Dawn Patrol

Captain “Scotty” Scott:  And you’re the one that gapped to Brand

about sending green kids up to get killed.

Combat maneuvers. Ground-school.

He doesn’t know.

What chance would he have up there?

Major “Court” Courtney:  He’ll have as much chance as the others.

There can’t be any exceptions.

Do you think I want to do this?

Those are the orders.

Captain “Scotty” Scott:  Oh, I know it’s orders, Court.

Give me three days, two days.

Then I can get him up in the air…

…and teach him a few basic tricks.

At least he’ll have a fighting chance.

He doesn’t know anything.

Court, he can’t even do a half-loop

and roll out.

Do you hear that? He can’t even roll out.

What good’s he gonna be up there?

Do you think he’s gonna bring down

any Boche plane? No.

They’ll slaughter him, Court.

Give me just a few days.

Major “Court” Courtney: I said every man goes into the air

at dawn.

– I’m sorry, Scott-o, but there it is.

One of the great war films, Dawn Patrol (1938) tells the grim tale of a Royal Flying Corps squadron on the Western Front.  World War One began a scant eleven years after Kitty Hawk, and the technology for heavier than air flight was still very much in the experimental stage.  It was quite hazardous just flying, let alone engaging in combat.  As a result, fighter pilots in 1917 had an average life expectancy of 40-60 hours of flight time.  That figure is deceptive, since the pilots who survived and became veterans had a huge advantage over rookie pilots fresh from flight school who had little chance and were often shot down during their first three missions.  Yesterday was the anniversary of the death in 1918 of Captain Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, the highest scoring Ace of World War I, who survived an amazing two years flying on the Western Front and had 80 confirmed kills. and probably amassed a total of one hundred.  Rookies against veteran pilots like Richthofen was simple murder with the outcome all but certain.

The film follows three commanders of 59 squadron in 1915, portrayed by Basil Rathbone, Errol Flynn and David Niven.  At the beginning of the film Major Brand, Rathbone, is in command, constantly battling with his two top pilots, Captain “Court” Courtney, Flynn, and Lieutenant “Scotty” Scott, who view Brand as an unfeeling martinet who sends new pilots to their deaths with hardly a thought, not realizing that Brand is haunted by their deaths, he calls himself a butcher, and has tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to get more training time for the new pilots.  Brand is ultimately promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Courtney is promoted to Major and takes over the Squadron, while Scott is promoted to Captain.  Courtney now finds himself doing precisely what Brand was doing, sending new pilots to their deaths while pleading unsuccessfully for more time.  One of the new pilots who is killed on his first mission is Donnie Scott, the brother of Courtney’s friend “Scotty” Scott, who pleads unsuccessfully with Major Courtney for an opportunity to spend a few days teaching his brother combat flying so that he will have some sort of chance.  Courtney, to save the life of his heartbroken friend Scott, takes on a suicide mission himself and perishes.  At the end of the film Scott is the new commander of the Squadron and we see him prepping newly arrived rookie pilots for their first mission, as the War continues on its terrible way.

Rathbone was a combat veteran of World War I, the medals on his film uniform being actual medals he won in combat.  Niven would go on to serve in combat in World War II, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  Flynn would volunteer for service in World War II but be rejected for his ill health.  Flynn was unfairly mocked as a draft dodger.

Published in: on April 23, 2021 at 4:12 pm  Comments Off on Dawn Patrol  
Tags: , , , , ,

The Remarkable Andrew

One of the odder products of the Golden Age of Hollywood, The Remarkable Andrew (1942) was a comedy fantasy in which Andrew Jackson’s ghost, played by Brian Donlevy, comes back to Earth in order to aid Andrew Long, portrayed by a very young William Holden, fight political corruption.  Andrew Jackson had pledged to protect the sons of one of Andrew Long’s ancestors who saved the life of Jackson at the battle of New Orleans.  Virtue is triumphant, the corrupt politicians are defeated, with the help of Jackson and the ghosts of other American heroes, and Andrew Long even gets the girl.

The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo, a Communist.  It was based on the novel of the same name written by Trumbo and published  in early 1941.  The novel was written before the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, and Trumbo, slavishly following the party line, has Jackson warning against American involvement in the War.

Time Magazine in its sardonic review of the novel on February 3, 1941 noted Trumbo’s rigid adherence to the Communist party line:

Its plot is about the return of the ghost of General Andrew Jackson to help an admirer. Trumbo’s General Jackson agrees with Theodore Dreiser right down the line: 1) Europe’s wars are no concern whatever of the U. S.; 2) the U. S. has little interest in the British Fleet; 3) Great Britain is not a democracy; 4) if Hitler can’t even cross the English Channel, he can’t cross the Atlantic; 5) U. S. concern with fifth columnists is hysteria; 6) Ger many is not “an international outlaw”; 7) the U. S. didn’t help Loyalist Spain, therefore shouldn’t help any other country; (8) the U. S. Government is deceiving the electorate, etc.

General Jackson’s opinions need surprise no one who has observed George Washing ton and Abraham Lincoln zealously following the Communist Party Line in recent years. Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, John Marshall and Jesse James are also cast for bit parts in Trumbo’s production. If the devil can quote Scripture, surely an irritated screenwriter can dip into The Federalist. A chapter of The Remarkable Andrew is devoted to the remarkable Dalton’s attempt to outwit charges of Communism and pacifism with tedious parodies of Red-baiting. (more…)

Published in: on February 7, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Remarkable Andrew  
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Leper Colony

 

 

 

The movie Twelve O’Clock High (1949) is an interesting study of command techniques in war, and the film has been used in the military to examine what works and what doesn’t work.  I have been intrigued by the the Leper Colony strategy of putting all your bad eggs in one basket:

 

General Savage I take it you don’t really care about the part you had in breaking one of the best men you’ll ever know. Add to it that as Air Exec you were automatically in command the moment Colonel Davenport left – and you met that responsibility exactly as you met his need: you ran out on it. You left the station to get drunk. Gately, as far as I’m concerned, you’re yellow. A traitor to yourself, to this group, to the uniform you wear. It would be the easiest course for me to transfer you out, to saddle some unsuspecting guy with a deadbeat. Maybe you think that’s what you’re gonna get out of this, a free ride in some combat unit. But I’m not gonna pass the buck. I’m gonna keep you right here. I hate a man like you so much that I’m gonna get your head down in the mud and tramp on it. I’m gonna make you wish you’d never been born.

Lt. Col. Ben Gately If that’s all, sir…

General Savage I’m just getting started. You’re gonna stay right here and get a bellyful of flying. You’re gonna make every mission. You’re not air exec anymore. You’re just an airplane commander. And I want you to paint this name on the nose of your ship: Leper Colony. Because in it you’re gonna get every deadbeat in the outfit. Every man with a penchant for head colds. If there’s a bombardier who can’t hit his plate with his fork, you get him. If there’s a navigator who can’t find the men’s room, you get him. Because you rate him.

In a bombing group I think it made a lot of sense.  A shock treatment leading to redemption, or all the bad eggs go down in flames together.  Rough, but no rougher than the risks everyone else was taking.

 

In the film, predictably, redemption resulted:

 

 

Leadership is a tough skill to master.  It is even tougher in a war where effective leadership sees good men going to their deaths.  However, you can almost be certain that if the leadership is poor the death toll will be higher.

Published in: on January 25, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Leper Colony  
Tags: , , ,

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 15, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Bishop’s Wife  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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 good.  A review of the film is below with the usual caveat as to spoilers.

Originally the role of Brother Orchid was to be filled by James Cagney.  Instead, the role went to another actor who achieved stardom from gangster roles:  Edward G. Robinson.  The son of Jewish immigrants from Romania, Robinson was frequently cast as an Italian-American and so it was in this movie.  Little John Sarto is the head of a protection racket.  The film opens with a meeting between him and his chief lieutenants.  His second in command, Jack Buck, portrayed in a surly fashion by Humphrey Bogart, has bumped off a competitor.  Sarto is annoyed, viewing murder as being bad for business.  He resigns, saying that he is going off to Europe in search of “real class”.  All of this is light in tone, indicating the screwball comedy element of this polyglot film.  The exception is Humphrey Bogart, who plays his role straight and menacing.  It is almost as if Bogart was in a separate film.  It is odd, but effective.

Prior to his leaving for Europe he meets with his longtime girl friend Flo Adams, played as delightfully ditzy by Ann Southern who never got as many roles in comedies as her considerable comedic skills warranted:

Flo Addams: Johnny, wait a minute. I want you to carry this with you.

Little Johnny Sarto: What is it?

Flo Addams: It’s a rabbit’s foot. A lucky charm. My uncle wore it for 32 years.

Little Johnny Sarto: A lucky charm, eh? Where’d you get it?

Flo Addams: From my mother. With her own hand she took it off of my uncle after they hung him.

Flo wants to get married and accompany Sarto to Europe.  Sarto begs off the marriage hint and gets her a job as a hatcheck girl while he is in Europe.

Off to Europe he goes for five years and manages to be swindled by every con artist on the continent.  The film shows this as a result of Sarto’s attempt to gain class by buying items:  the largest diamond in the world that turns out to be a doorknob, the swiftest horse in the word that turns out to be a nag, etc.  Frustrated and broke, Sarto returns to the US planning to resume his position at the head of the protection racket.

Times have changed while he was away.  His old gang is now run by Jack Buck who wastes no time in telling Sarto that he is through, and that if Sarto attempts to topple Buck, Buck will take care of him permanently.  His girl is now the owner of the nightclub where Sarto got her a job as a hatcheck girl, thanks to an investment by her platonic cattle baron boyfriend Clarence Fletcher, played by Ralph Bellamy in the oddest bit of casting in his long career.  Sarto reassembles a mob and begins to successfully cut in on his old protection racket.  His downfall comes when his girlfriend Flo attempts to play peacemaker with Buck, leading to the capture of Sarto, and his being shot and left for dead in a marsh.  He manages to reach a monastery where he is nursed back to health.

The monastery is a “Floracian Monastery” and the monks are known as little brothers of the flowers.  They raise flowers and sell them in the city to support their charitable activities.  Richard Connell, who wrote the short story on which the movie was based, based his fictional monks on a Dominican monastery.

When he first awakens Sarto says, “I made it!”, thinking he has died and gone to heaven.  The monk taking care of him, a former prize fighter, disabuses him of that notion.  The reaction of the fictional Sarto was typical of Catholic gangsters of the period.  Bad men as they were, most of them had no doubt of the Truth of what the Church taught, even if they did not live by it.  Sarto quickly realizes that the monastery can offer him a safe haven for the time being and writes to a member of his gang stating that he is safe among the biggest bunch of chumps in the world.  He takes the name of Brother Orchid.

 

 

After he is at the monastery for a while Sarto begins to change his mind about the monks being chumps.  He sees them giving away two dollars to buy shoes for a child, money that was originally going to be used to buy watermelon as a treat for the monks.  He is told that the only true happiness in the world is doing good for others, and he admits that there might be something to this.  Against his will, Sarto begins to change.  All his life he has been searching for something, and he is beginning to realize that, incredibly, he has found it at the monastery.

(more…)

Published in: on December 11, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Brother Orchid  
Tags: , , ,

Requiescat In Pace: Kirk Douglas

 

 

 

Actor Issur Danielovitch, better known as Kirk Douglas, has died at age 103.  One of a handful of major stars still remaining from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Douglas had an epic career.  After service in the US Navy during World War II as a communications officer aboard a sub chaser, Douglas embarked on an odyssey, yeah, I remember when he played Ulysses, as an actor in which he displayed notable range, starring in Westerns, historical epics, biographies, comedies, war flicks, etc.   You name it, and Douglas was willing to take up the challenge as an actor.  A political liberal, he never let politics interfere with friendships, being good friends for example with John Wayne.  A near death experience in 1991 caused him to embrace the Judaism in which he had been raised.  He was noted for his open handed generosity in regard to donations to charities.  A perfectionist in his craft, he was known for being difficult with directors and a compulsive scene stealer, but the results will ever speak for themselves in his films.

He rose from poverty to make himself world famous;   his was a classic American success story and he was an American original.  Fare thee Well Mr. Douglas in the world to come.

Published in: on February 9, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Requiescat In Pace: Kirk Douglas  
Tags: , ,

Tomorrow the World!

Emil Bruckner: If it is necessary, I will die for the Führer!

Mike Frame: Oh, I see. You want to die.

Emil Bruckner: It is my duty. Are you – going to beat me?

Mike Frame: Well, since you find death so pleasant, I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll kill you first and beat you afterwards.

Screenplay, Tomorrow the World! (1944)

 

 

I watched a very interesting movie yesterday, Tomorrow the World ! (1944).  Based on a successful Broadway play, it tells the story of a German boy, a completely indoctrinated Nazi, who comes to live with relatives in America after his mother dies.  His father was a leader of the German resistance, murdered in a Nazi concentration camp.  The boy, however, is a true believer in Hitler, who views his dead father as a traitor.

I was expecting a fairly lighthearted swift conversion of the Nazi youth to truth, justice and the American way.  The film was quite different and not at all what I expected.  Twelve year old Skip Homeier gives a chilling performance as Emil Bruckner.  For the time it was fairly strong, including Bruckner denouncing his teacher, who is also the fiancee of his American uncle, as a “Jewish tramp”.  Bruckner comes around eventually in a fairly unconvincing feel good ending, but the substance of the film was how difficult it is to change people who are heavily indoctrinated when young.

In the film Agnes Moorehead gives a great performance as the American Aunt of Emil, who he uses as a pawn in his schemes.  When she sees him initially in his Hitler Jugend uniform she opines that all Germans should be exterminated.  After two world wars, and casualty lists rapidly mounting, that was not an uncommon sentiment in the country in 1944.  Under the Morgenthau Plan, proposed by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Germany after the war was to be de-industrialized and partitioned into harmless agricultural states.  Fortunately wiser heads prevailed.

Skip Homeier died at age 86 in 2017.  In the Star Trek episode Patterns of Force he returned to the Nazi ranks as the evil Deputy Fuehrer Melakon.

 

Published in: on October 3, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Tomorrow the World!  
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Purple Heart (1944)


 

 

It’s true we Americans don’t know very much about you Japanese, and never did. And now I realise you know even less about us. You can kill us, all of us, or part of us, but if you think that will put fear into the United States of America and stop them from sending other flyers to bomb you, you’re wrong, dead wrong. They’ll come by night and by day, thousands of them. They’ll blacken your skies and burn your cities and make you beg for mercy. This is your war. You wanted it. You asked for it. You started it. Now you’re going to get it. And it won’t be finished until your dirty little empire is wiped off the face of the earth.

Dana Andrews as Captain Harvey Ross, speech before sentence, Purple Heart (1944)

Released on March 8, 1944, the film The Purple Heart (1944) is a dramatization of the show trial the Japanese held of the captured Doolittle raiders.  Eight of the raiders were captured.  Of the captured raiders, three were executed by the Japanese on October 15, 1942 following the show trial.  They were the first of approximately 132 American airmen executed after capture by the Japanese government.  Contrary to the film, the details were not released by the Japanese, the three condemned raiders were not tried in a civilian court but by a drumhead courtmartial consisting of Japanese officers.  The men executed were First Lieutenant William G. Farrow, Sergeant Harold A. Spatz and First Lieutenant Dean E. Hallmark.

The remaining five POWs were placed on starvation rations, with one of them dying prior to liberation by the Allied forces at the end of the War.  Jacob DeShazer, one of the POWs, came back to Japan as a missionary in 1948 and worked there for 30 years spreading the Gospel.

The film is strangely prophetic in regard to the bombing campaign that would bring the Japanese Empire to its knees.  Until 1945 the bombing campaign against Japan had been ineffective, due to lack of air bases close to Japan and the scattered nature of Japanese industry in Japanese cities throughout residential areas.   Precision daylight bombing as performed by the US Army Air Corps in the European Theater was useless under those conditions. After General Curtis E. Lemay was appointed commander of the XX Bomber Command in the Marianas in January 1945 that all changed.  Lemay hit upon the idea of stripping all superfluous equipment, including machine guns, off his B-29s, packing them with incendiary bombs, topping off the gas tanks in midair after take off, and having them fly so high that the Japanese could not intercept them,  He then conducted massive incendiary raids on Japanese cities which, by the end of war, killed around half a million Japanese civilians and left five million homeless.  Some 40% of Japanese urban areas in 66 cities went up in flames, along with most Japanese war industry.  Lemay intended to destroy every Japanese urban center, and he would have if the War had not ended swiftly after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima, August 6, 1945, and Nagasaki, August 9, 1945.

 

“Don’t let this get you down. Just remember God will make everything right and that I’ll see you all again in the hereafter. . . . Read “Thanatopsis” by Bryant if you want to know how I am taking this. My faith in God is complete, so I am unafraid.”

From a letter by First Lieutenant William G. Farrow to his mother.

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  
Tags: , , ,

October 5, 1945: Battle of Burbank

One of the major factors in transforming Ronald Reagan from a New Deal Democrat into a conservative Republican was his confrontation with Herb Sorrell in 1946-47 Hollywood.  Head of the Conference of Studio Unions, Sorrell was a veteran union organizer.  He was also a secret member of the Communist Party and a frequent contact for Soviet intelligence agents.

Sorrell in 1945 launched a strike to ensure that his union dominated Hollywood labor.  Sorrell had no problem using physical intimidation  to reach his goals.  This was demonstrated at what has been called the Battle of Burbank on October 5, 1945 when 800 members of the Conference of Studio Unions battle with police of the Los Angeles Police Department, using knives, bats, chains and pipes to shut Warner Brothers down.  The violence shocked Hollywood and attracted nationwide attention and led to a negotiated settlement of the strike. (more…)

Published in: on October 5, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 5, 1945: Battle of Burbank  
Tags: , ,