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The Consensus Greatest 100 War Movies

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  • I liked From Here to Eternity. You have to take movies from different eras in the context of their time.

    I'd agree that the high quality movies of today are by and large better than older movies. I'm sure we can agree not to put 2001's Pearl Harbor in the high quality category. And there are plenty of very very bad movies currently.
    "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" Beatrice Evelyn Hall
    Updated for the 21st century... except if you are criticizing islam, that scares the $hii+e out of me!

    Comment


    • Original_movie_poster_for_the_film_The_Longest_Day.jpg


      29. The Longest Day (1962)

      SYNOPSIS: "The Longest Day" is the epic, all-star movie about D-Day. It covers the invasion through a series of vignettes and reenactments of key moments. It is told through the viewpoints of both the Allies and the Germans.

      BACK-STORY: "The Longest Day" is the granddaddy of the war movie epics. Its progeny include "A Bridge Too Far", "The Battle of the Bulge", "Battle of Britain", etc. It was a labor of love for famed producer Darryl Zanuck who purchased the rights to Cornelius Ryan's bestseller. Zanuck got multinational cooperation and brought in a international cast. At $10 million, it was the most expensive black and white film until "Schindler's List". Zanuck used several directors and was very hands-on. He insisted on shooting at the actual locations whenever possible, which included Ste. Mere Eglise, Pointe du Hoc, and Pegasus Bridge. The Omaha landings were filmed on Corsica. The movie was a box office success and was the highest grossing black and white movie until "Schindler's List". It won Oscars for Cinematography and Special Effects. It was nominated for Picture ("Lawrence of Arabia" won), Art Direction, and Editing.

      TRIVIA: Wikipedia, IMDB, TCM, "The Longest Headache" Life Oct. 12, 1962, Guts and Glory

      1. It is based on the book by Cornelius Ryan. Ryan wrote the screenplay, but producer Daryl Zanuck brought in a few other writers to improve it. One of them was author James Jones (uncredited) to snap up the soldier dialogue. He asked Erich Remarque to help with the German scenes, but Remarque simply returned the script with a note that it was fine as is. Along with a large bill for "consulting". When Ryan first met Zanuck it was hate at first sight. Ryan was not a believer in dramatic license. Elmo Williams had to act as a go-between for script revisions.

      2. Several of the stars were veterans of WWII: Henry Fonda, Leo Genn, Kenneth More, Rod Steiger, and Richard Todd.

      3. The technical advisers included Gen. Blumentritt, James Gavin, Werner Pluskat, "Pips" Priller, Lucie Rommel, and John Howard.

      4. When the extras were reluctant to leave the landing craft because of the cold water (in another version, they were reluctant to get in the landing craft), Robert Mitchum jumped in and shamed them into moving.

      5. The $10 million cost was the most for a black and white movie until "Schindler's List". Zanuck decided to do it in black and white for two reasons: to give it a documentary feel and to make the old actors look younger. The rumor that another reason was to blend in archival footage is not true because no archival footage was used in the film.

      6. Richard Todd turned down the chance to play himself in the Pegasus Bridge scenes. He wore John Howard's helmet. Kenneth More used Colin Maud's shillelagh for his beachmaster role. The bulldog was not English, he was French because of restrictions on bringing animals into France. The dog had to be tranquilized because of the explosions. He was mellow during the filming.

      7. Charleton Heston really wanted to play Vandervoort, but when John Wayne jumped in at the last minute, Heston was dumped. Wayne was mad at Zanuck because he had made some cracks about the financial problems of Wayne's "The Alamo". He demanded $250,000 instead of the standard $25,000 the other stars got.

      8. The 505th Airborne Battle Group were used for the Pointe du Hoc assault. One of the men, Joseph Lowe, reenacted his climb from his participation in the actual attack.

      9. Former President Eisenhower was considered for playing himself, but the make-up artists could not make him young enough. The Ike in the movie was played by Henry Grace, who was a Hollywood set designer who bore an uncanny resemblance to the general. Grace made his acting debut.

      10. Richard Burton and Roddy McDowell were filming "Cleopatra" in Italy and had some downtime. They flew in and did their cameos for free.

      11. The U.S., Great Britain, and France provided around 23,000 soldiers.

      12. Curt Jurgens, who played Gen. Blumentritt, had been imprisoned by Nazis during WWII.

      13. Zanuck wanted to use an actual paradrop for the Ste. Mere Eglise scene, but only a few of the parachutists landed in the square and a few more were injured. They had to end up using cranes dropping the men.

      14. The fleet scenes used 22 ships from the U.S. 6th Fleet off the coast of Corsica. The 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Division was practicing landings. The cameramen were instructed to avoid shooting the black Marines.

      15. Zanuck told Ryan he would not have any females or romance in his film. Then Zanuck met Irina Demick at a cocktail party. She became his mistress and Zanuck changed his mind about the romance.

      16. 500,000 blanks were fired during production.

      17. The Pentagon was very cooperative, but felt burnt when Zanuck left in a scene depicting the killing of German soldiers attempting to surrender. Zanuck had agreed to delete it and then kept it in. When the Pentagon attempted to put its foot down, the movie had already been released.

      18. The censors demanded that words like crap, muck it, motherlover, bastard, damn, and hell be cut. James Jones was particularly incensed with this denial of reality. They also wanted the bloodshed toned down, but Zanuck disregarded this.

      19. Three Spitfires were located in Belgium and two Me-109 Spanish versions were used. Two replicas of the gliders were commissioned from the piano company that built them during the war.

      20. There was concern over the casting of three teen idols (Fabian, Paul Anka, and Tommy Sands) for the Pointe du Hoc scene. Especially after Sands was out for a while because of sand in his eye and a broken fingernail. But in the end, the three did a decent job and earned the respect of the soldier extras.

      Belle and Blade = 2.0
      Brassey's = 5.0
      Video Hound = 3.8
      War Movies = 5.0
      Military History = #15
      Channel 4 = #20
      Film Site = yes
      101 War Movies = yes
      Rotten Tomatoes = 67

      HISTORICAL ACCURACY: People who have not read Ryan's book have faulted some of the obvious Hollywoodisms in the movie. And truthfully, there are vignettes and character developments that seem invented. However, as you will see if you go to my post on "History or Hollywood: The Longest Day" (http://www.armchairgeneral.com/forum...d.php?t=135425), most of the dubious elements are actually true to Ryan's well-researched book. Some of the supposedly hokey dialogue in the movie is straight from the book (which was based on extensive interviews by Ryan).

      As a tutorial, the movie does a great job telling the story of D-Day. Zanuck brought in ten technical advisers, but entertainment and logistics trumped them in some cases. For instance, Rupert (the dummy) was a lot less photogenic in real pseudo-life. There was no casino at Ouistreham at the time of the assault. Most problematic is the simplistic success at Omaha.

      The movie is often labeled a docudrama. This is a misnomer, but buttresses its claims to accuracy. It is easy to watch the way the movie covers most of the cogent facts about Operation Overlord and the balanced approach to both sides and think you are watching a documentary.

      OPINION: This is a big movie. Zanuck went all in and it shows. He literally commanded an army of actors and crew. The equipment is sometimes anachronistic (the ME-109s are actually ME-108s, for instance), but it was not from lack of trying. He also spent a lot of effort trying to get things right. For example, he originally tried to reenact the drop on Ste. Mere Eglise using actual paratoopers dropping from planes. Uncooperative winds put an end to that noble attempt. He insisted all the dialogue be in the correct language. Using subtitles was a bold move and sends a strong message that entertainment was not the only goal.

      Some critics find fault with the cast and the acting. There is something of a stunt feel to it, but the variety of characters was based on the book and why not have the best professionals play the roles? Granted, it is hard not to see John Wayne as playing Col. John Wayne (actually he is Lt. Col. Vandervoort). Can anyone seriously argue that Zanuck, who is making the epic WWII movie, should pass up the chance to have the biggest star on Earth and the man most associated with war movies in his film?

      The movie is uniformly well-acted. There is little scene-chewing by the stars in spite of their recognition that their screen time would be very limited. It is interesting to see how the big stars use little tricks of the trade to maximize their time on camera. The amazing aspect of the casting is the most memorable performances are by the B-Listers. Richard Beymer (the Rosary carrying paratrooper) and Hans Blech (the German who is the first to see the armada coming right at him) come to mind. More importantly, some of the performances made the actual people famous. What American would have cared about the fascinating "Pips" Priller (look him up on Wikipedia) if not for Heinz Reincke's vibrant portrayal?

      The cinematography is crisp black and white. Most of it is standard, but then you have the Ste. Mere Eglise drop and the casino tracking shot to marvel at. The movie has a surprising lack of score. This is so refreshing compared to other Old School WWII movies! No pomposity or mood manipulating.

      The plot handles a complex topic in a way that you do not need much knowledge of D-Day to follow it. Unlike many similar movies, TLD periodically informs us when and where the action is taking place. The jumping between the Allies and the Germans works well. The Germans are not demonized and in fact there is not a single "heil Hitler" in the film. For a serious pseudo-documentary, there are brief, but effective interjections of humor. My favorite is when the reporter accuses the wayward carrier pigeon with being a "damned traitor".

      In conclusion, considering it was the first of its type (the big budget, all-star, battle epic) and has had many challengers over the years, it is amazing that you can argue it is still the best of them all. I doubt it could be much better than it is, given the state of war movie making in 1962. I think it is also true to say that even with modern technology, a remake could not improve on it. Zanuck did not try to reinvent the genre, but he did create a subgenre and using orthodox methods fashioned a masterpiece. Although it is sometimes unfairly compared to "Saving Private Ryan", it is actually the perfect companion to it. By watching both, one gets a well-rounded view of D-Day. As far as its placement at #27, that is not surprising considering most critics are not enamored with it. Check out the ratings above, they are all over the place. I feel it should be in the top ten. It is much better than many of the upcoming movies, as you will see.

      Comment


      • Originally posted by warmoviebuff View Post
        Original_movie_poster_for_the_film_The_Longest_Day.jpg


        29. The Longest Day (1962)

        SYNOPSIS: "The Longest Day" is the epic, all-star movie about D-Day. It covers the invasion through a series of vignettes and reenactments of key moments. It is told through the viewpoints of both the Allies and the Germans.

        BACK-STORY: "The Longest Day" is the granddaddy of the war movie epics. Its progeny include "A Bridge Too Far", "The Battle of the Bulge", "Battle of Britain", etc. It was a labor of love for famed producer Darryl Zanuck who purchased the rights to Cornelius Ryan's bestseller. Zanuck got multinational cooperation and brought in a international cast. At $10 million, it was the most expensive black and white film until "Schindler's List". Zanuck used several directors and was very hands-on. He insisted on shooting at the actual locations whenever possible, which included Ste. Mere Eglise, Pointe du Hoc, and Pegasus Bridge. The Omaha landings were filmed on Corsica. The movie was a box office success and was the highest grossing black and white movie until "Schindler's List". It won Oscars for Cinematography and Special Effects. It was nominated for Picture ("Lawrence of Arabia" won), Art Direction, and Editing.

        TRIVIA: Wikipedia, IMDB, TCM, "The Longest Headache" Life Oct. 12, 1962, Guts and Glory

        1. It is based on the book by Cornelius Ryan. Ryan wrote the screenplay, but producer Daryl Zanuck brought in a few other writers to improve it. One of them was author James Jones (uncredited) to snap up the soldier dialogue. He asked Erich Remarque to help with the German scenes, but Remarque simply returned the script with a note that it was fine as is. Along with a large bill for "consulting". When Ryan first met Zanuck it was hate at first sight. Ryan was not a believer in dramatic license. Elmo Williams had to act as a go-between for script revisions.

        2. Several of the stars were veterans of WWII: Henry Fonda, Leo Genn, Kenneth More, Rod Steiger, and Richard Todd.

        3. The technical advisers included Gen. Blumentritt, James Gavin, Werner Pluskat, "Pips" Priller, Lucie Rommel, and John Howard.

        4. When the extras were reluctant to leave the landing craft because of the cold water (in another version, they were reluctant to get in the landing craft), Robert Mitchum jumped in and shamed them into moving.

        5. The $10 million cost was the most for a black and white movie until "Schindler's List". Zanuck decided to do it in black and white for two reasons: to give it a documentary feel and to make the old actors look younger. The rumor that another reason was to blend in archival footage is not true because no archival footage was used in the film.

        6. Richard Todd turned down the chance to play himself in the Pegasus Bridge scenes. He wore John Howard's helmet. Kenneth More used Colin Maud's shillelagh for his beachmaster role. The bulldog was not English, he was French because of restrictions on bringing animals into France. The dog had to be tranquilized because of the explosions. He was mellow during the filming.

        7. Charleton Heston really wanted to play Vandervoort, but when John Wayne jumped in at the last minute, Heston was dumped. Wayne was mad at Zanuck because he had made some cracks about the financial problems of Wayne's "The Alamo". He demanded $250,000 instead of the standard $25,000 the other stars got.

        8. The 505th Airborne Battle Group were used for the Pointe du Hoc assault. One of the men, Joseph Lowe, reenacted his climb from his participation in the actual attack.

        9. Former President Eisenhower was considered for playing himself, but the make-up artists could not make him young enough. The Ike in the movie was played by Henry Grace, who was a Hollywood set designer who bore an uncanny resemblance to the general. Grace made his acting debut.

        10. Richard Burton and Roddy McDowell were filming "Cleopatra" in Italy and had some downtime. They flew in and did their cameos for free.

        11. The U.S., Great Britain, and France provided around 23,000 soldiers.

        12. Curt Jurgens, who played Gen. Blumentritt, had been imprisoned by Nazis during WWII.

        13. Zanuck wanted to use an actual paradrop for the Ste. Mere Eglise scene, but only a few of the parachutists landed in the square and a few more were injured. They had to end up using cranes dropping the men.

        14. The fleet scenes used 22 ships from the U.S. 6th Fleet off the coast of Corsica. The 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Division was practicing landings. The cameramen were instructed to avoid shooting the black Marines.

        15. Zanuck told Ryan he would not have any females or romance in his film. Then Zanuck met Irina Demick at a cocktail party. She became his mistress and Zanuck changed his mind about the romance.

        16. 500,000 blanks were fired during production.

        17. The Pentagon was very cooperative, but felt burnt when Zanuck left in a scene depicting the killing of German soldiers attempting to surrender. Zanuck had agreed to delete it and then kept it in. When the Pentagon attempted to put its foot down, the movie had already been released.

        18. The censors demanded that words like crap, muck it, motherlover, bastard, damn, and hell be cut. James Jones was particularly incensed with this denial of reality. They also wanted the bloodshed toned down, but Zanuck disregarded this.

        19. Three Spitfires were located in Belgium and two Me-109 Spanish versions were used. Two replicas of the gliders were commissioned from the piano company that built them during the war.

        20. There was concern over the casting of three teen idols (Fabian, Paul Anka, and Tommy Sands) for the Pointe du Hoc scene. Especially after Sands was out for a while because of sand in his eye and a broken fingernail. But in the end, the three did a decent job and earned the respect of the soldier extras.

        Belle and Blade = 2.0
        Brassey's = 5.0
        Video Hound = 3.8
        War Movies = 5.0
        Military History = #15
        Channel 4 = #20
        Film Site = yes
        101 War Movies = yes
        Rotten Tomatoes = 67

        HISTORICAL ACCURACY: People who have not read Ryan's book have faulted some of the obvious Hollywoodisms in the movie. And truthfully, there are vignettes and character developments that seem invented. However, as you will see if you go to my post on "History or Hollywood: The Longest Day" (http://www.armchairgeneral.com/forum...d.php?t=135425), most of the dubious elements are actually true to Ryan's well-researched book. Some of the supposedly hokey dialogue in the movie is straight from the book (which was based on extensive interviews by Ryan).

        As a tutorial, the movie does a great job telling the story of D-Day. Zanuck brought in ten technical advisers, but entertainment and logistics trumped them in some cases. For instance, Rupert (the dummy) was a lot less photogenic in real pseudo-life. There was no casino at Ouistreham at the time of the assault. Most problematic is the simplistic success at Omaha.

        The movie is often labeled a docudrama. This is a misnomer, but buttresses its claims to accuracy. It is easy to watch the way the movie covers most of the cogent facts about Operation Overlord and the balanced approach to both sides and think you are watching a documentary.

        OPINION: This is a big movie. Zanuck went all in and it shows. He literally commanded an army of actors and crew. The equipment is sometimes anachronistic (the ME-109s are actually ME-108s, for instance), but it was not from lack of trying. He also spent a lot of effort trying to get things right. For example, he originally tried to reenact the drop on Ste. Mere Eglise using actual paratoopers dropping from planes. Uncooperative winds put an end to that noble attempt. He insisted all the dialogue be in the correct language. Using subtitles was a bold move and sends a strong message that entertainment was not the only goal.

        Some critics find fault with the cast and the acting. There is something of a stunt feel to it, but the variety of characters was based on the book and why not have the best professionals play the roles? Granted, it is hard not to see John Wayne as playing Col. John Wayne (actually he is Lt. Col. Vandervoort). Can anyone seriously argue that Zanuck, who is making the epic WWII movie, should pass up the chance to have the biggest star on Earth and the man most associated with war movies in his film?

        The movie is uniformly well-acted. There is little scene-chewing by the stars in spite of their recognition that their screen time would be very limited. It is interesting to see how the big stars use little tricks of the trade to maximize their time on camera. The amazing aspect of the casting is the most memorable performances are by the B-Listers. Richard Beymer (the Rosary carrying paratrooper) and Hans Blech (the German who is the first to see the armada coming right at him) come to mind. More importantly, some of the performances made the actual people famous. What American would have cared about the fascinating "Pips" Priller (look him up on Wikipedia) if not for Heinz Reincke's vibrant portrayal?

        The cinematography is crisp black and white. Most of it is standard, but then you have the Ste. Mere Eglise drop and the casino tracking shot to marvel at. The movie has a surprising lack of score. This is so refreshing compared to other Old School WWII movies! No pomposity or mood manipulating.

        The plot handles a complex topic in a way that you do not need much knowledge of D-Day to follow it. Unlike many similar movies, TLD periodically informs us when and where the action is taking place. The jumping between the Allies and the Germans works well. The Germans are not demonized and in fact there is not a single "heil Hitler" in the film. For a serious pseudo-documentary, there are brief, but effective interjections of humor. My favorite is when the reporter accuses the wayward carrier pigeon with being a "damned traitor".

        In conclusion, considering it was the first of its type (the big budget, all-star, battle epic) and has had many challengers over the years, it is amazing that you can argue it is still the best of them all. I doubt it could be much better than it is, given the state of war movie making in 1962. I think it is also true to say that even with modern technology, a remake could not improve on it. Zanuck did not try to reinvent the genre, but he did create a subgenre and using orthodox methods fashioned a masterpiece. Although it is sometimes unfairly compared to "Saving Private Ryan", it is actually the perfect companion to it. By watching both, one gets a well-rounded view of D-Day. As far as its placement at #27, that is not surprising considering most critics are not enamored with it. Check out the ratings above, they are all over the place. I feel it should be in the top ten. It is much better than many of the upcoming movies, as you will see.
        I watched the Premiere in NYC in 1962 and I agree with you, screw the Critics!
        Trying hard to be the Man, that my Dog believes I am!

        Comment


        • Originally posted by 17thfabn View Post
          <snip> ... I'm sure we can agree not to put 2001's Pearl Harbor in the high quality category. And there are plenty of very very bad movies currently.
          I could agree to put 2001's Pearl Harbor very firmly in the LOW quality category. Of course, that would be "low quality" in my opinion, when considered as a war movie.
          On the other hand, judged as a romance / "love triangle" movie, that just happens to have the Pearl Harbor attack and the Doolittle Raid as its backdrop, an entirely different verdict might be forthcoming. If I was into "chick flicks" I would probably have loved it!


          "England expects that every man will do his duty!" (English crew members had better get ready for a tough fight against the combined French and Spanish fleets because that's what England expects! However, Scotland, Wales and Ireland appear to expect nothing so the Scottish, Welsh and Irish crew members can relax below decks if they like!)

          Comment


          • Spartacus_sheetA.jpg



            28. Spartacus (1960)

            SYNOPSIS: "Spartacus" is an Old School epic based on the famous Spartacus rebellion during the Roman Empire. Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) is a gladiator trainee who leads an escape from a training school. He has a romance with a slave named Varinia (Jean Simmons). He and his slave army attempt to take ship out of Italy while Roman dictator wannabe Crassus (Laurence Olivier) manuevers to prevent this. Roman Senator Gracchus (Charles Laughton) schemes politically against Crassus.

            BACK-STORY: "Spartacus" is a famous historical epic released in 1960. It is based on the book by Howard Fast. Kirk Douglas was fascinated by the novel and wanted to ease his disappointment over losing the starring role in "Ben Hur". He recruited Olivier, Laughton, and Ustinov. When Fast proved unable to make the jump to screenwriter, noted commie Dalton Trumbo was brought in. This was a daring move as Trumbo was, at that time, blacklisted as a member of the Hollywood Ten. He had run afoul of the House Unamerican Activities Committee during McCarthyism and was writing screenplays under pseudonyms. After completion of the film, Douglas insisted Trumbo be credited by his real name - a move that ended the blacklisting movement. Kudos! The first director (Anthony Mann) did not meet Douglas' standards so he was replaced by Stanley Kubrick. It was not exactly smooth sailing after the change. The massive egos of the stars made each scene difficult. Kubrick looked back on the film with far from fond memories. Based on his recollections, you would think the movie was terrible. He wanted the movie to be more gritty and less a hagiography. He wanted more battle scenes, but test audiences reacted negatively (boo!). The movie was the most expensive to date ($12 million). It was Universal Studio's biggest money maker until "Airport" ten years later. It won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Ustinov), Art Direction, Costume Design, and Cinematography (Russell Metty). Metty was upset that Kubrick often overruled him on shots and actually Kubrick did most of the cinematography, he still accepted the Oscar. It was nominated for Editing and Score. It won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, one of the rare winners that was not even nominated for Best Picture. The winner that year was "The Apartment" (94% on Rotten Tomatoes). The other nominees were "Elmer Gantry" (97%), "Sons and Lovers" (75%), "The Sundowners" (80%), and "The Alamo" (50%). "Spartacus" has a 96%. It is #5 on AFI's list of greatest epics. #81 on the list of greatest films. Spartacus is the #22 hero.

            TRIVIA: Wikipedia, TCM, imdb, Spartacus: Film and History by Martin Winkler, ed., I am Spartacus! by Kirk Douglas

            1. The Catholic Legion of Decency put pressure on Universal to cut shot of severing of limbs. drowning in soup, blood spurting on Crassus when he kills Draba, and hints of homosexuality ("snails and oysters") The studio censors suggested that "truffles and artichokes" would be acceptable instead of "snails and oysters".

            2. After Trumbo's critique of the first rough cut, scenes were added including: the first meeting with Tigranes, Spartacus' speech at the gladiator school, Spartacus' speech on the beach, the duel with Antoninus.

            3. The screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, was a member of the "Unfriendly Ten" which were nine screenwriters and one director (Edward Dmytryk) who were brought before the House Unamerican Activities Committee to testify about communists in the movie industry. Congressman J. Parnell Thomas headed the witch-hunting committee which included Richard Nixon. Trumbo refused to answer the question: "Are you a member of the Communist Party?" and was sent to prison.

            4. Novelist Howard Fast wrote the source novel. He was a communist and went to prison for contempt of Congress. In prison, he began researching the life of Spartacus. Upon release, he was under surveillance from J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. Hoover accumulated over one thousand pages in his file. When the novel was finished, Hoover put pressure on publishers to not publish it. Fast ended up self-publishing. Later, Fast broke with the Communist Party after Khrushchev revealed Stalin's crimes. Douglas became interested in a film about Spartacus and optioned the book for just $100, but Fast insisted on writing the screenplay. Douglas agreed, but was skeptical of Fast's ability to write a competent screenplay. Douglas was right. Fast's first draft was terrible and Douglas secretly brought in Trumbo who was writing under the name Sam Jackson.

            5. The movie almost did not get made because there was already a movie about Spartacus in production. It was to be based on the novel "The Gladiators" and was to star Yul Brynner.

            6. Douglas approached Sir Lawrence Olivier while they were co-starring in "The Devil's Disciple". Olivier was interested in directing. In an awkward development, Olivier assumed he would be playing Spartacus. When Olivier decided not to direct, Douglas reluctantly turned to Anthony Mann. Douglas fired Mann (under pressure from Universal, but with Douglas' agreement) because Mann was in over his head and had lost control of the cast, especially Peter Ustinov who was rewriting most of his lines. In fact, Douglas, Olivier, and Laughton also dabbled a lot in rewrites. Laughton threatened to sue because most of his rewrites did not make it - as was true for all of them.

            7. The first choice for Varinia was Jeanne Moreau (Christine in "The Train"), but she turned it down. Jean Simmons (a friend of Douglas) pushed hard for the role, but Douglas insisted that he wanted an actress that did not have an English or American accent. He ended up settling on an unknown German beauty named Sabine Bethmann. Kubrick convinced Douglas to dump Bethmann by proving to him that she was incapable of showing emotion. (Her movie career collapsed after this.) Simmons got her chance and it worked out even though the production was set back when she had a health crisis that lasted five weeks.

            8. Kubrick was a prick to work with. At one point, the horse-bound Douglas physically threatened him in order to get him to stop wearing the same clothes every day. They had several major disagreements on the script. For instance, Kubrick did not want to include the "I am Spartacus!" scene! Douglas insisted on it, thank God. Douglas was apoplectic when he learned that all his time on the crucifix ended up on the cutting room floor. He was not going to be seen in that final scene. Douglas won on that one also. On the other hand, Douglas was concerned about having to say the line: "I have never had a woman". He felt it would result in giggles from the audience. It didn't.

            9. The biggest dispute was over the overarching theme of the movie. Douglas and Trumbo wanted the "Large Spartacus" - the slave revolt was a major threat to the Roman Republic and after winning several spectacular victories, was overwhelmed by three Roman armies. Kubrick and the studio wanted the "Small Spartacus" - Spartacus led a jail break that only had the goal of escaping from Italy, but was defeated by one Roman army. After the first underwhelming rough cut, Trumbo wrote a brilliant critique which steered the film back towards the Large Spartacus. However, Universal had the final cut and we ended up with Medium Spartacus.

            10. The movie was supposed to cost $5 million, but ended up at around $12 million. Part of the overrun was due to adding an expanded final battle scene. Franco provided 8,000 Spanish soldiers (at $8/day), but insisted that none of them being shown dying on screen! The cast total was around 10,000 including 187 stuntmen.

            11. John Gavin (Caesar) went to a Notre Dame at Michigan State football game and got the crowd to yell "I am Spartacus!" and "Hail, Crassus!" for his tape recorder and this is the sound that was used in the scene.

            12. That's Woody Strode, not a dummy, hanging upside down through numerous takes.

            13. Douglas broke Charles McGraw's (the trainer) jaw when filming the soup-drowning scene. The cut that appears in the movie involves a stunt double.

            14. The actor who gets his arm cut off in the final battle was an amputee with a prosthetic arm. Douglas refused to do more than three takes.

            15. Douglas had to talk the prudish Simmons into taking off her bra for the bathing scene.

            16. Universal made 42 cuts to the movie before releasing it. These included: no severing pf an arm, we don't see Gracchus suicide (which has since been lost due to poor treatment of the prints), no montage of other battles (not even the map and narration), and of course, no "snails and oysters" scene. In general, the studio cuts reduced Spartacus' historical significance because the powers did not want the rebellion to appear to have had a chance to succeed. This might have inspired communists!

            17. The "snails and oysters" scene was discovered years later, but the audio was so bad it had to be recreated. Tony Curtis came in to do his lines again, but Olivier had passed away so Anthony Hopkins did his voice, extremely well.

            18. Because of Trumbo's involvement, Hedda Hopper (an influential conservative commentator) and John Wayne urged a boycott. The American Legion organized picket lines, but Pres. Kennedy crossed one to see the picture.


            Belle and Blade = N/A
            Brassey's = 4.0
            Video Hound = N/A
            War Movies = N/A
            Military History = #41
            Channel 4 = #25
            Film Site = yes
            101 War Movies = no
            Rotten Tomatoes = #15


            HISTORICAL ACCURACY: There are a lot of gaps in the historical record concerning Spartacus. This should allow Hollywood to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, Hollywood takes some of the known facts and changes them. We do not know exactly who he was before the rebellion, but most likely he was a Thracian soldier who deserted from the Roman army and possibly became a bandit until he was captured and sold at a slave auction in Rome. He was purchased by Batiatus and trained at his gladiator school in Capua. The training was probably similar to that depicted in the movie. The rebellion did break out in the kitchen, but the cause is unknown.

            The rebels did make camp on the slopes of Vesuvius and they were joined by local slaves. A Roman unit (a hastily recruited militia, not the Roman garrison) led by Glaber was sent to put down the rebellion and did leave its camp undefended. The movie does not specify how the slaves surprised the Romans, but in reality they made vine ropes to climb down the slope. The original plan was to march north to escape over the Alps, but Crixus argued for staying and continuing to plunder Italy. Spartacus acceded, but remained in command. The movie does not clearly depict the disagreements between Spartacus and Crixus.

            In the second year of the war, the army split with most going northward under Spartacus and the rest staying in southern Italy under Crixus. Crixus was defeated and killed. At the funeral games for Crixus, Spartacus honored him with gladiatorial bouts between Roman prisoners. This is just one example of how Spartacus was not as saintly as the movie would have you believe.

            Spartacus defeated a Roman army on the way to the Alps, but again he turned back for reason unknown. After yet another Roman defeat, the Romans turned to Crassus who raised an army of six legions. Crassus' motivations were not as broad as the movie suggests. He was mainly interested in the power that would come with rescuing Rome from the slave menace. After a subordinate violated orders and allowed part of the army to be brought to battle and got his ass kicked, Crassus used decimation (killing one-tenth of an embarrassed unit) to show his men he meant business. Crassus defeated Spartacus, but not decisively. Spartacus did negotiate with Cilician pirates for passage to Sicily, but they took the money and sailed off. Most likely they were not bribed by Crasssus, but simply were being pirates. A desperate attempt to build rafts to float to Sicily ended in failure.

            Meanwhile, Crassus constructed a line of fortifications to trap Spartacus in the toe of Italy. Spartacus had a Roman prisoner crucified in no man's land to show his men what awaited them if they gave up. The stalemate caused the Senate to recall Pompey from Spain and Lucullus from Macedonia (a strategy alluded to in the film). On a snowy night, Spartacus launched an attempt to break through the Roman line. This was only partially successful with less than half his army reaching safety on the other side. For some reason, the slave army splintered again and the non-Spartacus part was caught by Crassus and had to be rescued by Spartacus. A second surprise attack on the splinter group resulted in its destruction a few days later.

            Spartacus headed for Brundisium, but Lucullus landed ahead of him. The slaves spanked the van guard of Crassus' approaching army and over-confidently insisted on a pitched battle with Crassus. Spartacus must have expected the worst because before the battle he made a show of killing his horse in a victory or death analogy. In the subsequent Battle of Silarus, there is no reference to fire rollers, of course. And the movie does a poor job on Roman weaponry as it does not have the Romans using their pila (javelins). Also, Crassus won the battle with no intervention by Pompey or Lucullus. Spartacus apparently was trying to cut his way to Crassus when he was killed. (How did Hollywood resist that?) In one version, he was abandoned by his retinue and surrounded. In another, he was wounded in the thigh after dispatching two centurions and was finished off as he fought from one knee. Obviously he was not crucified and in fact his body was not identified.

            The movie does accurately show the crucifixion of 6,000 survivors along the Appian Way. In a post script neglected by the movie, Pompey finished off the fleeing remnants of the army and was able to falsely claim the lion's share of ending the slave threat instead of it going to Crassus. Crassus does not go on to become dictator as the movie implies, but instead joins Pompey and Caesar in the First Triumvirate. The movies prediction that Spartacus' rebellion would inspire slaves to eventually overthrow the empire was fantasy. In reality, the Spartacus rebellion was the last serious slave rebellion in Roman history.

            As far as the love story, there is little evidence to base it upon. Varinia is almost pure fiction. It is possible Spartacus was "married", but his spouse would have been a Thracian. (In fact, Rome had not conquered Varinia's Britain at this point.) She may have been a priestess. They probably knew each other before the rebellion. There is no evidence of a child. It seems very unlikely that he was the sensitive lover the movie depicts.

            OPINION: "Spartacus" is one of the all-time great epic films. It has all the ingredients necessary for grand entertainment. It has action, suspense, romance, and a little humor. The acting is stellar and the score is outstanding. The plot is well thought out. The dialogue is crisp.

            With a cast such as it is, no surprise the acting is great. Kirk Douglas is perfect in the role and it is obvious he put his soul into the role. The heavyweights (Olivier, Ustinov, and Laughton) do not disappoint and they chew the scenery less than you would expect. Ustinov is especially effective as Batiatus. He justifiably earned the Best Supporting Actor trophy. Some of the minor characters shine. Charles McGraw is great as the menacing trainer.

            The romance is well done. I'm not much for mushy stuff, but if Kirk Douglas is okay with the script - fine with me. Jean Simmons is excellent as Varinia. Their opening scene is powerful, although unrealistic. It introduces the characters well. Compare their chaste relationship to the sexual escapades on the recent Starz series (which I am a big fan of) if you want to see how far morals have come since 1960. That series clearly answers the question "what would Hollywood do with Spartacus if it was remade today?" Conversely, how about that "snails and oysters" scene? There is an example of how Hollywood was too prudish in 1960.

            One flaw in the movie is the lack of actual combat. Spartacus fought numerous battles with the Romans, but only one is depicted. It is pretty standard in an epic of this type to have a victory in the first half and a loss at the end. The skipping over the attack on Glabrus' camp is head-scratching. As much as I despise "Braveheart" (Gibson clearly was inspired by "Spartacus"), it does a better job on this. Another problem is that the final battle is overrated. It has ridiculous elements (the fire rollers) and does not accurately depict Roman tactics.

            In conclusion, "Spartacus" is great entertainment, but is it a great war movie? Its closest comparison would be to "Braveheart" which it is infinitely superior to. "Spartacus" is a good example of how you can tamper with history and not make it ridiculous. It seems appropriately judged at #28.
            Last edited by warmoviebuff; 10 Mar 19, 15:04.

            Comment


            • The Longest Day is one of those movies you have to watch every few years.

              I'd love to see a remake IF it was done well. With just enough CGI it may be doable.
              "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" Beatrice Evelyn Hall
              Updated for the 21st century... except if you are criticizing islam, that scares the $hii+e out of me!

              Comment


              • An especially good review of Spartacus, I think. While Jean Simmons certainly came from Britannia, Varinia would not have done so.
                "I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight".
                Samuel Johnson.

                Comment


                • 27. Alexander Nevsky (1938)

                  SYNOPSIS: "Alexander Nevsky" is a Soviet film by the great Sergei Eisenstein that was made in anticipation of war with Nazi Germany. It tells the tale of the Russian hero of the 13th Century. Alexander was a nobleman who had fought the Mongols and was now called on to lead the people against the invading Teutonic Knights of Germany. The movie is based on true events, but includes two romantic subplots for the ladies. It culminates in one of the great battle scenes in war movie history - the battle on the frozen lake.

                  BACK-STORY: It came thirteen years after Sergei Eisenstein's other masterpiece "Battleship Potemkin". The film is most famous for two elements: the battle on the ice and Sergei Prokofiev's score. Some scenes in the picture were cut to match the score. The film was awarded the Stalin Prize in 1941 and Eisenstein (and the co-director) was given the Order of Lenin by Stalin. Speaking of Stalin, he was shown a rough cut of the film and either did not like a scene showing a riot of the citizens of Novgorod or the reel was accidentally left behind so it was not vetted by the supreme ruler. Either way, the reel was left out of the final cut.

                  TRIVIA: Wikipedia, imdb

                  1. It was Sergei Eisenstein's first sound film.
                  2. He chose to do a film on Nevsky because little was known about him so Eisenstein hoped to be able to structure the narrative the way he wanted. He was not given the free rein that he had hoped for. For this film he was kept on a short leash as the Soviet government wanted to make sure it got the propaganda product it commissioned. Eisenstein was assigned a co-writer and co-director to look over his shoulder and make sure he did not get too creative. The co-writer was probably a KGB agent.
                  3. The iced lake scenes were filmed outside Moscow in the dead of summer. The cinematographer went to remarkable lengths to create the lake setting. The ice was actually asphalt and melted glass. The fake ice rested on floating pontoons that could be deflated on cue.
                  4. The film was removed from circulation after the Russo-German Non-Aggression Pact made the Soviet Union and Germany friends. When Germany attacked, the movie was put back in every theater.

                  Belle and Blade = N/A
                  Brassey's = 5.0
                  Video Hound = 3.1
                  War Movies = N/A
                  Military History = #5
                  Channel 4 = #74
                  Film Site = no
                  101 War Movies = no
                  Rotten Tomatoes = no

                  HISTORICAL ACCURACY: The movie is surprisingly accurate. Of course, you have to factor in that Alexander is a legendary figure so we can't be sure about all of the facts. Alexander was born the son of a prince. In 1236 the people of Novgorod asked the fifteen year old prince to defend them against the Swedes and the Germans. He defeated the Swedes at the Battle of Neva in 1240. From this triumph, he acquired the sobriquet "Nevsky". However, after the victory the boyars (nobles) forced him into exile. This is the situation when the movie begins.

                  The scene with the Mongols is an interpretation of Alexander's relationship with the Golden Horde. He has been accused of collaboration, but the movie is probably close in interpreting him as realizing that the other threats needed to be dealt with and the Mongols were not threatening Russian culture. He felt paying tribute to the Mongols was the right choice among bad choices. The movie does a fair job showing how Alexander was called back to Novgorod after the fall of Pskov to the Livonian Order of the Teutonic Knights. The Novgorodians had a democratic custom called veche where the merchants and boyars would openly discuss a proposal such as bringing in a sixteen year old to rule them.

                  The Teutonic Knights were a German military order created in the Middle Ages. It was formed to aid pilgrims going to the Holy Land and established hospitals in the Middle East. The organization evolved into a military order. When the Crusades ended in failure, they took their act to Europe to defend Catholicism. Dressed in white robes with black crosses, they participated in crusades with a small c. They fought in Prussia and became a major power there. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword was created using the Teutonic model. Its goal was spreading Catholicism to the Baltic states. In 1237, it merged with the Teutonic Knights and became the Livonian Order. Subsequently, their knights expanded eastward into Russia with the intention of conquering Novgorod. They were led by a Grand Master as depicted in the film.

                  The Germans did capture Pskov and the occupation was probably harsh, although baby burning may have been an exaggeration. They were definitely religious and had all the trappings, but power, wealth, and territory were strong motives behind the invasion. No doubt they evidenced the religious intolerance typical of that time period. They certainly were intolerant of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

                  There is some dispute about what happened in the Battle of the Ice. The battle (officially the Battle of Lake Preipus) was a confrontation as the Germans marched on Novgorod. The tactic of Alexander was to lure the Knights into a frontal attack on his center. He may have feigned retreat or more likely the cavalry attack pushed his center back. At this point, Alexander assaulted the German flanks with his archers and when fresh Russian cavalry entered the battle, the Germans were routed. They retreated across the iced-over lake and many drowned when the ice collapsed under them. Some historians question the high casualty totals for the Germans and some even doubt that the famous ice cracking happened. Alexander's closing admonition that anyone who comes to Russia with a sword will die by the sword is a repeat of his famous quote.

                  OPINION: This is an Eisenstein film so you can prepare to be wowed by his craft. The movie pairs the genius of Eisenstein up with the genius of Prokofiev. The score has been universally lauded. To tell the truth, I found it to be a bit bizarre. The acting is meh. Cherkasov is a walking statue. In fact, he resembles a statue of Alexander. He spends much of the film with his hands on his hips a la Superman. The best of the cast are the two females. Vera Ivashova is a bit feisty as the love interest for Vasily and Gavrilo. Aleksandra Danilova plays the tom-boyish Vasilisa well and either by purpose or lack of training, fights like a girl in the battle.

                  "Alexander Nevsky" could not have been more propagandistic than if they had tried. Oh wait, they did try! And succeeded. The themes are not subtle. Clerics in general and Catholics in particular take a beating. The movie is not atheistic (Alexander even quotes Scripture at one point), but the Catholics are demonized to a cartoonish extent. Speaking of demonization, even today’s current events challenged younger generation would have been able to figure out that the movie is about the Nazi threat. It is obvious that the movie was made to warn the Russian people about the 1930s version of the Teutonic Knights.

                  In conclusion, I know I will take some grief for this, but this movie is overrated. I recognize that it is a masterpiece and a must see, but it does not hold up in comparison to modern classics. If you are looking at a war film purely for quality, it is disappointing. The best way I can explain this conundrum is to look at the famous battle scene. Eisenstein's staging of the Battle of the Ice is very influential and has been copied by films like "Spartacus" and "Braveheart". The plain fact is that although "Alexander Nevsky" did it first, no one with a right mind can argue that it does it better than most (all?) of its modern imitators. I despise "Braveheart", but Mel Gibson's battle scene is certainly more realistic and entertaining than Eisenstein's.

                  Comment


                  • I hope the ff. will be considered (i.e., if they haven't):

                    Fires on the Plain

                    The Burmese Harp

                    The Human Condition

                    War and Peace (dir. Bondarchuk)

                    Oro, Plata, Mata

                    Black and White in Color

                    Ran

                    Throne of Blood

                    King Rat

                    Kanal

                    Come and See

                    Three Days Without God

                    Henry V

                    The Bridge

                    Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

                    and so on

                    Comment


                    • Ralfy, you are obviously new here. Nice suggestions but I would invite to back to the first page posted in this thread to understand what WarmovieBuff is doing. He is the local War Movie expert and we do entertain comments about movies he presents and critique. Again, I suggest you go read the first few posts and then come play along.

                      Comment


                      • Originally posted by ralfy View Post
                        I hope the ff. will be considered (i.e., if they haven't):

                        Fires on the Plain

                        The Burmese Harp

                        The Human Condition

                        War and Peace (dir. Bondarchuk)

                        Oro, Plata, Mata

                        Black and White in Color

                        Ran

                        Throne of Blood

                        King Rat

                        Kanal

                        Come and See

                        Three Days Without God

                        Henry V

                        The Bridge

                        Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

                        and so on
                        Some of those are certainly worthy of "consideration", but given the methodology (note the ratings list), foreign films were short-changed. Not my fault. Of the ones you listed, in my opinion the following have strong cases to be made: Fires on the Plain, War and Peace, Come and See, Kanal, and The Bridge. One of your's is upcoming. Does anyone want to guess which?

                        Comment


                        • Big_red_one_post.jpg


                          26. The Big Red One (1980)

                          SYNOPSIS: "The Big Red One" is a small unit movie set in WWII Europe. It follows the adventures of a crusty veteran sergeant (Lee Marvin) and his squad of four G.I.s plus a parade of expendables. They campaign through North Africa, Sicily, France, and into Germany. They participate in the Battle of Kasserine Pass, D-Day, the Huertgen Forest, and help liberate a concentration camp. It's all at the squad level and is basically a series of vignettes.

                          BACK-STORY: The movie is loosely based on the writer/director Samuel Fuller's experiences with the 1st Division in WWII. The character Zab (Robert Carradine) represents Fuller. The movie was released in 1980 with a substantial amount left on the cutting room floor. In 2004, the director's cut was released almost doubling the length of the film. The movie stars Lee Marvin in arguably his best role. Marvin was a veteran of WWII, having served in the Marines and was wounded at Saipan.

                          TRIVIA:

                          1. Samuel Fuller was a WWII veteran and some of the vignettes were based on his experiences. He participated in the North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy invasions. He served in Belgium and Czechslovakia. He was there for the liberation on Falkenau concentration camp. He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart.
                          2. "The Big Red One: The Reconstruction" premiered at Cannes seven years after Fuller's death. It has 47 additional minutes.
                          3. Two particular incidents from Fuller's war experiences are included. When Zab (who represents Fuller in the movie) is playing basketball and sees Keiser reading his book and when Zab is a runner on Omaha Beach.
                          4. Warner Brothers wanted to make the movie in the 1950s (with John Wayne as the sergeant). Fuller's "Merrill's Marauders" was preparation for it. However, when Fuller protested the cuts the studio insisted on for MM, the project got dropped because of bad blood.
                          5. The movie was shot in Israel to save money. The concentration camp guards were played by Israeli soldiers.
                          6. Lee Marvin was 54 at the time. Mighty old for a sergeant. He supervised the mini boot camp the younger actors went through. On their way to a shooting range via taxi with Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco, and Kelly Ward, Marvin opened with "**** you, Carradine". Later when Robert asked him why he did this Marvin said "Yours was the only name I recognized".
                          7. It was Fuller's first film in eleven years.
                          8. Marvin was a Marine veteran of WWII in the Pacific. His wounding in the movie was reminiscent of his wounding in the war. He was wounded on Saipan when a bullet severed his sciatic nerve. He was soon after hit in the foot by a sniper. He spent over a year in hospitals.

                          Belle and Blade = N/A
                          Brassey's = 5.0
                          Video Hound = 5.0
                          War Movies = 3.8
                          Military History = #71
                          Channel 4 = #98
                          Film Site = no
                          101 War Movies = yes
                          Rotten Tomatoes = #56


                          ACCURACY: "The Big Red One" is a personal story and a small unit tale, so historical accuracy is not really a factor. Two minor incidents are based on Fuller's experiences: when Zab discovers Keiser reading a novel written by Zab and when Zab acts as a runner to inform their colonel that they have broken through on Omaha Beach. That's pretty puny to back up the claim that the movie is based on fact. Much of the historical incidents are handled in a simplistic manner. For example, the Torch invasion where the French open fire, but once their commander is killed, it's all hugs and kisses between the new allies. One could argue that the landing at Omaha Beach was much busier and complex than the movie implies, but the low budget of the film and the emphasis on following just five soldiers makes that a moot point. The 1st Division did fight in the different locales shown in the film. It did liberate the concentration camp. The arms and equipment (with the exception of the German tanks) are authentic.

                          OPINION: "The Big Red One" plays as a series of weird vignettes. They are all interesting and move the narrative along and although each of them may have been based on an actual incident, it is highly unlikely than any squad would have had all these incidents happen to them. In fact, some of the scenes (e.g., the tank birth) seem unlikely to have happened to anyone. The movie gets cred because supposedly it is autobiographical, but it is telling that the companion book by Fuller is a novel.

                          The film is strongest in its depiction of soldier life. The dialogue rings true. The relationships are realistic, including the paternal attitude of the sergeant and the core group's refusal to bond with replacements. Fuller throws in little details that make the movie feel authentic. Things like the condoms on the rifle barrels, salt peter in the food to lower libido, and an "appearance" by Axis Sally.

                          Fuller has a sparse style. Some scenes end abruptly. It gives the movie something of an episodic feel. One begins to wonder what mess the squad will get into next. The battles are small-scale and end quickly. The battles are meant to be gritty, but the movie is firmly in the old school style, pre-"Saving Private Ryan". One problem is the important theme of Griff's (Mark Hammill) cowardice is never resolved. Another theme, war is brutal and arbitrary in dealing out death, is undercut by the survival of all five. In fact, only the sergeant even gets wounded. The movie would have much more powerful if one of the five had been killed. The deaths of most replacements are exaggerated, the invulnerability of the five is unrealistic.

                          In conclusion, "The Big Red One" is an entertaining and in many ways amusing war movie. Marvin is marvelous and the young actors are competent. It does a good job of informing the viewer about what it was like to be in a rifle squad in the 1st Division in WWII. However, on close examination, the movie does not hold up well. Much of it is implausible. This would be less of an issue if the movie was not touted as based on Fuller's experiences. It's a fun movie, but undoubtedly overrated by many critics. On a personal note, I was very fond of this movie when it first came out but I find that each time I watch it I see more flaws.
                          Last edited by warmoviebuff; 15 Mar 19, 16:27.

                          Comment


                          • The_general_movie_poster.jpg


                            25. The General (1925)

                            SYNOPSIS: Buster Keaton plays a Southern railroad engineer during the Civil War. His beloved locomotive called "The General" is stolen by Union commandoes and Keaton attempts to get it back in a series of comic adventures. The movie was inspired by the Andrews Raid.

                            BACK-STORY: "The General" is Buster Keaton's masterpiece, although it took a while for the critics and public to realize that. The movie was a commercial and critical bomb when it was released in 1926. Thankfully Keaton lived to see the revival of its reputation in the 1960s. Recently the American Film Institute ranked it the 18th greatest film and the 18th greatest comedy (don't ask). This must have been heartening since he co-wrote, co-directed, and co-produced it. He based it on "The Great Locomotive Chase" by William Pittenger. Keaton used 500 Ohio National Guardsmen for the battle scene and even had them switch uniforms to give the armies more size.

                            TRIVIA: Wikipedia, IMDB, TCM

                            1. It was based on the memoir "The Great Locomotive Chase" by William Pittenger. Pittenger was a Yankee, but Buster Keaton insisted on the main character being a Southerner because he thought there would be more sympathy for the South. Keaton loved trains and had read the book when his partner suggested he make the movie.

                            2. Producer Joseph Schenk gave Keaton a huge budget of $400,000, which Keaton proceeded to blow up to possibly $750,000. The studio was none to happy when the movie turned into a box office and critical failure and Keaton lost a lot of power over his future films.

                            3. Keaton wanted to film on location and wanted to use the actual "General" which was on display in Chattanooga. The caretakers were at first open to the idea until they found out the movie was a comedy. The film was actually shot in Oregon because some old railroad lines and trains were located there. Keaton purchased two trains for the action scenes and one train for the crash. Eighteen box cars were needed to transport the equipment, props, set pieces, etc. to the location. The town of Marietta, Georgia was recreated.

                            4. 500 members of the Oregon National Guard were used for soldiers. They would charge in Union uniforms, then change and charge the other way in Confederate uniforms.

                            5. The wreck of the Texas cost $42,000 making it he most costly shot in silent movie history. Thousands of locals came to watch and were horrified because the dummy portraying the engineer was so life-like. The wreck stayed at the bottom of the river until brought up for scrap in WWII.

                            6. The movie premiered in two small theaters in Tokyo.

                            7. It is #18 in the 10th Anniversary edition of AFIs 100 greatest films. It was not on the original list! It is #18 on the 100 Laughs list.

                            8. It is Keaton's favorite film.

                            Belle and Blade = N/A
                            Brassey's = 4.0
                            Video Hound = 5.0
                            War Movies = N/A
                            Military History = #42
                            Channel 4 = #65
                            Film Site = yes
                            101 War Movies = yes
                            Rotten Tomatoes = no


                            HISTORICAL ACCURACY: The movie is actually fairly accurate in depicting the famous Andrews Raid in the Civil War. James Andrews and a group of Yankee volunteers hijacked "The General" at Big Shanty in April, 1862. The plan was to damage the rail line and to facilitate the Union offensive against Chattanooga. William Allen Fuller gave chase after his engine on foot, then hand-cart, then on the locomotive "Yonah" and later the "William R. Smith". Meanwhile, Andrews' men were doing the damage depicted in the movie. Broken tracks forced Fuller back on foot until he acquired the "Texas". Fuller had to drive the "Texas" backwards, but he did gain ground on the "General".

                            Andrews' mission ended in failure because Fuller's dogged pursuit did not leave him time to effectively destroy the rail line. There was some bad luck involved as well. For instance, the attempt to burn a key bridge failed because the wood was wet from a recent rain. A flaming boxcar left on the bridge was pushed off by Fuller. Just a few miles from Chattanooga, the "General" ran out of fuel. Andrews and his men abandoned it and fled on foot, but they all were captured and treated as spies. Andrews and seven of the men were executed. Eight later escaped and six were exchanged. The first Medal of Honor were awarded to the Andrews Raiders.

                            OPINION: We are told that "The General" is a masterpiece, but if you weren't told this you might miss that fact. It strikes me as more of a curio than a masterpiece. Although it holds up much better than most silent movies, I feel modern war movie lovers will wonder what all the fuss is about. It helps to know the effort that Keaton put into it - the National Guardsmen, the train crash, etc. It is impressive to realize that Keaton did all his own stunts. The movie is also admirably authentic in its weapons, uniforms, and equipment. And you learn how a train works which is a nice touch.

                            The movie has a lack of subtitles which forces the watcher to concentrate. That is a plus to me, but a turnoff to others. The cinematography is fine. The acting is spotty. Keaton, of course, is brilliant with his stoical persona. However, the supporting cast is your typical overly emotive silent movie actors. Mack (Keaton's girlfriend Annabelle) is particularly weak. The second chase is tedious and recycles elements from the first chase.

                            The big question is whether the movie is funny. Well, it is certainly not funny enough to be ranked the 18th funniest movie of all time. Most of the slapstick is on the silly side. There is a lot of falling down. Some of the sight gags are amazing. This includes the iconic sight of Keaton sitting on the drive shaft between the wheels as the train moves. The movie made me smile in spots, but seldom laugh. One of the funnier aspects of the film is how roughly Johnnie treats Annabelle. At least I think that was supposed to be funny. Keaton deserves credit for seamlessly blending the comedy into the narrative. The gags are not just thrown in to add humor periodically.

                            In conclusion, "The General" is a must-see movie and war movie, but it does not hold up well compared to the great modern war movies. It is very overrated.

                            Comment


                            • Stalingrad_film.jpg

                              24. Stalingrad (1992)

                              SYNOPSIS: "Stalingrad" is a bleak film about a German squad caught in the Russian city towards the end of the siege. The men attempt to survive the increasingly desperate conditions. They face not only the enemy, but the snow, the lack of food, and the breakdown in morale and discipline.

                              BACK-STORY: "Stalingrad" was a major German production released in 1993. It was directed by Joseph Vilsmaier. It is in the German language. I found nothing of particular interest anecdotally.

                              Belle and Blade = 5.0
                              Brassey's = 4.0
                              Video Hound = N/A
                              War Movies = N/A
                              Military History = #23
                              Channel 4 = #58
                              Film Site = no
                              101 War Movies = yes
                              Rotten Tomatoes = no

                              HISTORICAL ACCURACY: The movie is fictional and does not attempt to give an overview of the battle. It could be set in any number of urban combat scenarios. As a depiction of the trials of a typical squad of Germans caught up in the battle, it is fairly accurate. The weapons and equipment are authentic. There are bits of history within the fictional framework. Otto is put in a Penal Battalion which were units the Germans used to punish soldiers short of execution. A common job, as shown, was disarming land mines. The fighting in the sewers and in the factories is realistic. The trip to the airfield to try to get out was a common incident. Although meant for the wounded, there were desperate soldiers who tried to get on board the transports. The chaotic scene is authentic. The movie also alludes to the Luftwaffe's (specifically Goering's) ludicrous attempt to supply the surrounded army. Obviously, the breakdown in discipline toward the end is an accurate portrayal of the situation.

                              OPINION: "Stalingrad" is an admirable attempt to depict the battle from the perspective of a squad of the losers. We follow them from the sunny beach in Italy to the frozen rubble of Stalingrad. They become recognizable personalities. The unit is heterogeneous, but not too stereotypically so. It reminded me of "Platoon" in this respect. However, it does have some archetypes like the cynical veteran sergeant (Rohleder), the idealist (Reiser), the naïve novice (Muller), and the ambitious officer (Witzland). Unfortunately, the acting is pedestrian and the character development is flawed. Rollo should have been a strong character, but he does not develop into the insubordinate anti-hero he could have been. This was disappointing. Perplexing is more the word for Witzland's evolution. He starts as a martinet, becomes an officer on the make, and then suddenly gets sensitive towards the enemy and ends up a deserting pacifist. While unorthodox, this arc is ridiculous.

                              The small unit dynamics are realistic and the soldier talk seems true to form. The interaction between the soldiers is not forced. It is instructive to see that the non-S.S. soldiers behaved like soldiers from any World War II army. Remember that not all German soldiers were Nazi fanatics. The movie also throws in a female Soviet soldier and a boy soldier, but the roles come off as attempts to humanize the Germans because they treat these enemy well. In reality, the Wehrmacht was not exactly sensitive toward those two types. Plus their appearances in the narrative are too plot enhancing. Speaking of which, the whole Bad German role was dripping with cliché.

                              The plot is not smooth. It does not integrate the big picture into the small world of the squad. It is one thing to depict the "fog of war", but the audience should have an idea of why things are disintegrating. Too many incidents in the plot foreshadow future developments. This is the kind of movie that when an enemy character suddenly is injected into the plot and then exits, you know they will be reappearing. It was apparently a small world in Stalingrad.

                              The themes are appropriate. Vilsmaier is interested in filming the futility of war. What better way to make this point than focus on a German squad at Stalingrad? There's no debating the movie is solidly anti-war. It also tends to be anti-military. Although Witzland and Musk are shown in a positive light, Haller (Bad German) is meant to represent the German officer corps. The other theme is comradeship. In this respect, the film does not break any new ground and does not compare well to movies like "Platoon". The interplay is average in realism.

                              In conclusion, I had heard great things about this movie and I had every reason to believe I would enjoy it. It appeared on the surface to be my kind of war movie. Plus I am fascinated by the Battle of Stalingrad and have read books on the subject. I was shocked at how disappointing the movie was. It is very overrated. Sources that I trust rate it as a great war movie. They are wrong! It is not even the best movie about Stalingrad. That would be "Stalingrad: Dogs, Do You Want to Die?"

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                              • " ... Sources that I trust rate it as a great war movie. They are wrong! It is not even the best movie about Stalingrad. ... "
                                So you don't trust those sources anymore?
                                Just curious.
                                "England expects that every man will do his duty!" (English crew members had better get ready for a tough fight against the combined French and Spanish fleets because that's what England expects! However, Scotland, Wales and Ireland appear to expect nothing so the Scottish, Welsh and Irish crew members can relax below decks if they like!)

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