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|12 reviews in total|
It's not surprising many war veterans like this film. Dramatically framed with a voice-over by James Whitmore as the epitome of a Marine Sergeant who cares about his men but knows the mission is all, the film quickly draws us into the lives of these men and their women in a suspenseful and satisfying way. There is enough good acting by Whitmore, Van Heflin, Dorothy Malone, John Lupton and others to get us past the less well acted and more cliched moments. Some scenarios, such as the tragedy-to-triumph of the lumberjack womanizer(Aldo Ray)and the New Zealand farm widow (Nancy Olson)are superbly plotted and played. There are many memorable moments in the film and Uris' varied characters are well represented.(Please note that Navaho code-talkers are credited here.) Combat and training imagery and sound is generally high quality, but the outstanding aspect of the film is the way it explores the human qualities of those men and women who face the tests of war.
With a pretense of being a salute to a great American institution and the brave officers it produces, this film relies on choppy inserts of combat stock footage, flat dialogue, and improbable situations (but nonetheless a very predictable plot swiped from the 1928 film "Annapolis") to "glorify" a great tradition. Everyone looks great, including the Navy fighter jets, and there are some respectful shots of Academy traditions, but if the studio wanted to make a cinema salute to Annapolis and its graduates who served in the Korean war, it should have employed a more creative and/or dedicated director and more talented writers, film editors, and cinematographers. Annapolis deserves better. For dramatic contrast see John Ford's salute to West Point: "The Long Gray Line."
Be warned that this film has great comic dialogue delivered with fine timing by good actors, but if you are prissy about political correctness and hung up on "gender issues", it might discomfort you. But that's your problem, not the film's. Most viewers can just come aboard and enjoy the voyage, appreciating the comic situations and energetic pace. Grant and Curtis are in top form, playing their contrasting characters with skill. Virginia Gregg's and Arthur O'Connell's characters' love/hate relationship is a clever use of classic "gender issues" to elicit laughs and sympathy. The women in this film are more than just sexy ballast. In any case, as a great French comedian noted, "Vive la difference!" Relax, enjoy, and anchors aweigh.
This odd romantic comedy tweaks the genre, jarringly for some viewers, but many of its scenes are memorable and pleasing. The formula ending -the rainy embrace over the rescued cat, the slow pullback and dreamy-melancholic theme music, may not satisfy those who insist it is illogical to assume love is eternal, especially when it involves a character with Holly's reeling eccentricity. Romantic comedy, however, is about love not sociology, and most viewers want to believe that such a rescue is possible. Because of the actors involved, many of the scenes have an afterglow: Holly-Hepburn singing her bitter-sweet theme song, the sad sophistication of Patricia Neal, John McGiver's tolerant and sentimental salesman (don't try this at your local Tiffany's!), even George Peppard's paternal-savior confusion. These virtues may not matter much to those who obsess over the film's weaknesses: the grating racial stereotype, the sometimes cloyingly cute-weirdness of Holly, the deviations from Capote's plot (who cares?). They may have some fair criticism here, but it should not cause anyone to miss BAT's several memorable moments and images.
The continued popularity of this superb film may be ensured by the fact that so many viewers yearn for some idealized valley of their youth. Ford tells Llewellyn's story with scene after engaging scene showing the master's touch. The setting/architecture balances brilliantly the images of mine, chapel, and home, symbolizing the three focal points of their lives -- and of ours. The black slag slowly consuming the green hillside reminds us of the loss of our childhood dreams. As the parents, Donald Crisp and Sara Allgood convey anger, humor, and sentiment with great charm. Likewise Maureen O'Hara, who, in addition, looks lovely beyond the praising of it. Roddy McDowell's performance may be the best ever for an actor of that age group. In contrast Walter Pidgeon seems hesitant and unnecessarily stiff in some of his "lecturing" scenes, but this is a very small flaw in a very great film. If your heart doesn't sing with the Welsh miners, it's a sad thing for you.
This film reveals Wyler's and his studio craftsmen's absolute mastery of American film art. For young film makers there could be no better textbook. In its interwoven narrative of the struggles and triumphs of three veterans and their loved ones, it is controlled brilliance -- no showy stylistic devices or artificiality, just solid, honest story- telling. In the scene of the nervous homecoming of the sergeant-banker, (supposedly reflecting Wyler's own post-war return to his wife), the blocking and balance is as precise and evocative as that of a great painting. The fine balance of joy and anxiety projected by March and Loy in their quiet scenes illustrates classic American film acting and directing. The scene in Butch's bar, as Homer plays the piano,Al looks anxiously on, and in the background Fred calls Al's daughter to break her heart and his, is an amazing piece of deep focus film construction, telling three stories at once and interconnecting them emotionally. American film making just doesn't get any better.
For younger viewers who believe they understand the Vietnam War because they have seen it through the distorting lens of Kubrick, Stone, and others, "We Were Soldiers" may come as a shock and a revelation. Despite the high artifice of some of its violent scenes and the melodramtic nature of others (but war is melodrama), it expresses vividly the emotional struggles of American men and women of that time. And it dares to show the Vietnamese as more than helpless victims of psychotic Americans, even inviting us to respect the enemy for his intelligence and dedication. Reviewers who have complained the Moore-Gibson character is just too moral and patriotic to resemble soldiers of that time did not know any of the best soldiers of that time. It may come as a threat to some cynics, but there were such men (not saints, just good men), and those "protected ones" had better hope there are such men (and women) yet today. Of course, some in the younger generation will sensitively reflect on this film, as exemplified in a recent report by a Vietnam vet whose son phoned him: "Thanks for your service, Dad. I just saw 'We Were Soldiers' and I think I understand better what you must have gone through." What finer recognition could there be of a father's achievement -- or of a film maker's?
For all its heavy-handed sterotyping of hick Southerners(the real backbone of our armed services) and its Hollywood ham hocks accents, this film offers some fine-tuned dramatics and genuinely poignant moments. Gleason's performance couldn't be improved upon, and perhaps Tuesday Weld is just too pretty for some critics to be convinced she can act, but she demonstrates real pathos in her fair scene with Gleason, for instance. It's a shame someone didn't tell Steve McQueen to tone it down. Maybe they did and he didn't listen. He portrayal is too often off pace and far too broad. Goldman's story does not lend itself well to the grinning goofiness of, say, "No Time for Sergeants." McQueen's true acting genius does not come through here until the final scene and it's a shame. There are some fine moments throughout, nevertheless.
Though frequently melodramatic, this film gives a viewer a good feel for the business of running one of the less glamorous but vital warships of the period. Much of the Navy footage is vivid and convincing. The opening dialogue between the old shipbuilder and the young officer is a memorable dramatic device.
It's ironic that culture commentators today, including many teachers, who seem never to have seen a single episode of this series, will refer to it as a frightening illustration of fifties complacency, patriarchal dominance, and even racism. In fact many of the episodes explore issues of male egotism, parental arrogance, and conformist nastiness in an effective way. Of course, it all ends well because it is a comic drama about a tolerant and loving family with solid values (and Father was often the one who had to be reminded of this). Robert Young in frustration complained that it was never meant to be a sermon or sociology lesson -- but this carefully written and popular series was bound to tell us something about our values, and despite current malcontents, the values illustrated by Father Knows Best were generally very good.
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