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Monday, June 4, 2007

The First Fake Film Festival: Laughing At War

Those of you who are regular readers know I have recently had an encounter involving my godson and the Army that has left me a bit somber.

In times of stress, as I have previously mentioned, I reach out to humor as a coping tool, and this week I have felt the need for a bit of coping, indeed.

As a result I have been watching my favorite not-so-serious war movies-and TV shows, as well-and “for the sake of your own peace of mind” (to quote a famous song) I would encourage you to do the same.

With this in mind, I offer my suggestions for The First Fake Film Festival-the “Laughing At War” edition. Try to take some time over the next week or two and re-watch some of these classics-and if there are some you’ve never seen, they’re worth the effort.

As you read the list, you’ll notice a theme-the movies tend to feature characters who either “massage” the system to fit their unique needs, or who have no interest in the system whatsoever.

One caveat: to qualify as a festival choice, the film had to be a part of my own collection. This means Charlie Chaplin and "Canadian Bacon" will not be on the menu, and for that I apologize in advance.

While I recommend each highly, I list them in no particular order below...

--Operation Petticoat-Submarine commander Cary Grant “acquires” the world’s greatest supply officer (Tony Curtis), who then “acquires” supplies in a manner rarely seen anywhere. The kind of supply officer who takes off during an air raid, with the message: “In confusion, there is profit!” (You can see Variety’s 1959 review of the film here.) Not only is this film hilarious, it features the second Darren Stevens, Dick Sargent. Blake Edwards directs. The film garnered an Oscar nomination for its screenplay. (Hint to Hollywood: adapt this into a science fiction comedy film-think a slightly bent version of “Star Trek”-maybe George Clooney as the Cary Grant character?) Try pairing this film with one of the next two...or both.

--I Was A Male War Bride-Cary Grant (again!) and Ann Sheridan team up in a film that has director Howard Hawks’ fingerprints all over it. The snappy repartee is reminiscent of “His Girl Friday”, and the scenes of Grant filling out...certain paperwork, trying to decode the cryptic door signs, and attempting to find a place to sleep before embarking to the USA would be enough to recommend the film to anyone-but there’s lots more.

--Mister Roberts-James Cagney, Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon, William Powell-could you ask for a better cast? This adapted Broadway play, first directed by the legendary John Ford (illness left him unable to finish the project, which was completed by Mervyn LeRoy and the play’s director, Joshua Logan.), follows a “cursed” cargo ship and its maniacal Captain around the rear areas of the Pacific during the Second World War. The Captain’s palm tree is the icon around which the film is built, and it is the first time I can ever recall rooting for bad things to happen to an innocent plant. Three Oscar nominations, one victory-Jack Lemmon’s Best Actor, Supporting award.

--Kelly’s Heroes-This is another “acquisition” movie, and once again we have the big cast: Telly Savalas, Clint Eastwood, Stuart (“Rockford Files”) Margolin, Harry Dean Stanton, Carroll O’Connor, Don (“Make a deal...maybe he’s a Republican”) Rickles, and the very “Oddball” Donald Sutherland taking on the perfect crime (“We’re not the Army...we’re a kind of private enterprise operation...”). As with several of these movies, the story is set in World War II, but the real focus of the satire is elsewhere. Even Gavin MacLeod (the “Love Boat” guy) appears as one of the Heroes. Brian G. Hutton (“Gunfight At The OK Corral”) directs.

--The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming-I view this film as one that has recently evolved-a morality film about the Cold War that has morphed into a film about the New American Fear. Like a cinematic game of “telephone” the news of a Russian invasion of US soil is passed and distorted, causing wacky hilarity to ensue. Cindy Putnam plays the adorable Annie, Alan Arkin plays a frustrated Russian officer, Brian Keith a frustrated police chief, and Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint and Jonathan Winters fill out the cast. Norman Jewison (“Fiddler On The Roof”) directs. Four Oscar nominations, including Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture.

--Duck Soup-When Groucho Marx is your President, what can go wrong? The citizens of Freedonia soon find out (in an action similar to Singapore’s, one of the first announcements is the banning of chewing gum...) in this story of Sylvanian war and conquest. The Four Marx Brothers appeared in five movies together, and this was the last of the run. The Great Depression of the 1930’s, the curious mannerisms of government, and Hitler are the targets of the satire. Leo Mc Carey, who later directed “An Affair to Remember”, takes the directorial helm here as well. (Number 85 on the AFI Top 100.)

Which bring us to the final three.

If you see no other films on this list, you must be sure to see this group of films. The satire of each is deeply and darkly developed, each has made a giant imprint on the American cultural consciousness, and each fits in as well today as the day they were made.

--Catch-22-A film that created its own catch-phrase. A superb indictment of military logic and the military-industrial complex. And suddenly, as today’s troops find their tours extended, a film newly relevant for more than the obvious statement about absurdity. Another huge role for Alan Arkin, with another big ensemble cast: Martin Balsam as the Colonel, Bob Newhart as Major Major; Martin Sheen, Jon Voight, Buck Henry, Orson Wells, Richard Benjamin all present and accounted for, and about a half-dozen more I’ll leave to you to look up yourself. Mike (“The Graduate”) Nichols directs.

--M.A.S.H.- The best Vietnam movie set in Korea ever produced, Robert Altman’s work of improvisational genius skewers war, religion, racism, and scriptwriting with equal enthusiasm. Ring Lardner attempted to have himself removed from the credits because of his feelings about how the director and cast ignored his carefully crafted words. Ironically, Lardner’s screenplay won the film’s only Academy Award. Another giant cast: Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Tom Skeritt, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, Fred Williamson, Gary Burghoff as the ever-prescient Radar, and, again, a ton more.

Altman reports he was able to keep the production of this film “under the radar” by keeping his budget low, and through the coincidence of the much bigger-budget “Patton” being filmed at the same time. Nominated for five Oscars, awarded one. (Number 56 on the AFI Top 100.)

--Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Bomb—Stanley Kubrick has presented to the world two of the greatest war films ever made-this farcical examination of nuclear conflict, and the deadly serious “Full Metal Jacket”. I make it a point to trot my copy of this movie around to all my friends to guarantee they’ve seen it, and there is no way anyone should go through life without that experience. Peter Sellers plays three of the central characters, Sterling Hayden sends the world hurtling toward destruction, George C. Scott auditions for “Patton”, Keenan Wynn plays Colonel “Bat” Guano, and, in one of the most memorable scenes in the history of cinema, Slim Pickens rides the atomic bomb, a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ all the way.

The US Air Force was extremely distressed regarding the production of this film, for reasons that seem well founded, considering how the movie depicts the military. Nominated for four Oscars-Best Actor, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. (Number 26 on the AFI Top 100.)

So that’s the Official Program of the First Fake Film Festival.

I hope you’ll find the time to see some of the films, I hope you enjoy them all, and I hope the laughing helps everyone forget what we’re doing for a little while.

Update: begone, at the DailyKos site, reminds me that I neglected to mention the movie “Stripes”, and for that I owe the community a correction. It is a qualified movie by our earlier rules, as I do own it, but I just plain forgot. Mea culpa. For those not familiar, Bill Murray demonstrates why you don’t shoot hoops in the living room, an alternative use for a spatula, and how to make the cover of Newsweek. Rounding out the cast: Harold Raimis, John Candy, John (“I wish I was a lufa”) Larroquette, Sean Young, Judge Reinhold, Warren Oates. Try to imagine what hanging out at the craft service tent would be like with that crew…

--crossposted wherever they'll have me...

4 comments:

djtyg said...

Hey, FC. Inspired by this diary post on DKos, I wrote a diary of my own, showing the YouTube videos I provided for you earlier, as well as some new ones. It's my own DKos YouTube film festival. Feel free to check it out and tell all the military families you know about it:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/6/9/33357/77825

djtyg said...

That last link sucked, so just go to djtyg.dailykos.com and click on the story about the YouTube collage.

fake consultant said...

outstanding...i'm headed there now...

peter said...

your bloggie is soggie. are you all washed up, already? adrift being my drift. aye aye mi capitan.