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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's hard to say if FORCE OF ARMS is a romantic love story with a war
background or if it is a war film with a romantic background! Either
way it comes across as an enjoyable 100 minute motion picture. Very
loosely based on Hemingway's WW1 epic romance "A Farewell To Arms" it
was produced by Anthony Veiller for Warner Bros. in 1951 and the usual
workmanlike direction came from the legendary Michael Curtiz.
Beautifully photographed by genius cinematographer Ted McCord in glorious black & white and from a splendid screenplay by Orin Jannings it starred William Holden as a battle weary, hard bitten GI who during the German occupation of Italy in 1943 and the Battle Of San Pietro falls in love with a reluctant WAC (Nancy Olson).
Holden delivers one of his very best performances but he's left really to carry the movie almost on his own. This is a fault with the picture! He is surrounded by what is essentially a cast of minor players! Third billed is Frank Lovejoy who is as unimpressive as ever! Then we have what are called the supporting players (in this case Holden's GI buddies) such as the bland Gene Evens (who seemed to be in everything during this period), the irritating Dick Wesson (trying as usual to be humorous and not being very successful) and Paul Picerni who never did anything worthwhile with his career. But for me the most disappointing piece of casting is that of the pivotal female lead! Although she won an Oscar nomination for her performance in Billy Wilder's brilliant "Sunset Boulevard" I always found Nancy Olson to be an unremarkable actress and most wanting in the looks/glamour department. She always gave me the impression of looking more like a favourite aunt rather than a lover or even a leading lady! However, she must have held some fascination for Holden as she was his leading lady in three other films - "Sunset Boulevard"(1950), "Union Station" (1950) and "Submarine Command"(1951). Who knows - perhaps she was HIS aunt too! HUH?
Besides Holden's winning performance, a literate screenplay, the atmospheric art direction (the Italian mock-ups are splendidly realised) there is also a wonderful score by the great Max Steiner. For the battle sequences he brings into play some military cues he wrote for other Warner war pictures he scored such as "Sergeant York" (1941). But the main central theme is an inspired and memorable bit of writing! First heard under the titles it is at once a sumptuous sweeping melody that is hauntingly used in the love scenes making them both meaningful and heartfelt.
FORCE OF ARMS despite some iffy aspects is an enjoyable enough drama set in wartime with Holden as always making it watchable. A few years after its initial release in 1951 it was reissued with the unfortunate and unforgivable title "A Girl For Joe"!
The original story behind Force of Arms was written by Richard
Tregaskis, war correspondent from World War II, best known for
Guadalcanal Diary. Of course some would argue that Tregaskis borrowed a
lot of the plot from the previous war that Ernest Hemingway chronicled
in A Farewell to Arms.
Still it's a nice romantic story brought to life by the teaming of William Holden and Nancy Olson who did four films together back at this time. Nancy Olson in fact got an Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category for Sunset Boulevard which was their first film together.
After his company is relieved on the San Pietro front in the Italian theater, William Holden meets WAC Nancy Olson and a romance blooms. But it's back to the front, in fact Holden gets himself wounded twice during the course of Force of Arms.
Actual combat footage from the Italian campaign is used along with newsreels from the liberation of Rome where the climax takes place. There are good performances here also by Frank Lovejoy and Katherine Warren as the respective commanding officers of Holden and Olson.
This was Bill Holden's first great romantic role along the lines of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. It's a harbinger of what we would later get from him in films like The Bridges of Toko-Ri and Love Is A Many Splendored Thing.
It's a sadly neglected film, one of Bill Holden's better films and should not be missed.
Some have called this an updated version of "A Farewell to Arms," but if
time has been moved forward from World War I Italy to World War II Italy,
the quality has also been moved down from "memorable" to "routine."
really nothing much wrong with this production but there's little to
distinguish it, either, and one sometimes gets the uncomfortable feeling
that the death and destruction of the greatest war in human history is
simply being used as the background for yet another boy-meets-girl
William Holden has a shower scene which shows he was still, at this point in his career, in his "hairy-chested" mode. Just a few years later, beginning with "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing," he entered his "shaved chest" period.
Dick Wesson supplies some "comic relief" which is just as grating as his work in "Destination Moon."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Battle-torn Italy in World War II provides the rugged life and death
setting for "Casablanca" director Michael Curtiz's "Force of Arms," a
compelling action romance yarn with William Holden and Nancy Olsen
lovers. This above-average 1951 World War II movie about the U.S. Army
tangling with the entrenched Wehrmacht during the explosive Italian
campaign might alienate hardened armchair warriors who prefer their
olive-drab heroes in action against the enemy instead of kicking back
to cuddle with a babe lieutenant. Indeed, you'll get your fill of
combat scenes. Artillery punches holes in the terrain and our guys
scramble for cover. Farmhouse concern machine gun nests and our guys
scramble for cover. The romance takes the back seat in the preliminary
part, but the lovey-dovey stuff dominates the middle part, and two
share in the finale. The good news is that the ever-reliable Curtiz
knows how to stage close-quarters combat scenes and lenser Ted McCord
is as much an expert at shooting these battlefield episodes. McCord's
black & white photography captures the gritty realism that stands out
of "Mr. Soft Touch" scenarist Orin Janning's screenplay that features
some first-rate dialogue. Frank Lovejoy co-stars as Major Blackford, a
tough-as-nails major while Gene Evans is equally tough as an NCO,
Sergeant Smiley 'Mac' McFee, who isn't getting mail from his wife back
home. Let's not forget Dick Wesson as Kleiner. The supporting cast
isn't too shabby.
This is a traditional World War II combat actioneer where officers are treated like royalty and our NCO hero wins a promotion from sergeant to lieutenant because his company commander got bitten by a Kraut bullet. The German enemy is portrayed from afar. In other words, you don't see any Nazis tearing about the landscape. Basically, you see the enemy in long shots, but never up close and personal. There are no portraits of Adolf Hitler and you never see any high ranking Nazi field marshals. William Holden delivers another fine anti-heroic performance as an NCO Sergeant Joe 'Pete' Peterson who receives a battlefield commission and meets a WAC. Nancy Olsen is appropriately doe-eyed as the sweet WAC, Lieutenant Eleanor MacKay. Indeed, Olsen looks cute in her brown uniform with all those buttons. The romance probably is as misty-eyed as the soap opera crowd prefers, but the film doesn't waste any of its 99 minutes. Of course, it is obvious when genuine battlefield footage is integrated into the conventional material.
The first-act shows Pete being baptized in combat and covered with valor. He and his unit are behind the 8-ball, but they survive a savage attack to save the day. During the action, Pete's company commander dies and he takes over. Pete's unit is pulled off the line and he recuperates only to discover that he has been promoted to lieutenant. The night before in a graveyard, he stumbled into a WAC lieutenant. Later, when they meet again, the attraction begins obvious. In the middle, the attraction is the attraction and they fall in love and wed. During the next part, Pete turns gunshy because he is thinking about staying alive and he gets Major Blackford killed during an artillery attack on a tank column. Frank Lovejoy makes the most of this role. Our hero winds up in a hospital and awakens 15 days later. Initially,he doesn't want to see her. Afterward, they get tight, get married on a three day leave and Pete gets to see Eleanor out of uniform. Pete maanges to swing a desk job behind the lines, but the Major's death haunts him so he decides to go back onto the frontlines. He is cut out from his unit during a tank attack (the tanks are all off-screen)and is taken prisoner. Predictably, everybody but Eleanor presumes that he is dead. The girl has got pluck and she goes in search of him. She finally catches up with him in Rome.
Altogther, the bullets outnumber the kisses.
I wasn't sure what to make of this at first since I had never heard of
the movie before I saw it on Turner recently, but almost right off the
bat this earnest war/romance drama shows it's mettle.
William Holden is a GI on a short leave in Naples during the Allied advance up Italy. He meets WAC Nancy Olson , and after a short resistance on her part they fall in love , more or less at first sight. I liked the dialog between the two of them during this 'courtship' , it is well written and though Holden plays the wisecracker he so often did in his roles, it seems natural in these scenes.
The rest of the film tracks their time in Italy, together and apart, as Holden returns to the front and faces the need to prove his courage and cool under fire.
The thing that made this movie stand out is the treatment of a war time in service romance that is neither played for laughs or pathos. It is slightly melodramatic at times, but appropriately so for the material.
One of the better films of this type I have seen.
I really liked this movie. I fast forwarded through the love scenes though. I am a Holden fan and I seem to like his snide comments he always seems to make. His comments are usually like "gallows humor". In times of stress everything seems to take on a different view or meaning. I also liked where Holden seems to exhibit PTSD. He talks about the horror of the battlefield and his men dying for no reason. I liked this because I thought the US Government did not want anything but us the good guys and the enemy the bad. Most war movies show us never getting hurt and the enemy all dying, What tipped me off was the word "San Pietro". John Huston made a movie called that and it was banned by the Government and not shown because it showed people actually getting killed. Lastly, all the equipment looked real and used in the real manner even down to the mail room! Usually I can find many errors in guns and ammo. Another good movie to watch is, "Pork Chop Hill" with Gregory Peck. You actually see men using body armor and guns and ammo used in the proper manner.
Just caught it on Turner. The reviews calling it "routine" show how dull-normal some people are. In fact, the old pro Michael Curtiz (look him up) brings an extraordinary sensibility to the film. Gone are his romantic stylings of Casablanca and Robin Hood, his lush, overdone Warner's agreeable foolishness. Instead, he portrays war as bitter and without glory, full of random death and meaningless violence. The three combat sequences are superb, and Holden, as he would later demonstrate in "Bridge on the River K" is brilliant as a reluctant soldier who has no sense of glory and no wish to be a hero, but is nevertheless the everyman Infantryman, who knows he must do his duty. Curtiz doesn't turn this evocation of battle into boy's fantasy; it's hard, bitter, terrifying and brutally unfair to children and especially young American men who never thought they'd be dying in the slopes of Mt. Casino. The romance is nicely done, even if the ending is trite (but, in the way that cheap melody can be, amazingly satisfying). Olsen and Holden have great chem (as they proved in three other films as well) and all in all, the whole piece is kept in a register of near-realism that's very affecting. A neglected minor gem from the great Curtiz.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a combat veteran, I can tell you that this movie is one hundred percent authentic. The action is certainly more realistic than modern day movies like Saving Private Ryan, which was full of gimmicks. In Force of Arms, nothing much is happening most of the time, then all hell breaks loose and your pals mostly die. You do not see the enemy most of the time and when you do, they appear for a split second as a target. It seems that the closer a film is to the actual events, the more realistic it is. This film was made only 7 years after the event. Saving Private Ryan was made some 60 years after WW2, which is too big a gap. The acting by Nancy Olsen and William Holden is superb. The film also depicts Clark's triumphal entry into Rome. Clark was probably the best general of WW2. He brilliantly bypassed the places where the Germans were anticipating an attack and bravely went straight through to save Rome. He was given the title of American Caesar.
Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) with music by the great Max Steiner (King Kong, Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, Treasure of the Sierra Madre) The script crackles with great dialogue, William Holden is the best I've ever seen him, Nancy Olson is able to deliver the most romantic lines with real emotional honesty--not an easy thing to do. The idea here is a kind of bleak existential gallows humor mixed with a deeply felt love story. It also brings up PTSD. All the actors are at their best and believable. The photography mixes real combat footage well.The war attitude is soldiers wanting to do a job because they feel a responsibility to their brothers-in-arms and their loved ones back home. It's a real gem and I'll never forget it.
In wartime Italy, a gung-ho army sergeant meets and falls for a WAC and suffers a mini crisis of confidence as he starts playing safe on the battlefield so that he can get back to his new girlfriend and sample her wares. And that's about it, really. Male lead William Holden has enough star quality to keep things interesting while he's on the screen (and nab the lion's share of close-ups) and Nancy Olson makes a fetching object of his affections, but the story they have to work with is awfully thin. Fortunately, old-hand Michael Curtiz is behind the camera and provides the kind of assured direction that we tend to take for granted from studio movies from the 1940s. Essentially a sequence of battle scenes interspersed with members of the armed forces philosophising about the meaning and nature of love.
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