Dec 192013
 
Forty Thousand Horsemen

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Forty Thousand Horsemen, the story of the Australia Light Horse during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in WWI is wartime propaganda, but even so, it is excessive. The movie consists of fun-loving Australians taking advantage of local natives who are not too bright, and riding across endless stretches of desert to fight Turks who are actually decent but are ruled by tyrannical German warlords, while Waltzing Matilda is played repeatedly. Told through the viewpoint of the soldiers, the viewer will learn little about the war itself. The climatic charge is adequate, but does not compare to the charge in The Lighthorsemen (1987). In fact, there is no reason to watch this movie, unless you are a completist like me. Everyone else should spare themselves the boredom and watch The Lighthorsemen. Read More…

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Dec 122013
 
The Lost Battalion

Near the end of WWI, an American battalion is cut off from the rest of the division while fighting in the Argonne Forest. Surrounded by Germans, the battalion is soon described by the press as the Lost Battalion, and no one expects it survive long enough to be relieved. Unfortunately, the movie seems to have been filmed inside a municipal park on a sunny day, even though the real battalion had literally disappeared into a dark, dense forest that was an untamed remnant of earlier times. While it is relatively accurate, The Lost Battalion transforms a story of brave soldiers struggling to survive into a morality tale where the men are sacrificed by an ambitious general, but still manage to turn the tide of the war. Read More…

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Nov 142013
 
71: Into the Fire

Rating: ★★★☆☆
The movie is based on an actual battle that took place early during the Korean War, where 71 students defended a high school against a much larger for North Korean force, but it seems extremely likely that the events have been slightly exaggerated. The battle scenes are psycho, but there are far too many slow-motion death scenes, which unfortunately seem to be a staple in Korean war films. The movie’s main weakness is that it spends far too much time on the leader of the students, who writes letters to his mother, deals with guilt from an earlier battle and has a personality conflict with the swaggering leader of a group of toughs, therefore the other students receive superficial treatment. Despite the over-abundance of melodrama, it is a good film, just don’t expect The Front Line or Tae Guk Gi. Read More…

Nov 072013
 
Lafayette Escadrille

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Thad Walker (Tab Hunter), a troubled young American enlists in the Lafayette Escadrile, a squadron of volunteer American fighter pilots who fought for France during WWI. Director William Wellman had been given a smaller budget than he had wanted, so the only aerial combat takes place in the last five minutes. Instead, the movie focuses on the depressingly dull romance between Walker, a fugitive from justice with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder, and Renee Beaulieu (Etchika Choureau), a reformed prostitute. A weird mash-up of Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and the Andy Hardy movies, I kept expecting Mickey Rooney to show up and say “hey guys, let’s put on a show.” The dream project of Wellman, who had actually flown with the Lafayette Corps during the war, studio interference ruined the film. Incensed by the changes forced onto the final version, Wellman had his name removed as producer. Read More…

Oct 312013
 
The Eagle and the Hawk

Rating: ★★★½☆
Three Americans, Jerry Young (Fredric March), Mike ‘Slug’ Richards (Jack Oakie) and Henry Crocker (Cary Grant), join the Royal Flying Corps during WWI. Piloting a two-seater plane, Young quickly becomes an ace but loses five tail-gunners in two months. The guilt caused by the deaths of so many men causes him to gradually crack. The film is a brutal look at the consequences of turning innocent young men into killers. Although it has been described as anti-war, a better description would be that it is against the glorification of war. Unavailable until recently, few people have heard of The Eagle and the Hawk, but it is worth watching. The action scenes are excellent, it deals with complex issues that were only starting to be addressed openly, and the ending is dark, unexpectedly dark. Read More…

Oct 242013
 
The Rack

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Returning home after spending two years in a PoW camp, Captain Edward Hall Jr. (Paul Newman) is in rough shape, both emotionally and physically, but he receives little emotional support from his family. Unknown to his family, Hall is being investigated for a court martial for collaboration with the enemy, and is charged immediately after being released from the hospital. Adopting a very sterilized view of the real situation, The Rack whitewashes the genuine problem of large-scale collaboration among American PoWs during the Korean War. Instead of shedding light on an embarrassing but real problem, the movie avoided controversy, and reassured complacent audiences that everything was all right. Read More…

Oct 172013
 
Time Limit

Rating: ★★★½☆
Several months after the end of the Korean War, an American officer is being investigated for a court-martial because he had recorded propaganda messages for the North Koreans. However, the investigator in charge of the case is suspicious, and continues to ask questions until he learns that the officer is covering up for the killing of a collaborator by his fellow PoWs. Time Limit does not fit any simple characterizations. A war movie that also appears to be a court-room drama, the movie ends before the court-martial has even begun, but there is the mandatory interrogation that causes a key witness to break down and tell the truth. However, it is worth watching because it was the first film to admit that American PoWs had collaborated with their Communist captors in exchange for better treatment. Read More…

Oct 102013
 
All the Young Men

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Shortly before the Chinese intervention in the Korean War, inexperienced Sergeant Towler (Sidney Poitier), an African-American, ends up in command of a Marine platoon that has been separated from its battalion, and must deal with both the enemy and the racism of the veteran Private Kincaid (Alan Ladd). Made during the period between the end of Jim Crow laws in the southern states and the race riots in the early 1960s, the film was a radical look at racism in the American army. Unfortunately, aside from the theme of desegregation in the military, it is an average film. The action is good, the dynamic between Towler and Kincaid is good, but the scenes of the soldiers griping fall flat, the writing is tepid, and the secondary characters are mediocre. All the Young Men is a boring film that should be avoided by everyone except for Sidney Poitier and Alan Ladd fans. Read More…

Oct 032013
 
Tae Guk Gi

Rating: ★★★★☆
When North Korea suddenly invades South Korea, two brothers are drafted into the army. Hoping to win the medal of honor, which will ensure that his younger brother is sent home, Jin-tae, the elder brother, repeatedly volunteers for suicide missions. Band of Brothers-level scary, the battle scenes are brutal with blood and body parts flying everywhere, so they are not for the weak at heart. Since the majority of English-language books were written by Americans, they naturally focused on the American view of the war, and ignored the Korean contribution. Tae Guk Gi understandably intends to remedy the situation, and succeeds. The first big-budget movie to look at the Korean War from South Korea’s perspective, Tae Guk Gi is outstanding. The film’s greatest drawback is the relentless melodrama. There are tearful goodbyes at the train station, a scene where one of the brothers cradles his slowly dying lover, and several fights between members of the same unit. It is no exaggeration to state that aside from the tranquil interlude at the beginning, the rest of the movie is a relentless battle, either with bullets or emotions. Read More…

Sep 262013
 
The Front Line

Rating: ★★★★☆
In the third year of the Korean War, the negotiations at Panmunjon have been stalled for two years, but the fighting continues without any end in sight. An ROK officer is sent to Aerok Hill, which has repeatedly changed hands, to investigate a letter written by an NKPA soldier that was mailed in the ROK, and discovers that some of the veterans, exhausted by the endless fighting, have been communicating with the NKPA through a message box buried in a bunker in the hill. While the action scenes are astonishing, quite a few scenes are painful to watch, so the script balances the pain with humor. Although there are a few too many long death scenes, and the script focuses more than I would like on the friendship between Yang and Kim, The Front Line is definitely the best movie I have seen on the Korean War. Read More…

Sep 122013
 
Wake Island

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
The initial script for the movie was finished on December 22, 1941, before the garrison had surrendered. The screenwriters knew the basic outline of the situation but all of the participants were either dead or in Japanese captivity when the film started production, so they took a fair amount of artistic license with the story. However, there is less exaggeration than would be expected, and the script is faithful to the overall chronology of the Battle of Wake Island. The key problem is that director John Farrow is simply competent, so it is a bland film. Despite the heroic portrayal of the garrison, the actual survivors called the movie fiction and were not impressed. Read More…

Aug 292013
 
A Walk in the Sun

Rating: ★★★½☆
During the Allied invasion of Italy in WWII, an American platoon is ordered to land on the coast of Italy and march six miles inland to capture a farmhouse and destroy a nearby bridge. Most of the movie consists of the men complaining and arguing among themselves, punctuated by brief moments of terror that produce more casualties, but it soon becomes clear that the soldiers adjust to the pressure by griping, otherwise they would all crack.
Made near the end of the war, and based on a novel written in 1943, A Walk in the Sun is a dramatic shift away from the whitewashed propaganda films that were churned out by the dozens during the war. The film did not strain the limits set by the Production Code, there is no swearing or gory wounds, just a clear-eyed depiction of life on the front for a platoon. An excellent movie, there is no fake heroism, no personality conflicts, just tired men trying to do a dangerous job they don’t want to do. Read More…

Aug 222013
 
MASH

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
An important part of New Hollywood, MASH may have been radical at the time, but it does not hold up well today. The story of three hell-raising doctors in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, it spawned the long-running television show M*A*S*H (1972-1983). Unfortunately, viewers will not even learn about the Korean War since director Robert Altman ensured that there were no references to the Korean War because he wanted viewers to think of the then-current Vietnam War. Famous at its release as a daring anti-war comedy, it has not aged well, since it is simply an annoying, homophobic, misogynist film where a football game is all that matters. Read More…

Aug 152013
 
War Hunt

Rating: ★★★½☆
Essentially a B movie, the film was made in fifteen days on a miniscule budget. Exploring similar themes, War Hunt is a precursor to Platoon. A young American infantryman is sent to the front line in Korea during the last few months of the war, and encounters a psychotic soldier who appears to be a serial killer. The two men clash over a young Korean orphan. One wants to place the boy in an orphanage and the other wants to turn him into a killer. The first hour of the movie is brilliant, but the last twenty minutes are strange. Lacking the resources for large-scale battles, the production team chose to create a snapshot of life on the front, and they succeeded. The movie has a tiny budget, and it shows, but the set design is excellent, providing an accurate copy of the real bunkers on the UN lines. No other movie comes close to capturing the futility of the Korean War once it had entered the stalemate stage. Read More…

Jul 252013
 
Retreat, Hell!

Rating: ★★★½☆
Retreat, Hell! tells the story of the First Marine Division, including its participation in the amphibious landing at Inchon, the bloody fight for Seoul, and the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir following the Chinese intervention in the Korean War. Made on a Marine base with the full cooperation of the Marine Corps and when MacArthur was still worshipped as an iconic general, the script avoids any criticism of the controversial general. This is not a movie for people who value richly developed characters; while the characters are made from cardboard, it is sturdy cardboard. It is not a great movie, and there are a couple more stirring speeches than are required but Retreat, Hell! is a no-nonsense look at the successful breakout from a carefully planned Chinese trap. Read More…

Jul 182013
 
Battle Circus

Rating: ★★½☆☆
The movie’s title Battle Circus refers to the hospital’s ability to pack up and move like a circus. Intended as a tribute to the doctors and nurses who staffed the MASH hospitals, the movie presents the rough conditions they faced, including rain that turns the roads into mud, near-typhoon winds that threaten to blow down the tents and the constant need for more blood, as well as snipers outside the perimeter. There are people in the world who enjoy a performance by June Allyson. I am not one of them. The impressive detail ensures that the film is better than expected, even though tepid would be the kindest description of the romance between the characters played by Humphrey Bogart and June Allyson. Read More…

Jul 112013
 
Battle Hymn

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Major Dean Hess (Rock Hudson), an ordained minister, volunteers to train South Korean pilots at the beginning of the Korean War. When his airfield is overrun by orphans, he persuades two Koreans to help him build an orphanage. Romance develops between Hess and one of the Koreans, but he is already married. When the enemy suddenly breaks through and the airfield is abandoned, Hess evacuates the 400 orphans on foot, and it seems that they will be trapped. Col. Dean Hess, the model for the film, was the technical adviser, but he clearly did not have script approval or did not look carefully at the script, since there are significant differences between him and the screen version. A forgettable film, it is not John Sturges’ best work, although it does sidestep the morass of saccharine melodrama, and is surprisingly color-blind for the period. In fact, the movie shows more about Korean culture than other movies on the Korean War. Read More…

Jun 132013
 
The Bridges at Toko-ri

Rating: ★★★½☆
A naval reservist, fighter pilot Lieutenant Harry Brubaker (William Holden) resents having to give up his life and law practice when he was called up, especially since he had already fought in WWII. The movie is an adaptation of a novel by James Michener, who based the main characters on real people he had met when he stayed on the carriers Essex and Valley Forge while they were performing missions off the coast of Korea, as research for a series of articles. While the script is an unblinking support of the United States’ involvement in the Korean War, it bravely acknowledges the fear faced by pilots before dangerous missions. In a nice twist, Holden is the star of the movie, and the story revolves around him, but Mickey Rooney’s helicopter pilot Chief Mike Forney is the hero, since he rescues Holden’s character, not once but twice. Given the bleak ending, the superb realism, and the accurate view of Japan during the war, it is one of the better movies on the Korean War.
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May 302013
 
A Hill in Korea

Rating: ★★★½☆
During the Korean War, a small British patrol, a mixture of regular soldiers and National Servicemen, is sent to check if a village is occupied by the Chinese. However, they find themselves trapped in a temple, surrounded by a powerful Chinese force. The story of a small patrol on its own, disconnected from the main army, is not especially original, but its gritty realism makes the movie worth watching. At first glance, the story seems to have been copied from numerous WWII films but this is definitely a Korean War film because the men know that everyone back home thinks the war is unimportant, the Chinese use mass attacks, and friendly fire incidents are far too common. A tribute to the national servicemen, it is one of the better movies on the Korean War.
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May 232013
 
One Minute to Zero

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
One Minute To Zero is a jingoistic film on the Korean War that shows powerful America nobly defending little South Korea, which is incapable of fighting for itself. Aside from the obligatory and entertaining romance, it attracted much attention during its initial release for the inclusion of graphic combat footage instead of regular special effects. When North Korea suddenly invades South Korea, an American military adviser must first help evacuate all American civilians, and then block the enemy’s supply route to relieve pressure on the defenders at Pusan. The film transforms the South Koreans into helpless victims, papers over Syngman Rhee’s dictatorial excesses, skips over the thousands of friendly fire deaths caused by aerial bombing, and ignores both the embarrassing routs of American units and the general chaos. Read More…

May 162013
 
Gangster Squad

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Gangster Squad’s presentation of Mickey Cohen as a vicious gangster who rules over the city of Los Angeles until a small band of brave policemen end his reign of terror has nothing to do with reality. Extremely inaccurate, the movie is a deliberate falsification of the situation. Worse, it is not entertaining. Filled with exciting car chases in the desert and exciting shootouts in a hotel, the movie should be exciting but the action scenes are bland and formulaic, so it is cartoonish like 1980′s G.I. Joe cartoonish, but not as good. It will take quite some time to list just the major inaccuracies in this film, so you might want to go to the bathroom first. Read More…

May 092013
 
Atonement

Rating: ★★½☆☆
At first glance, Atonement appears to be a compromise movie, which is primarily a tragic romance to attract women, but has a battle scene to satisfy their husbands and boyfriends. Unexpectedly, the earlier scenes of the romance between a young couple separated by the social divide in England before WWII are much more interesting and coherent than the scenes set during the Dunkirk Evacuation. Far more comfortable with sexual tension and class issues, director Joe Wright’s emphasis on stunning images rather than actually explaining how the British army was successfully evacuated from France at the beginning of WWII proves that he does not know how to direct a war film. Read More…

Apr 252013
 
Destination Tokyo

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Starring Cary Grant in one of his less debonair roles, an American submarine sneaks into Tokyo to gather information in preparation for the Doolittle Raid, where Japan was bombed in retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite the implausible plot, Destination Tokyo is worth watching for the brilliant underwater photography, taut action, sharp direction, a terrifying depth charge scene and impressive attention to detail.
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Apr 042013
 
100 Rifles

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Famous for a love scene between Jim Brown and Raquel Welch, one of Hollywood’s first interracial love scenes, 100 Rifles provides a brief look at the fire that consumed Mexico during the Revolution, laying waste to entire states. The story of a marshal searching for a bank robber in Mexico who becomes involved in the Mexican Revolution, it is not the best movie on the Mexican Revolution, and to be honest it could be set anywhere, but it is entertaining. Read More…

Mar 282013
 
Bataan

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Set during the American retreat to the Bataan peninsula during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines during WWII, a small group of soldiers must stop the Japanese from rebuilding a critical bridge. A workmanlike film, the plot shares much in common with The Lost Patrol (1934) but the cast is made up of an excellent group of character actors and the story moves along quickly. Read More…

Mar 212013
 
Major Dundee

Rating: ★★★½☆
Near the end of the American Civil War, the commander of a Union prison recruits a mix of civilians, Confederate prisoners and Union troops to hunt down a band of Apache, pursuing them into Mexico, which was occupied by a French army struggling to place an Austrian prince on the throne. As the search extends into weeks and then months, the men gradually shed all traces of civilization.
Described as Moby Dick on horseback, the film became famous for director Sam Peckinpah’s mix of self-destructive behavior and brilliance. Clashing with the executives who ran the studio, the film was taken away from Peckinpah in the editing stage and a drastically shorter version was released, which was ridiculed by critics and ignored by movie-goers. Although no one knew it at the time, it was a dress rehearsal for The Wild Bunch, but it is still an impressive accomplishment on its own. Major Dundee is one of those movies where a film of the behind-the-scenes action would probably be as interesting as the final result. A restored version, based on a cut made by producer Jerry Bresler, was made in 2005, which provides a more coherent story, while revealing the movie’s flaws. Despite the flaws, it bursts with passion and brilliance. Read More…

Feb 282013
 
MacArthur

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Adopting a relatively even-handed approach, the movie covers MacArthur’s career throughout WWII, the American occupation of Japan and the Korean War. While the story does show MacArthur’s self-fixation and growing paranoia, it skips over many of his mistakes because they would have required a much, much, much longer movie. Unfortunately, the limited budget meant that the movie was filmed in the United States, not Asia. Worse, most of the actors are second-rate, and the low budget meant that the battle scenes looked like they were filmed on a studio lot. Although the film looks like an ABC movie of the week in the early 1980s, it is the only full-length presentation of a controversial and extremely influential American general. Read More…

Feb 212013
 
Lincoln

Rating: ★★★★☆
Balancing the conflicting needs of the radical and conservative factions of the Republican Party, President Abraham Lincoln struggles to convince enough Democrats to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment, which will abolish slavery. The war is almost over, so Lincoln must deal with Confederate negotiators, who hope to win peace and keep slavery, aware that the North is weary of war. Determined to see that the Thirteenth Amendment passes, Lincoln insists that all means short of the exchange of money be employed to persuade Democrats to vote for the amendment. The film is a stunning recreation of the real Lincoln’s world. While this is not the definitive movie about the long road to freedom for blacks in the United States, it is the definitive movie about Abraham Lincoln.
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