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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Warner Bros. OBJECTIVE BURMA (1945) is one of the best war pictures
made during the war about the war. Produced for the studio by Jerry
Wald its fine screenplay by Ranald Mac Dougall, and Lester Cole derived
from an original story by Alvah Bessie. With crisp and sharp Monochrome
cinematography by the great James Wong Howe it was masterfully directed
by Raoul Walsh. It also boasted splendid looking Art direction by Ted
Smith with the Burmese jungle mock-ups (filmed at the "Lucky" Baldwin
ranch near Pasadena in California) not only looking convincingly
authentic but with the added sounds of jungle wildlife making it quite
The story has Major Nelson (Errol Flynn) and his large contingent of American Paratroopers being dropped into the Burmese jungle behind enemy lines on a secret mission. They must locate and destroy a Japanese radar station. After a successful sneak attack on the station (a good action sequence) the men pull back to their designated pick-up point and wait. Suddenly things go terribly wrong when Japanese ground troops discover where they are after tracking them. Nelson and his men have no alternative but to scurry into the thick jungle to escape and radio for a new pick-up point. But the new rendezvous is 150 miles away. Losing half of the platoon on the journey - because of their forced march through rivers and dense jungle plus tangling with enemy troops - they finally make it to the pick-up point and are rescued.
Although there are the usual stock characterisations - which seems to be endemic in all war movies - performances are generally good. Flynn in particular is excellent! Eschewing his swashbuckling heroic image he turns in a splendid portrayal of a respected commanding officer who is professional and human. In one disturbing moment he expertly manages to bring a deeply effective sense of grief to the scene where he tearfully tries to comfort his dying friend and fellow officer (William Prince). Flynn has rarely been better! OBJECTIVE BURMA was one of the actor's personal favorite pictures and considered it one of his few worthwhile efforts. Good too is Henry Hull as Williams the aging war correspondent who, constantly trying to keep the bright side out, finally succumbs to the pressure of the arduous trek and passes quietly away in his sleep "Gee, I'm awfully sorry Mr. Williams" observes a compassionate James Brown. And watch out for Mark Stevens as the pilot of the B29 in one of his first film appearances under his real name of Stephen Richards.
One of the outstanding aspects of the movie is the marvellous Acadamy Award nominated music by Franz Waxman. The score contains one of the finest march themes ever for a war picture which compliments the early preparation scenes to perfection in its jaunty engaging statement. Then for the Paratroopers jumping from the B29s high pitched strings descend with them as vibrato on the brass simulate the engine noise of the great Bombers. The score is one of the composer's most memorable works and high on the list of Waxman admirers.
OBJECTIVE BURMA hasn't dated at all since it was made sixty five years ago. Unlike many movies of its kind and era it stands up very well today despite starting off on the wrong foot. It was banned in England in 1945 because it omitted to mention any British involvement in Burma. But in 1952 and with a new "apologetic" prologue it was given its long overdue release.
Interestingly, in 1951 the film's basic premise was reused in Warner's Gary Cooper western "Distant Drums".
I first saw Objective Burma as a Saturday afternoon movie, probably on
WGN TV in Chicago around 1963 at the tender age of 14. I was expecting
the usual Errol Flynn fare (which was fine by me) but this blew my
socks off! It rates right up there with Cagney's unbelievable turn in
Yankee Doodle Dandy or Bogart's African Queen If you never thought
Flynn could act, this flick will turn your head around.
The usual TV Guide description goes something like "American paratroopers are dropped into Burma to destroy a radar station". Yes, but that's only the first half hour! The real story begins when they find out they can't be picked up and are going to have to 'walk out', and it ain't no Robin Hood swash buckles his way through the castle sequence!
The dialog, music, photography, settings, along with major and minor players all work exquisitely to deliver what I humbly consider to be the finest war movie ever made. The depth is incredible, Raoul Walsh's touch is perfect, Flynn soars beyond what anybody ever thought he could. My God, there's even a scene where a tortured comrade begs to be put out of his misery and Flynn pulls it off. This ain't -Santa Fe Trail, Baby!
Yes, there is some dialog that today would not be politically correct, but, come on We were at WAR, and I'm sure the Japanese had some equally colorful words to describe us! Yes, there is little mention of the British who were the major heroes of Burma Well let them go ahead and make their own damn movie and shut the hell up about it! And, sorry, it's NOT 92 minutes long, Walsh takes his time bringing the story along, showing the deteriorating situation, the heat, the worry, the exasperation If you want MTV, go somewhere else.
So many scenes stand out. Jacobs death, signaling to the supply plane with a mirror, the rendezvous scene, the night battle Jeez, they're all so damn good. But maybe the one that gets to me the most is in the heat of a skirmish when Flynn's men ask him where to go, what to do His face contorts into anguish and he gives the unheard of (in Hollywood) answer But I won't spoil it for you, go see it for yourself.
I moved to LA in 1975 and about 20 years later I happened to be visiting the Los Angeles County Arboretum (formerly Lucky Baldwin's Estate in Baldwin Park next to Santa Anita Race Track) and got to talking with someone in the office about all the movies, television shows and commercials shot there (hundreds). I suggested that someone ought to do a book about it. The gal smiled, reached into a cabinet and handed me a well worn, out of print volume "You mean like this"? I eyed the index eagerly and almost couldn't believe my eyes when I found Objective Burma there. Oh my God, I'd been coming to the park for over 15 years and never realized that the main Victorian house (popularized in the TV series Fantasy Island) is the exact same building used in the 'native village scene' where the big fight takes place. Later I walked over to the building, climbed onto the porch and chuckled to myself This is where they set up the machine gun to cover their escape when the Japanese attacked. Over there is where they crossed the 'swamp' and here is where Jacobs died. I actually shivered with the realization that I was standing right on the very spot where a large portion of one of my all time favorite movies was filmed. If you happen to be a fan and are in LA, it's only about 7 dollars to get in, and be sure to bring some unsalted popcorn to feed the ducks, Errol probably did
When I read histories of the Pacific War, I frequently come across passages
telling of a rage held by allied soldiers against the Japanese, more intense
than that held against the Germans (though had they known at the time about
Malmedy and the Holocaust, it might have been a different story). There is
a scene in "Objective Burma" which conveys to me, more effectively than any
other film, how that rage was born.
This is a Warner Brothers "A" picture, directed by the great Raoul Walsh, and it shows. The acting is superb, and the locations are totally convincing. The framework for these is a conventional story of an allied patrol's sabotage of an enemy radar station, deep in the jungle, and its harrowing trek back to safety. What sets "Operation Burma" apart is its concentration on the humanity of the characters within an "action film" context, without resort to melodrama. It is a delicate balance that many films fail to maintain, and it is perhaps why Errol Flynn is ideal as Captain Nelson, leader of the patrol. Flynn's screen image as a swashbuckler was always tempered by a disarming mildness, which not only made the ladies swoon but enabled him convincingly to reveal the human frailty behind the bravura. And nowhere else does he display this double facet to better effect than in "Operation Burma". It is said that the best commanders are those who only have to ask in order to be obeyed. Flynn is this kind of commander.
Other fine players should not be neglected. There is a standout performance by Henry Hull, as an elderly journalist whose ambition to cover the war from the ground leads him to the realization that in war it isn't just combat that kills. I also like Warner Anderson, both grim and sympathetic as Flynn's commanding officer. And the uncredited Erville Anderson's "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell is so convincing, I fancied the general was playing himself!
I like to have films representing each of a broad range of interests. For Errol Flynn, I have "The Adventures of Robin Hood," "Operation Burma" and "That Forsyte Woman". As well as any others, these three films define Errol Flynn's career. For World War II, I have "Operation Burma," "They Were Expendable" and "Saving Private Ryan". As well as any others, these three films define World War II. They are musts for any comprehensive film library.
I have always thought that Errol Flynn was a fine actor and this is surely one of his best performances. As the contibutor from Leeds England wrote, this movie does not detract from the British role in Burma. Any knowledgeable person should know that the British were the primary Allied participants in this theater of World War 11. However, this story of an American unit is superb! Errol and the supporting cast are superb. This film portrays the horror of war without the unnecessary crude language and graphic bloodletting of modern war films. Errol Flynn shows a compassion and commitment to saving his men and accomplishing their mission. The direction, dialogue, scenery, and story paints a realistic story of what war really is. No false heroics or unnecessary theatrical baggage. Flynn, Henry Hull, etc. excel in their roles and this movie is a testament to the very best in theatrical productions.
This is one of the very best of the WWII battle films made during the war.
It has excellent action sequences, and is full of the very intense emotions
that were felt during that time. It's also one of Errol Flynn's best roles,
as the captain of a parachute squad sent to blow up a Japanese radar station
as a prelude to the allied re-conquest of Burma. Unlike many of the war
films of the same era, this one is shot almost exclusively outdoors, and a
considerable effort was made to make the shoot look and sound like it was
actually in a jungle.
Considering the film's age, the picture quality of the DVD is very good. A few of the sequences have a lot of scratches and grain, but that was because the film makes good use of real jungle war footage.
A must see for fans of WWII films, or of Errol Flynn fans who want to see him in one of his best roles.
Rauol Walsh directs one the greatest war films that exceeds its criticism. Errol Flynn leads a group of U.S. paratroopers on a mission to destroy an enemy radar station in Japanese-occupied Burma. The objective is accomplished, but the patrol goes through Hell as it makes its way back to base. Realistic war scenes with the more savage implied and off camera. No phony heroics, just hard fighting soldiers doing what needs to be done. Flynn is flawless and this might just be one his finest roles. A very strong cast includes: James Brown(of TV's Rin Tin Tin), Henry Hull, Mark Stevens, George Tobias, Richard Erdman, William Prince and Hugh Beaumont. No complaints about the near two and a half hour run time. Top of the line war movie shot in beautiful black and white. Produced by Jerry Wald.
Objective Burma has to be one of Errol Flynn's best movies not to mention performances. he is unlike many of the swashbuckling roles that made him famous. There are other fine performances as well throughout the cast. There is only a small amount of the stereotypical Bronx or New York guy with an accent.Objective Burma is an entertaining movie about a paratrooper units mission to destroy a radar station and how it their escape route becomes blocked and they must fight their way out. It is a very underrated war movie that doesn't get the accolades that a Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day or even the Dirty Dozen. It was a made up story about a small mission in the Pacific Theater of operation.It portrays the men's bravery, sacrifice and and heroism quite well. The acting, storyline and action make for a very well done and in some areas ahead of its time movie. I have never really been an Errol Flynn fan, but this has to rank as one of his better and yet more subdued performances. Henry Hull also gets high marks for his portrayal as a newspaperman. Rent this or buy it, you won't be disappointed!
Late in his career, Errol Flynn described "Objective Burma" as one of the roles that he was most proud of. It's easy to see why. A solidly entertaining film that follows the exploits of a small group of American paratroopers dropped behind Japanese lines to destroy an enemy radar installation, it was quite gritty for a 1940's era war picture. Lacking the usual bravado of Flynn films, it had the look of a documentary. That look was greatly enhanced by the fine black and white photography. While the film was shot in California (as I recall) it had a very authentic look and feel. Flynn was excellent in perhaps his best non-swashbuckler role. The interesting second lead was James Brown, best known as the star of "Rin Tin Tin" and, many years later, as a regular on the "Dallas" television series.
I saw this movie when it came out in 1945.As a kid of 8 years it was terrific.I watch it every time it is on TV.I can almost repeat all the dialog in it.I think the part that Henry Hull says when they find our men captured in the village.I think it is very fitting today as to what is going on in Iraq.Colorizing this movie wasn't such a good idea in my opinion.Black and white seems to add realism to the film.I have been googleing all the actors in the film.Where Errol says to Henry Hull,"you know how old the colonel is in there? 34"And our general is 37.He was right.Warner Anderson was 34 years old.Errol of course was 30.All young men who jump out of planes.However,George Tobias was 44,a little old to be jumping out of airplanes.And Henry Hull was 55.I guess he was the oldest in the cast.I met William Prince in NYC many years ago. And talked to him just about this film.I should have asked him more questions but he and I both had appointments to make.Nice guy.
A good example of a Warner Brothers war drama, it's full of clichés
appropriate to the times. The Japanese are "moral idiots," "savages,"
and "monkeys" (three times). Men shout and wave at a search plane two
or three miles away (three times). The men are the usual congeries of
ethnicity -- "Gabby" Gordon hollers "Mazeltov" at the departing
Sweeney. (Hold on a moment. I'll have to think that one over. I'll also
have to figure out how Lt. Sidney Jacobs acquired a Catholic dog tag.)
Franz Waxman's music is just catchy enough, without being in the least
distinguished. The jungle looks like a dressed-up Santa Anita with
eucalyptus trees instead of ebony. The dialogue tends to run along
lines like -- "Here we are in the muck and mire." "Hi, Muck!" "Hi,
Mire!" Just at the end, when the remaining handful of paratroopers are
in despair, the cavalry comes riding to the rescue.
I guess that gets the time-trapped stuff out of the way. This is far from an insulting cartoon of a movie. At its best, it captures the kind of utter physical exhaustion that Norman Mailer caught in his novel, "The Naked and the Dead." It's essentially a "journey" movie. Flynn, who is not bad, and his men are parachuted into Burma to destroy a radar station. Mission accomplished without casualties, they find their pick-up airfield swarming with enemy soldiers and must slog their way out through swamps and over mountains, the trip punctuated by bloody encounters with the Japanese.
Not that the battles are literally bloody. I don't think a drop of blood is spilled in the entire movie despite multiple opportunities. "Saving Private Ryan" is one way to tell a horrifying story -- very explicitly -- but the suggestion that is used in this film is equally effective, as hard as that may be to believe. Maybe the most jarring and moving moment in the film is when Flynn's group finds their friends tortured and killed by the Japanese. Flynn's friend, Jacobs, is barely alive. We see only his legs as Flynn kneels over him and identifies himself. The viewer can only imagine what Jacob's face -- and his eyes -- must look like as he whispers, "Nelson? Is that you, Nelson? Will you do me a favor, Nelson? Kill me?" The movie is a long one but it really needs to be long or we wouldn't so readily feel the agony and the desperation of these dying men. It's long enough for us to get to know the men as more than just anonymous soldiers too.
And the dialogue has its redeeming moments. When the middle-aged journalist is found dead near his foxhole, a supporting player, James Brown, stands over the body and says sincerely but not overdramatically, "Gee, I'm sorry, Mister Williams. Awfully sorry." And when Flynn leads his pitiful group of survivors finally into the base, his commanding officer shakes his hand, gives him a light, and tells him, "You don't know how important it was for you to take that radar station." Flynn says simply, "Here's what it cost," and hands him a fistful of identity tags.
It's an example not of art but of Hollywood craftsmanship. Engaging, and nicely done.
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