Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks: World War II


Welcome to Thursday. Last week I was doing the blogathon thing and didn't take part in the weekly exercise that is Thursday Movie Picks hosted by Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves, but now I'm back. I wish I could say I had an amusing story to tell leading into the topic at hand, but I don't. I mean, who does? We're talking about World War II. Just know there are more movies about this war than you can shake a tank at. Let's see if at least one of the three is something you haven't seen before.

A Soldier's Story
(1984)
During WWII, black NCOs and officers only commanded black troops. Black troops were not allowed to fight, only allowed to serve in support roles, such as cooks and janitors until very late in the war. Master Sergeant Waters was a black NCO who was murdered on-base at Fort Neal, Louisiana. Of course, a black officer, Captain Davenport is sent to investigate the crime. The film combines plenty of flashbacks with Davenport's investigation to create a riveting piece of cinema. The underrated Howard Rollins (later, of TV's In the Heat of the Night) turns in an excellent performance as Davenport in a movie full of them. Adolph Caesar is simply phenomenal as Sgt. Waters, earning himself an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. One of the younger members of the cast is also incredible. That would be one Denzel Washington, appearing in only his second film.


The Tuskegee Airmen
(1995)
Remember that whole thing about black soldiers not being allowed to fight during WWII? This film tells a true story that came out of this policy. After much lobbying, the U.S. Army reluctantly agreed to experimentally train a bunch of African Americans in Tuskegee, Alabama. Prevailing "wisdom" of the time, at least among whites, is this experiment will fail because blacks simply do not have the mental capabilities necessary for operating such complicated machinery as airplanes. No, I'm serious. If you don't see the movie, read up on it. It's a fascinating story, and this is a very good film on the matter. In 2012, George Lucas made a watered-down version of the same story called Red Tails. He does seem to have some genuine interest in the story. After all, he spent $50 million of his own money to make it because no one in Hollywood would touch it. However, his main reason for making it is pretty much so he could show aerial combat like it's never been seen before. This means he used tons of CGI. Imagine that.


Miracle at St. Anna
(2008)
For this tale about WWII, we're stationed in the Tuscany region of Italy and led by director Spike Lee. Four black soldiers find themselves holed up in a small village behind enemy lines after saving the life of a small Italian boy. They form something of a bond with the its residents. In particular, two of the soldiers wind up in a love triangle with a beautiful local girl. Truth told, this is easily the weakest of the three films in this post, but it is an interesting piece of work and not as bad as its reputation.


26 comments:

  1. Miracle at St. Anna I thought was alright though it's really minor Spike Lee. The Tuskegee Airmen I think is extremely underrated. It really told the story in a more engaging manner with characters you cared about while many of the aerial scenes I thought were more realistic than the bullshit George Lucas was doing with Red Tails.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. St. Anna is definitely a minor pic in Lee's catalogue. The Tuskegee Airmen was much better than Red Tails.

      Delete
  2. I really liked A Soldier's Story. It's a great story, and I love that it seems to slide just a little bit into film noir territory despite its military setting.

    Like you, I found the most memorable parts of the film the performances of Rollins and Caesar. What really works for me is that Rollins's and Caesar's characters are very similar in a lot of ways, but Rollins is ultimately seen as noble while Caesar is seen as terrible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So happy to see some love for A Soldier's Story. It's a phenomenal film. You are so right about those two being opposite sides of the same coin.

      Delete
  3. Interesting choices. I've only seen A Soldier's Story which was excellent. I had considered watching The Tuskegee Airmen but caught Red Tails first and though Lucas's heart was obviously in the right place I thought the film was crap and it turned me off wanting to see the other. I'll have to reconsider now. Miracle of St. Anna came and went so fast and not being the biggest Spike Lee fan I didn't make much effort to track it down...but if you say it's better than its rep I'll give it a go.

    As you mentioned unlike the WWI theme from a few weeks ago WWII provides a veritable windfall of choices. Rather than venturing onto the battlefield I decided to focus on films that looked at people on the periphery of the conflict, affected by it but not directly involved in the fighting.

    To Be or Not to Be (1942)/To Be or Not to Be (1983)-As Hitler rises to power annexing portions of Europe life continues as usual at the Warsaw theatre owned by bickering married couple of renown, Joseph Tura/Fredrick Bronski (Jack Benny/Mel Brooks) “World famous in Poland!” and Maria Tura/Anna Bronski (Carole Lombard/Anne Bancroft). When the wife becomes enamored of a young flyer Lt. Sobinski (Robert Stack/Tim Matheson) they rendezvous while her hambone of a husband takes forever to get through Shakespeare’s soliloquy of the title. Suddenly Poland is attacked and the couple and their troupe of performers find themselves involved in the serious business of espionage to aid the war effort. The films, very similar in layout and execution, provide an interesting contrast in the way comedy about a serious situation can be played, the subtle almost gallows humor of Lubitsch and the broader stroke of Brooks. Both are successful though Lubitsch’s viewpoint is probably the more trenchant and timely. This was Carole Lombard’s final film, she was killed in a plane crash returning from a war bond tour the day before the planned premiere. The opening was delayed and her line “What can happen in a plane!” was excised (though it has been restored to current prints).

    The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)-Filmization of the young Jewess’s journal of her time hiding away with her family and assorted friends from the Nazis in a small attic apartment. Wrenching and sad but also full of observation about the human condition and a young girl’s journey toward adulthood. Shelley Winters won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work as the high strung Mrs. Van Daan.

    Confirm or Deny (1941)-During the London Blitz American war correspondent “Mitch” Mitchell (Don Ameche) will use any scheme-coastal wire, war orphan Albert’s (a thirteen year old Roddy McDowell) carrier pigeons etc.-to expedite news to his Stateside editor before anyone else. Meeting teletype operator Jennifer (Joan Bennett) on the night an air raid destroys his office he convinces her to let him use the machine, hidden in a hotel cellar, to send reports. Despite falling for him Jennifer argues with Mitch that his ambition to be first from the front is compromising intelligence work against the Nazis. When tragedy strikes he’s forced to question his methods, all the while New York keeps sending the same message over and over again, "Confirm or deny?”

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd say definitely give The Tuskegee Airmen a go first. That one is really good while St. Anna is okay.

      I saw Anne Frank way back when I was a kid, but don't remember much other than the basis of the story. I think I was in 6th grade and it was after my class had finished the book.

      Haven't seen the others.

      Delete
  4. The only one I've seen is Miracle at St. Anna, which like you, I thought it was a bit weak. Definitely not a bad film though. The other two sound interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The other two are far better. I highly recommend them.

      Delete
  5. Miracle at St. Anna is in my queue, but I hadn't heard of the other two. Sounds like I should skip St. Anna and check out your other picks first. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've heard great things about A Solidier's Story. It's on my list. I would say that I can't believe there haven't been more films about the Tuskegee Airmen, especially since the '95 film is so roundly forgotten, but, ya know.... Hollywood. Never saw Miracle at St. Anna because it just never appealed to me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A Soldier's Story is a must. Miracle at St. Anna, not so much.

      Delete
  7. A very insightful post Dell. I had no idea that blacks couldn't serve in WWII but could work outside of the field. Bizarre. I haven't heard of any of, I'll have to add the first two to my ever-growing list!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The 1940s were bizarre times. The feeling was blacks did not have the intestinal fortitude for war, that they would prove to be cowards in the face of danger. I wish I was joking. The US changed its position as the war went on. An ever-increasing body-count will do that sort of thing to you. As a matter of fact, there is a scene in A Soldier's Story where the black platoon has a huge celebration because news came down they will be allowed to join the front lines.

      Delete
  8. Always appreciate the fact you bring unheard of films to my attention.

    Quite like to see Miracle at St. Anna because my Grampa fought in the Italian campaign, Battle of Monte Cassino to be exact. Though, that being said, I an kinda put off by this bit "In particular, two of the soldiers wind up in a love triangle with a beautiful local girl"...the least interesting bit of any movie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is, but so many movies shove that down our throats. Sigh.

      Delete
  9. I've seen so many movies about WWII I can't believe I haven't seen or heard of any of these. A Soldier's Story sounds very interesting, and I have to watch Miracle at St. Anna because of Spike Lee.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Please do. A Soldier's Story is fantastic.

      Delete
  10. I have not seen any of these films even though I have heard of A Soldier's Story and Miracle at St. Anna. I consider this a crime on my part. It is disgusting how the White person actually thought( and many still do which is disgusting). I wish more documentaries would focus on this aspect of the war because so few people know about what had occurred

    ReplyDelete
  11. There are sooo many WWII films I wouldn't know which ones to pick. I've been meaning to check out Miracle at St. Anna, since I have such a huge blindspot when it comes to Spike Lee.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That one is one of his lesser works, but definitely worth a watch.

      Delete
  12. Well, having a huge interest in World War II you've just named three films I haven't seen so I've got some viewing to do! Thanks for the recommendations Wendell.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I really wanted to see Miracle at St. Anna just because I want to be a Spike Lee completist one day. Will check that one out. I regret never seeing the Tuskeegee Airmen as well. Great picks!

    ReplyDelete