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Communications analyst in Vietnam
Japan Specialist student in Tokyo
Bull sperm analyst in Obihiro, Japan
Secondary and university teacher in Sapporo, Japan
First Yank Into Tokyo (1945)
What with the 1943 "Gung Ho", "Guadalcanal Diary," "Purple Heart,"
and other made-during-World War II films I saw as a kid on television,
I had thought I had seen every racist anti-"Jap" propaganda movie ever
made by Hollywood. But "First Yank Into Tokyo" is one I do not
remember seeing as a kid. It is not only the most racist movie I have
ever seen, it is probably simply the worst film I have ever seen in any
category of motion picture. To me as an American who has lived in
Japan for 30 years, the Asian-Americans playing Japanese soldiers are
as obviously not racially Japanese as if someone had made a movie about
William the Conqueror fighting the Battle of Hastings in 1066 with a
cast of Europeans recruited entirely from Athens, Greece and Instanbul,
Turkey. Everything, from the physical characteristics to the
mannerisms, is wrong. On the one hand, the film presents the Japanese as bespeckled, buck
toothed, arrogant goofs. On the other hand, when portraying a
Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II, the film makes the
place a country club compared to the real horrors encountered by anyone
who was held in a Japanese POW camp during the war.
Overall, the film radiates an overwhelming ignorance and apathy by
the film makers towards any authenticity whatsoever.
The House in the Square (1951)
Haunting and Memorable
I haven't forgotten this movie even though haven't seen it in
almost 40 years. Tyrone Power plays a man unhappy with his own era in
human time while being almost obsessed with 18th century England.
Somehow, he knows that, due to a lightning bolt or something, he is
going to trade places with a man from the 18th century. And he is
delighted at the prospect of being transported to the era of charm,
grace, and sophistication and exchange wisdoms and witticisms with such
greats as Ben Johnson in a London coffee house. When the time switch
happens, he discovers that the times weren't what they were cracked up
to be. The streets are foul. The coffee shop conversationalists are
pompous and depressingly ignorant of certain fundamentals (to a 20th
century man) of science, geography, and even philosophical essentials
of the dignity of mankind. And instead of himself being received as a
man blessed with advance scientific knowledge, he is perceived to be
both an agent of Satan and insane. Meanwhile, of course, he meets the alter ego of the woman he knew in
the 20th century and a tender, haunting love story envelops the viewer.
Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948)
Odds and ends on an odd but cute film
"Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!" refers to calls the driver uses to direct his team of mules when out working on a job. After seeing the film on "The Late Show" as a teenager, I was a June Haver fan for a while, so I was thrilled when I saw and approached her in Restored Williamsburg, Virginia with her husband, Fred McMurray in the spring of 1962. Marilyn Monroe was to have a small part in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! She was standing by a tree and when the character of Snug encountered her, she said, "Hello." But that part got cut out before the film went into the can. I think Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! is noteworthy in that it is the only film I can think of in which Walter Brennan plays something other than comedy relief or somebody's sidekick. Look it over when you have the chance and see if you don't think he is formulatin' the character of Grandpappy Amos of "The Real McCoys."
The Great Adventure (1963)
Learning is The Great Adventure
Like "The Americans" which concentrated on the American Civil War, "The Great Adventure" was a quality show which each week presented a dramatization of a person or event in American history. Like "The Americans," "The Great Adventure" was ignored by the American public which, according to the ratings, was far and away more attracted to "Peyton Place," "My Mother the Car," "Car 54 Where Are You?" and other broadcasts which earned television the epithet of "The Vast Wasteland." Van Heflin concluded each episode of "The Great Adventure" by encouraging the American public to read history since, "Learning is the Great Adventure." Not enough of the American public heeded Mr. Heflin's advice.
All the Young Men (1960)
It portrays 1960, not the Korean War
1960 was an in-between year. Between Eisenhower and Kennedy. Between the Beats and the Hippies. Between Elvis and Fabian. Between Korea and Vietnam. And in that in-between year, there was a grab bag of rehashed styles in fashion and music. The 1920's were "in" for a while and remakes of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" became contemporary hits in 1960. "All the Young Men" is a grab-bag of a movie, apparently written by a committee composed of agents and accountants, which tossed in music, themes, topics, scenes, and personalities designed to appeal to the movie audience of 1960. To try to understand the film from any other historical or logical or artistic or symbolic perspective would be an exercise in futility. In 1960 we had has-beens Alan Ladd ("Shane") and Richard Davalos ("East of Eden") marching along the Korean countryside with breaking-the-color- barrier Sidney Portier, topical night club comic Mort Sahl, new face Glenn Corbett, and teen heart throb James Darren all to the tune of "The Saints" which, as mentioned, was an old song during the Korean War but a re-vamped hit in 1960. So, although the portrayed drama was of the Korean war of the early 1950's, "All the Young Men" is really a kind of filmed time capsule of 1960 America. As such, it is a combination piece of nostalgia, a reminder that 1960 really was a pretty "dumb" time in America, and a kind of scary reminder that in 1960 America was living in blissful ignorance of the horror and chaos that was to befall in a few years in the form of a presidential assassination, counter-culture struggles, and an eleven year quagmire in Vietnam.
Inside Moves (1980)
"Of Human Bondage" with a little help from the friends
"Inside Moves" was marketed in Japan as "San Francisco Monogatari"
which means "San Francisco Story." ("To Kill a Mockingbird" is known
in Japan as "Alabama Monogatari".) "Inside Moves" is another little
movie that when I saw it in a cheap theater in Japan, I thought,
"Great. I am going to enjoy seeing this many times"; only to find
myself waiting for decades for it to resurface. It's a film which
examines the essence of humanity: heart, mind, and body. It's about
finding yourself through helping others; something that in the Thai
language is called, "Nam Jai" which means "water from the heart."
Sometimes we find it and sometimes we lose it. My favorite line is
John Savage's, "You don't have to come around anymore. We don't need
your kind of cripple" to indicate the sorry lot of those who have lost
the joy of giving and the value of camaraderie. But "Inside Moves"
gives it back again.
City Across the River (1949)
Before there was "Saturday Night Fever," there was "City Across the River"
I can't remember exactly when I saw "City Across the River" but it was an awfully long time ago on television. But when "Saturday Night Fever" came out with its good guy-bad guy bands of friends who were sometimes dancing and sometimes raiding other gangs and it's last scene on the bridge, I thought, "This is a remake of 'City Across the River.'" We see the main characters of "City Across the River" as high students in a Brooklyn high school taking an industrial arts class. When they get a bit rowdy, the frustrated "shop" teacher yells, "I want it quiet!" One of the students sarcastically calls out in his Brooklyn accent, "Hey! Teach wants it quiet!" Another joins in, "Yeah! Teach wants it quiet!" Within a few seconds each in the entire classroom of students is banging on his shop project with a tool while chanting, "And a one and a two and a Teach wants it quiet. And a one and a two and a Teach wants it quiet!" as they march/dance in a circle around the shop tables. The high school principal arrives, demands the identity of the two ring leaders of this riot, and suspends them. Neither is to return without a parent. The two culprits approach the shop teacher after school and try to effect a reconciliation. "Come on. Gimme a break, would ya? My faddah's in jail and my muddah's gotta woik!" "Yeah, mine too. Give us a break, would ya?" When the shop teacher says it is out of his hands, the two students pull out a zip gun to threaten him. The zip gun goes off and Teach is dead. This is just one of a collection of problems Our Gang has as they are Staying Alive in Brooklyn. And the dance party hasn't even started yet.
The Last American Hero (1973)
Americana at its best and most nostalgic
Why is it that the only people commenting on "Last American Hero" do not live in America? Even when the film was first released in 1973, the panoramic view of Jeff Bridges' fast moving car swirling up the autumn leaves of the American wooded hills accented by Jim Croce's engrossing song of "I've Got a Name" gave "Last American Hero" an overwhelming nostalgic and "American" feel, at least to those of us who saw it in theaters overseas. And for both sheer physical appearance and charisma of the human personification of "American", nothing could beat Jeff Bridges and Valerie Perrine, especially when they stood out against the secondary American characters played by Gary Busey, Ned Beatty, and William Smith. For me one of the most inspiring piece of movie banter of all time is presented in the film when Jeff Bridges as Elroy meets his father in jail and in reference to Elroy's somewhat whiny note of "What are we going to do now?", the father angrily yells at him, "What's your name?!" "Elroy Jackson Junior!" Jeff Bridges yells back. "You'll find a way," the father responds in a confident, reassuring, American tone.
Welcome Home, Soldier Boys (1971)
Don't forget: hire the vet - before he blows up your town
"Welcome Home, Soldier Boys" is a fun movie if you check your mind at the door. I saw the film in a cheap Tokyo theater while attending Sophia University on G.I. Bill payments I had earned through 4 years in the air force including one year in Vietnam. With "Welcome Home Soldier Boys" the viewer rides along with four Vietnam vets who buy a large touring car (a black Cadillac, if I remember correctly) as they drive east after being discharged on the West Coast. Within a few hours they pick up a female hitch-hiker and have sex with her in the back seat of the rambling car. They offer her something like two hundred dollars but she intends to extort A LOT more than that out of them since, as she points out, they have just transported her over a state line which makes their activities a felony. An argument ensues, followed by an altercation that accidentally results in the young lady falling out of the car at 65 miles per hour. "What do you think?" one of them asks Joe Don Baker, the still recognized ranking man. "I think she should have taken the two hundred dollars." Interrupted by a few pleasant moments, a series of disappointments and frustrations gradually eats away at the patience of the four Vietnam vets. The last straw is when they run out of gasoline in a small town. What happens next makes the wrath of Rambo against the small Oregon town look like a model of restraint.
The Odd Couple (1968)
A flawless blend of the subtle with the flamboyant
Before I ever saw "The Odd Couple," I heard scenes of it on an long
playing record that my roommate had on our air base in Texas in 1969.
The dialogues were inter-spaced with music clips from the film. It got
to be a matter of course that Sandy and I would unwind with "Dirty
Poker" and "Clean Poker" immediately upon returning to our room after
duty hours. Therefore, by the time I got the opportunity to see the
movie, I had memorized an awful lot of the dialogue and the
complementary visual aspects of the film appeared all the more
illustrative. "The Odd Couple" is the most flawless blend of written
dialogue with setting, movement, and facial expressions that I have
ever seen on film. Every scene of "The Odd Couple" is a masterful
blend of the understated with the flamboyant. It is a film that offers
the audience a nice blend of comfortable, likeable characters in a
familiar setting with something new each time the movie is seen again.
In the "Dirty Poker" scene, nothing is said about it but the viewer who
has seen the film several times can see in their chagrined, resigned
faces that Oscar's poker party guests have long since given up trying
to get him to take down the Christmas decorations now that they are
into the dog days of summer. When warm beer starts spraying all
over the apartment, Oscar is in the background wiping up with sofa
pillows. In 1975, after serving in Vietnam and after getting an MA degree in
Tokyo, I dropped in on Sandy in Chicago. Now with our wives in the
car, I suddenly asked Sandy, "My meat loaf is all dried out. What am
I going to do?" Without missing a beat, Sandy responded, "Put gravy
on it." "Where am I going to get gravy at 8 o'clock?" "I don't know. I thought it comes when you cook the meat." Both of our wives really thought we had lost it when I angrily
insisted, "You don't know what you are talking about, Oscar. You've
got to make gravy. It doesn't just come!"