With Memorial Day coming up on Monday May 25th, I’d like to take this moment to thank all veterans and active members of the armed forces for their service and sacrifice.
The combat film has always been one of my favorite cinematic genres, with Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One, and of course Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan ranking highly among my all time favorite films. Memorial Day Weekend in my home also includes a screening of the amazing Band of Brothers.
Every year I check the TV listings, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video for the best military themed films and documentaries to watch over the holiday weekend. As always, Turner Classic Movies has several classics in their lineup this weekend. Amazon Instant Video has an elaborate selection, but unfortunately few of those titles are available on Amazon Prime (though you can never go wrong with Band of Brothers, The Civil War, and Patton). Netflix doesn’t have as many feature film options as Amazon Instant Video, but has a good selection of documentaries. Here are some highlights:
On Turner Classic Movies (all times Eastern):
6:00 AM – Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
5:30 PM – Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
10:30 PM – Glory (1989)
12:45 AM – The Horse Soldiers (1959)
6:00 AM – Sahara (1943)
12:00 PM – The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)
2:00 PM – Bataan (1943)
6:00 PM – The Steel Helmet (1951)
6:45 AM – The Green Berets (1968)
8:00 PM – Battleground (1949)
10:15 PM – Patton (1970)
The Longest Day (1962)
Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
The War: A Ken Burns Film (2007)
The Civil War (1990)
The First World War From Above (2010)
Vietnam in HD (2011)
Amazon Instant Video:
Band of Brothers (2001)*
The Pacific (2010)*
Medal of Honor (2008)*
The War: A Ken Burns Film (2007)*
The Civil War (1990)*
American Sniper (2014)
Lone Survivor (2013)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
All Quiet On the Western Front (1930)
Sergeant York (1941)
The Fighting 69th (1940)
The Big Red One (1980)
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
The Great Escape (1963)
The Longest Day (1962)
We Were Soldiers (2002)
The Green Berets (1968)
The Steel Helmet (1951)
* = Available on Amazon Prime
Fante’s Inferno commemorates the 75th anniversary of the films of 1939 (considered one of the greatest years of moviemaking) with a four-part retrospective posted in conjunction with the quarters in which they were released.
Part One: January to March of 1939:
Release Date: 2/15/39
Starring John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Thomas Mitchell, John Carradine, Andy Devine, George Bancroft
Directed by John Ford; Screenplay by Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht (based on Ernest Haycox’s short story The Stage to Lordsburg)
Six passengers on a stagecoach from Tonto, Arizona to Lordsburg, New Mexico, each with their own reasons for leaving town. Along the way they pick up a fugitive and shoot their way through Apache territory to reach their destination. John Ford’s Stagecoach revitalized the Western genre and made John Wayne a star. The story does get a bit too heavy handed with several characters written to represent hypocrisy in society (i.e. a kind prostitute forced from town by the “decent” women; a businessman that preaches patriotism but is embezzling funds, etc.) that it tends to become a distraction. Regardless, each character is woven into the script so perfectly the story would be unbalanced should one of them be removed, from John Wayne as the Ringo Kidd hell bent on revenge, to Dallas (Claire Trevor) forced out of town with the weight of her past and “proper society” on her shoulders, even down to the comic relief of stagecoach driver Buck (Andy Devine). Cinematographer Bert Glennon’s photography of Monument Valley is majestic and the editing is seamless. When you hear the title Stagecoach, how can you not think about John Wayne’s first shot in the film?
Release Date: 2/17/39
Starring Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Victor McLaglen, Sam Jaffe, Joan Fontaine
Directed by George Stevens; Screenplay by Joel Sayre and Fred Guiol based on the story by Rudyard Kipling
Three hell-raising British soldiers (Grant, Fairbanks and McLaglen) are sent to a investigate a military outpost in Tantrapur, India after a break in the communication line. They arrive to find the town deserted with no sign of soldiers or civilians, are quickly attacked by Thuggees, and fight their way out with the three sergeants and their detail barely making it out alive. Back at their camp, Sergeant Cutter (Grant) befriends Gunga Din (played by Sam Jaffee), a water carrier with dreams of being a bugler in the British Army. He tells Cutter of a temple of gold, and against the orders of Sergeants MacChesney (McLaglen) and Ballantine (Fairbanks) Cutter and Din sneak out of camp. They find the temple, which unfortunately is inhabited by the murderous Thuggees. Cutter is captured, but Din escapes to bring reinforcements.
This was my first screening of Gunga Din, and it was a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting to be an adventure/comedy that borders on the screwball. I’m a big fan of Cary Grant and even in screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday I’ve never seen him play comedy quite this hammy. Regardless, it’s a fun performance and Grant’s chemistry with McLaglen and Fairbanks carries the film, but at the expense of the title character. Sam Jaffee gives the character of Gunga Din heart and pathos, but isn’t given enough screen time to present his backstory or motivations. But overall it’s a fun, fast paced adventure.
Release Date: 3/16/39
Starring Irene Dunne, Charles Boyer, Maria Ouspenskaya,
Directed by Leo McCarey; Screenplay by Delmer Daves and Donald Ogden Stewart based on a story by Mildred Cram
Painter and bon vivant Michel Marnet (Boyer) and singer Terry McKay (Dunne) meet on an ocean liner bound for New York for their respective weddings. Their “meet cute” occurs when a breeze blows a romantic telegram from Michel’s hands into Terry’s. She’s actually amused that the telegram about a romantic night in Lake Como is from his future sister-in-law, and they strike up a conversation that leads to a somewhat innocent tour of her suite. They take a liking to each other but decide to keep their distance during the next eight days of the voyage in order not to stir up rumors that would leak to the press and interfere with there upcoming weddings. Try as they might, they just can’t seem to shake each other to the point where it becomes a joke among the passengers. Along the way, the ship stops in Spain and Terry joins Michel on a day trip to meet his grandmother (played by Maria Ouspenskaya). She confesses to Terry that she’s concerned about Michel’s lifestyle…unless the right woman can change him. By the end of the voyage, Michel and Terry are in love and make a pact to meet at the top of the Empire State Building on July 1st. Michel eventually cancels his wedding and tries to support himself selling his paintings (while painting New York City billboards) as he counts the days to July 1st. Terry calls her wedding off and bides the next several months as a headline act in Philadelphia. But as they make their way to the Empire State Building, a cruel twist of fate could keep them apart.
It’s hard to watch Leo McCarey’s Love Affair without automatically comparing it to his 1957 remake An Affair to Remember starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Despite An Affair to Remember’s popularity and Grant and Kerr’s unforgettable performances, the 1939 original stands on its own and in my opinion is the better film of the two. It’s no wonder Love Affair was remade twice (the third version was 1994’s Love Affair starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening): Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne are fantastic their roles, and (in my opinion) their chemistry actually surpasses Grant and Kerr’s. Go into a screening of Love Affair without comparisons to An Affair to Remember and you’ll enjoy the film on its own merits.
Other notable films from January-March 1939:
The Son of Frankenstein
Release Date: 1/13/39
Directed by Rowland V. Lee; Starring Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi
Release Date: 1/27/39
Directed by Henry King; Starring Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda
The Oklahoma Kid
Release Date: 3/3/39
Directed by Lloyd Bacon; Starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart
Midnight Release Date: 3/15/39
Directed by Mitchell Leisen; Starring Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Release Date: 3/31/39
Directed by Sidney Lansfield; Starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce
With awards season upon us, it’s usually this time of year that old Academy Award winning favorites are televised in advance of this year’s Oscar ceremony (thanks Turner Classic Movies!). I’ve never really been a fan of the awards presentations, and most of my favorite films were never nominated anyway, but it is nice to turn on a channel like TCM and watch an old classic again. I look at this year’s list of Best Picture nominees and wonder if decades from now American Hustle, Gravity or The Wolf of Wall Street could ever be as revered among movie fans as Casablanca, On the Waterfront, The Godfather or Rocky.
Each decade of the last century has produced its timeless classics of cinema, but lately I’ve been reading about how 1939 is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest year for films. Looking over the list of releases that year it’s a solid lineup, all of them classics to this day:
Gone With the Wind The Wizard of Oz Stagecoach Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Goodbye, Mr. Chips The Hunchback of Notre Dame Love Affair Of Mice and Men Gunga Din Ninotchka The Women Stanley and Livingstone Destry Rides Again Beau Geste Babes in Arms Gulliver’s Travels Jesse James The Roaring Twenties Wuthering Heights Young Mr. Lincoln
Whether 1939 was actually the greatest year for films is an argument that I’m personally hesitant to make since 1940 had it’s own list of classics that year including The Grapes of Wrath, The Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday.
But when a lineup includes films like the epic Gone With the Wind, incredible performances in Wuthering Heights and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and a perennial family favorite like The Wizard of Oz, there’s no denying there was something special about the films of 1939. And to commemorate the 75th anniversary of that celebrated year of moviemaking, Fante’s Inferno will revisit some of the classic films released that year in a four-part retrospective that will be posted in conjunction with the quarters in which they were released.
Part one of our retrospective will begin with several notable films released between January and March of 1939: John Ford’s classic Western Stagecoach starring John Wayne; George Stevens’ Gunga Din starring Cary Grant; and Leo McCarey’s twice remade Love Affair starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer.
With Memorial Day coming up on Monday 5/27, I would like to thank all veterans and active members of the armed forces for their service and sacrifice.
Every Memorial Day Weekend my ritual is to check the TV listings for the war movies I grew up watching, classic war films I haven’t seen before, and a Band of Brothers marathon. Judging by this weekend’s TV schedule, most of the films I’ll be watching this weekend will be on Turner Classic Movies and streaming video.
Here’s a list of notable movies this weekend (all times listed are EST):
On Turner Classic Movies:
Saturday, May 25: Sergeant York (1941) 10:30 PM
Sunday, May 26: Back to Bataan (1945) 11:00 AM They Were Expendable (1945) 1:00 PM The Green Berets (1968) 3:30 PM Battleground (1949) 8:00 PM
Monday, May 27: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) 6:15 AM
The Best Years of OurLives (1946) 5:00 PM
On Netflix: The Battle of Britain (1969) Von Ryan’s Express (1965)
On Amazon Instant Video: The Big Red One (1980) Gallipoli (1981) Sahara (1943) Saving Private Ryan (1998) We Were Soldiers (2002) Band of Brothers (2001) Fixed Bayonets (1950)