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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!"
King Rat (1965)
Clavell's most researched work
I saw "King Rat" on television shortly before going to Vietnam. A few months later I was reading the James Clavell novel while serving on DaNang Air Base with air force communications intelligence. It struck me that this book and this movie, which was "researched" by James Clavell when he was a POW in a camp near Singapore during World War II, have the real feel of what it is to be surrounded by enemy forces one almost never sees while being kept isolated on a hot, humid, dusty encampment It's an environment that brings out the best and the worst in mankind. The novel, the movie, and my own war zone experience also point out that adapting to a war zone and mastering the skills that enable one to survive and even prosper there do not necessarily mean that the individual will subsequently be adaptable to "civilization" when he returns to it. The novel, the movie, and my own experiences also raise the questions that are raised in "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" (and even in "Rambo" for that matter): Which is more of a challenge and which is the "real" life: adapting to the war zone as a youth or the expectations by "civilization" that you readjust to life back in "the world" as if nothing had happened?
The Legend of Jesse James (1965)
Rebel Without a Cause in the Old West
Television spots of the time promoting the series "The Legend of Jesse James" shamelessly pointed out the similarity in physical appearance between Chris Jones and James Dean. It was pretty obvious early on in the series that Chris Jones was being packaged as a gun tooting western version of Jim Stark. The series portrayed Jesse James as an idealistic, sensitive youth who was driven to rob banks and trains by the corrupt society in which he lived. Chris Jones also portrayed the bandit as a charismatic Robin Hood figure. The first year of the series was in black and white. The second year was in color. But the by the second season, it was pretty obvious that the producers of the show didn't know where they were going with this vehicle and the character of Jesse really did become a rebel without a cause.
The Dead End Kids Go West
"Laredo" featured Peter Brown, William Smith, and Neville Brand as a male bonding trio of Texas Rangers portrayed tongue-in-cheek as a combination Dead End Kids go Western and AWOL members from Sergeant Bilko's platoon. As conditions warranted they could also become a trio of Dirty Harrys whom Philip Carey as Captain Parmalee would let loose to track down, catch, and sadistically interrogate the suspects of some crime of the wild west. It really was a fun show which could even be interpreted to be a kind of predecessor to and portrayal of the Texas Rangers Call and McCray of "Lonesome Dove" before they got old.
Do You Trust Your Wife (1956)
Not grammatically correct, but a good show
As was pointed out by an actor playing the role of a sound man on a promotional spot at the time, to be grammatically correct, the show should have been entitled, "Whom Do You Trust?" But Johnny Carson was aiming his tribute to Groucho Marx's "You Bet Your Life" at the mass audience, not school marms. As Groucho had done on "You Bet our Life," Johnny would engage in banter with two guests who didn't necessarily know each other, let slip a few mischievous double entendres which were cute, funny, and pushing the limits of TV censorship all at the same time, and then pull out his quiz cards so that the guests as contestants could now try to win some money. "The next category is famous middle names. Which of you feels confident with this category. Who do you trust? Here's the first one: Robert Louis Stevenson. Oh, sorry. I'm not supposed to say the middle name." And at Ed McMahon laughing in the wings: "Well, you try saying that name without 'Louis' in the middle!" I remember that partly because the contestant failed to get the correct answer for the name that was then substituted for the author of "Treasure Island."
The main difference to "You Bet Your Life" was that whereas the Marx show was broadcast in the evening, causing a lot of kids to beg to stay up, "Who Do You Trust" was broadcast (on the East Coast, anyway) at 3:30 PM, causing quite a few kids to get home from school early. Later, of course, prepared with his several years of seasoning on daytime television, Johnny Carson became the King of the Night and as such, according to statistical studies, was an alternative to other nighttime activities and therefore a recognized form of birth control across America.
The Jack Benny Program (1950)
A woven, recurring blend of comfortable, reassuring humor
In the early 1960's TV Guide critic Cleveland Amory started his review of "The Jack Benny Program" with "There are two kinds of jokes. Regular jokes and Jack Benny jokes." Regular jokes hit you, if you are lucky, only once. Jack Benny jokes hit you, if you are lucky, over and over. What Cleveland Amory at the time was referring to was the way a joke that popped up in the beginning of any given Jack Benny program episode was not an end in itself but a set-up for two, three, or four jokes that would emerge throughout he show.
Some time before I was born, Jack Benny started to use, but never milked, familiar masks: his awful violin playing, his stingy nature, his offense at being insulted by his patented pause followed with, "Well!", his insistence that he was thirty nine years old, and his recurring attempts to get a renowned musician to play his pitiful song, "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano".
"Hello, Police Department? I want to report a lost wallet. It is brown leather. Inside there are three one dollar bills. And the serial numbers are......" Inside a sauna: "Gee. I haven't sweated this much since they closed the banks in 1934."
As Jack Benny delighted in telling later in life, sometimes the stories behind the jokes were even more funny than the jokes themselves. Jack would work with the writers in mid-week before any given show. As Jack told it, one week one of the writers thought up the scenario, "Jack is walking down the street and a thug comes up to him with a pistol and demands, 'Your money or your life!'" All readily agreed that that was a good premise for a joke. "But how is Jack going to respond?" All in the room were puzzled and when one writer got impatient by calling out, "Well?", Jack, still stumped for a good punch line, snapped back, "I'm thinking it over!" When the other writers started laughing, Jack asked, "What's so funny?" It took Jack Benny a few moments to get it that he had just invented the best joke of his career.
That Jack will forever be remembered as being forever thirty nine years old is now not a joke but an inspiration for us his fans and survivors to hold on to youth and humor for as long as he did.
A bite-sized, computer-game version of war
I enjoyed watching first runs of "Combat!" when I was a high school
student. "Combat!" seemed to constantly be putting Sergeant Saunders'
squad in neat little situations wherein they would flank a German
foxhole and finish off the bumbling Germans with tossed grenades.
Private Kirby was forever looking over the dead Germans and reporting,
"They've had it." So I suppose the series gave me the urge to
participate in the bite size, video game-like challenges of war. But
when I was a sergeant in Vietnam during that war, "Combat!" was
actually shown on the military television network along with re-runs of
"Star Trek" and other shows which would offer homey nostalgia value and
escapism from the harsh realities of the war zone. Sergeant Saunders and his squad never seemed to be lugging any
equipment around while on patrol. But whenever they were in a combat
situation, Sergeant Saunders always had exactly the ordinance that was
needed. Like Mandrake the Magician, he was forever pulling out of his
open field jacket extra clips for his Thompson submachine gun, hand
grenades, and other varieties of primed explosives for the job at hand. The only time I can remember Sergeant Saunders as not having
precisely the equipment needed for the given situation was the episode
in which he participates in a cat and mouse game in an abandoned
village with a German sniper. The German is fluent in English and
attempts to persuade Saunders to surrender by calling out to him to
watch "that sign over there hanging by one hook." Then he whips out
from his position and shoots the thin piece of metal so that the sign
drops. The episode explains why Saunders does not have his Thompson
but not why he is also without his sidearm for the only time ever
during the entire five year run of the series.
Based on a Victorian era piece of pornography
I first saw "Cowboy" as a late night movie on television when I was a high school senior. I really enjoyed the saga of how innocent, naive Chicago bell-hop Jack Lemmon becomes a man by way of his great adventure of driving a herd of cows from a Mexican ranch to the Chicago stock yards so that he can then swagger into the same Chicago hotel this time not as a bellboy in a monkey suit, but as a trail dust covered, gun tooting cowboy. I enjoyed it so much that I took note of the TV Guide notation that "Cowboy" is based on what it termed the "scandalous auto-biography of Frank Harris", the name of the character that Jack Lemmon plays in "Cowboy". I figured that the book was considered "scandalous" because of all the brutal experiences that Frank Harris had on the trail: experiences which has the Glenn Ford character growling at Jack Lemmon, "You haven't gotten tough. You've just gotten miserable." Therefore, when summer vacation arrived, I went to the public library and looked up "Harris, Frank" in their card catalogue. (You see, kids, before there were computers, we used to look up things on rows of things called "cards" which were kept in these wooden pull-out things called "drawers" in a large furniture-like wooden thing placed in the middle of the library that was called a "catalogue") I found a card listing a book entitled, "My Life and Loves by Frank Harris." But the book was not on a shelf, so I went to the front desk that Friday evening and innocently asked the ladies there if I could put a reserve on "The Frank Harris autobiography" for when it came back. One of the ladies asked me, "What is the title?" I was too embarrassed to say, "My Life and Loves" so I shyly said, "It's an autobiography. Frank Harris." The woman repeated, "But what is the title?" So I shrugged, "Well, the title is, 'My Life and Loves'" A younger woman in the cluster said like someone in a film noir, "We have that in the back" and went to get it. I kept wondering, "Why all this intrigue about the story of Jack Lemmon as a cowboy?"
The young woman brought out a rather large, rather heavy volume which I signed out. But instead of being the cowboy adventure story I had expected, it began with something like, "I remember my first sensual experience as being when I was 5 years old and I touched the calf of Mary Peterson in ...." It took some searching to find the short segment within Frank Harris' some 900 pages of pornographic remembrances of every sexual experience he had ever had between the ages of 5 and 50, which had something to do with his one-time only escapade of joining up with a bunch of guys who went over the border to Mexico, stole some cows, and drove them north to make a few fast bucks.
The Men (1950)
A film with guts
Marlon Brando's first film, "The Men" is conspicuous for many things
including how little he got paid for it, the method acting that went
into it, and the time Brando spent living like a patient in a veteran's
paraplegic hospital. One story I heard was that one night when Brando
was at a public place with the other (real) patients, a Bible thumper
started ranting about the power of faith. Brando gestured the man over
and asked him, "Let me ask you something, mister. If my faith is
strong enough, will I be able to walk again?" The religious ranter
paused and then said, "Yes, son. If it is God's will, you will even
be able to walk again." So Brando responded with mock sincerity,
"Well, by God, I am going to try right now." With that, he made a
few straining, unsuccessful attempts to raise out of his wheelchair.
But then he gave it his all, stood up completely, and went tap dancing
out of the establishment, much to the shock of the Bible thumper, and
much to the boisterous laughter of the other men in wheelchairs.
I choose to believe this story is true and that it, in effect,
created the scene when drunk Ray Teal comes over and starts patronizing
the characters played by Brando and Richard Erdman. Brando asks Ray
Teal, "Let me ask you something, mister. Could I marry your daughter?"
A sarcastic banter ensues and eventually Brando punches out Teal who
seemed to be discovering his type casting mold as an obnoxious
character who gets punched out ("Best Years of Our Lives") and a
bartender in Brando films ("The Wild One" and "One Eyed Jacks")
I'd like to ad a personal note to authenticate the serious message
of "The Men." Over ten years ago I taught a Japanese secondary
student whose English ability was extremely low. But her desire, her
drive, and her determination to learn were extremely high. After about
a year of struggle with words and sentences, she wrote her first
authentic essay for me. I had assigned an essay about someone she
admired. She wrote about her father who had lost his legs in an
industrial accident, but whose desire, drive, and determination to
become independent were extremely high. She concluded with, "My
father has learned to do many things. But the most difficult thing he
has learned is how to accept help for those things he really can't do."
"Gung Ho" is a terribly jingoistic film which I do not expect is
shown anymore in the States nowadays since it is also terribly racist.
Randolph Scott plays U.S. Marine Colonel Thorwald who recruits, trains,
and leads a special unit of marines known as his Raiders. The first
part of the recruitment process is to make sure the candidates are
motivated. "Why do you want to join The Raiders?" Randold Scott asks. "My brother was at Bataan. By the time the Japs got through with
him, they didn't find enough of him to bury." The candidate is
accepted. Even as kids often seeing this movie on television, my
brother and I joked, "How would he know that? Did the War Department
send the family a telegram which read. 'The War Department regrets to
inform you that your son, Ralph was killed in action at Bataan.
Unfortunately, by the time the Japs got through with him, we didn't
find enough to bury. In lieu of a body, we are sending you....'" As Randolph Scott as U.S. Marine Colonel Thorwald explains in the
beginning of the film, "Gung Ho" is a Chinese term that means "work
together." Throughout the film, after each of Scott's jingoistic
speeches, the raiders shout in unison, "Gung Ho!" The Japanese soldiers (who, from what I have heard, were mostly
played by Chinese-American actors) in the film are particularly sneaky,
particularly sadistic, and particularly stupid. Walking through the
island jungle on patrol, a squad of Japanese soldiers encounters an
American who had been left coughing and begging for water on the trail.
The leader of the Japanese squad (buck teeth, round eye-glasses,
mustache) sadistically stabs him with his bayonet. An American squad
on patrol encounters three Japanese rag-tag soldiers with their hands
up in surrender. When the Americans let down their guard for a second,
the center Japanese soldier bends over and the other two operate a
machine gun tied to his back to kill the Americans. But Randolph Scott has a plan. He has his men paint an American
flag on the roof of a building in the clearing of the jungle. Then, in
a brilliant piece of tactics, he has his Raiders engage in a hit and
run action against Japanese ground forces. The Japanese counter- attack, vanquish the Americans, and celebrate their victory by taking
over of the house with the American flag painted on the roof just as
the Japanese air force locates it and bombs it. Of course, the
Japanese pilots, thinking they are bombing Americans in a house in the
clearing of a South Pacific island with an American flag painted on the
roof, also have the obligatory sadistic smiles on their faces as they
make their diving swoop and release the bombs, not knowing that the
house is actually filled with Japanese soldiers. I suppose this film was supposed to be a morale builder for
Americans in the early, dark days of World War II. But "Gung Ho" is so
ridiculously racist that even when I was a kid I found it comical and
inspiring of a feeling of, "I wonder what the Japanese are like,
really." So I eventually enrolled as a student at Sophia University,
Tokyo and majored in Japan Studies.
Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958)
The parts actors have to play before they are stars
"Wanted: Dead or Alive" is currently playing weekly on Sapporo televsion. When I watch it now, I am reminded of a biography I read of Steve McQueen in 1971 that described arguments young actor McQueen often had with the producers of the show at the time. As is evidenced by what I see almost every week now, the scripts were forever having Josh Randall surrounded by two, three, or four big guys, and Josh Randall diving in to get in as many first strike punches as possible before they beat him up. According to the biography, almost every time McQueen read such a script, he would protest the stupidity of such a scenario. But he was always overruled by the studio brass. But what bothers me much more than the suicidal actions of Josh Randall in the script is the mechanical impossibility of the sawed off Winchester rifle he carried. First of all, the four inch long cartridges he carried would have been far too big to insert into the side slot of the rifle. Secondly, it the rifle had somehow been modified to permit insertion of the elephantine cartridges, the sawed off tube of a magazine below the barrel would have been able to hold three rounds at most. And yet, in the series Josh Randal is often pumping rapid fire shots like a semi-automatic assault rifle. Incidentally, "Wanted Dead or Alive" never shows Josh Randall inserting the cartridges into the weapon and the series almost never shows Josh Randall with his cartridge belt anything but completely full. In other words, he is often shooting his rifle but never using his supply of cartridges.
There are two "Sayonara"s: the James Mitchner book and the
Hollywood adaptation. The Major Llyod Gruver portrayed in the book is
introduced as an army brat, graduate of West Point, no-nonsense air
force pilot and career officer who does not discuss personal matters
with enlisted men. The Ace Gruver introduced in the film is a
brooding Brando who arrives in a fighter jet instead of on a Triumph
motorcycle and whose best friend is Airman Kelly. The Japan portrayed
in the Mitchner book is the everyday Japan of narrow streets, noodle
vendors, ramen shops, yakitori stands, tatami rooms, and futon at bed
time. The Japan portrayed in the film is a land of geisha,
Takarazuka, kabuki, bunraku, pagoda, arched bridges, and a lot of other
Japan stereotypes I have yet to encounter although I have lived in
Japan for the past 31 years and have a masters degree in Far East Asian
Studies from Sophia University, Tokyo. Both "Sayonara"s offer something o value. One is realistic. One
is a beautiful fantasy. Read the book and watch the movie and take
your choice of endings.
12 Angry Men (1957)
Better than the written play
I have taught "12 Angry Men" in high school literature classes a
few times and I think it is safe to say that the film version is better
than the written play. The characters are more sharply drawn as humans
we can relate to. (Yes, I really teach literature, even though I end
a sentence with "to". My 8th grade English teacher would have a fit.)
The dialogue is sharper. And, especially when seeing it several times,
the film leaves the viewer with more questions than answers about what
constitutes justice and what is or could be the best possible legal
system. As a movie fan, not a literature teacher, I have the following
comments. In "12 Angry Men" Henry Fonda seems to be playing the same
character that he played quite a few years earlier in "The Immortal
Sergeant": the seemingly timid, reluctant hero who rises to the
occasion with dogged determination and emerging powers of persuasion.
Even the mannerisms and the phrases he uses in the two films are
similar. In "The Immortal Sergeant" he is the corporal and therefore
the ranking member of the squad after the sergeant is killed. When his
squad on patrol encounters an enemy implacement, he proposes to attack
it instead of simply passing it by. (sound like "Saving Private
Ryan"?) When challenged with someone speaking in an affected British
voice, "But my dear fellow, what possible effect could our attacking
them have on this campaign?", Henry Fonda responds, "Probably none at
all, I don't know. But it seems to me ..... ("our job is to win the
war")" In "12 Angry Men", Fonda uses the same character to say, "Well, I
don't have anything brilliant, but ....." My other observation is that "12 Angry Men" has one of the greatest
understated insults of all time incorporated into an etiquette lesson: "Pardon. But..." "Oh, 'pardon, pardon'. What are you being so polite all the time
for?" "For the same reason you're not. I was brought up that way."
Lassie lives forever but not so little boys
I grew up with the Tommy Rettig "Lassie" series. Looking back on
it, I would say that I was addicted to that show and that I fantasized
that I was the Jeff who lived with Lassie on the Miller farm, not the
Jeff who lived in New Jersey suburbia with a teddy bear. When George
Cleveland died, the show decided that Tommy Rettig was too old to be
Lassie's boy and the scenario was that since Gramps was dead, they had
to sell the farm and go live in a crummy apartment in Capital City
where Mom would get some miserable job and Jeff would simply go to
school. Mom explained all this to Jeff at the kitchen table, adding
that they couldn't take Lassie to live in some crummy Capital City
apartment, so...... I was ten years old when seeing this unfortunate transition. I
remember it felt like it was my life that was being eviscerated. I
never enjoyed the "Lassie" show much after that.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
A tribute to the combat vets
The first time I saw "Saving Private Ryan" I was in a good theater
with a superior sound system. No big deal, no trauma, but I did get
emotional memory flashes of the rocket and mortar attacks that I
frequently experienced when serving on DaNang Air Base between 1969 and
1970. We used to feel the mortars coming and going as they were
"walked" over the base by the NVA in the hills raising and lowering the
mortar barrels. In addition to the obvious technical superiority of the film, I
think "Saving Private Ryan" does capture the essence of guys in a war
zone. Most of the film is brutally beautiful. Although I was in
Vietnam during the war, and although I did come close to being "blown
up" over there, I was not a combat soldier but with an air force
intelligence unit that was located just across the dirt road from the
U.S. Marines. We had been selected because of our high paper test
IQ's and given relatively extensive training at specialty tech schools
before getting to Vietnam. In other words, we were all Corporal
Uphams. "Saving Private Ryan" causes me a lot of soul searching
because I loathe the Corporal Upham character and I know if I had
somehow been assigned to a U.S. Marine combat squad, I probably would
have acted like Upham, the jerk. Here's to the Vietnam combat vets.
You guys really were something special.
The Americans (1961)
I teach history both in high school and at a university. I am especially interested in the American Civil War, the War Between the States, or, as a North Carolina teacher put it to me, "Down here, we call it 'the War of Northern Aggression,'" But, to tell you the truth, one of the reasons I was an avid fan of "The Americans" when it played on television in 1961 was that it was "sexy." I was in 8th grade at the time and therefore of a budding, going on boiling over interest in exotic women. I particularly remember an episode when Dick Davalos goes into a back hills village to recruit some of their sharpshooting men into the Confederate army. Before he finds any men, he encounters a bevy of very shapely Daisy Mays who are very interested in him. What a test of his loyalty to the Southern cause! Should he go back to the battlefield or stay here with the Dogpatch harem?
Am I the only one who remembers the show this way?