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…)

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They Shall Not Grow Old: A Review

 

 

 

Well, my bride and I watched They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) last Sunday, and technically it was as magnificent as I had heard.  The expertise applied to make World War I era films look like contemporary colored films was awe-inspiring.  The skillful use of sound with these films allowed us to think that we were seeing a modern broadcast from 1914-1918, if the current broadcast technology had existed back then.  It reminds us powerfully that the men who fought were not merely figures from old, grainy black and white films, but flesh and blood like us going through a great and terrible experience.  The voice over in the film is from World War I veterans, presumably from broadcasts decades ago, or recreated readings from memoirs and/or written interviews.

One thing I very much liked is that the film totally reflected the views of the British soldiers who fought.  No Twenty-First century sensibilities were imposed on these soldiers from a century ago who fought for King and Country at the dawn of the Twentieth century.  The film skillfully takes us through the experience of the soldiers:  recruitment, training, meals, life in the trenches, medical care, etc.  The time allotted to the actual fighting does not dominate the film, as it did not dominate the wartime lives, at least those who survived, of the men who fought.  Battle was obviously the most important element in the lives of the soldiers who were at the front, but few soldiers spent more than a few months in combat, at most, even for the small minority who served throughout the entire War.  At the end of the film, the soldiers are looking for work, some of them missing serving in the Army, for many of the young soldiers the first real job they had held.

At the beginning of the film, some of the Tommies talk about what a life altering experience the War had been for them, and how they would not have missed it for the world, and that is the general sentiment portrayed by most of soldiers at the end of the film.

 

 

To say all this is out of step with popular perceptions today of World War I, a useless war where the soldiers were only pawns, or, at best victims, is to engage in considerable understatement.  My hat is off to Peter Jackson to allow the men five generations removed from our time to have their say.

My only mild criticism of the film is that a viewer will gain no knowledge of the actual campaigns fought by the British Army on the Western Front.  However, this is clearly a result of the film’s firm focus on the perceptions at the time of the front line soldiers.  The fabled Big Picture was for Generals and civilians safely reading newspapers back in Britain.  For the soldiers, the battles all blurred together into small scale fights of attack and defense, where life and death were all that mattered, and for these combatants the Big Picture simply didn’t exist.

 

A truly great film.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

 

Published in: on May 21, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on They Shall Not Grow Old: A Review  
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Herman Wouk: Requiescat in Pace

Herman Wouk has died at age 103.  A Navy veteran of the War in the Pacific, he became a celebrated novelist after the War.  To me his best novel will always be the Caine Mutiny, in which he drew upon his experiences to paint an unforgettable picture of life in the Navy during the War.  Here is my review of the movie based upon the novel:

For my sins, perhaps, I have spent my career as an attorney.  Over the past 27 years I’ve done a fair number of trials, both bench and jury, and I am always on the lookout for good depictions of trials in films, and one of the best is The Caine Mutiny.  Based on the novel of the same name by Herman Wouk,  who served in the Navy as an officer in the Pacific during World War II, the movie addresses the question of what should, and should not, be done in a military organization when the man at the top of the chain of command is no longer in his right mind.

 

The cast is top notch.  Humphrey Bogart, an enlisted man in the Navy during WWI and a member of the Naval Reserve, he tried to enlist again in the Navy after Pearl Harbor but was turned down because of his age, gives the performance of his career as Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the Caine.  In the hands of a lesser actor Queeg could easily have become merely a two-dimensional madman.  Bogart instead infuses Queeg with pathos and demonstrates to the audience that this is a good man who sadly is no longer responsible mentally for his actions.

 

 

 

Van Johnson delivers his usual workmanlike job as Lieutenant Stephen Maryk, the “exec” of the Caine, a wants-to-be career officer who does his best to remain loyal to an obviously disturbed CO, while also attempting to protect the crew of the Caine from Queeg’s increasingly erratic behavior.  Robert Francis, as Ensign Willis Seward Keith, is the viewpoint character:  too young and inexperienced to make his own judgment, he relies on Maryk and Lieutenant Keefer.  Fred MacMurray is slime incarnate as Lieutenant Thomas Keefer, a reservist who hates the Navy, spends all his time writing a novel, and eggs Maryk on to take command away from Queeg.  Finally, in a typhoon, reluctantly and only, as he perceives it, to save the ship, Maryk, with the support of Keith, relieves Queeg from command.

 

In the ensuing court-martial of Maryk and Keith, lawyer Lieutenant Barney Greenwald,  portrayed with panache by Jose Ferrer, reluctantly agrees to defend them.

What I admire most about the film is the realistic way that the defense is depicted.  A legal case consists of the facts, the law and people. (more…)

Published in: on May 17, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Herman Wouk: Requiescat in Pace  
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Avengers: Endgame

 

My family and I went to see Avengers: Endgame and I enjoyed it immensely.  I will not do a formal review of it, since I think it would be impossible for me to do so without sounding like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.

 

Suffice it to say if you have ever had any interest in Marvel Comic book characters, or simply enjoy a good rousing film of adventure, you should enjoy it.  As he did in the Guardians of the Galaxy flick, Rocket Raccoon stole every scene he was in.

 

Quite a bit of humor in the film, especially in the depiction of Thor:

 

Deathless film for the ages?  Of course not.  A film that manages to be three hours in length without ever getting boring, yes!  Just put your mind on neutral as to time travel paradoxes before going to see it.

 

A fun film, not to be taken seriously.

Published in: on May 10, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Avengers: Endgame  
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January 20, 1929: In Old Arizona

I give the talkies six months more. At the most a year. Then they’re done.

Charlie Chaplin, 1931

 

 

 

The things you find on YouTube.  Ninety-years ago the movie In Old Arizona was released.  The first full length “talkie” filmed outdoors, it featured the O. Henry character The Cisco Kid and was based on the O. Henry short story The Caballero’s Way.  The film was a hit, helping to establish that “talkies” were not just a fad, and the now forgotten Warner Baxter would receive the best actor Oscar for his rendition of The Cisco Kid.  In the Thirties he would go on to star in a number of films and was at one time the highest paid actor in Hollywood.  He died in 1951 at age 62.  With the passage of years, most fame is indeed fleeting.

Published in: on January 20, 2019 at 7:56 am  Comments Off on January 20, 1929: In Old Arizona  
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The Bishop’s Wife

Dudley:

All right. Let me think. This
happened many, many years ago.
Debby:
That's not the way to begin.
Stories start "Once upon a time".
Dudley:
Yes, that's true.
Once upon a time there was a little
boy and he lived in a little town.
Debby:
- What was his name?
Dudley:
- His name was David. He was a shepherd.
The town was called Bethlehem.
Debby:
I know Bethlehem. That's
where the star was.
Dudley:
That's right. Only David
lived long before the star.
One night, David was out in
the hills tending his sheep.
- He was playing the harp and singing.
Debby:
- Was he singing "Jingle Bells"?
Dudley:
No, no. "Jingle Bells"
hadn't been written then.
David was singing songs
that he wrote himself.
Suddenly, an angel came
down and spoke to David.
Debby:
- How did David know it was an angel?
Dudley:
- He didn't know.
And that's the way it always is.
Angels come and put
ideas into people's heads
and people feel very proud of themselves
because they think it was their own idea.
This angel said to David "One
of your lambs has strayed. "
So David put aside his harp and went
into the darkness to find the lamb.
The angel guided him.
And when David found the lamb,
he saw a great big ferocious lion.
Debby:
Oh!
Dudley:
So David said to the lion
"You get away from that lamb. "
And the lion said "You get away
from me or I'll eat you too. "
Debby:
- Did David run away?
Dudley:
- No.
You know why? Because the angel
put another idea into his head.
So David took out his
sling and he hurled a stone
and hit the lion right between the eyes.
Debby:
I bet that lion was surprised!
Dudley:
Yes. And so was David because he
didn't know an angel had helped him.
Well, he picked up the lamb
and took it back to the fold.
Then he felt so happy that he made
up another song. It started out:
"The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want. "
"He maketh me to lie
down in green pastures. "
"He leadeth me besides
the still waters. "
"He restoreth my soul... "
Screenplay The Bishop's Wife

 

A fine Christmas movie is The Bishop’s Wife from 1947.    David Niven is an Episcopalian bishop of a struggling diocese;  Loretta Young (ironically one of the more devout Catholics in the Hollywood of her time) is his wife;  and Cary Grant is Dudley, one of the more unimportant angels in Heaven, sent by God to lend the Bishop a hand.  The film is a graceful comedy which effectively and quietly underlines the central importance of faith in God as we see in this little scene when undercover angel Dudley, Cary Grant, uses his powers to summon a tardy boy’s choir for an unforgettable rendition of O Sing to God:

Published in: on December 16, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Bishop’s Wife  
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They Shall Not Grow Old

I am surprised that I did not dislike the Army more. It was, of course, detestable. But the words “of course” drew the sting. That is where it differed from Wyvern. One did not expect to like it. Nobody said you ought to like it. Nobody pretended to like it. Everyone you met took it for granted that the whole thing was an odious necessity, a ghastly interruption of rational life. And that made all the difference. Straight tribulation is easier to bear than tribulation which advertises itself as pleasure. The one breeds camaraderie and even (when intense) a kind of love between the fellow-sufferers; the other, mutual distrust, cynicism, concealed and fretting resentment. And secondly, I found my military elders and betters incomparably nicer than the Wyvern Bloods. This is no doubt because Thirty is naturally kinder to Nineteen than Nineteen is to Thirteen: it is really grown-up and does not need to reassure itself. But I am inclined to think that my face had altered. That “look” which I had so often been told to “take off it” had apparently taken itself off–perhaps when I read Phantastes. There is even some evidence that it had been succeeded by a look which excited either pity or kindly amusement. Thus, on my very first night in France, in a vast marquee or drill hall where about a hundred officers were to sleep on plank beds, two middle-aged Canadians at once took charge of me and treated me, not like a son (that might have given offence) but like a long-lost friend. Blessings upon them! Once, too, in the Officers’ Club at Arras where I was dining alone, and quite happy with my book and my wine (a bottle of Heidsieck then cost 8 francs, and a bottle of Perrier Jouet, 12) two immensely senior officers, all covered with ribbons and red tabs, came over to my table towards the end of the meal, and hailing me as “Sunny Jim” carried me off to their own for brandy and cigars. They weren’t drunk either; nor did they make me drunk. It was pure good will. And though exceptional, this was not so very exceptional. There were nasty people in the army; but memory fills those months with pleasant, transitory contacts. Every few days one seemed to meet a scholar, an original, a poet, a cheery buffoon, a raconteur, or at the least a man of good will.

CS Lewis, Surprised by Joy

 

 

 

Hattip to Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts who alerted me to this grand updating of World War I films by Peter Jackson.  Go here to read his post.  This is the proper way to approach history:  to always remember that real men and women made the history in which they lived, and that they are not merely dead figures on cold pages in books.

 

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon

 

 

Published in: on October 22, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on They Shall Not Grow Old  
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Gosnell: A Review

 

(I posted this on The American Catholic and I thought the film Mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.

 

 

I saw the film Gosnell:  The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer on Saturday with my bride.  I was pleasantly surprised by both the production quality of the film and the skill of the actors and actresses.  Too often message films are long on message and short on film.  I found the film entertaining, as well as packing an emotional wallop, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to see a good film.  Kermit Gosnell was an abortionist in Philadelphia who ran a filthy abortion mill.  From a post on TAC back in 2011:

Every now and then we need a reminder that true evil exists in this world.

An abortionist arrested in Philadelphia faces eight counts of murder, one for the death of a patient, and the other seven for killing babies who survived his botched abortions.  The district attorney alleges that Kermit Gosnell used a pair of scissors to sever their spinal cords.

Ed Morrissey links to the Grand Jury report.  It is truly gruesome.

One woman, for example, was left lying in place for hours after Gosnell tore her cervix and colon while trying, unsuccessfully, to extract the fetus. Relatives who came to pick her up were refused entry into the building; they had to threaten to call the police. They eventually found her inside, bleeding and incoherent, and transported her to the hospital, where doctors had to remove almost half a foot of her intestines.

On another occasion, Gosnell simply sent a patient home, after keeping her mother waiting for hours, without telling either of them that she still had fetal parts inside her. Gosnell insisted she was fine, even after signs of serious infection set in over the next several days. By the time her mother got her to the emergency room, she was unconscious and near death.

A nineteen-year-old girl was held for several hours after Gosnell punctured her uterus.  As a result of the delay, she fell into shock from blood loss, and had to undergo a hysterectomy.

One patient went into convulsions during an abortion, fell off the procedure table,  and hit her head on the floor.  Gosnell wouldn’t call an ambulance, and wouldn’t let the woman’s companion leave the building so that he could call an ambulance.

And to cap things off: the state did nothing to stop this.

We discovered that Pennsylvania’s Department of Health has deliberately chosen not to enforce laws that should afford patients at abortion clinics the same safeguards and assurances of quality health care as patients of other medical service providers. Even nail salons in Pennsylvania are monitored more closely for client safety.

The State Legislature has charged the Department of Health (DOH) with responsibility for writing and enforcing regulations to protect health and safety in abortion clinics as well as in hospitals and other health care facilities. Yet a significant difference exists between how DOH monitors abortion clinics and how it monitors facilities where other medical procedures are performed.

Indeed, the department has shown an utter disregard both for the safety of women who seek treatment at abortion clinics and for the health of fetuses after they have become viable. State health officials have also shown a disregard for the laws the department is supposed to enforce. Most appalling of all, the Department of Health’s neglect of abortion patients’ safety and of Pennsylvania laws is clearly not inadvertent: It is by design.

Go here to read the rest.  Over the years TAC stayed on top of this story, even while most of the mainstream media did their best to ignore it.  The film Gosnell tells the story of the initial investigation of Gosnell and his subsequent trial.  How the film was made, and the resistance that Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, the producers of the film, had to overcome, would make an epic film in its own right.

 

 

 

On to the review below the fold.  The usual caveat as to spoilers is in full force and effect. (more…)

Published in: on October 16, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Gosnell: A Review  
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Death of a Nation: A Review

 

 

I saw Death of a Nation, the latest film of Dinesh  D’Souza, on Saturday with my bride and son.  Overall I was disappointed by it.  The review is below the fold and the caveat as to spoilers is strictly in force.

(more…)

Published in: on August 20, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Death of a Nation: A Review  
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The Untouchables: Death Theme

 

Something for the weekend.  The Death Theme from The Untouchables (1987).  With all the news about Chicago violence this week, my thoughts have turned to this wonderful, albeit ahistorical, movie.  The music by Ennio Morricone is wonderfully evocative of time and place.  The sad and powerful music recalls for me the line from The Lord of The Rings It is a sad thing to be a Man, but it is a proud thing too.

 

Published in: on August 11, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Untouchables: Death Theme  
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