Out of Africa (1985)

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When you think of Africa, I’m sure your first thought is of the poor white people who struggled to eke out a living on a massive plantation during the colonial era.  If they’re really good white people, they might condescend to allow their African tribal neighbors to work on their land, even if, say, they have an infection on their leg. That’s just the kind of wonderful white people they are.

I now feel confident in my ability to categorize Oscar films into particular genres, and this one falls decidedly in the “white savior does something nice for a non-white person and now they’re a goddamn hero” camp.  It’s the only way minorities tend to feature in films, as objects of white characters’ narrative arcs.  I’ve heard this, and read criticism of it, and maybe even occasionally thought about it myself when watching films in moments of greater cultural consciousness.  But I suppose it’s a more striking lesson when you finally see it yourself.

The movie is based on the writing of Isak Denison, whom I’ve never read and didn’t know anything about prior to watching the film.  Her memoir of the same name described her experience trying to run a coffee farm in Kenya in the era of World War I.  Since reviewing accounts is pretty boring, most of the story actually focuses on her budding romance with the ruggedly handsome big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton, who sounds like the poshest Brit in Buckingham Palace but is actually the basic equivalent of Crocodile Dundee.  You’ll be surprised to realize that Crocodile Dundee does not make the best of boyfriends, especially when he’d rather spend his time wandering around the wilderness instead of with his ladyfriend.  At least, as long as he can store his crap in her house rent-free.

Like most three-hour films, my attention flagged somewhere in the middle, which turned out to be just the point when something interesting happened with the plot.  The last thing I remember, the lovebirds were flying around in Finch Hatton’s aeroplane, which he picked up somewhere.  Then all of a sudden Isak was moving out because her farm failed.  Oh, and somewhere in the middle she opened up a school for the local tribe’s children – not the worst idea in the world if the curriculum were not based only on what she deemed fitting for the kids to learn.  Crocodile Finch Hatton thought so, anyway.

This is one of a handful of Best Pictures that holds a “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the most recent film with that honor.  It makes sense.  Though I would certainly rate quite a few highly-regarded movies on the list as rotten, Out of Africa is fairly egregious in the same traits that other movies pull off better.  The scale is epic, but its story doesn’t support the length.  It’s sort of a romance, but you don’t need three hours to tell a love story.  Though the lead actors (Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, who even I recognize as among the best) are skilled, their characters don’t have much of a spark.

Bottom line:  it’s not the worst thing in the world to get out of Africa.

 

 

Theme:  Rotten

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Not owners, just passing through.

The Apartment (1960)

As I alluded to in a previous post, I’d intended to pair this up with It Happened One Night because I assumed this was a romantic comedy.  I mean, it essentially is, but there’s also this little side plot that makes up half the movie that revolves around something a little darker.

If this movie came out today, it would be the sort of thing that Judd Apatow would make, and somehow I think it would contain far more semen jokes and far less subtlety.  (Not saying there’s anything wrong with him, just that modern comedies are of a completely different ilk.)

As it is, though, I’m a little surprised at the plot of this movie.  It’s like Mad Men on steroids.  A lower-level office worker who happens to have a really desirable apartment a couple blocks from Central Park (somehow I don’t think any of my friends in New York live in a similar setup) and rents it out by the hour to his superiors as a way to move up in the company.  That’s right – he makes his apartment available for his bosses’ sexual dalliances in exchange for a promotion.  If you’re thinking gross then you have the right idea.

It’s hard to make a character like this sympathetic, and that’s definitely a big concern I had throughout.  Whichever way you look at it, it’s a bit skeevy, this guy who seems to have no problem with middle-aged men “entertaining” (read: boning) women in his bed.  On top of that, he’s doing it solely to get ahead in his dead-end job (and I’ve already managed to forget what industry he’s in, because he seems so bored by it).  The only leeway I can give him is that, however this questionable arrangement started, he seems to have been pressured into maintaining it by the thirsty executives he hosts.

The real story here, of course, is the budding romance between the office guy and the elevator guy.  Just as a side note:  how many jobs have we lost because people no longer need an elevator operator to get them to the 25th floor?  Spoiler alert:  the elevator girl is actually one of the flings that has been entertained at the Apartment by one of the executives, and believes that her man will abandon his wife for her.  It reminds me of a Lorrie Moore story, “How to Be an Other Woman.”  It usually doesn’t end well.

But here is C.C. the office guy, waiting to rescue her from her complicated and distressing life.  Why, he’ll even save her when she downs a bottle of his sleeping pills and tries to kill herself in his bed.  Okay, that’s nice.  Then again, the fact that he also keeps her there for a couple of days to conceal the fact that she’s just attempted suicide without getting her any other kind of help is a little strange.  Maybe not the best foundation for a solid relationship.

I think one of the things that plagued mental health care of this era was the stigma.  Perhaps someone like the elevator girl – not rich – would be seen as defective and get shunted away in a scary state institution.  So what I see as somewhat uncaring from a modern perspective might actually have been an act of great caring and consideration.  Suicidal thoughts are often fleeting, once appropriately addressed, so maybe there’s a chance these two crazy kids can make it.

 

Theme:  Mental Health

Diagnosis:  Suicidal ideation

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Like a broken mirror

Gigi (1958)

I’d originally planned to pair a different movie with my first selection this week, but it just so happened to fit in quite well with my month-long theme for August, so I decided to make a last-minute substitution.  That’s where Gigi comes in.

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I fundamentally find musicals kind of boring.  The songs in musicals tend to be great expository blocks that could have been summed up in a couple of lines of dialogue.  “Oh, I find my wealthy playboy life unsatisfactory and boring,” says Gaston the wealthy playboy, but instead we need a show-stopping number to drive the point home.  And what is it anyway with romances that start with at least one character who is cynical about ever falling in love?  Maybe the most important lesson to learn is that if you want to live a romantic life, you should start out by being as unromantic as possible.

On the other hand, the thing I do enjoy about musicals (since my mind tends to wander so easily during the song) is imagining what it would be like if people just went around in real life breaking out into song.  There you are, catching Pokémon in the park, and suddenly a dude sitting on the bench behind you starts going on with “Bellsprouts are ringing in my heart” or something.  You’d think he was loony.

In terms of this film, I’d like to point out another pet peeve I’ve noticed in old movies:  the Creepy Old Guy Who Leers at Young Girls.  Uncle Honore (curious name for an aging French bachelor) narrates the story at the beginning, looking remarkably like Sam the Snowman in the Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer Christmas special, originating in the same era.  Though he is certainly in his 60s or older by that point, he starts off with a song thanking heaven for “little girls.”  Also, the little girl he’s talking about is the one who ends up marrying his nephew, just in case it wasn’t tasteless enough to ogle any random girl.  Oh, but such is life in the 1950s.  Or the 1900s, when this film is supposed to be set.

I’d seen in some ranking that this movie was considered to be nearly at the bottom of the pile of all the Oscar winners.  In truth, I was expecting it to be much worse.  Though it wasn’t really to my taste – I’d rather see witty banter than drawn-out songs – it wasn’t really any worse than the other musicals of that same era.  I consider this to be on part with An American in Paris or even My Fair Lady.  At least the male romantic lead had some endearing qualities.

One thing, though, for which I think Gigi is rightfully praised is the look of it – the costumes, the set pieces, the artistic art cards to introduce scenes in a party montage.  There’s one little shot of the shore in waning light, with Gigi and Gaston dragging donkeys along the beach (don’t ask) that just looks really nice.

I’m just glad it all works out for Gigi in the end, and she can spend the rest of her life pouring coffee and lighting Gaston’s cigars.  True romance.

 

Theme:  Classic romantic comedy

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  I’d rather be miserable with you than without you.

It Happened One Night (1934)

 

Without knowing anything about the film except its title, I probably would have placed this in the genre of those 50’s science fiction-y flicks with the Claymation monsters.  You know, the sort that would be parodied on Mystery Science Theater 3000 or something.  It Came From Outer SpaceIt’s AliveIt Happened One Night.

I mean, what is “It,” anyway?  (It’s it.)  How do I interpret this vaguest of pronouns in any way other than a hook-handed man scratching at the side of the bus that Ellie and Peter are riding… TO THEIR DEATH!  The only other alternative is that “It” refers to sexytimes, although nighttime is the traditional time for It to happen.  They’d probably be happier in the long term if It Happened more than One Night.  In fairness, though, they seem to have found a way to keep things kinky in the bedroom with their use of ropes and trumpets.

To briefly summarize, this film is not about an unearthly creature who creeps into a placid seaside town and eats everybody.  It’s actually about a couple that fall in love.  Ellie is the daughter of a ridiculously rich guy (who at one point offers someone $100,000 as a throwaway reward, and this is in the middle of the Depression).  She’s married some guy she just met and jumps off a yacht to run away and join him forever.  Meanwhile, another guy, Peter, is a journalist who’s looking for a big scoop, and apparently journalism was slightly classier back then than it is today, because he thinks it’s a good idea to write about how he fell in love with this missing society girl.

I don’t know if this is the first film that falls into the genre of romantic comedy, but even if not the very first, it’s interesting to see the origins of what’s become pretty much cliché these days.  The man and woman who have a mostly antagonistic relationship and suddenly realize that the chafing feeling is actually love.  There’s usually another man (not often another woman, oddly) who initially seems a good fit but eventually turns out to have some fatal flaw.  And of course, there are the moments where the lady and man-friend are forced into some uncomfortable intimacy before they’re ready for it.  Pick any romantic comedy you’ve seen, and I’m sure you’d find one of these tropes.

I’ve never seen a romance set on a Greyhound bus, though.  I’ve ridden a fair number of buses in my day, and I don’t recall ever meeting anyone remotely sexy.  Also, I spent the first half of the film really stressing out about the bus.  What was it like riding a bus in the 30s?  Did they even have a highway system back then?  I thought the interstate highways were set up in the 1950s.  How long of a trip was that from Miami to New York?  Were there even any bathrooms on the bus, and how the hell did that work?  If that part in the back where Ellie and Peter sat was right next to the bathroom, wouldn’t it have smelled so disgustingly that neither of them could have even fallen asleep, let alone in love?

Finally, I’ve heard that song “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” all my life, and never knew where it came from.  It doesn’t seem to have originated in this movie, but I’m sure that’s what has kept it popular enough in the modern age for me to have heard it, even without ever having seen the movie before.  Strange the way certain things manage to last.

 

Theme:  Classic Romantic Comedy

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  And the walls came tumbling down

Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

Just the other day, I was cleaning out some drawers at work, and I stumbled upon a reproduction of an old letter dated 1925.  The letter writer considered the “disagreeable subject” of what to do about the increasing numbers of Jews admitted into the medical school.  It was apparently difficult to decide whether to split into separate schools or just stop allowing so many Jews because, though they were apparently talented and of sound character, there were just too damned many of them.

I thought about this letter while watching Gentleman’s Agreement, along with a lot of other things that have been going on in the world today.  I don’t know why this letter has been saved in the assorted documents of my office – except that it may hold historical relevance for my Jewish boss, who is a leader in an institution that once would have shunned him.  He once told me that he was one of two Jewish boys permitted at his school, not long after this movie was released.  We’ve come some distance since then – but it’s not hard to see how tenuous the hold is in the era of Trump.

Gregory Peck stars as an immersion journalist (before we even had such a thing) whose latest article is a piece about anti-Semitism.  Just, y’know, the whole general topic, distilled to a bit in a magazine.  He decides that the best way to approach it is by presenting himself as Jewish and seeing what happens throughout his daily life.  Eventually, he sees how it affects his supposedly liberal friends, and even his son (played by the adorable Dean Stockwell as a child).

Though this film can come off as a bit preachy at times – it’s clearly a Movie with a Message – it’s also a surprisingly modern-feeling look at white privilege.  Peck’s fiancée in the film, a fairly sheltered upper-middle class New Yorker with a home up in Connecticut, portrays the kind of liberalism that’s criticized today:  she believes in the cause of Jewish equality in theory, but only when it doesn’t inconvenience her.

I honestly didn’t expect to like this movie much, based only on what little I knew of it.  I figured, okay, it’ll be one of those old-timey moralistic stories – something like the Twilight Zone.  Where, even if you agree with the philosophy behind it, the cheesiness of the message just doesn’t ring true.  But this felt more like a journey in recognizing privilege.  It’d be interesting to see something like this story played out today, in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement or the experiences of Muslims in America.  I don’t know if it would be any good, but it might offer another lens for us whites to look at ourselves and think about what we see.

 

Theme:  Anti-Semitism

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Do you get your ideas and then write, or do you write first and then get your ideas?

The English Patient (1996)

It’s really weird how the sand dunes formed the shape of a couple kissing behind my head.

Despite his prestigious career, I know Ralph Fiennes mostly as Lord Voldemort.  And let’s be real:  He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named isn’t the sexiest romantic lead.  This movie is strangely prescient, given that Ralph spends half the film in prosthetics that are not totally dissimilar from the Voldemort snake-face.  That says something about him as an actor, or maybe about me as a viewer.

But where are the ladies? you might be asking.  Yes, my month of ladies is winding up.  But why am I having more difficulty finding solid women leads as I get closer to the present?

In fairness, I do like both of the women characters in this film:  Hana, the war nurse who isn’t very busy tending to a single mysterious patient (that’s Ralphy, post-burnt-to-a-crisp-conveniently-amnesiac); and Katharine, wife of an archaeologist on expedition around Cairo just before World War II breaks out.  The fact that the film fails the test because the two main ladies exist in two separate time frames and so never have a chance to talk to each other shouldn’t discount that they’re interesting people.  Also the fact that their primary existence is as a love interest for a male character.  And the fact that we see naked breasts all over, but somehow the idea of bare man-parts is apparently scandalous.

Instead of the main love story, I actually found more intriguing the burgeoning romance between Hana and Kip, the Sikh minesweeper who camps outside the monastery Hana’s tucked away in.  It wasn’t a romance fraught with drama and jealousy and adultery, which is probably why it didn’t get as much screen time.  There’s a touching moment, after they part, Kip off to defuse a bomb while Hana realizes the horror of caring about another person she’s doomed to lose.

As I’ve probably said here before, I’m a bit of a sucker for a good framing device, and this one worked pretty well – working through the puzzle through snippets of the mysterious unnamed (until he is) man.  Overall, I enjoyed the mystery of this film, in figuring out how it all came to a papery-faced man who had given up all hope in life.  Maybe not so different from ol’ Voldy, after all.

 

Theme:  Ladies on Film

Bechdel Test:  Nope, unless you count that nurse in the beginning who borrows money from Hana right before her jeep blows up.

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Too many men, just like this house.

 

 

 

My Fair Lady (1964)

Rex Harrison, I discovered while watching this film (and perusing IMDB for tidbits of trivia) was the inspiration for Stewie’s character on Family Guy.  That’s not really relevant to anything else I have to say about this movie, but it seemed like one of the more pleasant things I could say about Henry Higgins, so let’s start there, shall we?

In college, I took a couple of classes in linguistics, so that obviously makes me an expert in the field.  And I have so much trouble believing that a character like Professor Higgins who seems to be so fascinated with speech can also be so judgmental about how people talk.  What intrigued me most about linguistic study was the sheer range of sounds that we could make and still be understood.  But then douchey Higgins comes along and makes a little science experiment out of Eliza Doolittle and takes all the credit for her transforming herself into a bombshell with excellent elocution.

Is it truly a romantic movie if you spend most of it hoping that the female lead will come to her senses and get the hell away from the guy?  Why is it considered romantic for a woman to fall in love with a total asshole who treats her like crap?  Even worse, a man who sings songs about how terrible women are and how they should be more like men (listen, buddy, when you’re singing a song to your live-in, confirmed bachelor, fellow-linguist colonel friend about how you wish women were more like him, you need to come to terms with some basic truths about yourself; just run off together, already).  Eliza has the good sense to get away from him, but then comes back, just in time for him to demand his slippers.  Come on, Liza.  You can do better than that.  Find a damn prince.

There’s an interesting commentary here about social class, and how the way people present themselves to the world – through speech and dress – affects the opportunities they can access in life.  Eliza recognizes this from the beginning, and manages to raise her station by getting lucky and working hard.  It’s a shame to think that, even in her best-case scenario, all she thought herself good for was to work as a teacher supporting a worthless lump of a suitor.  Instead, she finds herself silenced at every turn, even as she struggles to find a new voice.  Meanwhile, the men sit around congratulating themselves on how well they’ve fooled everyone with their pet project.  The scene after the ball, where Higgins and Pickering are singing about how great they are as Eliza cowers in the background, worried about what’s next for her is kind of heartbreaking, though I suspect it was meant more to be funny.

Bits like that add up to a big fat zero when it comes to the Bechdel Test.  There are so few scenes where Eliza is not surrounded by the phonetic duo that I didn’t even keep track of any spots where she spoke to other women.  Maybe a couple of moments where she’s alone with the maid or Higgins’ mom, and where she’s either screaming bloody murder or playing coy about running out on Higgins.  But any movie that takes such pains to blather on about women’s irrationality doesn’t deserve a feminist pass.

You can change a human by changing her speech, Higgins says at some point in the film.  It’s a shame he couldn’t change his own speech to be a better person.

 

Theme:  Ladies on film

Bechdel Test:  Even if it passed, all the misogynistic songs would disqualify it

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Well, I’m dashed

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

 

Based solely on the title and the fact that this movie is set during World War II (set and released), I decided that it must be about a Rosie-the-Riveter type of woman who worked in a factory in support of the war.  I thought, Oh, cool, my grandma did a Rosie-the-Riveter job during the war.  Which then prompted an evening-long venture through Google genealogy to research my family history, and which I’ll be happy to delineate in careful detail now.

Oh, wait.  Movie.  That’s right.  Well, anyway, though Mrs. Miniver is a war movie, it is unfortunately not about Rosie the Riveter.  It’s not even set in the United States.  The film was actually created to encourage Americans to support the Allied effort (even the end credits implore you to buy bonds!).

The title Miniver is your typical upper middle class lady who likes shopping and buys overly expensive hats (women, amiright?), which turns out to be okay because her Don Draper-esque husband just blew some cash on a new car.  Somehow, Mrs. Miniver ends up admitting she’s wrong about something while her husband calls her fat, and then they go to bed in neighboring twin beds.  Then the war starts.

You might wonder why a war movie is named after a woman.  Here’s the twist:  by the middle of the picture, there are actually two Mrs. Minivers.  The elder Mrs. M’s son, Vin, meets the daughter of the local baroness, and despite the fact that Vin introduces himself by man-splaining something about social consciousness, they fall in love.  In a weird side plot, the baroness hosts a flower competition in the village, except that nobody has ever attempted to compete against her… until now!

How might the Bechdel test have fared in a movie from 1942, even one that apparently focuses on the life of a woman?  Not well, as a matter of fact.  I’ve interpreted the Test to mean that two women characters must be in a scene alone to qualify, and it’s a good hour into the film before we even see the two women alone together.  Instead of dialogue, they sit gaping in shock at something war-ish.  I don’t think that counts.  Later on, after Vin enlists in the air force, the ladies Miniver end up discussing at length how much it will suck if Vin dies in combat, but that, at the end of the day, they’ll figure out how to move past it.  I won’t ruin the ending.

The moral of this movie, if you could say such a thing, is that war – and particularly this war – affects the lives of everyone, including the women who wait at home for their loved ones to return safely.  It’s not an especially novel message, but an affecting one nonetheless.  While watching, I found myself marveling at the very idea of making a movie about the war while it was going on, without knowing what its result might be.  Especially in 1942, when the U.S. had just barely got into the game, and everything seemed to be running in Germany’s favor.  For some reason, World War II remains in many ways the favorite war to depict on film.  I wonder whether and how the war will carry on in our memories long after our grandparents and their own memories have faded into history.

 

Theme:  Ladies in Film

Bechdel Test:  Total failure

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Gentlemen don’t propose when they’re eating.

 

An American in Paris (1951)

Song-and-dance movies are kind of like porn:  if you’re looking for plot, you’re watching for the wrong reason.  This movie kind of makes that clear, in that the final twenty minutes are dominated by an extended dance sequence which apparently – though I was far too ignorant to pick up on this on my own – were themed around particular French artists.  Dance fixes everything, of course, so all the problems that were raised throughout the film (standard romance fare:  somebody is betrothed to somebody else, etc.) are entirely dispensed with by the end.

The plot is this:  Jerry Mulligan is an American soldier who stays in Paris after the war to become a painter.  His buddy is a pianist and his buddy is a singer, and so they probably spend more time breaking out into song-dance-numbers than Jerry spends painting.  (Granted, a movie spent watching somebody paint might not be a better alternative.)  A rich American woman expresses interest in Jerry’s art – or possibly his body – but Jerry falls in love with a French girl instead, who also happens to be dating the singer.  Everything works out in the end via a massive dance number.

I don’t know a lot about the classic dancer/film stars of this era, as evidenced by the fact that I spent half the movie thinking the star was Fred Astaire rather than Gene Kelly (thanks, Madonna).  I do recall being bored to tears in the show-stopping numbers of the movies or cartoons that I did see as a kid.  That part where Judy Garland sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in The Wizard of OzAnd it’s still in black and white?  Snooze.  I suppose it’s a little different if I’m watching an actual dance performance, but I don’t have much patience for tap-dancing on film.  Like, the sounds are probably dubbed in later anyway, right?

One thing that I don’t often notice while I’m watching movies that stood out here were the interesting transitions.  There’s a moment where a character lights a cigarette, which then dissolves into a dancing woman reaching for a lamp.  Obviously, it’s much harder to explain than to actually notice.  The final dance sequence also did some neat things that seemed to blend the set of a stage performance which techniques that could only be done with film – like reconstructing a Paris street drawing done by Gene Kelly, the titular American artist, into a backdrop that morphs with each of a series of scenes.  It’s visually arresting, if not necessarily something that held my interest forever.

There’s also a quirky trick in the beginning that I liked, where someone introduces a character and then subverts it somehow, like by panning the camera to a figure in a window and then saying, “Oh, no, that’s not me.”  Like the other techniques, I was hoping there might be more of that, but after a description-through-dance number with the French girl, it kind of disappeared.

Ah, well.  It’s not supposed to make sense, is it, as long as you get what you came for.

 

Theme:  the American man

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:   ‘S Wonderful?

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

I will admit that sometimes I think of old movies as being unsophisticated.  That they don’t manage to capture the emotional complexity of our lives, at least not as well as we can do today (but, to be fair, don’t necessarily do in every superhero movie).  I don’t know why I think this way – it’s not a bias I have against literature or music of a different era.  Maybe a part of it is that I’ve seen the signs of a medium in its early years, as filmmakers figure out what they can do with the equipment and what the censors allow, and either I don’t understand it or I’m not impressed.

All of this lead-up is to say that I don’t see a lack of sophistication in this film.  The story focuses on three characters, returning home to their small town at the end of the war.  All have encountered some degree of suffering, though it’s not really a film about what happened to them in the war so much as what happens after, and how these men re-adapt to civilian life.

Homer Parrish probably has it hardest:  he lost his hands.  Though he seems to have adapted surprisingly well with a set of prosthetics (which seem to my eyes to be exceptionally advanced for the era), the difficult part is seeing himself as something more than a burden on his family and his one-time sweetheart.  What’s particularly impressive is that the actor himself lost his hands in a training accident during the war, and so provides the audience with a realistic portrayal of what remains after armistice.

The other soldiers have wounds less visible, but troubling nonetheless.  Post-traumatic stress disorder was not named yet at that time, but Fred’s night terrors and paranoia certainly fit the profile.  Fred hopes to find work doing something other than working as a soda jerk at the local pharmacy, but finds that everyone else who’s returned home is looking, too.  Worst of all, he’s now working as underling to the dweeb who once assisted him but stayed behind during the war.

Finally, the older Al returns to a family that doesn’t seem to have much use for him anymore.  His kids are nearly grown and much more independent.  He returns to his old job as a bank manager, and gets reprimanded for offering loans to fellow ex-servicemen because they’re deemed too high-risk.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a story without a romance.  By the end, nearly everyone has a happy ending, which is certainly a welcome improvement over many of those who served.  At the same time, though, I don’t think the storyline is unrealistic or has a Hollywood ending.  I’m surprised at how willing audiences were to see a story like this so closely on the heels of the war, particularly because it does portray the more unpleasant aspects of soldiers at home.  It’s not a victory parade, not a story of heroism on the battlefield.

There’s an odd scene toward the end of the film where a customer in the malt shop argues with two of the servicemen.  He takes the unpopular view (and to my ears, entirely unheard of perspective until now) that America picked the wrong side during the war, and should have fought with the Germans.  I literally have no idea how this character could represent anything other than a straw man for Fred to beat into a pulp.  I’m sure there were some who expressed that opinion early on, but who would say that after the Allies had already won the war?  Nazis, that’s who.

Fred’s parting words to the guy could have been the final lines of the film (and were better than the actual last lines, which seemed as if they’d turned off the recorder a few minutes too early):  “I gave up the best years of my life, and what have you done?”

 

Theme:  War

Which War:  World War II

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Nervous out of the service