Movie and Television Productions Featuring U.S. Marines During World War II

Today is the U.S. Marines’ birthday. To celebrate, I thought it would be nice to recommend ten movie and television productions (in chronological order) that feature U.S. Marines during World War II:

 

MOVIE AND TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS FEATURING U.S. MARINES DURING WORLD WAR II

1. “Pride of the Marines” (1945) – John Garfield portrayed real life Marnie, Al Schmid, a decorated hero who was blinded during the Battle of Guadalcanal. Eleanor Parker and Dane Cook co-starred. Delmer Daves directed.

2. “Sands of Iwo Jima” (1949) – John Wayne earned an Oscar nomination in this dramatization of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Directed by Allan Dwan, John Agar and Forrest Tucker co-starred.

3. “Battle Cry” (1955) – Raoul Walsh directed this adaptation of Leon Uris’ novel about U.S. Marines in love and war during World War II. Van Heflin, Aldo Ray, James Whitmore, and Tab Hunter co-starred.

4. “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” (1957) – John Huston directed both Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in this character study about a shipwrecked Marine and a nun, who wait out the war on an island in the Pacific.

5. “In Love and War” (1958) – Philip Dunne directed this adaptation of Anton Meyer’s novel about three Marines on leave in San Francisco. Robert Wagner, Dana Wynter, Jeffrey Hunter, Hope Lange and Bradford Dillman co-starred.

6. “Hell to Eternity” (1960) – Jeffrey Hunter portrayed real-life Marine hero Guy Gabaldon in this biopic about a homeless Latino in Los Angeles, who is adopted by a Japanese-American family and later becomes a hero at the Battle of Saipan. Phil Karlson directed.

7. “The Outsider” (1961) – Tony Curtis starred in this biopic about Marine Ira Hayes, one of the flag raisers on Iwo Jima. Directed by Delbert Mann, the movie co-starred James Franciscus and Gregory Walcott.

8. “Windtalkers” (2002) – John Woo directed this account of the Navaho code talkers in the U.S. Marines and the men assigned to protect them. Nicholas Cage, Adam Beach, Frances O’Connor and Christian Slater starred.

9. “Flags of Our Fathers” (2006) – Clint Eastwood directed this account on three of the six men who raised the flag at The Battle of Iwo Jima. Ryan Phillipe, Adam Beach and Jesse Bradford co-starred.

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10. “The Pacific” (2010) – Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg produced this 10-part award-winning miniseries for HBO about the experiences of three U.S. Marines – Robert Leckie, Eugene Sledge and John Basilone – during World War II. James Badge Dale, Joseph Mazzello and Jon Seda starred.

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Top Favorite WORLD WAR II Movie and Television Productions

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September 1-3 marked the 75th anniversary of the beginning of World War II.

On September 1, 1939; the German Army invaded Poland on the orders of its leader, Chancellor Adolf Hitler, a week following the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. While the Polish military struggled to keep the invading Germans at bay, its government awaited awaited expected support and relief from France and the United Kingdom, with whom they had a pact. Two days later on September 3, Poland’s two allies declared war on Germany and World War II; which ended up engulfing both Europe, Asia, North Africa and the South Pacific; began.

Below is a list of my favorite movie and television productions about the war.

 

TOP FAVORITE WORLD WAR II MOVIE AND TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS

1a - Band of Brothers

1a. “Band of Brothers” (2001) – Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks produced this outstanding television miniseries about the history of a U.S. Army paratrooper company – “Easy Company” – during the war. Damian Lewis and Ron Livingston starred. (tie)

1b - The Pacific

1b. “The Pacific” (2010) – Spielberg and Hanks struck gold again in this equally superb television miniseries about the experiences of three U.S. Marines – John Basilone, Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge – in the war’s Pacific Theater. James Badge Dale, Joseph Mazzello and Jon Seda starred. (tie)

2 - Kellys Heroes

2. “Kelly’s Heroes” (1970) – Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas and Don Rickles starred in this memorable war comedy about a group of Army soldiers who go AWOL to rob a bank behind enemy lines. Brian G. Hutton directed.

3 - Inglorious Basterds

3. “Inglorious Basterds” (2009) – Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed this excellent alternate history adventure about two plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Laurent starred.

4 - Casablanca

4. “Casablanca” (1942) – Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman starred in this Oscar winning adaptation of Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s un-produced stage play, “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the movie also starred Paul Henreid and Claude Rains.

5 - The Winds of War

5. “The Winds of War” (1983) – Dan Curtis produced and directed this excellent 1983 television adaptation of Herman Wouk’s 1971 novel. The miniseries starred Robert Mitchum, Jan-Michael Vincent and Ali McGraw.

6 - Hope and Glory

6. “Hope and Glory” (1987) – John Boorman wrote, produced and directed this 1987 excellent comedy-drama about his own childhood experiences during World War II. Sarah Miles, David Hayman and Sebastian Rice-Edwards starred.

7 - A Bridge Too Far

7. “A Bridge Too Far” (1977) – Sir Richard Attenborough produced and directed this darkly fascinating adaptation of Cornelius Ryan’s book about the Operation Market Garden campaign. The all-star cast included Dirk Bogarde, Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal and Gene Hackman.

8 - Valkyrie

8. “Valkyrie” (2008) – Bryan Singer directed this detailed and first-rate account of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg’s plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in July 1944. The movie starred Tom Cruise, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy.

9 - The Longest Day

9. “The Longest Day” (1962) – Darryl Zanuck produced this all-star adaptation of Cornelius Ryan’s book about the Normandy invasion. The cast included Robert Mitchum, Richard Beymer, Robert Wagner and John Wayne.

10 - The Bridge on the River Kwai

10. “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) – David Lean directed this Oscar winning adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s 1952 World War II novel. The movie starred William Holden, Oscar winner Alec Guinness and Oscar nominee Sessue Hayakawa.

HM - Empire of the Sun

Honorable Mention: “Empire of the Sun” (1987) – Steven Spielberg produced and directed this excellent adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel about a British boy’s experiences in World War II China. The movie starred Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson and Nigel Havers.

“THE LONE RANGER” (2013) Review

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“THE LONE RANGER” (2013) Review

My memories of the 1950s television series, “THE LONE RANGER”, is a bit sketchy. Actually, it is downright vague. I can recall Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels in their costumes – the latter wearing a mask. I can recall Moore bellowing “Hi ho Silver!” every once in a while. And I do recall that the series was shot in black-and-white. I have no memories of a particular episode or storyline. I never invested any genuine interest in the series during my childhood. 

When I learned that the Disney Studios and Jerry Bruckheimer planned to produce a movie about the Lone Ranger, I regarded the announcement with very little interest. Not even the news that Johnny Depp would portray Tonto could generate any excitement within me. Usually, I would have been excited by the news of another collaboration between Bruckheimer and Depp – especially since this collaboration marked the return of Gore Verbinski as director. But my lukewarm regard toward the old “THE LONE RANGER” made it impossible for me get excited. Instead, I merely adopted an attitude of “wait and see” and dismissed the news from my mind . . . until the release date for the movie finally approached.

Directed by Gore Verbinski, “THE LONE RANGER” was not only based upon the 1950s television show, but also the 1933 radio program. The movie is basically an origin tale of how a Commanche named Tonto met the man who became the Lone Ranger. It begins in San Francisco 1933, in which Will, a young boy and fan of the Lone Ranger myth, meets the elderly Tonto at a Wild West exhibition at a local fair. The story jumps back 64 years to 1869 in Colby, Texas; where a young attorney named John Reid is returning home by train to become an assistant district attorney. Also traveling on the train as prisoners is the notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish and Tonto. Cavendish is heading back to Colby to be hanged, following his capture by John’s older brother Dan and the other Texas Rangers in the area. However, Cavendish’s gang manages to rescue their leader and escape, leaving John, Tonto and other passengers aboard a runaway train. The latter eventually derails at a rail construction site for the unfinished Transcontinental Railroad and Tonto is arrested by the Reid brothers. Dan, who is married to John’s childhood love Rebecca Reid, deputizes his younger brother as a Texas Ranger before the whole group sets out to recapture Cavendish and his gang. Unfortunately for the Reid brothers and their fellow Rangers, there is a traitor amongst them who sets them up to be ambushed and killed by the Cavendish gang. Only John survives, due to the assistance of Tonto, who managed to escape jail. Seeking revenge, John sets out to find and capture Cavendish with Tonto’s help; unaware that the Commanche has his own vengeful agenda regarding Cavendish.

The question remains . . . did I enjoy “THE LONE RANGER”? I can honestly say that I did not like it as much as I had liked the three “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” movies that Gore Verbinski had directed – “THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”“DEAD MAN’S CHEST” and “AT WORLD’S END”. I take some of that back. Perhaps I liked it as much as I did “AT WORLD’S END”. I certainly liked it more than the fourth “PIRATES” movie, “ON STRANGER TIDES”. However, “THE LONE RANGER” had its flaws. One, I found the 149 minutes running time a bit too long about the movie adaptation of an old radio/television character. This movie could have undergone a bit more trimming, leaving the movie slightly longer than 120 minutes. What could Verbinski, Bruckheimer and the three screenwriters have cut? I have no idea. Well . . . I would have cut the 1933 sequences. I really did not see the need of an aging Tonto recalling his first meeting with the Lone Ranger with some kid. Two, there were some minor aspects of the plot that could have been a bit more clear. For instance, who saved Rebecca and her son Danny Reid from Collins, the Texas Ranger who had betrayed her husband? The movie never explained. The movie also failed to explain how Tonto had escaped from the Colby jail in time to find a wounded John Reid and nurse him back to health. Three, I was not impressed by Hans Zimmer’s score. To be honest, I have no memories of it. And if there is one thing that can contribute to the quality of a movie, is a first-rate score. “THE LONE RANGER” simply did not have one. And finally, I could have done without the train wreck that Tonto and John survived near the movie’s beginning. I wish screenwriters Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio and Justin Haythe could have found a less over-the-top way for Cavendish to escape the hangman’s noose.

Despite these flaws, I still managed to enjoy “THE LONG RANGER” very much. The screenwriters still managed to construct an interesting and entertaining tale about frontier politics, justice and revenge. In fact, the movie not only featured its usual staple of humor and action found in an Depp/Verbinski/Bruckheimer film, it also featured some pretty dark moments in its plot. Aware of moviegoers’ current dislike of summer films with a dark undertone – unless its a movie about some comic book hero or simply a drama – I was rather glad that the screenwriters and Verbinski managed to inject some darkness into the plot. The tragic circumstances surrounding the deaths of Dan Reid and his fellow Texas Rangers, along with the reasons behind Tonto’s desire for revenge against Cavendish, the deadly attack upon the Reids’ ranch, and the threat of railroad construction and the U.S. Army against Commanche lands made this story very interesting. Another fascinating aspect of the movie’s plot proved to be the relationship between Tonto and John aka the Lone Ranger. First of all, I liked how the screenwriters made Tonto responsible for the creation of the Lone Ranger myth. Two, the development of Tonto and John’s relationship proved to be an uphill and hard-won battle. The screenwriters did not make it easy for the pair. A fellow co-worker had complained of John’s reluctance to trust Tonto by following the latter’s advice. A part of me agreed with him. Another part of me understood John’s reluctance, considering that Tonto had failed to be completely honest with him. Although I was not impressed by Zimmer’s score, I must admit that I truly enjoyed how the composer used the old Lone Ranger theme – Gioachino Rossini’s“William Tell Overture” – to accompany the movie’s final action sequence. I found it so inspiring.

“THE LONE RANGER” also featured little moments that I found very interesting . . . and entertaining. One of those moments was a hilarious flash-forward that depicted the Lone Ranger and Tonto’s robbery of a local bank that contained an item used by the pair to defeat the villains. Another scene that I enjoyed centered on the pair’s efforts to escape from being trampled upon after being buried in the ground by Commanches. I also enjoyed Tonto’s rescue of John, who was nearly hanged by Cavendish and the U.S. Army. And I especially enjoyed the last action sequence in which the pair tried to prevent the transportation of silver stolen from the Commanche lands by Cavendish and his partner. But my favorite moment – and it is a small one – centered around the love triangle between the Reid brothers, the woman they both loved, Rebecca; and a blue silk handkerchief used in the most subtle and erotic manner.

As for the movie’s technical aspects, I must admit that I left the movie theater feeling very impressed by it. I found Bojan Bazelli’s photography of the locations in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Colorado very beautiful. There was another aspect of Bazelli’s photography that I found interesting. The movie’s color scheme started out as chrome gray as soon as the plot shifted to 1869 Texas. Yet, even the 19th century “flashbacks” eventually grew in color as the story unfolded and the relationship between Tonto and John strengthen. I also have to commend the film’s editing done by James Haygood and Craig Wood, especially in many of the film’s action sequences. And Jess Gonchor did a beautiful job in re-creating mid-19th century Texas through his production designs – especially in the Colby and railroad construction sequences. Three time BAFTA nominee Penny Rose, who had designed the costumes for the “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN”movies, collaborated with Bruckheimer and Verbinski again as costume designer for “THE LONE RANGER”. I could rave about Rose’s work and how she perfectly captured the style of frontier fashions at the end of the 1860s. By why bother, when all I have to do is point out her work in the image below:

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I found the performances featured in “THE LONE RANGER” outstanding . . . aside from two. One of those exceptions proved to be Helena Bonham-Carter’s portrayal of Red Harrington, an ivory-legged brothel madam who assists Tonto and John. Actually, Bonham-Carter gave a colorful and earthy performance as the one-legged madam who also sought revenge against Cavendish. Unfortunately, the movie’s screenplay failed to do anything with her character, other than allow her to provide some information to the pair in the movie’s first half and assist them for a brief moment in the final action sequence. Elliot, Rossio and Haythe pretty much wasted her character and Bonham-Carter’s time. Barry Pepper gave a colorful performance as the xenophobic U.S. Army Captain Jay Fuller, who allowed himself to be corrupted by Cavendish and his partner. But as much as I enjoyed Pepper’s performance, I found myself a bit unsatisfied with how the screenwriters handled his character. Captain Fuller’s transformation from a determined Army officer to a corrupt one struck me as a bit rushed and clumsy. James Badge Dale fared a lot better as John Reid’s older brother, Texas Ranger Dan Reid. He gave an excellent performance as the professional lawman torn between his love for his younger brother and jealousy toward his wife’s continuing feelings for the latter. Remember my recall of the scene featuring the blue silk handkerchief? Badge Dale’s performance in that scene really made it particularly memorable for me. It has been a while since I last saw William Fitchner in a movie – over three years, as a matter of fact. The man has portrayed a vast array of interesting characters over the years. And I would definitely count the outlaw Butch Cavendish as one of those characters. Fitchner skillfully portrayed the outlaw as a walking horror story with an impish sense of humor.

Tom Wilkinson, whom one could always count on portraying interesting and complex characters, skillfully portrayed another one in the form of railroad tycoon, Latham Cole. Wilkinson did an excellent job in portraying Cole as a subtle and wily man whose desire for Rebecca Reid, power and wealth; along with the construction of the railroad makes him a potential enemy of both Tonto and the Lone Ranger. I was surprised to discover that British actress Ruth Wilson had been cast as Rebecca Reid, John’s sister-in-law and the love of his life. I have always felt that she was a top-notch actress and her portrayal of the spirited Rebecca did not prove me wrong. But I was very surprised by how she easily handled a Texas accent during her performance. If someone ever decides to do a remake of the 1965 movie, “THE GREAT RACE”, I would cast Armie Hammer in the role of Leslie Gallant aka the Great Leslie. Hammer did a beautiful job in conveying a similar uptight and annoyingly noble personality in his portrayal of John Reid aka the Lone Ranger. In a way, I could see why a good number of fans found John’s stubborn refusal to improvise in dealing with Cavendish rather annoying. And if they did, Hammer succeeded in his performance on many levels . . . and still managed to be likeable. At least to me. Some critics had complained that Depp’s portrayal of Tonto failed to become another Jack Sparrow. Others complained that his Tonto seemed too much like Tonto. I will admit that Depp, the screenwriters and Verbinski utilized a similar sense of humor in the portrayal of Tonto. But thanks to Depp’s performance, the latter proved to be a different kettle of fish. Not only did I find Depp’s portrayal of the wily and vengeful Commanche rather funny, but also sad, considering the character’s back story. This allowed the actor to inject a tragicomedic layer in his portrayal of Tonto that reminded me why he is considered one of the best actors in the film industry.

As I had stated earlier, “THE LONE RANGER” did not strike me as perfect. I certainly do not regard it as one of the best movies from the summer of 2013; due to a running time I found too long, a few problems with the script and the presence of two characters I believe were mishandled. On the other hand, it turned out to be a first-rate action Western with a plot that featured some surprising plot twists and a dark streak that I believe made the story even more interesting. It did help that I not only enjoyed the post-Civil War setting, but also the performances of an excellent cast led by Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer and a very entertaining direction by Gore Verbinski.

“THE PACIFIC” (Episode Ten) Commentary

I wrote this commentary on the tenth and final episode of “THE PACIFIC”

 

”THE PACIFIC” (Episode Ten) Commentary

Well. After two months or so, ”THE PACIFIC” ended. Finally. I could discuss the entire miniseries, but this is aboutEpisode Ten. The full review will have to wait for another article.

Episode Ten focused upon our three main characters – Robert Leckie, Eugene Sledge and John Basilone – returning home after the war in the Pacific Theater. Or perhaps I should say two characters, considering that Basilone was killed on Iwo Jima in Episode Eight. This allowed his story to be shown from the viewpoint of his widow, Sergeant Lena Riggi Basilone. It is through her eyes that viewers got to peek at the Basilone family for the third and final time. The episode also focused upon Sledge’s attempts to put the horrors of the war behind him, and Leckie’s reunions with his family and Vera Keller.

Lena Basilone’s visit to her in-laws in New Jersey turned out to be a strange and uncomfortable affair. Perhaps this sense of discomfort came from the family’s reaction to her presence. Mr. Basilone Senior commented politely on Lena’s good looks. Brother-in-law was just as polite, but slightly warmer. Mrs. Basilone, on the other hand, seemed to regard Lena with a wary eye. This wariness finally broke down when Lena handed over John’s medal to her. Considering that Lena’s ties with the Basilones eventually dissipated into the wind, one might as view this moment in the Basilone family history as very rare moment.

Following the Japanese surrender to the Allied forces in August 1945, Eugene Sledge and fellow combatants such as ‘Snafu’ Shelton and R.V. Burgin remained in Asia – specifically China – for several months, before finally returning home in 1946. The eastbound train journey included a humorous moment in which ‘Snafu’ tried to pick up a young woman and earned a slap for his troubles. The three Marines surmised that they would have been luckier with women if they had returned home back in 1945. In two poignant moments, Sledge and Shelton bid Burgin good-bye, after the train arrived at the Texan’s hometown. Upon the train’s arrival in New Orleans, Shelton decided to leave the train without saying good-bye to the sleeping Sledge. And the Alabama native eventually returned home and was warmly greeted by his old friend, Sid Phillips and his parents. But despite this warm and emotional homecoming, adjusting to civilian proved to be difficult for Sledge. Nightmares of the war plagued his sleep. He seemed more inclined to stay at home at hang around, instead of continuing his education or getting a job. It all came to a head during a hunting trip with his father, in which he burst into tears over his bad memories.

Robert Leckie learned of the Japanese surrender, while staying a Navy hospital. Considering that he had been wounded at Peleliu in late September 1944, I was surprised to learn that he was still being hospitalized some ten to eleven months later. He was eventually discharged from the hospital and the Marines and returned home to New Jersey by the fall of 1945. It did not take him long to regain his old job as a sportswriter for the local paper. Courting Vera Keller proved to be another matter. It seemed she had never received any of the letters he had written to her for nearly three years and a recent West Point graduate-turned Army officer was courting her. But with a great deal of chutzpah and charm, he finally managed to win her over. Leckie’s greatest challenge centered on his reunion with his family. When he had revealed his pre-war life to his former Australian girlfriend Stella in Episode Three, I had no idea that the relationship between him and the rest of his family was that chilly. Now I know.

I never expected Episode Ten to be any great shakes, in compare to the other episodes. I still recall how the last episode of ”BAND OF BROTHERS” seemed rather . . . mellow. Mind you, this last episode did not feature any accidental deaths. But it did provide a glimpse of how returning war veterans dealt with civilian life. Sledge’s difficulty in adjusting to civilian life did not strike me as surprising. I have been aware of his difficulties for quite a while. Although I must admit that I found his emotional breakdown during a hunting trip with his father rather poignant and sad. Joseph Mazzello did an excellent job of conveying Sledge’s unexpected emotional outburst. And actress Annie Paarisse also gave a first-rate performance portraying the now saddened Lena Basilone, who seemed slightly intimidated by her in-laws’ coolness. James Badge Dale seemed to be enjoying himself in the scenes featuring Leckie’s return to his sportswriters job and his courtship of Vera Keller. But if there is one scene that really took me by surprise was the chilly reception that the former Marine received from his family. I was very impressed by the subtle hostility that both Badge Dale and actress Betty Buckley (who portrayed Marion Leckie) conveyed between the two characters. I also have to say a word for Rami Malek, who did an excellent job in portraying ‘Snafu’ Shelton’s regret and determination not to bid Sledge good-bye upon the train’s arrival in New Orleans. It was a subtle cap to a very flamboyant performance.

I did have a few problems with Episode Ten. I wish it could have revealed how Lena Basilone became estranged from her in-laws. But I suppose that Bruce C. McKenna and Robert Schenkkan were unable to collect any material on the matter, considering that she had passed away in 1999 and the Basilone family might be reluctant to discuss their relationship with her. And I also could have enjoyed a post-war reunion between Leckie and his three friends – ‘Chuckler’, ‘Hoosier’, and ‘Runner’. Perhaps he did not reunite with them until after 1946. Pity. It would have a great emotional cap to a very charismatic friendship.

Despite the above-mentioned problems, Episode Ten was not a bad episode. I never expected it to be. And the only way it could have knocked my socks off was if it became part of a sequel in which Spielberg, Hanks and Goetzman explored the post-war lives of Leckie, Sledge and Lena Basilone. Their own version of ”THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES”. But it still proved to be a nice little epilogue to an outstanding miniseries.

“THE CONSPIRATOR” (2010/11) Review

THE CONSPIRATOR” (2010/11) Review

Throughout Hollywood history, the topic of the American Civil War has proven to be a volatile mix in terms of box office and television ratings. Robert Redford’s new drama about President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination called “THE CONSPIRATOR”proved to be the case. 

Directed by Redford and written by James D. Solomon, “THE CONSPIRATOR” told the story about Civil War veteran Frederick Aiken’s efforts to prevent Mary Surratt, the only woman charged in the Lincoln assassination during the spring and summer of 1865. Following the 16th President’s death and near fatal attack upon Secretary of State William H. Seward, a Maryland-born boarding house owner and Confederate sympathizer named Mary Surratt becomes among those arrested in connection to the crime. The Federal government, under the authority of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, is convinced of Mrs. Surratt’s guilt because of her son John’s connections to assassin John Wilkes Booth and the other conspirators. Mrs. Surratt’s case was not helped by the fact that they had used her Washington D.C. boardinghouse as a meeting place; or that John managed to evade capture by the Federal authorities following the assassination.

Mrs. Surratt summoned a fellow native of Maryland, U.S. Senator Reverdy Johnson, to defend her before a military tribunal. But political pressure from Stanton and others forced Johnson to recruit Aiken to represent Mrs. Surratt at the tribunal. Unfortunately, the 27 year-old Aiken lacked any previous experience inside a courtroom. The young attorney’s initial belief in Mrs. Surratt’s guilt and reluctance to defend her disappeared, as he became aware of possible evidence that might exonerate his client and that she was being used as a hostage and bait to lure her son John to the authorities through foul means.

“THE CONSPIRATOR” proved to be one of those Civil War movies that failed to generate any interest at the box office. Most moviegoers ignored it. Many critics bashed it, claiming it was another of Robert Redford’s thinly veiled metaphors on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I must be honest. I found this particular criticism worthy of some head scratching. Perhaps those critics had been right. But I must admit that I failed to see the metaphor. The manner in which the Army tribunal railroaded Mary Surratt to a date with a hangman’s noose sadly struck me as a very common occurrence throughout history. The wealthy and the powerful have never been reluctant to destroy someone they deemed as a threat or a convenient scapegoat.

Superficially, Mary Surratt seemed like the type of person toward whom I would harbor any sympathy. The Maryland-born woman had been a Confederate sympathizer. I personally found her political and social beliefs abhorrent. Yet, by revealing the lies and manipulations that she had endured at the hands of the Army tribunal and Federal government, both Redford andscreenwriter Solomon did an excellent job in igniting my sympathy. Mary Surratt’s experiences also reminded me that they could happen to anyone – even today. The idea of so much power against one individual or a particular group is frightening to behold, regardless if that individual is a slave, a Confederate sympathizer under arrest or an early 21st century citizen.

Aside from displaying the dangers of absolute powers, “THE CONSPIRATOR” succeeded on two other points – at least for me. I found the movie’s basic narrative well written and paced to a certain degree. Both Redford and Solomon had been wise to focus the movie’s plot on Mrs. Surratt’s case. They could have included the testimonies regarding the other conspirators, but that could have resulted in a great deal of chaos. However, the other defendants’ participation in the conspiracy against the Lincoln Administration was utilized in an excellent sequence that conveyed the events surrounding President Lincoln’s assassination, the attempt on William Seward’s life, John Wilkes Booth’s death and the subsequent arrests. With this excellent introduction, the movie smoothly segued into Frederick Aiken’s efforts to defend Mrs. Surratt.

However, no movie is perfect. And “THE CONSPIRATOR” had its own imperfections. My main problem centered on three characters – a close friend of Aiken’s named Nicholas Baker, who was portrayed by Justin Long; actress Alexis Bledel’s portrayal of Aiken’s fiancee, Sarah Weston; and the presence of Oscar winner Kevin Kline as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. My only problem with Bledel was that her performance struck me as mediocre. No amount of romantic scenes or beautiful 19th century costumes could alleviate her performance. Justin Long’s presence proved to be a waste of time – at least for me. One, Redford and Solomon included a meaningless scene featuring the aftermath of a nameless Civil War battle with both James McAvoy’s Aiken and Long lying on the ground, wounded. What was the point of this scene? To establish Aiken’s devotion to the Union cause in the form of his friend, Baker? If so, I feel it failed to achieve this. Long was further wasted as one of the two friends who tried to convince Aiken not to defend Mrs. Surratt. Actually, James Badge Dale, who portrayed the young attorney’s other friend, William Hamilton, was used more effectively for this task. Long merely hung around slightly drunk or sober, as he grunted his disapproval toward Aiken. And I cannot understand why Redford even bothered to include his character in the plot. Also wasted was Kevin Kline’s portrayal of Edwin H. Stanton. Aside from convincing Reverdy Johnson not to personally defend Mrs. Surratt, barking instructions to government lackeys following the incidents at Ford’s Theater and Seward’s home, and ignoring Aiken’s attempts to contact him; Kline’s Stanton did nothing. I had expected some kind of confrontation between Aiken and Stanton . . . again, nothing happened.

Fortunately for “THE CONSPIRATOR”, the good outweighed the bad. This was certainly apparent in the rest of the cast. I would never consider Frederick Aiken to be one of James McAvoy’s best roles. But I cannot deny that he did an admirable job in transforming Aiken’s character from a reluctant legal defender to his client’s most ardent supporter. He also infused the right mixture of passion, anger and growing cynicism into his character. I have seen Robin Wright only in a small number of roles. But I do believe that Mary Surratt might prove to be one of her best in a career that has already spanned over twenty years. What truly impressed me about Wright’s performance was her ability to avoid portraying Surratt as some ladylike martyr that barely did or said anything to avoid conviction. Although Wright’s Surratt did suffer, she also conveyed grit and determination to alleviate her situation.

The majority of the cast for “THE CONSPIRATOR” gave solid performances. There were a few I considered standouts among the supporting cast. One of them turned out to be Danny Huston’s intense portrayal of the prosecuting attorney, Joseph Holt. Evan Rachel Wood superbly guided Anna Surratt’s character from a defiantly supportive daughter to a young woman on the edge of despair. Despite a slightly unconvincing Maryland accent, Tom Wilkinson gave an intelligent performance as U.S. Senator Reverdy Johnson. I could also say the same about James Badge Dale’s portrayal of William Hamilton, one of Aiken’s friends, who proved to be a wise adviser. As for actor Toby Kebbell, I have to admit that he made a convincing John Wilkes Booth.

I cannot deny that Robert Redford and screenwriter James Solomon made a few missteps with the plot and at least two characters for “THE CONSPIRATOR”. But as I had stated earlier, the virtues outweighed the flaws. Both director and screenwriter provided moviegoers with a fascinating and frightening look into the abuse of power during a famous historic event. And they were backed by excellent performances from the likes of James McAvoy and Robin Wright. I only hope that one day, audiences might overlook Redford’s current negative reputation as a filmmaker and give “THE CONSPIRATOR” a second chance.

“THE PACIFIC” (Episode Six) Commentary

I wrote this commentary on the sixth episode of “THE PACIFIC”

 

”THE PACIFIC” (Episode Six) Commentary

Before the first episode of ”THE PACIFIC” first aired, the producers had pointed out that the miniseries’ centerpiece would focus upon the Battle of Peleliu. Fought between September and November 1944, the battle is considered controversial amongst war historians. Many U.S. Marines had been decimated in a campaign that historians now view as unnecessary, because of the island’s questionable strategic value and the very high death toll. In fact, Peleliu had the highest casualty rate of any battle in the Pacific Theater.

Since many Marine veterans have considered Peleliu as an important battle in their personal history, the miniseries’ producers decided to devote three episodes on the infamous battle. Last week, Episode Five featured the First Marines Division’s landing on Peleliu and Eugene Sledge’s (Joseph Mazzello) baptism of fire. By the time the episode ended; Sledge, Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) and their fellow Marines were ready to storm and capture the airfield on South Peleliu.

The efforts of the First Marines Division to capture the airfield turned out to be a brutal and bloody affair. Before storming the airfield, the Marines had to deal with a lack of water, thanks to the top brass’ poor preparations for the invasion. But the episode’s pièce de résistance focused upon the battle that raged on the airfield. And so much happened. Both Robert Leckie and his remaining close friend, Bud “Runner” Conley (Keith Nobbs), were badly wounded during the assault. Eugene Sledge and his fellow Marines in the 5th regiment made it to the other side of the airfield . . . with a notable casualty in his company – PFC Robert Oswalt (Andrew Lees). He was the Marine who had described to Sledge a childhood trip to the Grand Canyon near the end of the previous episode. While Leckie and Runner found themselves conveyed to a nearby hospital ship, Sledge’s company continued its foray into the hills of Peleliu.

Many fans of the miniseries have waxed lyrical over this particular episode. And I can see why. Director Tony To did a marvelous job in conveying the chaos, insanity and brutality that the First Marines and the Japanese soldiers suffered during the battle for the airfield to the television screen. I have not seen such a brutal combat sequence since . . . well, since the landing in last week’s episode and the Guadalcanal action in which John Basilone (Jon Seda) earned his Medal of Honor inEpisode Two. Viewers also got a chance to see other interesting scenes that included Sidney Phillips’ surprise visit to the Sledge family back in Mobile; the death of a Marine in Sledge’s company at the hands of his fellow combatants, due to his constant wailings that threatened to reveal their position in the Peleliu hills; another Marine in Sledge’s company who went off the deep end by counting the number of unseen Japanese soldiers to himself; Leckie’s attempt to find a corpsman (Navy medic) for a wounded Runner; the two friends’ reunion aboard the hospital ship; and the growing friendship between Sledge and the very eccentric SNAFU Shelton.

I have to hand it to both Joseph Mazzello and Rami Malek for doing such a superb job in portraying the two Marines’ growing friendship. And both actors made it so believable, considering they were portraying two characters that barely seemed to have anything in common. My favorite scene featured a moment in which Sledge supported Lieutenant “Hillibilly” Jones’ decision to have someone knock out that wailing Marine. And who was the first to immediately back up Sledge? SNAFU Shelton. This scene also seemed to hint that Sledge was learning to desensitize himself from the horrors of war. Consciously.

Ashton Phillips gave an understated, yet first-rate performance as the returning Sidney Phillips, who paid a visit to Sledge’s family in Mobile. His Phillips seemed bent upon reassuring Sledge’s anxious parents that their son would make it through the war safely. Yet, the oblique expression in his eyes and his slightly intense manner seemed to hint that he is trying to convince himself, as well.

Once more, James Badge Dale delivered a brilliant performance as Robert Leckie. In one scene, Leckie’s platoon leader ordered him to fetch both a corpsman for the wounded Runner and a radio amidst the raging battle in the middle of the airfield. The expression on JBD’s face told volumes about Leckie’s dread of putting himself back into the line of fire. But his performance aboard the hospital ship really impressed me. The actor beautifully conveyed Leckie’s despair at being permanently separated from his three friends. There was a moment that found him staring despondently at a bowl of peaches. And then out of the blue, someone calls his name. It turned out to be the very person who gave him the nickname of “Peaches” on Guadalcanal – a very much alive Runner. What followed was a poignant scene between JBD and Keith Nobbs (“Runner” Conley) in which the latter assured that he knew the former tried his best to find a corpsman.

Well . . . that is it for Episode Six. Next week, Sledge and company fight the Japanese in the hills of Peleliu.

“THE PACIFIC” (Episode Five) Commentary

I wrote this commentary on the fifth episode of “THE PACIFIC”

 

“THE PACIFIC” (Episode Five) Commentary

Episode Five began with war hero John Basilone in the middle of a war bond drive with Hollywood actress, Virginia Grey. Everything seemed to be hunky-dory with the Marine. Many servicemen seemed recognize his face on sight. And the good sergeant is also enjoying more passionate moments with the actress. This brief scene into the life of Basilone also featured his reunion with his younger brother George, already a Marine sergeant. The younger Basilone tried to express hope that he would be able to live to the older sibling’s name and reputation. But John immediately warned him not to bother. The last thing Basilone wants is his younger brother getting killed in combat over some reckless attempt to live up to his reputation.

This episode also marked Eugene Sledge’s baptism of fire, as he join Robert Leckie and his other fellow Marines of the First Division land on Peleliu for a major assault in September 1944. Three months earlier, Sledge had arrived on Pavuvu, where he had a joyful reunion with his childhood buddy, Sid Phillips and engaged in a brief conversation with Leckie on the meaning of war. But the privations of Pavuvu proved to be minor for Sledge, when the First Marines land on the hellish beaches of Peleliu.

Around the same time Sledge arrived on Pavuvu, Leckie returned to How Company and enjoyed a happy reunion with his three buddies – Chuckler, Runner and Hoosier. In typical Leckie fashion, he kept silent about his experiences at the psych ward on Banika and his encounter with the mentally unstable Ronnie Gibson. But he did find the time for a brief conversation in which he expressed his slightly more cynical views on what the war really meant. Sledge’s expression seemed to hint a reluctance to consider Leckie’s view. Peleliu will end up providing a different lesson for the Mobile, Alabama native. As for Leckie, Peleliu – at least in this episode – provided both some pain and a great personal fear.

Producers Gary Goetzman, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks made it clear that the Battle of Peleliu (which was fought between September and November 1944) would be shown in three episodes. Episode Five featured the First Marines Division landing on the island. And director Carl Franklin did a superb job in conveying the horrors that Leckie, Sledge and their fellow Marines had experienced in landing on the island and establishing a beach hold. The most interesting aspect of that landing came from Sledge’s point-of-view, as the camera followed him from his boarding of the amtrack (amphibious tracked vehicles) to the fury of battle on the beach.

With Sledge finally experiencing combat for the first time, the miniseries introduced new characters – Merriell “SNAFU” Shelton (Rami Malek); Bill Leyden (Brendan Fletcher); R.V. Burgin (Martin McCann); and Captain Andrew “Ack Ack” Haldane (Scott Gibson). Burgin barely uttered a word in this episode. I cannot even remember Leyden’s face. And Haldane seemed to be an officer in the tradition of Richard Winters of ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. Shelton is another matter. Judging from the comments on the Web, I suspect that many viewers had been looking forward to experiencing Malek’s performance as Shelton, as much as seeing Sledge experience combat for the first time. And the actor did not fail to deliver. He gave a riveting, yet eccentric performance as the slightly soulless Shelton.

As I had stated earlier, Peleliu provided a great deal of pain and anxiety for Leckie. One, his breakdown in Episode Four led Hoosier to fret over him during the Peleliu landing – much to his annoyance. The two eventually got separated from Chuckler and Runner before disaster happened. Poor Hoosier became seriously wounded in the leg. Although Leckie managed to summon a medic, poor Hoosier lost consciousness before he was carried away. Both Leckie and the audience were left in a state of anxiety over the Marine’s fate. Leckie finally managed to hook up with Runner. Unfortunately, both men seemed to be at a loss over Chuckler, who has yet to make an appearance. And they, along with Sledge and the rest of the First Marines Division were poised to begin the assault on the airfield on Peleliu.

In the end, Episode Five proved to be a solid and very interesting look into Eugene Sledge’s arrival in the Pacific Theater’s war zone. It also provided a peak into John Basilone’s experiences as a war hero on the homefront and what might possibly be the beginning of the end of Robert Leckie’s circle of friends. The episode provided some interesting moments. I enjoyed hometown friends Sledge and Phillips’ immediate reconciliation and its interruption by Sledge’s company commander, Captain Andy Haldane. For some reason, it reminded me of a scene from 1994’s ”FORREST GUMP”depicting the lead character’s arrival in Vietnam. Their reunion became more serious as Phillips tries to warn Sledge that combat was not as they had imaged when they were kids. Leckie’s reunion with his friends brought a smile to my face. I have grown accustomed to all four of them that much. Did anyone notice the grizzled sergeant who was practicing bayonet thrusts when Sledge first arrived on Parvuvu? Keep an eye on him. The episode also featured a poignant moment when Sledge discovered that Phillips had left Parvuvu for leave, back home in Mobile.

But the one scene that caught me by surprise centered on a brief conversation between Leckie and Sledge, inside the former’s tent. That the producers would feature a meeting between the two did not surprise me. After all, ”THE PACIFIC”is a historical drama, not a documentary. There were bound to be some historical inaccuracies. I have yet to see a historical drama that DID NOT have historical inaccuracies – including the much lauded ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. What I found surprising about this scene was that actors James Badge Dale and Joseph Mazello made it clear in this ARTICLEthat they did not have any scenes togethers. Guys? Lying is a big “no, no” to me.

The episode finally shifted to the First Marines Division’s landing on Peleliu and it was a doozy. The scene featuring Sledge’s beach landing struck me as surreal, especially in that brief moment when the sun shone in the Marine’s eyes as the amtrack conveying his regiment prepared to leave the ship and hit the water. The actual beach landings for both Sledge and Leckie were graphic and rather scary. The scene in which Sledge witnessed Shelton removing gold teeth from a Japanese soldier struck me as an ominous sign of more darkness for the naïve Sledge to encounter. But the biggest heartbreak – at least for me – was the moment when Leckie witnessed Hoosier being seriously wounded by Japanese artillery.

The acting, as usual, was up to par. Joseph Mazello gave a excellent performance as the intense, yet naïve Sledge. In fact, I have to point out that the actor really knows how to use his eyes to convey his character’s emotional state. I could probably say the same about James Badge Dale, who continued to give consistently first-rate performances as Robert Leckie. Both he and Mazello were perfectly understated in their one scene together. Jon Seda, whom we have not seen since Episode Three was solid as war hero John Basilone. I especially enjoyed his performance in a scene with Mark Casamento, who portrayed his younger brother George. As Sid Phillips, Ashton Holmes gave one of his better performances by perfectly balancing his character’s joy at seeing childhood friend Sledge and war weariness at trying to explain the realities of combat to his buddy. Many fans had been anticipating Rami Malek’s debut as Sledge’s very eccentric comrade, Merriell “SNAFU” Shelton. And Malek managed to brilliantly live up to Shelton’s reputation as an eccentric and somewhat cold-blooded warrior. However, I felt a slight disappointment that the Shelton character had already arrived at this emotional point upon his introduction. Considering that his character was already a veteran of the Cape Gloucester campaign, I am not surprised. But the audience will never get to witness Malek develop his character to that point, as we got to witness Ronnie Gibson develop from a rather nervous Marine, to a slightly demented warrior and emotional wreck.

Episode Five was a pretty damn good episode. Audiences managed to witness a full-fledged battle sequence in the daylight for the first time since this episode aired. But I have one major complaint. It ended too soon. I realize that the Peleliu campaign will stretch out in two more episodes, but I still believe that this particular episode should have had a longer running time. Other than that I am looking forward to Episode Six.