Archive for the ‘WWII’ Tag

Genocide (1968)   1 comment

genocide

A US Air Force carrier armed with an H-bomb runs into a swarm of insects and loses control over a small Japanese island. Before the plane augers into the atoll, the crew of three parachute to safety. Naturally, the Air Force send men to search for the airmen and the bomb, which has gone missing as well. Oops.

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Found it!

On the island, Air Force officers find two of the airmen dead and a third seriously injured. The arrest Joji (Yûsuke Kawazu) for murder. He had a watch on him belonging to one of the dead men. Despite evidence that the men were eaten alive, the authorities plan to ship Joji to Tokyo for trial. Only Joji’s wife, Yukari (Emi Shindô) and his boss Dr. Nagumo (Keisuke Sonoi) believe Joji. Meanwhile, the third airman, Charlie (Chico Roland) regains consciousness and rants about insects. Since that happens to be Dr. Nagumo’s specialty, he perks right up. Dr. Nagumo, Yukari, and Charlie’s doctor team up to find the rogue bugs and try to convince the seriously nasty Air Force guys to listen to Charlie. In their defense, Charlie has recently fallen off a cliff so his version of events is less than reliable.

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Charlie hates sneeze guards.

Bad things keep happening to Charlie. Annabelle, Joji’s paramour and a less than stellar individual, kidnaps Charlie and tortures him using her pet insects. This does wonders for Charlie’s already fragile mental state. Annabelle’s rationale for being such a sick twist is that she spent part of World War II in a German concentration camp so she has the right to abuse and torment whoever she likes.

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Come. My insect dungeon awaits.

Back among the sane, Joji escapes, the Air Force guys refuse to listen to anyone, and Charlie runs amok. He gets away from Annabelle and steals her magic revolver managing to squeeze fourteen shots out of it. I counted. Things go downhill from there. The insects Dr. Nagumo suspected all along run rampant over the island and it’s clear that if they’re allowed to leave the island, all hell will break loose. Humans will never win against an army of different types of insects who have joined forces. It’s at this point when people start suggesting that the H-bomb isn’t such a bad thing after all. Will they or won’t they? Only director Kazui Nihonmatsu and Edward Teller know for sure.

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You got chocolate on my isotope!

I enjoyed Genocide. Wow. What an odd thing to say. The plot made sense even if it was filled with stereotypes. That’s not an unprecedented statement. I mean, Gone with the Wind makes sense as a film even though the characterizations aren’t exactly modern. It looked good. Shizuo Hirase was the cinematographer on this film and Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell and he makes it look good. There’s also a trippy paint scene during Charlie’s hallucination sequence done by Keiji Kawakami and Shun Suganuma. Genocide has a distinctive point of view and features insects that kill so I’m in. I watched this on the When Horror Came to Shochiku Criterion box set. It looks fabulous.

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Army of Shadows (1969)   5 comments

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Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), a prisoner of the Vichy French travels, in manacles, to a French POW camp. Stoic and confident, Gerbier says little and observes much. It’s clear from his demeanor and his treatment by the camp’s commandant that he’s more than a simple smuggler. After an audacious escape from Gestapo custody, Gerbier meets up with his comrades in the French Underground and we begin to understand his importance. We meet the members of Gerbier’s underground cell after his escape as they gather to assassinate the turncoat who ratted him out.

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It’s a tense series of scenes in which a group of civilized men are forced by war to perform uncivilized acts. These acts and the missions they accomplish daily have formed the group into a de facto family, with Gerbier at its head. The men, along with Mathilde (Simone Signoret) work well together. They carry out their orders efficiently and without question. They’re accustomed to taking risks. Clandestine meetings, signals to their comrades, and smuggling supplies are the norm. A scene in which Mathilde smuggles a radio in her bag under some fruit reminded me of something Bob Crane would do in Hogan’s Heroes. That doesn’t mean the scenes were dull or ordinary. Insightful direction by Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Cercle Rouge, Bob Le Flambeur) keeps the pace brisk, but he knows when to linger on a scene or on a character’s face. We even get to see the characters relax a bit.

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When Gerbier goes to London via submarine with the leader of their organization to get funds and supplies, he tours the city with his friend. They even see a film. After a screening of Gone with the Wind, Luc (Paul Meurisse) says, “The war will be over for the French when they can see this wonderful movie.” It’s a small moment, but one I watched a few times because it said so much.
With its narration and onscreen date and location stamps, Army of Shadows feels like a documentary. Under the guise of a procedural, a story takes shape. The story Melville presents is one of suspense, bravery, sacrifice, and love. The Resistance members risk everything to save their country from evil. They respect and even love each other and go to great lengths to protect one another. That sounds heavy and ponderous, but it’s not. Melville lets us know enough about the characters to care about them so when they face danger, we feel it. Army of Shadows is an account of one group of resistance fighters and how they interact. It’s a patriotic WWII film. It’s an action movie with some real weight. Joseph Kessel wrote the novel and co-wrote the screenplay with Melville. The story has enough twists to make it interesting and the acting is superb. I had never seen Lino Ventura before this film. He was a perfect choice. His quiet authority gave him the look of a natural leader. Simone Signoret is always wonderful and I wish Jean-Pierre Cassel had a bigger part. Eric DeMarsan’s music fit. The jangly piano he added to a few scenes gave the music a crazy quality I liked. This film kept me on the edge of my seat. After seeing Army of Shadows, I look forward to seeing Melville’s other films.

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I wrote this for Tyson Carter’s wonderful film blog http://headinavice.com/ and his Recommended By blogathon. Really fun idea, Tyson! Jay from http://www.007hertzrumble.com/ , a cool blog mostly, but not entirely devoted to James Bond musings and music, recommended Army of Shadows and the rest of Jean-Pierre Melville’s films to me and I’m glad he did. Thanks, Jay! Great stuff!
Tyson is also on twitter @Tysoncarter as is Jay @007hertzrumble and me @echidnabot

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The Small Back Room (1949)   Leave a comment

back room poster

A series of mysterious deaths, most of them children, follow the nightly German bombings during London’s blitz. After investigating, the Army learns that before their deaths by explosion these children all found a brightly-colored object resembling a thermos and died after approaching or touching it. Eager to learn something about the booby-traps and how to diffuse them, Captain Stuart (Michael Gough) seeks the aid of Sammy Rice (David Farrar), a highly regarded scientist in a top-secret intelligence investigation unit. The unit, housed in a dingy, small back room crack codes, test weaponry, and generally solve problems no one else can. Sammy, the de facto leader of the group meets Stuart and they decide he will call Sammy the next time they find a bomb so he can come to the scene and study it to prevent more deaths.

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Sammy goes to work the next day and we see his co-workers. Till, played by Michael Goodliffe works on codes, ciphers, and statistics. Corporal Taylor (a young Cyril Cusack) deals with munitions. Joe (Emrys Jones) spends most of his time between assignments on the phone with his girl. Sue, played by the lovely Kathleen Byron serves as secretary and is having a secret affair with Sammy. The group works well together. They depend on Sammy to advocate for them with the higher ups. With a few exceptions, the middle and upper management are self-serving buffoons interested more in their own advancement than the safety and happiness of the men under them. A fine example of this is a trip the Minister of their section makes to the lab. The men put on a dog and pony show for the insipid man, beautifully played by Robert Morley, and show him some phony experiments to dazzle him. He leaves happily discussing restaurants with the obsequious Waring (Jack Hawkins) and the men can get back to work. Full of in-fighting and political intrigue, the department holds no interest for Sammy. Sammy sidesteps the political machinations, but never states his own opinion preferring to avoid conflict and responsibility. It’s clear he should be running the group, but he refuses to make any effort to do so.

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Sammy has other things on his mind. We find out early in the film that Sammy has a drinking problem. Bitter over an accident ten years before which left him with a prosthetic lower leg and in pain, Sammy turned to drink. He no longer drinks whiskey, but it takes resolve and the help of Sue to keep him sober. Sue is always there to support him when Sammy starts to falter. She adores him and he loves and depends on her. It’s a much more adult love story than most films of the 1940s and Farrar and Byron have amazing chemistry. Their physical relationship is implied as well. Soon, the pressures of Sammy’s job, his pain, both physical and mental, and his alcoholism threaten to end his affair and sabotage his career.

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All the while, bombs continue to fall on London and more die as a result of them and the booby traps. Captain Stuart and Sammy along with their crews work to stop the senseless killing. The scene with a hungover Sammy and a bomb on a beach is as suspenseful as they come.

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In the commentary included on the Criterion version of The Small Back Room, Michael Powell refers to this film as a love story first and a WWII film second. Marketing The Small Back Room as a war film was a mistake, Powell says. No one wanted to see war films in 1949, so the film did poorly at the box office. That’s too bad because the film is a gem. Based on a book by Nigel Balchin, it has everything. A riveting story, characters we care about, and realistic acting by the entire cast make the film a joy. It’s one of those films that makes you wonder what happens to the characters after the film ends. It also looks fabulous. Christopher Challis, who worked as a camera operator on Powell and Pressburger’s 1947 masterpiece Black Narcissus did the cinematography for The Small Back Room. John Hoesli served as art director and Hein Heckroth did the production design. The artists really got to show off in one scene which reminded me of the surrealism of Milland’s bats in The Lost Weekend.

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Composer Brian Easdale even used a theremin to highlight the agony of an alcoholic trying valiantly to resist the drink. I can’t say enough about The Small Back Room. The performances by Farrar, Byron, Gough, Cusack, and the whole cast along with gorgeous black and white cinematography and wonderful production values courtesy of The Archers work. I highly recommend it.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot to mention Stonehenge. They shot part of the film at Stonehenge. So the film has terrific acting and writing and it also has Stonehenge…and a theremin. You owe it to yourself to see this.

stonehenge

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Where Eagles Dare (1968): Broadsword to Danny Boy   14 comments

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Chock full of action, surprising plot twists, and World War II intrigue, Where Eagles Dare ticks all the adventure film boxes while adding the element of cool spy stuff to the mix. It may seem like the standard mission flick in which the brass assembles a crack team for some essential mission, but there’s a lot more to it. Major Smith (Richard Burton) leads a handful of British troops and one American (Clint Eastwood) behind enemy lines to retrieve American General Carnaby (Robert Beatty). The Germans shoot down the general’s plane and hold him prisoner in a castle high in the Bavarian mountains. The team must hurry because the general knows the plans for the allied command’s second front and, if tortured, could spill the beans. For some films, that scenario would suffice, but for Where Eagles Dare that idea serves as a mere jumping off point for a far more complex story.
After a brief introduction to the men assigned to the mission and the officers in charge, Major Smith and company board the plane for Bavaria and the Schloss Adler. They jump at night to avoid detection and hold up in a mountain cabin. There we get a look at their objective, the Schloss Adler. Accessible only by cable car, the fortress sets the scene for our heroes’ daring rescue. The team first heads into the nearby town to establish their German military identities. After all, the Alpen Corps would hardly allow a gang of British soldiers to gain access to their remote stronghold. We meet a couple new characters here too. Mary Ure, British agent and Smith’s lover, gets a job as a maid at the castle and Ingrid Pitt, long in deep cover as a bawdy bar maid, poses as Ure’s cousin and vouches for her. On the German side, we meet Major von Hapen (Derren Nesbitt) of the Gestapo. With the introductions taken care of for the most part, the main story can begin.
I won’t give a blow by blow here because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I will say the story and screenplay, both written by novelist Alistair MacLean (The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra), combines flag waving action, red herrings, and dry wit to make for an entertaining film. Even at two and a half hours, the time flies thanks to the performances of Burton and Eastwood and the fabulous stunts choreographed and shot by Hollywood veteran Yakima Canutt and performed by Alf Joint. Burton and Eastwood have a nice rapport and make the most of the spare dialogue.

clint rich

Burton’s weary and unflappable Smith runs the show and has seen it all. Eastwood’s Schaffer is sharp and proficient even though he’s not quite sure about this mission.

clint gun

Canutt’s fights atop cable cars make for some of the most exciting action sequences I’ve seen. Similar scenes show up later in Bond films, but even 007 doesn’t do them as well as our team. I also love the use of explosives in Where Eagles Dare. Burton and Eastwood carry backpacks full of fun little bundles of dynamite attached to timers which end up all over the place and to put it mildly, stuff blows up good. They also have cool reversible uniforms so they can blend in the snow and look like official Nazis. The plot twists keep you guessing and the film abounds with double agents and moments of suspense.

cable car

Any description of Where Eagles Dare would be remiss if it left out the dynamic score by Ron Goodwin (Murder She Said, Village of the Damned). Catchy and memorable, you’ll find yourself humming it without even thinking. Brian G. Hutton (Kelly’s Heroes, Gunfight at the OK Corral) directed Where Eagles Dare as an action film with a spy story at its center. The film succeeds as both because Hutton, MacLean, Canutt, and the stellar cast elevate this film from a shoot ‘em up bang bang to a war film with spies and brains. I recommend it highly.

tnt

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The House on 92nd Street (1945)   Leave a comment

house on 92

A stiff police/FBI procedural, The House on 92nd Street (1945) chronicles the search for a Nazi spy ring operating in the U.S. prior to WWII. Someone is smuggling parts of the formula for Process 97 (the Atomic Bomb) out of a top secret facility and the FBI, led by Agent Briggs (Lloyd Nolan) wants to find out how. The bureau has recruited Bill Dietrich (William Eythe), a German national, also recruited by German intelligence, to infiltrate the ring, pass information to the FBI, and identify the ring’s leader. Known only as Mr. Christopher, the Nazi leader has thus far eluded detection and his identity remains a secret until the end of the film. Dietrich, faked CV in hand, presents himself to the front men for the spies as a radio engineer who will pass intel to and from Hamburg. Directed by Henry Hathaway, The House on 92nd Street also stars Leo G. Carroll, Signe Hasso, and Gene Lockhart. Though not as exciting as The Naked City or He Walked by Night, or even 13 rue Madeleine, 92nd Street tells an interesting story efficiently and the actors, especially Hasso, Carroll, and Lockhart acquit themselves well.

92 street

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