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Of all the movies to come out of Hollywood covering world war two, I
place this one, which I first saw in 1950, in the top-draw category.
From the very start when the credits start rolling, the opening music
seemed to fit perfectly; instead of the era-splitting noise they have
hit us with in recent years. The old wartime, "Bless 'em All" and,
"Don't sit under the apple tree", heard in the background, as Dean
Jagger, now a civilian, slowly takes a nostalgic walk out onto the
weed-covered, oil-stained runway to remember gallant times of the 918th
Bomb Group, now past.
Gregory Peck as Brigadier General Frank Savage did great credit to this role, and deserved an Oscar. From the moment he enters the base and tears into the guard at the gate for casually waving him through, you know he's going to be a S.O.B. Dean Jagger as Major Stovall, the lawyer in uniform now Ground Executive Officer knows how to handle the paperwork after the first sobering face to face encounter with with Savage. That Jagger won the Oscar as best supporting actor, was well deserved indeed. Gary Merrill as Colonel Keith Davenport, the too popular Group CO, very good. Hugh Marlowe as Lt Colonel Ben Gately, who flew too many missions from behind a desk, placed on the rack by Savage with the other bomb group deadbeats and foul ups, handles his role well. Then their's Millard Mitchell as Major General Pritchard, displaying a commanding presence, and Paul Stewart as Doc Kaiser, also well portrayed.
There are no false heroics in this movie. No blood and guts all over the silver screen. And no routine world war two, hard boiled, go-get-'em dialogue to spoil it. The authors, Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay. wrote an excellent screenplay. They did the film a favour, they deleted General Savage's love interest that appeared in their fine novel. I don't think it would have added anything to the movie at all. Maybe what surprised a lot of moviegoers who had not read the book before seeing the movie, was Savage's mental breakdown; freezing suddenly at the hatch as he attempted to heave himself aboard the B-17. It was so unexpected of him after showing such ice-cold nerves
What rounded out this impressive movie was the insertion of the air combat footage shot over Europe during the actual daylight operations. This documentary footage crowned a very fine achievement. One of Henry King's best; a professional effort indeed. The thread of sincerity in this war movie runs deep.
The reason I found the movie so engrossing was, as a teenager, on the sidelines of the war, I saw more than one B-17 stagger home and belly in on a wing and a prayer. This movie was loaded with integrity from the beginning to the end credits. I'm sure the gallant gentlemen who flew with the Eighth Air Force over enemy-occupied Europe would be of the same opinion. It is a kind of monument to those warriors.
USS HAYNES, real name, WHITEHURST DE-634, in the opening scene as the
credits roll has weighed anchor and stood out from Trinidad that
morning and is well out to sea. Which means she's operating in the
Caribbean Sea Frontier Area.
A sailor heaves two buckets of garbage over the stern. If it was a "real" war situation let's just hope that there's nothing amongst the potato peelings, bottles, cans, etc, with USA stamped all over them. A U-boat captain on surface patrol would love nothing better than to scoop up garbage intelligence. A tip-off that allied ships maybe not far ahead? It's surprising what information can be gleaned from garbage.
There's curiosity among some crew members about the new captain, Murrell (Robert Mitchum). In the officer's wardroom someone stated that the XO, Lt Ware (David Hedison) should have been promoted to CO of HAYNES. Ware's only experience was sailing a yawl in the Miami yacht races in peacetime. Similar peacetime experience as Sub Lt Lockhart aboard COMPASS ROSE in "The Cruel Sea".
A possible U-boat contact appears on the radar screen. Murrel orders the bridge watch to get on the sub's tail and watch every course change he makes, and follow at the same speed. Camera shots now cutting between the pursuer and the pursued become interesting.
The U-boat captain, Von Stolberg (Curt Jergens), reminisces with Heinie Schaffer (Theodore Bikel), his second in command and old friend. "...but now it's, be a good warrior and never think, Heinie." They may be fighting for the New Germany; the Master Race. But there is a feeling of unease in Von Stolberg's heart and mind about the system. "Nothing good will come out of this war, win or lose. There's no honour in it. Memories will be ugly. We will die without God." Only Heinie is within earshot of the captain's opinions. He would probably not voice these opinions in front of Lt. Kunz, the officer aboard who struts and responds to orders, Nazi fashion. Von Stolberg shows silent contempt for the Master Race when on leaving the control room he drapes an oil-soaked towel over the Fuhrer's name which is stencilled on the overhead air conditioning trunk suspended over the chart table.
Captain Murrel again shows he's no slouch when he correctly calculates the time it will take for the submarine to dive, level to periscope depth, launch torpedoes, and running time to target. There are tense looking expressions on some of the crew's faces as Murrell presents HAYNES broadside on to the submarine at reduced speed. The tempting target suddenly turns hard to port; and shocked amazement is on the destroyer men's faces, all heads swivelling from left to right and eyes glued on the two torpedoes as they gurgle along the destroyer's starboard side and close aboard. Murrell proves his ability. He's as capable as the submerged opponent he's trying to destroy.
The U-boat goes deep after the depth charge attack and rests quietly on the sea bed. HAYNES heaves too right above her. Silence all round. A chess game is in progress in the sub's control room and Von Stolberg looks on with faintly amused contempt as Kunz buries his nose in a copy of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf". Aboard HAYNES a studious naval rating, probably a bookworm, is reading Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". Heavier reading than "Mein Kampf", and about an empire that lasted a lot longer. The camera pans right to show a smiling commissioned officer reading a, "Little Orphan Annie" comic. It speaks volumes about the background mixture of men thrown together in times of conflict.
The U-boat gets his licks in at the Destroyer Escort with one torpedo out of a full spread. That one strike amidships at the ships's very vitals, its forward fire room, is all that is needed to finish her. With enough power remaining Murrell manages to close the distance with his surfaced opponent and strike the submarine forward of the conning tower.
Respectful courtesy is immediately apparent between the two captains as they sight each other for the first time. They salute, they have fought the good fight. In conflict courtesy between warriors like days of old comes to the fore. Men of both sides are mariners and, war or no war, the brotherhood of the sea rises to the surface. There are souls to be saved from this cruel sea, and hostilities take second place as deadly opponents become survivors and are hauled aboard the whaleboat.
Von Stolberg reading the burial lesson in German over the remains of Heinie Schaffer before committing him to the deep seems very appropriate. German dialogue throughout the film with English subtitles would have been distracting; spoiling the concentration.
The German side was given fair treatment. Something that has often been lacking over many years. The image of strutting bone-headed Nazi automatons often bordered on the ridiculous. Thankfully there was Only Kunz aboard the submarine who seemed to symbolise the Master Race.
Robert Mitchum turned in one of his best performances, as did Curt Jurgens, who incidentally, was interned in Germany in World War Two for not "embracing" the Nazi system. Dick Powell, a crooner in the thirties, an accomplished actor in the forties, proved himself as an accomplished director with this production.
On ramming U-boats? RN destroyer HESPERUS sliced U-357 in 1942. VISCOUNT, closing at 26 knots, finished off U-661, 1942. Lend Lease BUCKLEY class DE, HMS AYLMER dispatched U-1051. Other DE's CALDER, BENTNICK, and MANNERS, were in on the kill, January 1945. All ships survived. Ramming was officially discouraged in the Royal Navy because of damage incurred. Captains balled out in a gentle manner by higher authority. "Don't dare do it again!....Until next time. There's a good chap. And good hunting! And if that wasn't open-ended encouragement to do it again I don't know what was!
Security being an important wartime measure, this aircraft carrier's
name was classified as a result. However, most of the footage, above
and below decks, about life aboard a carrier was filmed aboard the
newly commissioned ESSEX class carrier, YORKTOWN. She was named and
sponsored by Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt January 1943 after the "OLD YORKY"
which was lost during the The Battle of Midway
The Navy Department reported that at least 75 percent of the documentary footage was shot aboard YORKTOWN, with the remaining footage shared between HORNET and TICONDEROGA. And one scene filmed aboard BUNKER HILL.
Before shaping a course for Panama and transit through the canal, and while still on her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean Sea Frontier Area, Commander Frank "Spig" Wead, the crippled naval aviator turned screenwriter was instrumental in getting YORKTOWN's captain, J.J. "Jocko" Clark to allow Twentieth Century Fox to film some background shots for the new war movie, "Wing and a Prayer", starring Dana Andrews, Don Ameche, and Charles Bickford.
The carrier transits and clears the Panama Canal and shapes a course out into the Pacific. So YORKTOWN along with her ESSEX class sisters would become, before Japan surrendered, the champions of the Pacific naval campaign. They were to carry the ball, the Sunday punch, all the way to Tokyo Bay.
Of all the combat photography recorded it was the aerial footage that was impressive for its time. With the strafing and bombing of ground targets on Marcus Island YORKTOWN's aviators receive their baptism of fire. They could now call themselves combat veterans. Then there is the strike against the large Japanese naval anchorage at Truk Lagoon in the Carolines.
Appearing on the film with members of his staff is Vice Admiral Marc A. "Pete" Mitscher. Also present with Mitscher but not named was Rear Admiral John S. "Slew" McCain. His grandson being Lt Commander John S. McCain III. The Viet Nam war veteran. Now serving as the Senator for Arizona.
There is a fine aerial shot of the carrier task force resting at anchor at Majuro Atoll in the Marshal Islands early in 1944. Three of YORKTOWN's sister ships are present along with the older battle-hardened veteran the venerable ENTERPRISE. Also at anchor the battleships INDIANA, and a NEW Mexico class battleship along with cruisers, destroyers and other support ships. Standing out and conspicuously painted white overall, BOUNTIFUL AH-9, a naval hospital ship.
During the assault on the Marianas Islands June 1944 the Japanese Mobile Fleet launched 373 aircraft to attack the U.S. Fleet. The combined squadrons of YORKTOWN and her sister carriers of Vice Admiral Mitscher's Task Force 58 intercepted the attack, with the loss to the enemy of more than 300 aircraft destroyed. So the Battle of the Phillipine Sea was to become just as famously known as, The Great Marianas Turkey shoot.
Plaudits then are well deserved for Edward Steichen but certainly no less to Dwight Long and other photographers who presided over the job of shooting thousands of feet of 16mm Kodachrome film stock. The film actor Robert Taylor was the narrator. His voice was crisp and clear and easy recognisable.
Twentieth Century Fox's Darryl F. Zanuck was not known to be very interested about releasing the documentary under the Fox logo. That's until he was persuaded to view it. He was impressed by what he saw. The story goes that he suggested giving it the title, "The Fighting Wench"! Who would not have cringed at such a brain dead title as that! An ungracious suggestion. Yorktown was indeed a great lady, as were her other sisters of the Essex class. So, recorded for posterity was a fine 60 minute documentary. The 1944 Oscar it received was well and truly deserved.
"The men are the heroes. The heroines are the ships. The only villain
is the sea, the cruel sea." A truthful statement made by that
accomplished actor, the late Jack Hawkins, as Ericson a merchant navy
captain in peacetime. But in the naval reserve and now appointed
captain of His Majesty's Ship, COMPASS ROSE, a flower class corvette.
In reality is was christened, H.M.S. COREOPSIS (K32).
The first British maritime casualty in The Battle of the Atlantic was the Donaldson Line's ATHENIA, torpedoed and sunk by U-Boat-30, Lt Fritz Lemp commanding, less than 8 or 9 hours after Britain declared war, September 3rd 1939.
The Atlantic battle was the longest fought campaign of the war. Only ending when what was left of the German U-Boat fleet surfaced, wherever they may be, to rendezvous and surrender to ships of the allied navies in May 1945. The story of this lone corvette then, displayed just a small but nevertheless vital role of the Royal Navy's "little ships", as they became known, that took part in this vast oceanic conflict.
Ericson develops a faintly worried facial expression camouflaged with a slight smile when he meets up with two of his recently commissioned "green" young officers, who have just reported aboard ship after only five weeks of training, as she lays at the fitting out dock and nearing completion for sea trials. Lockhart tells Ericson that his only nautical experience was sailing a 5 ton yawl on the Solent. Ferraby, the other officer had done one channel crossing to France on a ferry in peace time. Ericson's first lieutenant, known in naval terms as number one, is Bennett. An overbearing officer; the gold lace on his sleeve having gone to his head. To him it was authority, and let no one ever forget it! Bennett soon lands ashore in the naval hospital with a suspected ulcer.
The first scenes of war at sea; and close up, are sobering and ugly. Shots of rescued survivors from sunken merchantmen. Cold wet and gasping for breath and trying to hang on to life. Coughing and throwing up oil, their lungs full of the smelly black slime. Some of the poor devils make it. Others do not and are committed back to the deep cruel sea....And into the God's care.
The hunt for U-Boats is well filmed. One boat? Maybe a wolf pack lurking out there with deadly intent. COMPASS ROSE manoeuvring, its asdic/sonar equipment working like a bloodhound's nose, sniffing for a kill.
Ericson's stiff upper lip falters when he orders depth charges to be dropped among struggling survivors in the water when he suspects a U-boat lurking under them. Later, alcohol does not really help to salve his conscience. Another poignant scene is of Petty Officer Tallow on shore leave and heading for his sister's house accompanied by Petty Officer Watts. And only to find his sister's house demolished, and his sister killed during a night-time Luftwaffe blitz on Liverpool.
It is the turn of COMPASS ROSE to become a victim of a U-Boat's torpedo. It strikes at night with surprising suddenness. Ten men out of the ship's company survive the ordeal on carley floats to be rescued. Ericson is appointed to command a new class of corvette named, SALTASH CASTLE, along with promotion to full commander. The corvette is ordered to escort duty on the arctic run to Murmansk via the North Cape of Norway. Near the end Ericson can claim a second U-Boat sunk.
In the closing scenes of the film with the war over, SALTASH CASTLE slowly slips by a group of surrendered U-Boats moored together, as she arrives at her anchorage. After anchoring, Ericson's call, "Finished with main engine," gives a nice ring to the final scenes in this film. There is an air of relaxation between Ericson and Lockhart as they reminisce on the ship's bridge. They talk of men who never made it through to the end. Morell, Ferraby, Tallow, Watts and the other crew members. A tiny fraction of the high cost who now lay in a vast watery grave along with other brave men and many fine ships.
Documentary footage adds to the authentic feel of this film, coupled some of the time with a mournful musical soundtrack, which seems to add a depressing atmosphere to an often dangerous and angry looking ocean. Sailing in a Atlantic gale under wartime conditions, could sink to the level of waterlogged purgatory.
Eric Ambler did a admirable job of adapting Nicholas Monsarrat's fine novel for the screen. Director Charles Friend turned Ambler's work into the best film ever made about the Royal Navy in the Second World War.
I sailed with a Merchant Navy skipper who commanded a Flower class corvette. He said that in stormy conditions they would indulge in some weird antics. "The Flower class corvettes," he said "would have pitched and rolled in a field of wet grass. Let alone a bloody great ocean!"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** It's believed that the 19th century
British Army fought as many wars, battles, confrontations, skirmishes,
call them what you will; as there were years covering Queen Victoria's
reign. And that was sixty years, all told.
The ordinary poor British subject joined the army to receive, what was known, as the Queen's shilling, to risk his life somewhere in the colonies to preserve and protect the Queen's Empire. But with young Harry Faversham, played by John Clements; his situation was different. Born into privilege and a military family, he would be "expected" to join the army and gain a commission because it was the family tradition and his duty to do so. The prospect to Harry was indeed, unpleasant.
About six minutes into the film we see the fearful 15-year old Harry Faversham seated at the opposite end of the long dining table from his glowering father, himself a retired general. And who wants his hapless son to be licked into shape to serve Queen and Empire. The Crimean War has broken out all over again amongst the dinner guests during coffee and brandy, with the formidable C. Aubrey Smith as General Burroughs booming, "War was war in those days!", has he reminisced to old comrades over past glories coupled with the grisly detail of soldiers dying bravely with mangled body wounds. Harry sits quietly, enduring the unpleasant subject; watching as General Burroughs displays the layout of the battle lines, with a handful of walnuts, a pineapple, and a drop of red wine symbolising, "the thin red line", of the British Army at Balaclava.
Ten years on and Harry Faversham is serving with the North Surrey Regiment, and displays no enthusiasm when the regiment is called to go on active duty to serve with General Herbert Kitchener's army in the Sudan. Not like Durrance, Willoughby and the younger Burroughs, who can't wait to have a crack at the Khalifa's Dervish Army and those damned fuzzy-wuzzys. (No political correctness here!). And unbounded enthusiasm is displayed by Willoughby, joking about being captured by those fuzzy-wuzzy chaps and "Hung up by the toes. All the money falling out your pockets. Shocking state of affairs!"
Faversham resigns his commission and receives white feathers, the mark of a coward, from his former fellow officers. The disguise of Faversham as a mute Sengali native is clever and certainly believable. Being branded by fellow officers is not pleasant. But self loathing propels him to literally be held down and branded with a hot iron on the forehead to authenticate his Arab disguise. "You are a brave man", he is told. A faint smile shows on Faversham's face. It seems the veil of cowardice has been lifted from his tormented mind. He had crossed the threshold and regained his honour and self respect.
Ralph Richardson as John Durrance turns in a performance that one could only expect from him, as a man blinded by sunstroke. Blindly staggering about in a tent, his face striking the suspended hurricane lamp. Alone in a scorching wilderness with a supposed mute Arab for company and an attempt at suicide which seemed the only way out is Richardson at his very best.
June Duprez as Ethne, a lovely dark haired beauty is perfectly cast to display a fine example of upper crust Victorian gentility. She carries it off well.
A tension filled scene occurs at the dinner table when John Durrence is back in England. Recalling his rescue by a mute Arab. The atmosphere becomes tense when the white feather from Durrence to Faversham tumbles out of the envelope onto the plate before Ethne. All the dinner guests, except Durrance of course, look on stunned at the feather. For Ethne, it is heartbreak all over again. Her husband then, is still possibly alive......somewhere.
The last few minutes of the film are a delight. Faversham is back home with Willoughby, and the younger Burroughs, who are about to hear once again General Burroughs hold forth about the Charge at Balaclava. Harry Faversham decides to stick his neck out and courageously correct the general about his part in the battle. Harry wins the argument with the general then turns and hands the last white feather to Ethne.
The three Korda Brothers turned out a fine film from a grand nineteenth century story. In what any red-blooded British schoolboy would class as a, "Ripping good yarn!"
Similar cast of characters as its 1939 namesake. But only Bing Crosby as
Doc Boone really shines among the passengers on this stagecoach journey.
Van Heflin as the sheriff tried, but was disappointing. Silm Pickens as the
stage driver always fits neatly into any western like a well fitting glove.
Alec Cord as Ringo was rather wooden in his performance. Ann-Margaret
seemed uncomfortable in her role. But to me she has always been a
heart-throb. She fits all her other film roles like a smooth silky glove!
Just watching her is akin to an art connoisseur staring with total
appreciation at any of the world's most beautiful paintings!
But this movie does have something that Ford's 1939 production lacks. And that is crisp outdoor color photography. And let's add to that, Norman Rockwell's excellent portraits of the main characters, which would have been better served with the opening credits instead of at the end. To me, Norman rockwell's paintings are always enjoyable to look at, anytime.
From the very beginning of this movie you know what you have let yourself
in for, when Lee Marvin belts the ship's bosun over the ear with a broom.
Followed by, "Permission to leave the ship"; then literally jumps ship and
swims for the beach. You realize then that you are in for 150 minutes of a
Fordian, boisterous knockabout comedy.
This was the last time that Ford and Wayne would team up together. Maybe this production was a farewell rave-up for both of them. With Lee Marvin thrown in to assist in turning it into a roughhouse just for the hell of it. Added to this pugilistic mixture, you have the jumbo-sized heavyweight, Mike Mazurki, serving as a French Colonial Gendarme. As a welcome opposite to the boisterous muscle we have the smooth, suave Cesar Romero, oozing glossy charm and good manners, serving as the colonial governor of this supposed French Polynesian paradise. Add to that, Dorothy Lamour, back in the sarong after a long absence, as a duskey maiden-type decoration. The three children belonging to Doctor Dedham add a nice child-like innocence to this warring male atmosphere. Here the softer side of Big John comes to the surface when he tries to comfort the eldest of the three children who becomes emotional over her half-cast origins. Elizabeth Allen adds a well bred prim and proper touch of class to this nonsensical tropical South Pacific potion.
This movie then, has a friendly-like approach to bar room brawling with smiles thrown in. Harmless and bruising fun all the way. I always imagine that this kind of rough and tumble movie seems to be "cobbled" together...somehow. Then everything seems to fall into place at the end. The end result being order out of chaos.
It's a sad to think that nearly all the lead characters plus John Ford, have all faded out and gone to the big movie studio in the sky. God help anybody else up there with this lot! That's all.
The passengers who board the stagecoach, in the town called Tonto, are
well defined. There is the whiskey drummer named, Samuel Peacock, who's
submissive character lives up to his actor's surname, Donald "Meek".
Gatewood the banker. Arrogant and anxious; the supposed pillar of of
any community and running out with a valise full of the bank's funds.
Hatfield, the so-called gentleman gambler. A possible southern
aristocrat, who's probably fallen on hard times as a result of the
civil war. Lucy Mallory, the pregnant wife of a cavalry officer, who is
joining him at his frontier outpost. We have the likable, drunken
doctor, Josiah Boone. Dallas the scarlet woman, the good bad girl who
worked in the Tonto saloon, driven out of town along with the
whiskey-sodden Doc Boone by the hatchet-faced sourpuss old matrons of
Tonto. The stage driver is excitable and squeaky-voiced, Buck. The man
riding shotgun is Sheriff Curly Wilcox.
On the first leg of the journey to Lordsburg the Ringo Kid, recently busted out of jail, flags down the stage. Curly Wilcox orders Ringo to hand over his Winchester rifle. Ringo tells the sheriff that he may need him to help to fight off Geronimo's Apaches who are on the warpath. Ringo is determined to get to Lordsburg to hunt down and kill the Plummer boys who killed his family.
The stage stops at a way station for the passengers to rest and eat. At the next stop, Mrs Mallory gives birth. The now sobered up Doc Boone and Dallas deliver the baby, and the softer side of Dallas surfaces as a result. She tries to get Ringo to make a run for it but he's determined to get the Plummer boys.
On the final leg of the journey the stage is attacked by an Apache war party and is saved by the timely arrival of a troop of cavalry. Back in nineteenth century frontier reality Sheriff Wilcox and Ringo would probably have shot and brought down the Apache ponies instead of the riders. Blunting the attack at the beginning of the chase. Likewise, the Apaches could possibly have shot down the lead horses in the coach team. But on the big twentieth century silver screen the tension and excitement would have been blunted for the moviegoers!
In Lordsburg Ringo finally catches up and kills the Plummers. He shoots Hank Plummer, played by Tom Tyler, in the street. Hank then crashes through the bat wing doors and into the saloon, and staggers to his death like a drunken man. Tom Tyler would repeat a similar drunken-like performance when in his death throes seven years later as the gunman, Lafe McWilliams, when Errol Flynn kills him off in "San Antonio".
Critics have rated this a classic. It may well be; but his later westerns, like the never-to-be-forgotten, "The Searchers", are miles ahead in perfection. Ford raised the western genre from its Ken Maynard, Charles Starrett, and Buck Jones, 1930's "B" picture existence to a well deserved prominence. He took liberties with frontier history. Then who didn't? He did frontier history a favour by painting the harsh and cruel loneliness of human existence in the new republic, in a poetic manner and on the broad canvas of Monument Valley. It has won him plaudits ever since. And how well deserved they are, too.
Before the Battle of Alamein reached its crescendo, and before the
victorious finale in Tripoli, there was a long drawn out overture which
lasted from June 1940 to October 1942. It was to turn this campaign
into something unique in World War Two.
A featureless land fit only for war, as the narrator, J. L. Hodson stated in the early scenes. "If war was to be fought then let it begin here". In endless miles of rock-strewn scrub desert, where civilians hardly existed. If chivalry existed in war, then chivalry was here also; as the veterans on both sides claimed. This was the only campaign were a spirit of comradeship and respect existed between the opposing armies. They even shared the same popular song, "Lili Marlene".
How did soldiers cope with the desert conditions? The men of the Afrika Korps coped well enough. They were a highly disciplined obedient product of the world's most professional military establishment. The Italians, it is said, brought along their comfort women to make life a little easier. To British and Commonwealth soldiers desert fighting was an old story. Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in the 19th Century, Jordan, Palestine, Mesopotamia (now Iraq), in the 20th Century. They took it in their stride.
From 1940 to 1942 this campaign swung back and forth between El Alamein in Egypt and westward to El Agheila in Cyrenaica. Under General Wavell, General O'Connor a daring and imaginative commander, succeeded in destroying a large part of the Italian forces in Libya at Beda Fomm, in December 1940. February 1941 the Afrika Korps arrived on the scene commanded by General Erwin Rommel. A bold and highly respected soldier indeed. The Afrika Korps was about to become famous and show its ability.In Britain unknown desert place names became famous. Benghazi, Gazala, Bardia, Mersa Matruh, and Tobruk.
By July 1942 Rommel's successes had run there course. His long supply lines from Italy via Tripoli were harassed by the Royal Navy, RAF and commonwealth squadrons. He was stopped in his tracks a short distance west of the railway stop at El Alamein, a location that was to win a roomy place in British military history. Tobruk under a second siege had fallen to Rommel. General Auchinleck relieved General Ritchie and took command in the field himself.
Tobruk's fall was a blow to Churchill. He decided that new blood should conduct operations. He wanted to appoint General Sir Henry Maitland "Jumbo" Wilson. He also favoured Lieutenant General Richard "Straffer" Gott. But Gott's luck ran out; killed when flying in a Air Force transport aircraft shot down by the Luftwaffe. General Sir Alan Brooke suggested Montgomery. Churchill concurred. An unknown man outside army circles Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery was a man dedicated to the profession of arms; a soldier to the marrow in his bones. Montgomery's CinC would be General Sir Harold Alexander. An officer and a gentleman to his fingertips if ever there was one. For effect Monty, as he became known, wore a wide-brimmed Australian slouch hat which displayed a number of regimental and commonwealth badges. He ruthlessly fired senior subordinates who did not "measure up". He courted the correspondents. Putting them, "in the picture". Monty would, "...clear this chap Rommel out of Africa once and for all". Thus spoke the British Army's greatest self-publicist! The scribes lapped it up. Monty's self confidence seemed a dangerous weapon in itself.
Rommel decided to strike at the Eighth Army's defensive line which ran forty miles from the coast southwards to the Qattara Depression. Montgomery was building up Eighth's strength at the time. It was called the Battle of Alam Halfa. With air support the ground forces hit back hard. Rommel withdrew.
The offensive at Alamein opened up with a heavy artillery barrage. After twelve days of bitter fighting coupled with ceaseless air attacks by the RAF the Afrika Korps commenced the long retreat from Egypt into Cyrenaica, across Tripolitania, through the Libyan capitol, Tripoli, and into Tunisia. So after two years of a long hard slog the Eighth Army was on a winning streak. Fortune smiled upon the soldier's faces. In the minds of the British people, fed up with defeat and starved of victory, the BBC radio announcement was a delightful shock to the system. At last they had something to cheer about. As the young woman stated in the film, "There's plenty more where that comes from". There was indeed.
In Tripoli, the show place of Mussolini's much vaunted African Empire this documentary ends. Mister Churchill took the salute of the Eighth Army veterans. The Master of Ceremonies? Monty of course, brilliant but insufferable, wearing the now-famous black beret, displaying a general's cap badge and the badge of the Royal Armoured Corps. The victory parade was symbolic in another way. For this long bitterly fought campaign was Britain's imperial swan song. From now on, America would take an increasingly leading role in this worldwide conflict.
Apart from the British divisions there were also Australian, New Zealand, South African, and Indian divisions. And those brave little warriors from Nepal, the fearless Gurkhas. And here in this desert wastes was born the legendary SAS. Commonwealth commanders served the cause well. Generals Pinenaar, South Africa, Freyberg, New Zealand Morshead, and Air Vice Marshal Coningham, Australia.
And what of the two, three, and four star generals? Some known, some not so well known. Some relieved by higher command. Generals, Archie Wavell, Alan Cunningham, and Claude Auchinleck, overshadowed by Harold Alexander and Bernard Montgomery. Others? Neil Ritchie, Oliver Leese, Willoughby Norrie, Herbert Lumsden, Briggs, Dorman-Smith, Godwin Austen, Gatehouse and Brian Horrocks. Some did, "measure up", and some didn't, before and after Montgomery arrived on the scene.
And Field Marshal Rommel? He was recalled from North Africa. Had he fallen into Allied hands he would have avoided the July '44 plot against Hitler. Survived in Allied captivity and lived out his remaining years in retirement.
This is not a large scale multi-million dollar epic of World War Two.
No thousands of extras, no wide panoramic sweep of battle scenes. This
says more about The Battle of the Bulge than the movie of the same
name. It's just an ordinary black and white M.G.M. production. What it
lacks in size and scope it makes up for in impact.A simple story very
well told, of a squad of GI's of the 101st Airborne Division, thrown
into the maelstrom that was the German offensive in the Ardennes in
December of 1944 against the Allied ground forces.
It's hard to believe that this film was not shot on location; but on a Metro sound stage. And Metro's Culver City was turned into the only outdoor location for the snow-covered, rubble-strewn town of Bastogne under siege, which was tenaciously held by the 101st, under the command of Brig. General Anthony McAuliffe.
With the exception of Van Johnson as Pvt. Holly who was high profile on the Metro lot in his time, and George Murphy as Pvt. Stazak, the rest of the cast were character-type actors who filled their roles perfectly. James Whitmore as Sgt. Kinnie is drilling the squad in the opening scenes.
The squad members talk of an enjoyable furlough in Paris which is suddenly cut short by the German breakthrough in the Ardenne. Ptv. Stazak hopes of going home are dashed because his authorised documents have not come through before the squad moves up front. Douglas Fowley as Pvt. Kippton seems to be the best in the squad at bellyaching.Maybe it's his dentures that make him a sourpuss. But Fowley's dentures turn into a class act; clicking away to the old song, "I Surrender Dear," through the courtesy of a German propaganda broadcast heard over the radio in a Sherman tank. Denise Darcel comes as a welcome relief of feminine pleasure; not out of place in the town of Bastogne itself. In an indoor scene, Pvt. Holly's eyeballs go into left-to-right overdrive as he stares at Denise's buxom rear end descending a flight of stairs. Then there's Holly again, nursing stolen newly-laid eggs, as valuable as gold nuggets. He's about to scramble them over a fire when the squad is told to saddle up and move out. Not for the first time does Johnson (Pvt. Holly) yell, "oh no!" A expression he's used in past movies also. The broken eggs in his upturned helmet are now a problem. In the end it's disaster. The German artillery scramble the eggs for Holly. Problem solved!
On a three man patrol, Holly, Hodiak as Janness, Montalban as Rodriguez, intercept and force a jeep carrying a Major and two sergeants to stop and identify themselves. The knowledge that Germans are infiltrating in GI uniforms has made the patrol suspicious so the Major is asked how the Dodgers made out in 1944. The Major hesitates,but the Sergeant in the rear seat asks Holly who Betty Grable is married to. Montalban shouts back, "Cesar Romero". The Major says Romero is out. "Betty Grable is married to Harry James". The tense atmosphere relaxes. The patrol is convinced they're friendly.
What is displayed authentically on this studio sound stage is the icy, bone-chilling atmosphere of the battlefield. The men hunkered down; the deeper the better, in their foxholes. Throughout nearly all this movie there is the constant rise and fall in the background of continuous artillery fire, like a rolling thunder. It never seems to cease. Sometimes it's close, sometimes distant. That, along with the freezing fog hanging like a thick whitish-grey blanket in the air, enveloping everything, gives off an atmosphere of crisis; a feeling of fearful tension. The men endeavour to dispel the fear with humour. Waiting and wondering when the enemy will appear ghost-like out of the mist-shrouded forest.
Near the end of the movie, Leon Ames gives a good performance as a Army Chaplain. Trying to explain the reason for this necessary trip to Europe, to kill off a murderous political system that has already killed off millions. Before the end, the tables turn in the Allies favour. Sergeant Kinnie notices his shadow against the snow. The sun is breaking through and the mist rises. Allied tactical air power is back in business again with a vengeance.
Veteran director William Wellman was not found wanting when he directed this movie. He had already proved himself with, "The Story of GI Joe", in 1945. Antiwar film? Any war film well made and convincing can be antiwar, and you do not need blood all over the silver screen to prove it. Antiwar or not, World War Two was a "popular" war. The reasons stuck out a mile. The Army Chaplain said so in so many words.
The Ardennes offensive caught the Allies unawares, in short, too cocksure. By late 1944, battered the German forces may have been. But they still had a few nasty shots in their locker to scare the living daylights out of the Allied Command. The allies paid the penalty in lost ground and casualties for General Eisenhower's insistence for a broad front advance. We thought the Germans had run out of fighting steam, but old Field Marshal Karl Rudolf Gerd Von Rundstedt thought different!
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