A Film For All Seasons

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

I think I have probably watched A Man For All Seasons (1966) more times than any other film I have viewed, and that is saying something for me as I often like to revisit films that I have enjoyed.  Each time I view it I see something that I missed in it before.  The film is often quite subtle and an important point can go flitting by in an instant.  Like the man it vividly portrays, the film is complex and multi-faceted.  Recently this passage struck me with some force:

“The law is not a “light” for you or any man to see by; the law is not an instrument of any kind. …The law is a causeway upon which, so long as he keeps to it, a citizen may walk safely.”

In times of riot and widespread lawlessness, that is taken away from the citizens of a polity, and that is just what is happening in so many places in our nation today.  Great works of art are never frozen in amber.  They resonate forever in all times, and that is what this film does.

Published in: on August 6, 2020 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Greyhound

 

Anyone seen this?  One of the film victims of the Black Sniffles, it is available on Apple TV.  Based upon the late CS Forester’s (he of Horatio Hornblower fame) 1955 novel The Good Shepherd, it tells the story of a US Destroyer, the USS Keeling, and its fight to escort a convoy across the Atlantic in 1942.  The battle for the Atlantic was perhaps the decisive struggle in World War II, and yet is sadly neglected in most general histories of the War.  If American troops, munitions and supplies could get across the Atlantic the Third Reich would be eventually defeated.  If not, Hitler stood a good chance of winning his War, or fighting to a draw with Stalin.  The struggle was a fantastic three dimensional battle, involving cutting edge technologies, seemingly ripped from the science fiction pulp magazines of the time.  Thirty-six thousand Allied sailors and thirty-six thousand Allied merchantmen went to watery graves to keep the Atlantic sea lanes open, and they deserve a greater appreciation of their role in the victory won in Europe.

A full review after I get around to seeing the film.

Published in: on July 22, 2020 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ike On Film

Considering that Eisenhower was in charge of the greatest American military effort, and a two term President, there have been surprisingly few film depictions of him.

 

1.The Longest Day (1962)

Hands down the best portrayal of Eisenhower is that of Henry Grace.  Grace wasn’t an actor.  He was an award winning set decorator.  However, he was Eisenhower’s doppelganger and his performance was the next best thing to having Eisenhower portray himself.

 

 

2. Ike: The War Years (1979)

Robert Duvall as Eisenhower gives his usual riveting performance.  The late Lee Remick  gives a good performance as Captain Kay Summersby, the British driver/secretary assigned to Eisenhower.  Unfortunately the miniseries centers around the relationship of Eisenhower and Summersby, a relationship which is subject to historical dispute.  Duvall looks nothing like Eisenhower, a problem for any actor assaying the role, since Eisenhower’s face is very familiar to most Americans, at least it was at the time this miniseries was first shown.  The entire series can be found on Youtube, and the soap opera elements aside it is worth viewing.

3.  Last Days of Patton (1986)

The late Richard Dysart, who looked a bit like Ike, gives a good workmanlike performance as Eisenhower, showing a bit of the Eisenhower temper, that was usually well-concealed in public but was quite evident behind the scenes.  George C. Scott, as in his 1970 biopic of Patton, is mesmerizing.  This was the second outing for Dysart as Eisenhower, as he had also portrayed the General in the British miniseries Churchill and His Generals (1979).

4.  Dieppe (1993)

The late Marc Strange gives a workmanlike performance in this Canadian miniseries on the Dieppe raid in 1942 which was valuable as an example of how not to conduct an amphibious landing in occupied France.

 

5.  Ike: Countdown to D-Day (2004)

Tom Selleck gives a very good portrayal of Eisenhower in the days leading up to D-Day.  The video does a first rate job of portraying the problems that Eisenhower confronted:  getting prima donnas like Montgomery and Patton to work as a part of a team, concerns about the weather, the deception campaign to convince the Nazis that Calais would be the invasion site, etc.  The video also shines a light on the weight of responsibility which Eisenhower bore, especially when we see him write out a note just before the invasion taking full responsibility on his shoulders if it failed.  Like Duvall, Selleck looks nothing like Eisenhower, less of a problem each passing year and due to the rampant historical ignorance among too many Americans for their nation’s past.  This film can also be found on Youtube.

6.  The Butler (2013)

 

The late Robin Williams is horribly miscast as President Eisenhower.  He did a better job as Theodore Roosevelt in the Night in the Museum flicks.

7.  Churchill (2017)

This was a dreadful picture, completely ahistoric, and John Slattery’s performance as Eisenhower was no exception.  By far the worst portrayal of Eisenhower on film.

Published in: on June 9, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ike On Film  
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Top Ten Civil War Movies For Memorial Day

 

 

Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.

Shelby Foote

It is fitting that Memorial Day arose out of our bloodiest war, our war without an enemy.   Films to watch over the weekend:

 

10.    Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940)-The showcase of this film biopic of Lincoln is the above depiction of one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.   The debate portrayed has remarks culled from all the debates,  is an excellent recreation of the main arguments made by each of the men, and is evocative of their speaking styles.

Ironically neither of the actors portraying Lincoln and Douglas were Americans.  The actor portraying Douglas was Gene Lockhart, a Canadian.  If his voice sounds vaguely familiar to you, it is probably because you recall him as the judge in Miracle on 34th Street.  His daughter June Lockhart, of Lassie and Lost in Space fame, carried on the thespian tradition of the family.

Lincoln was portrayed by Raymond Massey, also a Canadian.  Massey was one of the great actors of his day and bore a strong physical resemblance to Lincoln.  Massey served in the Canadian Army in both World War I, where he saw combat on the Western Front as an artillery officer, and World War II, becoming a naturalized American citizen after World War II.  Like Lincoln he was a Republican and made a TV ad for Goldwater in the 1964 campaign.

The film helps explain why the Civil War happened.  A nation like America could not endure forever denying freedom to millions of Americans on the basis of race.  That we did not free the slaves peacefully led to the most terrible war in our history.

9.    Friendly Persuasion (1956)-Starring Gary Cooper as Jess Birdwell, the head of a Quaker family in southern Indiana during the Civil War, the film is a superb mix of drama and comedy as the Quakers have to determine whether to continue to embrace their pacifist beliefs or to take up arms against General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry during his Great Raid of the North in June-July of 1863.  When the oldest son of the Birdwell family, portrayed by Anthony Perkins in his pre-Psycho days, takes up arms, his mother, played by Dorothy McGuire is aghast, but Cooper, as Jess Birdwell, defends him.  Although he remains true to his pacifist convictions, Birdwell understands that his son is acting in obedience to his conscience, and, as he tells his wife, “A man’s life ain’t worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience.”

8.    Major Dundee (1965)-Sam Pekinpah’s flawed, unfinished masterpiece, the film tells the fictional account of a mixed force of Union soldiers, and Confederate prisoners, who join forces to hunt and ultimately defeat an Apache raider, Sierra Charriba, in 1864-65.  Charlton Heston gives an outstanding performance as Major Amos Dundee, a man battling his own personal demons of a failed military career, as he commands this Union-Confederate force through northern Mexico on the trail of the Apache, with fighting often threatening to break out between the Union and Confederate soldiers.  Use of Confederate prisoners as Union soldiers in the West was not uncommon.  Six Union infantry regiments of Confederate prisoners, called “Galvanized Yankees”, served in the West.   The final section of the film involving a battle between Major Dundee’s force and French Lancers, the French occupying Mexico at the time, has always struck me as one of the best filmed combat sequences in any movie.

7.    The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid.

Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg.

John Wayne gives a fine, if surly, performance as Colonel Marlowe, the leader of the Union cavalry brigade.  William Holden as a Union surgeon serves as a foil for Wayne.  Constance Towers, as a captured Southern belle, supplies the obligatory Hollywood love interest.

Overall the film isn’t a bad treatment of the raid, and the period.  I especially appreciated two scenes.  John Wayne refers to his pre-war activities as “Before this present insanity” and Constance Towers gives the following impassioned speech:

“Well, you Yankees and your holy principle about savin’ the Union. You’re plunderin’ pirates that’s what. Well, you think there’s no Confederate army where you’re goin’? You think our boys are asleep down here?   Well, they’ll catch up to you and they’ll cut you to pieces you, you nameless, fatherless scum. I wish I could be there to see it.” (more…)

New Movie on Saint Patrick

 

Vasco Rodrigues, John Rhys Davies, to Pilot Major Blackthorne, Richard Chamberlain, after he attempted to kill him in the miniseries Shogun:

Yes, it’s true…
and I don’t ask for forgiveness… not anymore.
With thee, heresy has come to Eden.

I have long admired John Rhys Davies who plays the old Saint Patrick in the above movie.  A conservative, he has an appreciation for Christianity:

Rhys-Davies is not a Christian, but he is not bashful about expressing his admiration of and appreciation for the role of Christianity in the development of individual civil liberties we take for granted:

“Everything that we value — everything that I valued when I was a student 50, 60 years ago, which I cannot any longer count on an audience accepting — really comes from Christianity,” Rhys-Davies recently told podcaster Lucas Miles.

“The idea of the right of free speech, the idea of the right to hold your own opinion really derives from the second century A.D., when Roman Christians were told they must practice the emperor’s religion and faith, and that quiet voice in them said, ‘No, actually, I serve a different God. And I have a divine right to do so,’” he told Miles.

“And from that,” Rhys-Davies continued, “has come our own great sense of free speech. Even things like the Bill of Rights and habeas corpus that are the founding marks of [the U.S.] Constitution, which derive in English law, which derive from the testimony of Christians operating on that early principle.”

Go here to read the rest.  A few of his great roles:

Published in: on March 17, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on New Movie on Saint Patrick  
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Requiescat In Pace: Charles Portis

 

You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free except the Grace of God. You cannot earn that or deserve it.

Mattie Ross, True Grit

 

Charles Portis, the author of True Grit has died at age 86.  He joined the Marine Corps during the Korean War.  He came out a sergeant in 1955 and began to work as a reporter.  He left journalism in 1964,  He wrote the novel True Grit in 1968.  The movie version that earned John Wayne his best acting Oscar came out in 1969.  The good remake came out in 2010.  Portis shunned the literary limelight, living in Little Rock, Arkansas, believing his work should speak for itself, and it did and does.  I trust Saint Peter will find work for a skilled penman.

 

On his deathbed he asked for a priest and became a Catholic. That was his wife’s religion. It was his own business and none of mine. If you had sentenced one hundred and sixty men to death and seen around eighty of them swing, then maybe at the last minute you would feel the need for some stronger medicine than the Methodists could make.

Mattie Ross, True Grit

 

Published in: on February 27, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Requiescat In Pace: Charles Portis  
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The Birds

“Statement from the Home Office at 11 A.M. today. Reports from all over the country are coming in hourly about the vast quantity of birds flocking above towns, villages, and outlying districts, causing obstruction and damage and even attacking individuals. It is thought that the Arctic airstream, at present covering the British Isles, is causing birds to migrate south in immense numbers and that intense hunger may drive these birds to attack human beings. Householders are warned to see to their windows, doors, and chimneys, and to take reasonable precautions for the safety of their children. A further statement will be issued later.”

Daphne du Maurier, The Birds (1952)

 

 

Something for the weekend.  The opening sequence to The Birds (1963).  I found this opening absolutely chilling as a child, and I still do as an adult.

Published in: on February 22, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Birds  
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Lincolns

“How many ages hence Shall this our lofty scene be acted over In states unborn and accents yet unknown?”

Cassius, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

Lincoln has been portrayed hundreds of times in films and on tv programs.  I thought that no celebration of the 211th birthday of our sixteenth president would be complete without a few examples of how he has been portrayed on the formerly silver screen.

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Kenobi

 

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

 

Premiered December  24, 2019, and it is the best Star Wars that I have seen since the original trilogy.  Interesting echoes of Herod attempting to kill the Christ child, and the revolt of the Maccabees.  We live in an interesting time when fan flicks are sometimes superior to big budget productions with a thousand times their budget.

 

Published in: on January 2, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Midway: A Review

My bride and I and our son went to see Midway last Saturday.  We all enjoyed it.  I highly recommend it.  Here follows the review with the usual caveats that there are spoilers ahead.

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Published in: on November 22, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Midway: A Review  
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