They Were Expendable (1945)

I read that John Ford’s They Were Expendable was liked by the critics but not by the public when it was released. The public thought it was too patriotic and since people were tired of the war, they didn’t care for the movie all that much.

While I often share the critics’ view, I must say, not in this case. It isn’t a bad movie, it has quite a few scenes that are good but it didn’t work for me as a whole.

At the center of the story are Commander Lt Brickley (Robert Motgomery) and his friend and second in command Lt Ryan Rusty (John Wayne). Brickley is the squadron leader of a crew of PT Boats who are to defend the Philippines just after the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor.

Although Brickley is the commanding officer, Rusty is still the main character, he is also the one with a love interest (Donna Reed). For once I didn’t mind John Wayne, I would even say this is one of his better movies. Maybe because he isn’t the commanding officer.

There is a lot of emphasis on duty and honor and “getting the job done” no matter whether you will come back or not. All that is rather on the annoying side of things but what I truly liked is the battle with the speed boats. These are such neat little boats. Although it is said by an Admiral at the beginning of the movie that these boats were not likely to achieve much, their speed and agility makes them a dangerous opponent for the Japanese fleet and they manage to sink a few very big boats.  Their losses are high anyway as they are not only attacked by the Japanese boats but by their planes as well.

They Were Expendable was very important for John Ford who was one of those directors (like Capra, Huston and Wyler) who had served during WWII where he also filmed the documentary on the Battle of Midway (1942). He was chief of the Field Photographic Branch of the US Navy and also present during the Normandy invasion in 44 where he met the man who served as model for Lt. Brickley.

Funny enough what works best in this movie, apart from the speed boats, is the love story as it underlines how much the people fighting in the Pacific are in danger. The scenes with Donna Reed are quite languorous, I particularly liked the many shots with light falling through blinds. That always creates a nice atmosphere.

Something else that I appreciated is the fact that the Japanese are not demonized. They are only present through their planes and boats, we don’t see them.

While this is certainly not one of my favourites, I think it is worth watching for those who are interested in the development of the war movie genre. Despite its flaws, John Ford manages to tell the story in a very unique way with a lot of emphasis on all the individual people involved. Last but not least, I think it is a must-see for John Wayne fans as he is more interesting when he gets to play second in command.

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Why I Did Not Like The Alamo (1960)

I was convinced that I had read somewhere that The Alamo, produced and directed by and starring John Wayne,  was a great movie. Well… It isn’t. It is bordering the ridiculous. There is dialogue in this movie that would fill me with shame if I had written it, I’d probably even be tempted to shoot myself. No, seriously… Horrible. Corny and just plain insufferable. It’s always great when you laugh during 50% of a movie that isn’t meant to be funny (I mean, just look at the picture).

The story? Texas fighting for its independence from Mexico… A minority against a majority. A hopeless battle. You won’t shed one tear but be annoyed those gits  didn’t die any earlier.

It doesn’t even deserve a proper review. Or maybe I’m just lazy. No, honestly, this was BAD.

Remember the Alamo! I will….

Movies on American Indian Wars: A List Part II

A few days ago I posted a list on movies on the American Indian Wars knowing very well that I was on slippery terrain since I am not an expert. The War Movie Buff has been kind enough to add and comment on the list and I would say it needed serious amending. Seemingly very good movies had been left out. I am glad that, thanks to his input, I can present you with a very good new list. Not in alphabetical order this time but in rated order. Thanks, Kevin.

Not yet rated (probaly good)
Custer’s Last Stand (1936, USA) by Elmer Clifton, starring Rex Lease, Lona Andre, William Farnum
Geronimo (1939, USA) by Paul Sloane,  starring Preston Foster, Gene Lockhart
Custer of the West (1967, USA) by Robert Siodmak, starring Robert Shaw, Mary Ure, Ty Hardin
Soldier Blue (1970, USA) by Ralph Nelson, starring Candice Bergen, Peter Strauss, Donald Pleasence, Dana Elcar
Good Movies
Geronimo: An American Legend (1993, USA) by Walter Hill, starring Jason Patric, Wes Studi, Gene Hackman, Matt Damon
Crazy Horse (1996, USA, TV) , by John Irvin, starring mit Michael Greyeyes, Ned Beatty, August Schellenberg
Buffalo Soldiers (1997, USA, TV) by Charles Haid, staring Lamont Bentley, Tom Bower, Danny Glover
Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee (2007, USA, TV), by Yves Simoneau, starring Anna Paquin, Aidan Quinn, August Schellenberg, Adam Beach
Very Good Movies
Fort Apache (1948, USA) by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple
Rio Grande (1950, USA), by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ben Johnson, Victor McLaglen
Major Dundee (1965, USA) by Sam Peckinpah, starring Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, James Coburn, Senta Berger
Duel at Diablo (1966, USA) by Ralph Nelson, starring James Garner, Sidney Poitier, Bibi Andersson, Dennis Weaver
Cheyenne Autumn (1964, USA) by John Ford, starring Richard Widmark, Carol Baker, Karl Malden, Sal Mineo
I Will Fight No More Forever (1975, USA TV), by Richard T. Heffron, starring James Whitmore, Sam Elliott, Ned Romero
Great Movies
Little Big Man (1970, USA) by Arthur Penn, starring Dustin Hoffman, Martin Balsam, Faye Dunaway
Dances with Wolves (1990, USA) , by Kevin Costner, starring Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene
Son of the Morning Star (1991, USA, TV ) starring Gary Cole, Rosanna Arquette
Top 100 according to Military History Magazine
They Died with Their Boots On (1941, USA) by Raoul Walsh, starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Arthur Kennedy, Anthony Quinn, Gene Lockhart
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949, USA) by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Joanne Dru, John Agar
The Searchers (1956, USA) by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Jeffery Hunter, Vera Miles, Natalie Wood
Ulzana’s Raid (1972, USA), by Robert Aldrich, staring Burt Lancaster, Bruce Davison, Joaquin Martine

Maybe this is still not a definite list but we are getting closer.

The first part of Son of the Morning Star is the only thing I found in lieu of a trailer. Enjoy.

Movies on American Indian Wars: A List

I recently came across a German website that went through every possible conflict, since the days of the Roman Empire and listed some of the movies depicting these wars. I can tell you, that was a huge list. There were conflicts I had never heard of and loads of movies I had never heard of either. One chapter struck me as being of interest, namely the American Indian wars. I studied cultural anthropology with one of my  specializations being American Indians. Logically I am interested in those movies. I have seen some but not many. I remember Geronimo very well and found it very good. I also remember Dances with Wolves but I think it is by far too long. Rio Grande and Little Big Man are classics, of course. Hidalgo is the one I would like to watch and Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee is one I will watch very soon. You will find a list below. Feel free to comment and add others. I did amend and add as well. Many of those movies are probably labelled western normally.

1. Custer’s Last Stand (1936, USA) by Elmer Clifton, starring Rex Lease, Lona Andre, William Farnum
2. Geronimo (1939, USA) by Paul Sloane,  starring Preston Foster, Gene Lockhart
3. They Died with Their Boots On (1941, USA) by Raoul Walsh, starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Arthur Kennedy, Anthony Quinn, Gene Lockhart
4. Fort Apache (1948, USA) by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple
5. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949, USA) by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Joanne Dru, John Agar
6. Rio Grande (1950, USA), by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ben Johnson, Victor McLaglen
7. Major Dundee (1965, USA) by Sam Peckinpah, starring Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, James Coburn, Senta Berger
8. Custer of the West (1967, USA) by Robert Siodmak, starring Robert Shaw, Mary Ure, Ty Hardin
9. Little Big Man (1970, USA) by Arthur Penn, starring Dustin Hoffman, Martin Balsam, Faye Dunaway
10. Soldier Blue (1970, USA) by Ralph Nelson, starring Candice Bergen, Peter Strauss, Donald Pleasence, Dana Elcar
11. Ulzana’s Raid (1972, USA), by Robert Aldrich, staring Burt Lancaster, Bruce Davison, Joaquin Martine
12. Dances with Wolves (1990, USA) , by Kevin Costner, starring Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene
13. Son of the Morning Star (1991, USA, TV ) starring Gary Cole, Rosanna Arquette
14. Geronimo: An American Legend (1993, USA) by Walter Hill, starring Jason Patric, Wes Studi, Gene Hackman, Matt Damon
15. Crazy Horse (1996, USA, TV) , by John Irvin, starring mit Michael Greyeyes, Ned Beatty, August Schellenberg
16. Buffalo Soldiers (1997, USA, TV) by Charles Haid, staring Lamont Bentley, Tom Bower, Danny Glover
17. Hidalgo (2004, USA) by Joe Johnston  starring Viggo Mortensen, Zuleikha Robinson, Omar Sharif
18. Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee (2007, USA, TV), by Yves Simoneau, starring Anna Paquin, Aidan Quinn, August Schellenberg, Adam Beach

Is there any movie anyone can recommend? How are they to be rated?

Added on November 27: see amended list

In Harm’s Way (1965) or John Wayne, Pearl Harbor and Some Decent Naval Combat in the Pacific

I don’t know how many war movies John Wayne did. The only thing I know, he did a lot. I’ve seen The Longest Day but apart from that Otto Preminger‘s black and white movie  In Harm’s Way was my first. I actually quite liked it. It’s a decent movie with some interesting female leads and a love story between John Wayne and Patricia Neal’s character that resembles a real relationship and not some ridiculously soppy romance.

I already mentioned it in my post on Pearl Harbor as it starts on the night before the attack of Pearl Harbor. At the center of the movie is Admiral Torrey who is first demoted and then promoted again. The movie analyses what is going on outside of the actual battles; the planning, the men’s love and private lives. Torrey meets his son who is in the Navy for the first time after several years. Their relationship is very conflict-laden but evolves during the movie. Torry gets to know the nurse Lt. Maggie Haynes (Patricia Neal) who is probably one of the greatest nurses in any war movie. Kirk Douglas plays a real asshole, Commander Eddington. We see a few decent battle scenes but nothing too exciting.

Too cut  a long story short, In Harm’s Way is a movie for John Wayne fans, for people who want to watch something older about the war in the Pacific, for those who like a well-told story that focuses on relationships and for those who can overlook a few gender related oddities (Two things struck me. One was the “tea scene” and the other the way people react to Eddington’s crime). As a war movie I would rate it 3.5-4/5.

Don’t miss the trailer. I have never seen a trailer like this. I first thought it was a parody and then I realised it was just unreflected promotion. It has real historical value. Just watch it and thank God that trailers have evolved through the years.

Movies on Pearl Harbor: Pearl Harbor, Tora!Tora!Tora!, In Harm´s Way, From Here to Eternity

Any nation´s traumatic experiences have led to numerous attempts to capture the event in a movie. Pearl Harbor is no exception. There are a great many Pearl Harbor movies. Some are very well-known, others hardly at all. Some are very good, others rather not.

I would like to present four of those I have seen. Three of them are also romances, one is a pure war movie. Each and every one of them might very well get an extensive review in the future, but here, as teasers, four short glimpses at four special movies.

The one that generally everybody will immediately think of is the Jerry Bruckheimer production Pearl Harbor (2001) . The main theme is the love story of two men (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) with the same woman (Kate Beckinsale), a nurse. They are both fighter pilots and at the time when Pearl Harbor is attacked, they are stationed there. The movie starts slightly before the attack and ends shortly afterwards. It doesn’t try to show the other side. The Japanese are just plain bad. Period. As corny as this movie may be (although I think it works as a romance), it still shows an impressive re-enactment of the attack. For that and for a few exciting aviation scenes it is worth watching.

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) is really different. This US/Japanese co production is an incredible attempt at showing both sides. And it does manage to do so. The Japanese are shown in all their tragic complexity and their fear, as Admiral Yamamoto states, that all they have done is to “awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve”,  is quite moving. This is the best movie if you really want to get a feel for what was happening and why the involved parties acted and reacted like they did. It is filmed as well in  English as in Japanese which heightens the authenticity. A must-see. An eye-opener. A truly good movie.

Of course there had to be a Pearl Harbor movie with John Wayne in it. Otto Preminger´s In Harm´s Way (1963) starts just shortly before the attack, shows it from the perspective of a naval ship and later follows the main characters into battle in the Pacific. It is one of those black and white all-star casts that really works (Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Patricia Neal, Dana Andrews). The acting is superb. Pictures are nice, the background story, also a love story, is convincing, and the score is very good. An enjoyable watch. Not very heavy on history but still a good movie and a fine example of a film dedicated to this disastrous event.

Don´t we all know this picture? It is one of the most famous movie stills ever. From Here to Eternity (1953) is a movie I totally love. It is my favourite of the four, even though I must admit Tora! Tora! Tora! is way more informative. The story that is based on the novel of James Jones is  intense and dramatic.  The acting is fabulous. Go and try to find this nowadays.  From Here to Eternity is also an all-star cast, with Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed. This movie is one of the very great classics, right up there with Casablanca. Yes, that’s what I think. A movie to watch and re-watch. It has won multiple Oscars. You can see Monty in one of his best roles ever. Pearl Harbor is not the movie´s main theme but it does end with the attack on Pearl Harbor. It tells the stories and love stories  of different army soldiers on the eve of the attack  and somehow seems to juxtapose the tales of the people, their sorrows and woes with this national catastrophe.

One thing is for sure, pick any of them and you will not regret it. Even Pearl Harbor is at least good  old escapist entertainment.