1942, a forgotten and decrepit military base in Montana.
In the middle of a brawl among a group of unruly, ragged and undisciplined American soldiers—guilty of “military and moral delinquencies”, as their commanding officer puts it—the sound of bagpipes comes floating down the road. A contingent of Canadians, the best of the best-trained army in the world, comes marching along in precise formation. Not a man is out of step, not a hair is out of place. They are the picture of discipline. And they are to be, along with the Americans, amalgamated into a fighting force that will be dropped into the middle of Norway.
It is May 31, 1944. In London, the plans for D-Day have been finalized. The Allied invasion of Europe—and, hopefully, the subsequent collapse of the Axis—cannot be far. Things are looking bright. Perhaps a bit too bright? Perhaps the Allied top brass have been a trifle too complacent. Perhaps they’ve not realized exactly how far the Germans will go to find out more about the plans for the invasion.
A week or so ago, a cousin of mine who thrives on films about World War II, sent me a list of all the WWII films and documentaries he owns. He asked me to add to the list. With some caveats. He (like me) doesn’t like gory and gruesome films; he prefers films about missions, espionage, and adventures à la Where Eagles Dare. And he prefers films from the 60s, when colour and better special effects made films more realistic than they’d been in the 40s and 50s.
As a young teenager, I went through a phase when I watched a lot of war movies. And when I say ‘a lot’, I mean a lot: everything from Operation Daybreak and Operation Crossbow to The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, Escape to Victory, Von Ryan’s Express—and this one. I remember The Night of the Generals as being an offbeat war film, because it didn’t have the drama and high adventure of most of the other war films I saw during that period. Instead, it was an unusual film, in that it was shown from the point of view of the Germans—and it combined suspense with war.
By an odd coincidence, all my entertainment (admittedly quite limited) over the past week has been related in some way or the other to Nazi Germany. I watch almost no TV, but I’ve recently been getting a lot of laughs out of the farcical British comedy series, ’Allo ’Allo. And, the book I’m currently reading is Robert Harris’s Fatherland, set in an alternate 1964, where Germany has won World War II—and Hitler reigns.
So why not make it a hat trick, I thought. Let’s watch a WWII film.
Therefore, this. Where Eagles Dare was one of the first war films I ever watched, and till this day, it remains one of my favourite films. When it comes to action/adventure films set in WWII, this one tops my list.
This post came about as a result of a chance conversation with a friend who admitted that he often confused William Holden with Joseph Cotten. That reminded me, of course, of Holden (who happens to be among my favourite actors), and then of the shameful fact that I have never, not in the nearly-four years that this blog’s been in existence, reviewed a Holden film. [Though he is, even though you can’t see his face, part of the current blog header].
My original plan had been to watch and review Neecha Nagar, and follow it up by watching and reviewing Kurosawa’s Donzoko (also based on The Lower Depths). By the time I’d read Gorky’s play and seen Neecha Nagar, that plan had changed a bit—because I was feeling sorely in need of a funny film. La Grande Guerra was what I chose, because it had come highly recommended by friends whose judgment I trust.
We’ve been on a spate of tributes all this month. First, it was a farewell for Dev Anand, the man who embodied ‘leading man’ for so many Indians across generations. Then, there were birthdays – for the ‘hunkiest of them all’, Dharmendra, and then for one of Hindi cinema’s greatest thespians, Dilip Kumar. Somewhere amidst all those tributes, another great birthday got left out. Kirk Douglas turned 95 on December 9, 2011. So, here’s wishing Mr Douglas a (rather belated) happy birthday, and here’s looking at one of his best-known films.
Strangely—considering that Errol Flynn is best known for his swashbuckling roles—the film I most vividly remember of his is this one, an unusual war film. I first watched it years ago as a teenager, and ever since—in spite of having notched up The Prince and the Pauper, Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood and other blockbuster Flynn hits—this remains my favourite Errol Flynn film. Touching, thought-provoking, and utterly memorable.
Two confessions, to start with. Firstly, although I am very fond of Ashok Kumar—I think he was a great actor—I find it difficult to envisage him as the dashing hero of a spy thriller. Secondly, I think 50’s and 60’s Hindi cinema (with the notable exception of Haqeeqat) never quite manages to depict war properly. Battlefields are too often obviously sets or, at the most, a bunch of extras letting off firecrackers in a patch of woodland.
So Samadhi, despite being 1950’s top-grossing Hindi film and starring the beautiful Nalini Jaywant—was a film that I approached with trepidation. Which was perhaps just as well, because if I’d begun watching it with expectations way up there, I’d probably have been disappointed. As it was, by the end, I decided it wasn’t bad; in fact, pretty watchable.
Mitchum’s forte was noir and Western—and war. Though his best-known role in war films is probably that of Brigadier General Norman Cota in The Longest Day, this one’s good too. The Enemy Below doesn’t give Mitchum too much scope to exhibit his acting skills, but it is, overall, a very good war film, suspenseful and with an aura of authenticity that makes it easy to believe all of this action’s actually happening.