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LawrenceA

Recently Watched War and Military

13 posts in this topic

Abraham Lincoln (1930) - Cliff-Notes biopic of the 16th President of the United States, "personally directed" by D.W. Griffith. Walter Huston stars as Lincoln, shown from his birth through his rough-and-tumble early years, his doomed romance with Ann Rutledge (Una Merkel), his marriage to the eccentric Mary Todd (Kay Hammond), and his election to the presidency, where he presided over the U.S. civil war, during which he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, before being felled by an assassin's bullet. Also featuring Jason Robards Sr., E. Alyn Warren, Russell Simpson, Helen Ware, Oscar Apfel, Hobart Bosworth, Henry B. Walthall, and Ian Keith as John Wilkes Booth.

 

Like most of Griffith's movies, this is a mixed bag of interesting choices, corny populism, and a rose-colored vision of the past. I was surprised by the opening of the film, set aboard a trans-Atlantic slave ship, featuring slavers coldly discussing their remaining "inventory" as they toss a dead African overboard. As this was one of a few scenes missing its audio, I have a feeling it was often cut out during exhibition. I was confused by Griffith's decision to cast Warren as both Stephen Douglas and Ulysses Grant: were there not enough qualified actors around? I liked seeing silent film stalwarts Bosworth and Walthall as General Robert E. Lee and his attendant colonel, respectively. I liked Huston as Honest Abe, and was surprised by how much he looked like the photographs of Lincoln in the last third of the film. The biopic elements themselves are simplistic and hagiographic, and things seemed rushed, trying to tell his entire life story in 90 minutes. I was not a fan of Hammond as Mary Todd, and felt she dragged the proceedings down quite a bit.   6/10

 

I decided to put this film in this genre category since, for some inexplicable reason, there are no Genre categories for Biography, History, or even standard Drama, so, since the last third of the film or more deals with the Civil War, I decided on this Genre forum.

 

Source: TCM.

 

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In this early scene with Una Merkel, Huston's heavy make-up made him resemble Batman's villain The Joker.

 

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The Dawn Patrol (1930) - aka Flight Commander, World War One aviation and the burden of command are the themes of this first talkie from director Howard Hawks and First National. Dick Courtney (Richard Barthelmess) is a flying ace who is growing tired of his commanding officer, the heavy-drinking Major Brand (Neil Hamilton). Brand continues to issue incredibly dangerous orders, while the attrition rate for new pilots keeps growing, with more and more dying on each mission. But, as Courtney's pal Scott (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) tries to point out, Brand's near-drunken state is a result of the heavy weight of his pilots' lives crushing him down, a facet of command that Courtney himself will experience when he is placed in charge. Also featuring Frank McHugh, Clyde Cook, James Finlayson, Gardner James, and William Janney.

 

Hawks, who cameos as a German pilot, doesn't quite have his patented snappy dialogue going yet, and the dramatic scenes are creaky and hoary. The acting is good from Barthelmess and Fairbanks, but Hamilton's role could have been recast to much improvement. Hawks himself remade this 8 years later, with Errol Flynn, David Niven, and Basil Rathbone, and that version is justly better remembered, even if much of the exciting aerial action was the same footage from this 1930 original. This won an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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Seven Days' Leave (1930) - Off-beat WW1 drama from Paramount Pictures and director Richard Wallace, based on the play The Old Lady Shows Her Medals by J.M. Barrie. Beryl Mercer stars as Sarah Ann Dowey, a old maid charwoman in London during World War One. She has no children that serving in the war, which makes her an outcast among her peers, so she pretends to have a son who is on the front lines. When a local do-gooder sees Canadian soldier Kenneth Downey (Gary Cooper) on leave, he thinks that Kenneth must be Sarah Ann's son. At first angered by the old woman's charade, Kenneth soon feels pity for her and agrees to go along with the ruse. Over the course of his seven days' leave, the two form a lasting bond. Also featuring Daisy Belmore, Nora Cecil, Tempe Pigott, Arthur Hoyt, Basil Radford, and Arthur Metcalf.

 

Mercer has starred in the original Broadway production of the play back in 1917, and she's very good here. Aside from a couple of awkward line readings, Cooper is believable and sympathetic. Seeing a surrogate mother-son relationship in a major Hollywood film is not very common, even during this period, so this was an expected fresh take on the War.  7/10

 

Source: archive.org.

 

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Dirigible (1931) - Rarely-explored look at Naval aviation, particularly their lighter-than-air squadron, from Columbia Pictures and director Frank Capra. Jack Holt stars as Jack Bradon, the square-jawed captain of the USS Pensacola, a US Navy dirigible (blimp). He maintains a rivalry with his best friend "Frisky" Pierce (Ralph Graves), a hotshot ace pilot who is constantly breaking aviation records. Pierce's wife Helen (Fay Wray) can't stand her husband's daredevil ways, and is considering leaving him, a fact she confides in Jack. What is Jack to do when the Navy orders them both to escort Antarctic explorer Louis Rondelle (Hobart Bosworth) on a dangerous mission to the South Pole, a proposition that pushes Helen to make a drastic decision? Also featuring Roscoe Karns, Harold Goodwin, Emmett Corrigan, George "Gabby" Hayes, and Clarence Muse.

 

This is a real time capsule, as the short-lived Naval dirigible force rarely shows up in films or the history books. The Navy cooperated with the filmmakers, allowing the use of both the large hangar in Lakehurst, New Jersey, and the flagship dirigible the USS Los Angeles. There's a lot of interesting aviation stuff here, from the planes to the maneuvers, but the human side of the story is strictly snooze-ville, with the lovely-as-usual Wray turning in an overwrought performance. Holt and Graves are both rather bland leading men, which may account for this film's relative slide into obscurity. The later sections dealing with the Antarctic expedition reminded me a great deal of the previous year's With Byrd at the South Pole.   6/10

 

Source: FilmStruck

 

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Women of All Nations (1931) - Regrettable comedy that's the third in a series from Fox and director Raoul Walsh. Edmund Lowe and Victor McLaglen return as Sgt. Quirt and Capt. Flagg, respectively, two US Marine brothers-in-arms who are rivals in everything else. The episodic plot sees them shipped around the world, from a stateside furlough to a stint in Sweden where they battle over local girl Elsa (Greta Nissen), to disaster aid in Nicaragua, and finally to Egypt, where they find Elsa in the harem of local Prince Hassan (Bela Lugosi). Also featuring El Brendel, Mischa Auer, Fifi d'Orsay, Jesse De Vorska, Curley Dresden, Marion Lessing, Ruth Warren, Marjorie White, and Charles Judels.

 

This series started with the silent What Price Glory in 1926, followed by The ****-Eyed World (1929). There would be one more entry after this one, 1933's Hot Pepper. Director Walsh himself called this a "turkey", and that's a fitting description. The script is threadbare, the situations unfunny and uninspired. What entertainment exists is due to the performers, who generally try their best, although Brendel's shtick gets old quick. I watched this for Lugosi; he doesn't appear until the final 20 minutes. One noteworthy aspect of this film was that there was another co-star, Humphrey Bogart, but his entire role was left on the cutting room floor. Lucky him.   4/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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Devil and the Deep (1932) - Melodrama concerning US Navy submariners, from Paramount Pictures and director Marion Gering. At a US Navy submarine base in North Africa, Commander Sturm (Charles Laughton) puts on a friendly face for those around him, cracking jokes and generally being well-liked. However, behind closed doors he's insanely jealous of his wife Diana (Tallulah Bankhead) and is convinced that she's having an affair with every other officer they meet. In fact, Sturm's current second-in-command, Lieutenant Jaeckel (Cary Grant), is being transferred in disgrace on Sturm's orders after he (wrongly) suspected the young man of sleeping with his wife. In a distraught state, Diana bumps into stranger Sempter (Gary Cooper) on the street, and the two have a fleeting, anonymous affair. Imagine their surprise, then, when Diana learns that Sempter is the newly assigned Lieutenant replacement for her husband. Sturm quickly assesses the situation, and when all three happen to be onboard his submarine during maneuvers, things can only turn out badly. Also featuring Paul Porcasi, Juliette Compton, Henry Kolker, Dorothy Christy, Arthur Hoyt, Gordon Westcott, James Dugan, and Lucien Littlefield.

 

This is noteworthy for the once-in-a-lifetime cast. Laughton gets an "introducing" credit, although he'd been in 7 movies in Britain before this. Your enjoyment of him here will be predicated on how you generally view his acting: he goes big and florid, but I like it, as I find it amusing. Cooper is Cooper, while Bankhead gets to suffer here, a bit too much to my taste, as I enjoy her more when she's the one giving withering one-liners. The film may have worked better with a more conventional and vulnerable leading lady. Finally, Cary Grant was in his first year of films (this was his fourth of 7 movies in 1932), and he's not yet demonstrating any of the talent that would make him an enduring star.   7/10

 

Source:  YouTube.

 

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The Eagle and the Hawk (1933) - WW1 aviation drama from Paramount Pictures and director Stuart Walker. Jerry (Fredric March), Henry (Cary Grant), and Mike (Jack Oakie) are three pilots in the Royal Air Squadron during World War One. Their perilous reconnaissance missions often result in the co-pilot/cameraman getting killed and the mounting death toll has a devastating psychological effect on them all. Also featuring Guy Standing, Forrester Harvey, Kenneth Howell, Leyland Hodgson, Virginia Hammond, Douglas Scott, and Carole Lombard as the Beautiful Lady.

The intro by Robert Osborne mentions The Dawn Patrol, and the similarities are obvious. March gets to play a drunk again, as his character turns to the bottle for comfort, and he's either intense in his role or kinda hammy, depending on your mood. Grant gets more of an acting challenge than in many of his other movies of the period, and he's okay. Lombard, who was prominently featured in later advertising for the movie, only appears late in the game for a short scene with March. The aerial footage is excellent, and the air reconnaissance aspect is different. I can honestly say that I didn't see the ending of the story coming, and it's the kind of ardently anti-war movie that followed World War One that no one would dare make just a few years later when WW2 began.  (7/10)

Source: TCM.

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Hell Below (1933) - Uneven but memorable WW1 submarine flick from MGM and director Jack Conway. Robert Montgomery stars as US Navy submarine Lieutenant Thomas Knowlton, stationed in the Mediterranean. His new ship's captain, T.J. Toler (Walter Huston), is a tough-but-fair, by-the-book officer whose daughter Joan (Madge Evans) falls in love with Knowlton. Their love, and Toler's disapproval, will have to wait when the sub gets ordered into dangerous surveillance duty. Also featuring Robert Young as Knowlton's fellow junior officer best pal, Eugene Pallette and Jimmy Durante as the comic relief, Edwin Styles, John Lee Mahin, David Newell, Henry Kolker, Paul Porcasi, and Sterling Holloway in a small but strong role as a doomed sailor.

I can't say that I've seen too many movies about World War One naval action, so this is unique in that regard, even if it hits many of the same notes as other submarine movies. The shore-leave romance plot is melodramatic and offers the movie's weakest acting moments, but the shipboard action is top-notch, visceral and uncompromising, and bloodier than most other war films of the period.   (7/10)

Source: TCM.

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Storm at Daybreak (1933) - Dull romantic drama with WW1-era Austria-Hungary serving as the backdrop, from MGM and director Richard Boleslawski. Simmering tensions between the Serbs and Hungarians erupt into full-blown war following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Serbian mayor Radovic (Walter Huston) is friends with Hungarian military officer Captain Petery (Nils Asther), little knowing that the captain has fallen in love with the mayor's wife Irina (Kay Francis). As the vagaries of war swing the pendulum of power from one side to the other, those who occupy neutral ground suffer the most, and the love triangle threatens to destroy them all. Also featuring Phillips Holmes, Eugene Pallette, C. Henry Gordon, Jean Parker, Louise Closser Hale, Oscar Apfel, Margaret Dumont, Akim Tamiroff, and Mischa Auer.

While the sets, costumes and cinematography are all fine, the story is trite and boring. The ethnic clashes at the heart of WW1 are a worthy subject for film, but not when it simply serves as the garnish on a tepid love triangle plot. Huston is barely adequate, seeming too manic at times but not chewing the scenery in an entertaining way, either. Asther's accent is so thick as to make many of his lines unintelligible, while Francis is merely called on to look dewy-eyed. I was struck by the appearance of actor Lucien Prival, who here resembles the love child of Erich von Stroheim and Pee-Wee Herman.   (5/10)

Source: TCM.

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Thanks Larry for your review on STORM AT DAYBREAK. I agree it is a bit dull in stretches. Francis & Huston were used to greater effect in the 1942 Warner Brothers melodrama ALWAYS IN MY HEART. At least this production benefits from the presence of Phillips Holmes, who died too young during WWII. Your comment about Lucien Prival is hilarious.

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1 minute ago, TopBilled said:

Thanks Larry for your review on STORM AT DAYBREAK. I agree it is a bit dull in stretches. Francis & Huston were used to greater effect in the 1942 Warner Brothers melodrama ALWAYS IN MY HEART. At least this production benefits from the presence of Phillips Holmes, who died too young during WWII. Your comment about Lucien Prival is hilarious.

Glad to hear the good word for Always In My Heart, as I have that one in my stack to watch, too.

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The White Sister (1933) - WW1 is the backdrop to this romantic drama, the third film version of the same story, this time from MGM and director Victor Fleming. Angela (Helen Hayes) is the daughter of wealthy Prince Chiaromonte (Lewis Stone), and she's expected to wed respectable but boorish Ernesto (Alan Edwards). Those plans are disrupted when she meets handsome yet common soldier Giovanni (Clark Gable). He becomes a fighter pilot when World War One breaks out, and is believed killed, sending the distraught Angela to a convent to become a nun. But when Giovanni returns very much alive, Angela must decide between earthly joy or her vows to Jesus. Also featuring Edward Arnold, Louise Closser Hale, May Robson, Gino Corrado, Lumsden Hare, Frank Puglia, and Nat Pendleton.

I recently watched the silent 1923 version starring Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman, and I found that one to be the better production. Gable and Hayes just don't have much chemistry, and Hayes seems miscast as a flighty young rich girl (although she fits as a nun). The brief aerial battle sequences are exciting and well-mounted, and the production design is fine. Pendleton has a small but good role as a fellow P.O.W.   (6/10)

Source: TCM.

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I agree that Gable and Hayes lack palpable chemistry. This pairing doesn't even sound good on paper! She was better with Robert Montgomery (her favourite leading man at MGM). I also prefer the Gish-Colman version of WHITE SISTER. It's almost one of those stories more suited to a silent film. I'm sure it even seemed "dated" to audiences of 1933.

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