robert Downey Jr as black Sgt and Tom Cruise as Jewish businessman who wants to make money, money, money.

There is nothing sacred in  this movie. Not the death scene from Platoon, nor the Vietnam vets who write books, nor the poor little Vietcong, black soldiers, handicapped people, you name it…

But despite all the piss taking and fun it has a story to offer.

In the middle of the Vietnamese forest a film crew tries to shoot the memoirs of a Vietnam vet. The shooting and acting isn’t going well and finally the vet suggests that the actors should be left on their own in the middle of the forest where they would have to fight for their survival. Unfortunately they land on the territory of a Vietnamese drug gang and things turn very nasty.

Tropic Thunder is a parody of the Vietnam war movie subgenre but also of film business in general.  Every element that is part of a Vietnam war movie, including the drugs, the swearing and the 60s music are made fun of.

Many people loved it for its special effects and an equal amount of people hated it for the special effects.

All in all its an exaggeration, a caricature, a parody and in outrageously bad taste but really funny.

If you don’t want to watch the whole movie, watch at least Tom Cruise dancing.

The Brylcreem Boys (1998): A WWII Comedy, Drama and Romance in Ireland

The least I can say about this movie is that it is total fun. I did certainly never expect to laugh during a POW movie but that actually happened repeatedly. Admittedly it is not the most refined humor, it’s rather of the burlesque, slapstick kind. But it is never overdone. The movie is just sprinkled with it here and there. The overall tone is often quite serious. Still it is one of the very rare movies you could probably watch with  children (although planes and people get shot down at the beginning and there is some fist fighting as well).

Ireland having lost many of its young men during the Civil War had decided to stay strictly neutral during WWII. This was not much appreciated by the allies. Unlike Switzerland Ireland insisted that every soldier encountered on Irish soil was to be taken prisoner. What was not universally known however was the fact that they put all the prisoners, French, British, American, Canadian and German into the same camp.

The Brylcreem Boys is not based on a true story but on true facts that have been carefully assembled and put together to tell a convincing story. Two fighter pilots, the Canadian Miles Keogh  (Bill Campbell) and the German Rudolph von Stegenbeck (Angus Macfadyen),  shoot each other down over Ireland and are both taken prisoners and brought to the same camp. While on leave they  fall in love with the same girl, the strong-willed Mattie (Jean Butler),  which adds a bit of romance to the whole story. Their rivalry and mutual dislike is very intense in the beginning but over the course of the movie and during many incidents they realize that they are not that different despite being on different sides.

Much of the funny elements of the movie stem from contrasting the Germans and their rigid discipline and total lack of sense of humour with the  more easy-going other prisoners. (Unfortunately there aren’t any German actors in the movie and some of the accents that the cast adopted are a bit laughable.)

Even though they are far away from the war itself, one of the prisoners sort of brings it back with him when he returns from London from his futile attempt at escaping the camp.  His account from his stay in the British capital makes the tragedy of the constant bombing during the Blitz  utterly palpable.

I am a big fan of the Irish actor Gabriel Byrne whose character is the commanding officer of the camp. He also co-produced this movie. Seeing how much fun he exudes playing this role one can easily assume that this was a movie that was very close to his heart.

I am very glad the directors felt compelled to tell this story of this quite exotic camp. It provides an interesting insight into Irish history for which I am glad.

Since this is really a feel good movie but far from being stupid entertainment you might really  enjoy watching it.