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War correspondent Ernie Pyle joins Company C, 18th Infantry as this American army unit fights its way across North Africa in World War II. He comes to know the soldiers and finds much human interest material for his readers back in the States. Later, he catches up with the unit in Italy and accompanies it through the battles of San Vittorio and Cassino. He learns from its commanding officer, Lt. (later Capt.) Bill Walker of the loneliness of command, and from the individual G.I.'s of the human capacity to survive drudgery, discomfort, and the terror of combat. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
William A. Wellman is one of the American cinema's greatest craftsmen. The Story of G.I. Joe is one of his best, if not his best. It presumably inspired a lot of later films. It especially reminds me of Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam film, Full Metal Jacket (the second half of it, anyway). This film should also be praised for its dedication to realism, and its lack of propaganda, surprising in such a vivid war film that was being made in the thick of the action in both Europe and the Pacific.
I also really love the script. The structure is very tenuous. Unlike most American films, it has no real "goal." Take a look at the infinitely inferior Steven Spielberg film Saving Private Ryan. In that film, the story centered around the search for Private Ryan. In The Story of G.I. Joe, the goal is simply the arrival at Rome, but this isn't at all what the film is about. It concentrates mostly on how the soldiers passed the time and how they felt. In this way, it's the second most sensitive war film I can think of, only following Jean Renoir's unsurpassed The Grand Illusion. There are some excellent battle scenes, as well.
As with most war films, there isn't a lot of overt characterization. It works really well here, though. Instead of opting for the old two-dimensional types of soldiers - you know, the "tough guy" the "young guy" the "religious guy" and what have you - Wellman just lets the characters develop within the actors. We may not know all of their names, or even recognize the same characters throughout the film, but, with each close-up of a soldier's face, we know as much about that person as we could know. The acting is very good. The three who stand out are Burgess Meredith, who plays Ernie Pyle, the writer whose works the film is based on, Robert Mitchum, wonderfully sensitive as the troop leader (he was probably never better; he received his one and only Oscar nomination for the role), and Freddie Steele. Early in the film he receives a phonograph recording of his young son speaking. He spends most of the film first looking for a phonograph player and then trying to repair it. This subplot is especially touching.
Wellman's direction is superb. The cinematography is, as well, and so is the music. The only problem that the film has is that it runs into war movie cliches, but one would expect that those cliches probably existed in real life, as well. 10/10.
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