Seven Samurai

(I posted this at The American Catholic and I thought the film mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)




This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourselves.

Kambei, leader of the Seven Samurai



Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts takes a look at Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, The Seven Samurai.


I finally did it.  My entire life, I’ve heard of the almost mythical movie The Seven Samurai.  Considered one of the greatest foreign language films by American critics and universally praised by critics around the world, I just never got around to watching it.  When I did look for it, it was difficult to find.  And when you could find it, it was always expensive.

Finally, this last Christmas, The Seven Samurai ended up under the tree.  Because of its length of 3 1/2 hours, we couldn’t find time to see it.  Since the two oldest have moved on with college, they’re not around to watch things like they used to, but they wanted to watch it with us for the first time.  So it wasn’t until Tuesday night that we could get everyone together for the first viewing.

It was worth the wait.  Long and short, it lived up to the hype and then some.  Everyone knows of its influence.  We all know The Magnificent Seven was just an American version of the film.  We know that from Guns of Navarone to A Bug’s Life, the movie has been considered one of the most influential and copied movies of all time.

Despite this high expectation, and I can’t put my finger on why, it lived up to all I had heard and more.  I think, when the dust settles, it was the interaction between the players.  Oddly, in the end (without giving away too much), the seven Samurai do little of the fighting, instead funneling the fight over to the village farmers and letting them do most of the heavy lifting.  The movie is mostly about the relationships between the villagers and the Samurai, and the Samurai (technically mostly Ronin) and each other. 

But here’s what dawned on me.  In America, there is this notion that only in America, and all because of that infamous ‘Code’ of the 1930s, our films were repressed and unable to express themselves openly.  We have this notion that the sex and drugs culture, with explicit and open and unrestrained sexuality and hedonism, accompanied by increasingly gory and bloody violence shown graphically in film and on television, were all just the logical result of the ‘Code’ finally crumbling and true artistic expression emerging.

Furthermore, we are now just getting back to how it always was, when sex and sex and graphic sex and gore and graphic violence were just the way it should have been or always was or both.  Without saying it directly, we have this notion that we’re finally getting things back to the rest of the world, where gay sex, group sex, graphic violence, drugs and all the explicit ‘invite the camera in the bedroom’ movies were common around the world.

Except, it wasn’t.  The Seven Samurai, a movie where hired guns come in to save a village from rampaging bandits, is violent.  There are dozens of deaths.  And yet, you never really see much.  No blood.  No gore.  No guts hanging out.  You see a few fights at the end.  You see some duels.  But no explicit violence.  You see a case where a village girl and a young Samurai get together in a barn, much to the father’s dismay.  Later, the head Samurai chuckles that they’ll expect more from the youngster now that he has ‘become a man.’  We all know what that means, just as I’m sure audiences did back then.  But they didn’t show it.  And all that restraint without the evil Hollywood Code, driven by the nefarious Catholic Church.

And that got me to thinking, as I am wont to do.  The fact is, there was no real ‘Hollywood Code’, at least any different than anywhere else in the world.  Oh, there was a code.  And it had its demands and its expectations from films, just like today.  If you think on it, there isn’t a lack of movies coming out of Hollywood that question homosexual normality, or challenge abortion rights, or reflect on the failures of the Civil Rights movement over the last quarter of a century, because there is nobody out there imagining these things.  They simply aren’t allowed.  If they were made, they would be boycotted, banned, attacked and even sued.  Codes have always been around.  I’m sure they always will be.

And not just in America.  Being a fan of old, silent movies, I’ve seen my share from around the world before there was this mythical Hollywood Code. Heck, a few predate Hollywood.  Sometimes you get a little more than you would in 1930s or 1940s Hollywood fare.  Sometimes you might catch a bit of skin in some old, silent Italian film, or see some more direct examples of innocents dying in an old Soviet propaganda film.  If there was any nudity at all, it came off as more artsy than anything sexual, and that’s stretching it since I don’t recall anything, but I’m willing to allow for the possibility.  Yes, you could get a little more nitty-gritty at times, like the original King Kong, but like 1954’s The Seven Samurai, there just isn’t a case of flagrant, porn like sex and graphic blood and gore violence that I have found.  There just isn’t.  Anywhere.  Around the world.

This is something that has arisen only over the last fifty years or so of film making and other visual entertainment.  Sure, the ‘themes’ were there.  Samurai was about the real, down in the trenches lives of these legendary warriors as much as it was anything.  It was taking the chivalrous knight down a notch, by showing warts and all.  But it didn’t show it with the camera.  It showed it with the dialogue and the mind of the viewers.

Somewhere, however, filmmakers in America, Europe and around the world began showing us, rather than pointing our minds to think it through.  By the fifties, violence was starting to creep into the explicit levels.  By the sixties, sex was getting more open as violence became more graphic.  No longer did a mixture of camera angles and convenient barricades mixed with clever dialogue point the audience to what happened.  Nope.  By the late sixties, the cameras were going into the bedroom or showing the gunshots and saying ‘here you go, this is what happened.’ 

It was about then that the same began happening around the world, to a greater or lesser extent. By the late seventies, everything was on the table.  Explicit sex (not counting the porn film industry that had been developing apace for a couple decades by then) and graphic violence were the name of the game.

And it was right around that time, if memory serves, that the mass killings began, at least as we  know them today.  And not just here in the old US of A.  Of course movies and entertainment around the world have become pretty graphic – including in Japan.  And it seems that mass killings are quite the global phenomenon.  Oh, not the shootings like we have.  But mass knifings, mass bombings, basically attempts to kill as many innocent people you might or might not know as possible.

Could it be connected?  Based on the film record, there simply was no culture at the dawn of the film industry that threw all manner of graphic sex, violence, gore and smut out there for public consumption.  Even outside of the Hollywood ‘Code’, there seemed to be pretty strict codes around the world.  But all of that changed by the mid to late 20th century.

Could there be a connection with this relatively new phenomenon of people seeking to slaughter as many innocents as possible for no other reason than to slaughter them, and the rather graphic level that entertainment has risen to?  We already elevate celebrity and entertainment to the place that religion and national identity enjoyed in ages past.  Could there be a connection?

It turns out that this whole ‘Code’ thing wasn’t reserved for America, just like this phenomenon of mass killing of innocents isn’t confined to America. Because the breakdown of barriers in cultural output, and the rise of mass killings through terrorism and personal crime seem linked in the timeline, could there be a connection worth examining?

Just curious and sort of thinking out loud after watching one fine romp of a film. 


Go here to comment.  In his capacity for endless violence Man reveals himself as lower than the beasts.  In his capacity for self-sacrificial violence in defense of others Man stands above the angels.  Once upon a time, film makers understood that central truth of the human condition.


Published in: on March 12, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Darkest Hour: A Review

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940



My bride and I and our son saw Darkest Hour on December 23, 2017.  It is a very good film, perhaps a great one.  My review is below the fold.  The usual caveat as to spoilers is in full effect. (more…)

Published in: on January 12, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Darkest Hour: A Review  
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Dunkirk Is Ready For Its Close-up Mr. DeMille

I didn’t think much of the film Dunkirk (2017).  Go here to read my review.  I like it better as a re-imagined silent film.



Published in: on January 3, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Brother Orchid


Brother Superior: When the heart speaks, Brother Orchid, other hearts must listen.

Brother Orchid (1940)

Interested in seeing a screwball comedy-film noir gangster-western-religious flick?  I am always on the lookout for oddball films for Advent and they don’t come odder, or more heart warming, than Brother Orchid (1940).  Starring Edward G. Robinson with a fantastic supporting cast including Humphrey Bogart, Ann Southern, Ralph Bellamy and Donald Crisp, it is a trip back to the Golden Age of Hollywood when literate, thoughtful films were considered mass entertainment.  It also is a fine exponent of a facet of the human condition that is not much commented upon today:  the seductive power of goodness.  A review of the film is below with the usual caveat as to spoilers. (more…)

Published in: on December 22, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Brother Orchid  
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Dunkirk: A Review


My son and I saw Dunkirk (2017) yesterday.  I was looking forward to seeing it, but I am afraid I found it disappointing overall.   My review is below the fold, and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in full effect. (more…)

Published in: on July 30, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Dunkirk: A Review  
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Eliot Ness and The Untouchables


I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!

Eliot Ness, The Untouchables (1987)


Hard to believe it is 30 years since The Untouchables (1987) movie was released.  My bride and I saw it in Joliet that year and we both loved it.  A year or two later and I was sitting next to one of the last of the surviving members of Al Capone’s gang.  A truckdriver for Capone, he had invested in Central Illinois farmland and by the time I knew him he was a grey headed and kindly great grandfather.  I never worked up the courage to ask him if Capone had asked him to bury some gangland slaying victims in the ground he purchased, as local rumor indicated.


The film was magnificent with the screenplay by David Mamet and the haunting, and period appropriate, musical score by Henry Mancini.  De Niro gave the performance of his career as Capone and Sean Connery, who won a best supporting Oscar for his performance, was completely believable as honest cop Jimmy Malone, joining Ness in his crusade against the corruption that sickened Malone.  Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness was superb as an innocent who learns the terrible cost that is sometimes demanded when evil is confronted. (more…)

Published in: on June 19, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Eliot Ness and The Untouchables  
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American History: Memorial Day Weekend Movies

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”

              Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

A few films to help remember that there is much greater significance to Memorial Day than sun and fun:



1.  American Sniper (2015)- A grand tribute to the late Chris Kyle and to all the other troops who served in Iraq.

“I am a strong Christian. Not a perfect one—not close. But I strongly believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible. When I die, God is going to hold me accountable for everything I’ve done on earth. He may hold me back until last and run everybody else through the line, because it will take so long to go over all my sins. “Mr. Kyle, let’s go into the backroom. . . .” Honestly, I don’t know what will really happen on Judgment Day. But what I lean toward is that you know all of your sins, and God knows them all, and shame comes over you at the reality that He knows. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.”
Chis Kyle

2.   Hamburger Hill (1987)- A moving film about our troops in Vietnam who served their nation far better than their too often ungrateful nation served them.

3.  Porkchop Hill (1959)-Korea has become to too many Americans The Forgotten War, lost between World War II and Vietnam.  There is nothing forgotten about it by the Americans who served over there,  including my Uncle Ralph McClarey who died a few years ago, and gained a hard won victory for the US in one of the major hot conflicts of the Cold War.  This film tells the story of the small American force on Porkchop Hill, who held it in the face of repeated assaults by superior forces of the Chinese and North Koreans.  As the above clip indicates it also highlights the surreal element that accompanies every war and the grim humor that aspect often brings.


4.   Hacksaw Ridge (2016):  Mel Gibson fully redeemed his career as a director with this masterpiece.  A film that goes far beyond mere entertainment and illustrates what a man of faith can accomplish when he stays true to his beliefs and cares so much more about helping others than he does about his own mortal life.  Incredibly, the movie does justice to Desmond Doss, a true American hero.

 5.   Sergeant York (1941)-A film biopic of Sergeant Alvin C. York, who, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive  on October 8,  1918, took 32 German machine guns, killed 28 German soldiers and captured another 132.  Viewers who came to see the movie in 1941 must have been initially puzzled.  With a title like Sergeant York, movie goers could have been forgiven for thinking that Sergeant York’s experiences in World War I would be the focus, but such was not the case.  Most of the film is focused on York’s life in Tennessee from 1916-1917 before American entry into the war.  Like most masterpieces, the film has a strong religious theme as we witness York’s conversion to Christ.  The film is full of big questions:  How are we to live?  Why are we here?  What role should religion play in our lives?  How does someone gain faith?  What should we do if we perceive our duty to God and to Country to be in conflict?  It poses possible answers to these questions with a skillful mixture of humor and drama.  The entertainment value of Sergeant York conceals the fact that it is a very deep film intellectually as it addresses issues as old as Man.

The film was clearly a message film and made no bones about it.  The paper of the film industry Variety noted at the time:  “In Sergeant York the screen has spoken for national defense. Not in propaganda, but in theater.”

The film was a huge success upon release in 1941, the top grossing film of the year.  Gary Cooper justly earned the Oscar for his stellar performance as Alvin C. York.  It was Cooper’s favorite of his pictures.  “Sergeant York and I had quite a few things in common, even before I played him in screen. We both were raised in the mountains – Tennessee for him, Montana for me – and learned to ride and shoot as a natural part of growing up. Sergeant York won me an Academy Award, but that’s not why it’s my favorite film. I liked the role because of the background of the picture, and because I was portraying a good, sound American character.”

The film portrays a devout Christian who had to reconcile the command to “Love thy Neighbor” with fighting for his country in a war.  This is not an easy question and the film does not give easy answers, although I do find the clip above compelling. (more…)

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Judge Dan Haywood

Ernst Janning: Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, You must believe it!

Judge Dan Haywood: Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

Judgment at Nuremberg, (1961)

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), loosely based on the trial of German jurists after World War II, is a powerful film.  Burt Lancaster, an actor of the first calibre, gives the performance of his career as Ernst Janning.  The early portion of the movie makes clear that Ernst Janning is in many ways a good man.  Before the Nazis came to power Janning was a world respected German jurist.  After the Nazis came to power evidence is brought forward by his defense counsel that Janning attempted to help people persecuted by the Nazis, and that he even personally insulted Hitler on one occasion.  Janning obviously despises the Nazis and the other judges who are on trial with him.  At his trial he refuses to say a word in his defense.  He only testifies after being appalled by the tactics of his defense counsel.  His magnificent and unsparing testimony convicts him and all the other Germans who were good men and women, who knew better, and who failed to speak out or to act against the Nazis.  Janning’s testimony tells us that sins of omission can be as damning as sins of commission.  When he reveals that he sentenced a man to death he knew to be innocent because of pressure from the Nazi government, we can only agree with his bleak assessment that he reduced his life to excrement.  Yet we have to respect Janning.  It is a rare man who can so publicly take responsibility for his own evil acts.

Yet even this  respect is taken away from Janning in the final scene of the film where he attempts to justify himself to Judge Haywood, superbly portrayed by Spencer Tracy, by saying that he never believed that it would all come to the millions of  dead in the concentration camps.  Judge Haywood delivers his verdict on this attempt by Janning to save some shred of self-respect:  “Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.” (more…)

Published in: on May 23, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Judge Dan Haywood  
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They Don’t Like the Bill of Rights

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic.  Although more political than I normally get on Almost Chosen People, I thought the film mavins of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

Last night I watched The FBI Story (1959) starring Jimmy Stewart as FBI agent Chip Hardesty.  Through the story of his career the history of the FBI was told.  A somewhat sanitized version to be sure but accurate as far as it went.  Go here to read some background on the film.  From an entertainment standpoint it is a great film, full of humor and drama, Jimmy Stewart and Vera Miles doing a good job of making you care about Chip Hardesty and his wife.  In one moving scene Hardesty and his wife learn that their only son was killed in the first assault wave on Iwo Jima.  As the black tide of grief washes over them as it does almost all parents who lose a child, Stewart seemed to be actually experiencing that sorrow.  A decorated Colonel in the Eighth Air Force who flew bomber missions during the War, I expect that Stewart while filming that scene was recalling the many young men he had known who had died in the units he commanded, and the letters he wrote to their parents and wives.  A good film, but that is not why I am writing this post.

In a clash with the Ku Klux Klan Hardesty describes it as follows:

The next day, Sam and I were sent down South with five other agents.  We were given simple instructions:  To check on a group of terrorists known as the Ku Klux Klan.  They had one minor complaint:  They didn’t like the Bill of Rights.  They said so in speeches.  They said so  in a lot of different ways.  They ransacked homes……and defiled ancient devotions.  It was a secret organization……that was so powerful it didn’t have to be secret.

This struck home to me because in this country we see the growing influence on the left of groups that also do not like the Bill of Rights.  To their credit some leftists are beginning to speak out against these groups, including Senators Warren and Sanders, Professor Cornell West and talk show host Bill Maher.  It is a frightening movement that bodes ill for civic peace.  Here is a current example of what these groups are accomplishing:

For years, the 82nd Avenue of the Roses parade has kicked off Portland’s annual Rose Festival and marked beginning of the Oregon city’s parade season.

But after a threatening email was sent to parade organizers – singling out members of the Multnomah County Republican Party (MCRP) who were planning to take part – officials have decided to cancel the family-friendly procession in an effort to avoid any clashes between protesters and marchers.

“This would have been the 11th year of the parade. This is culturally enriched community that has grown very diverse over the years,” Rick Jarvis, a spokesman for the Rose Festival Foundation, told Fox News. “The association has worked very hard to get everyone together in one common are and the parade helped served in that function.”

Local media reported that the email was sent from “,” and said that if members of the MCRP marched on Saturday they planned to have “two hundred or more people rush into the parade into the middle and drag and push them out.”

“You have seen how much power we have downtown and that the police cannot stop us from shutting down roads so please consider your decision wisely,” the anonymous email said, in reference to the violent riots that broke out in Portland after the 2016 presidential election, reported the Oregonian. “This is non-negotiable.” (more…)

Published in: on May 3, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on They Don’t Like the Bill of Rights  
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The Case for Christ: A Review


My bride and I went to see The Case for Christ last Saturday.  I must admit to some trepidation on my part.  I have seen quite a few “Christian” films that had their hearts in the right place but were also simply bad, even laughably bad, films.  I was fearful this film would be more of the same.  I am pleased to report that The Case for Christ is a very good film, and a profound one.  I heartily endorse it for anyone who wishes to see a well-acted and well-made film that asks profound questions about the human condition.  My review is below the fold and the usual caveat about spoilers is in full force: (more…)

Published in: on April 24, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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