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.
There is something attractive about survival stories, about men and women finding themselves struggling to survive against whatever man and nature throws at them. Nature more often than man, because nature can be an even more merciless enemy—and yet can contain within it the means to overcome its ruthlessness. Scorching heat and bone-dry deserts; cold so severe it freezes flesh; wind and driving rain and wild animals… no wonder films like The Revenant, Sanctum, Grey, Ice Cold in Alex, and even Gravity and The Martian end up being popular. Perhaps a lot of us like the vicarious pleasure of seeing someone else battle overwhelming odds—and come out on top.
Outside of Hollywood, too, there have been survival adventure films, and one of my favourites is this, a Norwegian film, the name of which translates as Nine Lives. The story of a Norwegian Resistance fighter during World War II, the only survivor of a group of men on a mission that ends disastrously. Directed by Arne Skouen, Ni Liv got an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, and in 1991, was voted (by Norwegian TV audiences) the best Norwegian film ever made.
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.
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.
Despite everything more fashionable cinema viewers may say, I love The Sound of Music. I love the songs, I love the mushy romance, I love the children. I love Julie Andrews. I love Christopher Plummer.
Which is why it’s always bothered me that Christopher Plummer used to refer to the film as The Sound of Mucus. Why, I wondered.
Well, this might just furnish some sort of answer to that question. Plummer stars in Triple Cross as a war-era safe breaker who offers his services to the Nazis as a spy in Britain. It’s not a frightfully demanding role, but it offers a glimpse of what Plummer was capable of. And I can understand why he might have thought of his role as Georg von Trapp as a little too much of a cakewalk.
The other day, just for kicks, I was trying to make a mental list of all the directors, 30’s-60’s, whose work I admire. Guru Dutt. Akira Kurosawa. Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Bimal Roy. Raj Khosla (usually). And, of course, the inimitable Alfred Hitchcock. That led to another realisation: I haven’t seen, or reviewed, a Hitchcock film in months. Therefore this, an unusual Hitchcock in that it’s not a suspense film. Instead, it’s a ‘journey’ film, set in a lifeboat bobbing about on the high seas during World War II.
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.
When I was about 13, an older cousin taught me how to play Battleships. For someone whose favourite genre of film was war, this was a high point in one’s existence. I spent the next few years teaching the game to anybody I could collar (usually my sister) and delighting in doing exciting things like guessing where my opponent’s submarines, battleships, cruisers, destroyers and aircraft carriers were positioned, then firing salvo after judicious salvo and rejoicing when I’d sunk ‘em all.
I don’t play Battleships any more, but I was reminded of the game when I saw this excellent World War II film, based on the real-life story of the famous German battleship, the Bismarck.
I seem to be on a `love in the time of war’ roll. First it was Usne Kaha Tha, then Hum Dono; and in the middle I even managed to fit in Random Harvest, which though not exactly set during a war, was about a romance which began on the day World War I ended. So here’s another. A musical. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and based on James Michener’s stories of the South Pacific.
After Usne Kaha Tha, it’s time for yet another Nanda film (though Sadhana plays an equally, if not more important role in it). And a coincidence: this one too is against the backdrop of World War II. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Hum Dono is a very different story, more mainstream than Usne Kaha Tha, yet equally enjoyable—and with superb music by the underrated Jaidev.