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A Gathering of Eagles (1963)
A movie caught in societal transition
I'm more than a little amused by the current-day huffiness about smoking and other 21st century mores superimposed on a flick made more than 40 years ago. The movie is well-made, well-acted, and authentic--although the script is a little hackneyed. But that's mostly because it's a remake, not just of "Twelve O'Clock High" as pointed out elsewhere in comments, but also of "Above and Beyond" (the scenes between Hudson and Peach virtually mirror those between Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker), screen-written by Sy Bartlett's collaborator on TOH, Beirne Lay Jr.
Where it fell flat was that it attempted to counter two books that soon after (as a result of Hollywood reaction to the Cuban Missile Crisis) became doomsday movies--"Fail-Safe" (the premise of which was then and eventually was proved by time to be totally false), and one of my personal favorites, "Dr. Strangelove etc". AGOE got caught in the anti-militaristic paradigm shift started by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedy Assassination, and ended by the Vietnam War.
I was a dependent on an Air Force base when I first saw this movie at the base theater (and at a SAC base when I saw Strangelove), and my friends and I thought the flick was a riot--the depiction of base housing in this and "X-15" were unlike anything we ever lived in!!!! (Jimmy Stewart's first set of quarters in "Strategic Air Command" was closer to the mark.)
It's a good flick--not great, but interesting and representative of its time.
Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)
Although some of the comments already posted indicate this film is not for everyone, it is exceptionally well-cast and true to the Leo Rosten novel with one minor exception: Eddie Albert's Col. Norval Algate Bliss is an amalgamation of several characters from the book, and his problem wasn't that he felt extreme guilt in sending his men to their deaths, but that he was a closeted homosexual who went schizophrenic in an effort to resolve his inner conflicts. But it was 1963 and the topic then was a no-no. The novel was not about PTSD, either, but of psychiatrists and patients--it happened to be set in WWII because there was plenty of grist there and the reading public/audience easily identified with it. Nearly all the dialogue is straight out of the novel, so if you didn't care for it, blame Rosten. Entertaining performances by all.
The Magnificent Dope (1942)
A paean to laziness
Peter Gibbons, meet Thadeus "call me Tad" Page. Selling life insurance may have been the 1940's equivalent of a cubicle job, but in any case Tad Page doesn't take to it much better than Peter Gibbons did in "Office Space", and they both appreciate fishing. Henry Fonda is the perfect personality for demonstrating the value of well-timed laziness. Don Ameche was either Alexander Graham Bell or a pleasant schemer in his films (until "Trading Places" at least) and his Dwight Dawson-ambitious-man-with-a-gimmick is nicely drawn here. I also appreciated the subtle manner in which the tune "Lazy Bones" was woven unobtrusively into the background during Fonda's scenes. Watch for it on TCM; worth your time.
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Revelation of Horror
This is a fine film by a fine director, but I can only hope that Stanley Kramer, in committing to full length film a television story, knew at heart the message his movie was trying to say. Because this is truly a message movie, for all mankind, but if the reviews I've read on this site are any indication, the message has been lost to some degree.
I've entitled my review "Revelation of Horror", but the horror revealed was not the Holocaust. That had already been revealed, although Kramer's film certainly lent its emotional impact. The revelation was a deep, true insight into how it happened, and the horror is that it happened in a civilized country. Few on this earth can imagine the true horror of Nazi Germany--I've read criticism of Widmark's Colonel Lawson as too preachy, but the character and the acting conveyed the mission of one who actually saw the horrors, beyond any scope we can identify with.
Kramer's achievement is that everything in this movie reminds us that the Nazi's used every facet of civilization, no matter how minute, to foster their extermination of their enemies, to inculcate it as an ordinary part of life. That was why judges were chosen to portray the issue of "obeying orders" versus "human decency." Herr Rolf is "forced" to defend the worst criminals imaginable, and yet his very defense and the principles behind it are abused in the process, used as a weapon against the very law they represent. Thus did the Nazis prevail with the willing acquiescence of the German people, and the abominable disregard of the rest of the world.
The other horror revealed in this film is the incessant excusing of it. Beyond the obvious pleas of the guilty ("We didn't know", or as one judge says to another, "Was it possible to kill like that?") are the multiplicity of subtle excuses: the reminder of centuries' old German culture, Rolf's plaintive cry of "unfairness" at the showing of the death camp films because of their inflammatory nature, the invocation of "Lili Marlene" throughout the film, to name just a few. While the song evokes sadness, a guilty German society meant for it to invoke sadness. Long before Germany had its country destroyed by bombs, it had its soul destroyed by Hitler.
Because this is a courtroom drama, respecting the sacred role of the Rule of Law in safeguarding humanity, almost every scene, every line is a statement that Nazi Germany perverted the Rule of Law, as did the very defense of the war criminals. But what is principle on a small scale of a single man being judged by society becomes outrage when used to defend the indefensible on an impossibly massive scale. Tracy's character at the film's end has a realization that this is so, as well as an awareness that what happened in Germany during the Third Reich was an Aristotelian tragedy for anyone touched by it, even remotely, so that any personal considerations (such as Mrs. Berthold) are made utterly impossible.
Rolf's speech about the guilty responsibility of the rest of the world was valid--but he was indicting the world to save one man. Where have we heard that in our own time? This quality about "Judgment at Nuremburg" makes its message forever fresh--and its warnings.
Twelve O'Clock High (1949)
A movie gem that succeeds in translating history as fiction
For years this was my favorite movie, simply for its entertainment value. I then located the book, which was resurrected in paperback for the TV series in 1965, and I wore out three copies (I now have an original paperback). The novel was history re-written as entertainment, and as a tribute, and both authors lived the adventure. With their aid as screenwriters, Henry King magnificently translated the novel into a work of genius.
The incidents in the novel, not all of which appear in the movie, were all actual incidents from the 8th Air Force in World War II. Each personality has its counterpart in real life. The main theme of the book was that a small cadre of pre-war airmen, an intimate fraternity actually, teamed with civilians-turned-to-airmen to beat the Nazis, each contributing equally in an army of democracy. The 918th was actually based on the 306th Bomb Group, and the relief of the CO by a member of the commanding general's staff actually happened twice in 1943. The story line is an amalgamation of the two separate incidents. Another reviewer has questioned whether a general would fly combat missions, and the answer is yes--the character of Savage, while based primarily on Col. Frank Armstrong (who took over the 306th under the conditions depicted), also has roots in Brig. Gen. Fred Castle, who took over another "hard-luck" group. General Castle was killed in action flying a B-17 during the Battle of the Bulge, earning him the Medal of Honor.
Lay and Bartlett (who was a screenwriter by trade before the war) worked with both of these officers, who with Lay came to England right after Pearl Harbor to establish an 8th Air Force when there weren't any bases, men, or airplanes available. This small group worked for General Eaker (depicted as General Pritchard in the film) and their love for their story is richly evident in both products.
A truly great film, not just for its veracity, authenticity, and psychological drama, but for its Everyman qualities. "Twelve O'Clock High" had a competitor, much as "Saving Private Ryan" vied with "The Thin Red Line," in both print and film ("Command Decision" starring Clark Gable). While similar in some aspects, I believe that "Twelve O'Clock High" is remembered and loved because it encapsulates so well the efforts of the most common man as much as the highest general--which was what World War II was about for most Americans.