Mar 102016
 
The Black Swan

Rating: ★★½☆☆
Although he became famous leading raids against Spanish colonies, newly appointed governor of Jamaica Henry Morgan enforces the new peace between England and Spain, hanging any pirate he finds. unfortunately, his second-in-command Captain Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power) is more preoccupied with his pursuit of Lord Denby’s daughter Lady Margaret (Maureen O’Hara), than hunting down his former colleagues. While Tyrone Power seems perfect to play a swashbuckler, the romance is flat. One of the first movies filmed in Technicolor, The Black Swan is bursting with color, which compensates for the relatively weak story. Read More…

Apr 172014
 
Battleground

Rating: ★★★½☆
A young recruit is assigned to a platoon in the 101st Airborne Division the night before the division is rushed to Bastogne to block the German surprise offensive during the Battle of the Bulge. Unlike the patriotic war movies produced en masse by Hollywood during WWII, the film is an honest look at WWII, portraying the soldiers as human beings with faults. Battling fever and frostbite, the men constantly grumble and dream of wounds that would send them home, but they endure and continue to fight. In particular, the script captures the perspective and confusion of the soldiers. Throughout the film, the men have no idea what is going on. Read More…

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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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…

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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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…

Feb 072013
 
They Were Expendable

Rating: ★★★½☆
Having seen WWII firsthand, including the Battle of Midway and the Normandy invasion, director John Ford was determined that his first post-war film would show the stark truth of the failed defence of the Philippines in 1942. Although set in the Philippines, much of the movie takes place in shadowy interiors as the Japanese siege of Bataan gradually tightens. The movie may appear unbearably wholesome to modern viewers but it showed post-war audiences the hard choices and sacrifices that had been made early in the war. Based on the real-life exploits of Lieutenant John Bulkeley, commander of a PT squadron in the Philippines, Bulkeley himself was surprised by the authentic feel of the movie. Read More…

Jan 032013
 
The Outlaw

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
The Outlaw (1943) presents the rivalry between Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday, which was a figment of the screenwriter’s imagination. The lack of historical accuracy did not trouble producer/director Howard Hughes, since he was far more interested in co-star Jane Russell’s remarkable bosom. Hughes wanted a movie with sex and he made one. The first movie to defy the Production Code, it took two years of cuts and revisions to satisfy the censors. Even so, the film attracted so much attention that the censors banned it after a week in 1943, and it only returned to theatres three years later, where it was a huge success. For those interested in cinema history, the movie is worth watching. Read More…

Sep 272012
 
Abe Lincoln in Illinois

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Unbelievably boring, the movie follows the correct sequence of events but drastically changes Abraham Lincoln’s character to fit the needs of the script, while its plodding pacing makes watching it an unpleasant experience that should never be repeated.
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Sep 012010
 
Santa Fe Trail

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Santa Fe Trail (1940) covers Bleeding Kansas and John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, which helped start the American Civil War, but not even Errol Flynn’s limitless charm can redeem a movie that shows black people preferring the peace and security of slavery to freedom. Read More…

Jun 082010
 
I Shot Jesse James

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
I Shot Jesse James (1949) is a noirish take on the fate of Bob Ford after he kills his best friend to win a pardon and marry his girlfriend. Focused more on showing that it was impossible for Ford to live with the guilt, historical accuracy fades in and out of the film. Read More…

Jun 062009
 
Dark Command

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
While Dark Command is entertaining and surprisingly dark for 1940, it completely airbrushes the savagery that made the fighting in the Missouri-Kansas region a particularly brutal part of the Civil War. Along with Santa Fe Trail, which was made the same year and also deals with Bleeding Kansas, the film attempts to paper over the deep divisions that had caused the Civil War in an effort to unite northerners and southerners as the United States seemed increasingly likely to enter WWII. Read More…