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Great Escapes

by Melanie Kolbeins - 0 Comment(s)

Of course you can not do any such list without having the quintessential Great Escape from 1963. It is the incredible true story of the mass escape of 76 Allied POWs from Stalag Luft III in March of 1944. This has a huge all-star cast, featuring many of the heavy hitters of the day--- Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn (incidentially McQueen, Bronson and Coburn appeared together in the Magnificent Seven, one of my favorite westerns). This movie appears fairly regularly on television (actually they both do), but if you missed it, or just want to revisit it, now is the time. It is a great story.

Rescue Dawn from 2006. This film tells the real-life story of U.S. fighter pilot Dieter Dengler, a German-American shot down and captured in Laos during the Vietnam War. He was the only known POW to escape from a Laos prison. It features Christian Bale (Batman Begins) as Dengler. Bale looks rail thin here, but not as bad as in The Machinist, a role for which he lost an astonishing 63 pounds. Bale, an actor known for fully embracing his characters (as witnessed by what he regularly puts his body through) does in fact, eat those maggots.

Papillon from 1973 again with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman as inmates of the notorious Devil's Island in French Guiana circa 1930's. This movie was incredibly popular at the time of its release, and being a period piece actually stands up well. Ocassionally a little campy, it still tells a remarkable tale of hardship, endurance and ultimate triumph.

The Killing Fields--- Covering the U.S. pullout from Vietnam in 1975, this is the story of two men---a New York Times correspondent and his Cambodian friend and translator Dith Pran. The reporter coerces his friend to remain behind in order to keep filing news reports. As Saigon falls the correspondent is released, but Pran is captured by the dreaded Khmer Rouge. The rest of the film details Pran's harrowing experiences at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and his attempt to escape. This is an excellent movie but has very graphic scenes of violence.

These first four are all movies based on real life events. For some good fictional 'triumph over adversity' stories, try Cast Away with Tom Hanks from 2000---the plane crash is amazing, as is the self dentistry!

Or how about the popular television series Prison Break from 2005.

Want to get your head bent? Try any or all of the 17 near psychedelic episodes of The Prisoner from 1967. Not into the 60's groove? How about Alexander Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo--- we have two versions---French with Gerard Depardieu and the quite stylish 2003 with Guy Pearce and Jim Caviezel---who is currently starring on tv in a remake of----The Prisoner.

Feeling Mutinous?

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Based on the true story -- albiet a heavily flavored Hollywood retelling -- of Captain Bligh and his crew, Mutiny on the Bounty tells the wonderful story of the harsh life in the British navy circa 1780. It has gone through several big screen reimaginings, going as far back as a silent offering from 1916. Version two 'In the Wake of The Bounty' from 1933 starred Errol Flynn but did not amount to much at the box office. CPL has the excellent 1935 version with the incomparable Charles Laughton as Bligh and Clark Gable as First Mate Christian Fletcher. Sent on a two year mission to bring breadfruit plants from Tahiti, the two protagonists lock horns from the beginning. Dangerous assignments, reduced rations, floggings and an horrific keel-hauling, set the stage for the mutiny. It took home Oscars for Best Picture and Best director in 1935 and was nominated for many others.

For a little different retelling there is the 1962 version with Trevor Howard donning the captain's hat, and a young and intense Brando bringing a completely different take than Gable to the role of Fletcher. For a fifth take on the story there is the 1984 version with Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson, that actually stands up quite well. I would have to say that I have never been able to decide whether I like the 1935 or 1962 version better---they are both among my favorite movies and I watch them again and again.

Although Captain Bligh has come to be synonomous with the cruelty of the duty-obsessed, he was thought by his superiors in the British Navy to be only slightly harsher than he need have been. In fact, the real life Bligh was quite well regarded by his peers and his superiors thought enough of him to decorate him. This was for what is still considered to be one of the most exceptional feats of survival ever. With only a sextant and a pocket watch (no charts, no compass and certainly no GPS !) he successfully navigated across 3600 miles of open ocean in a 23 foot launch, bringing to safety himself and 17 of the 18 members set adrift by the mutineers.

Still feeling mutinous ?

The Caine Mutiny with Humphry Bogart, Van Johnson and Fred McMurray. This tells the modern day tale of another first mate who wrests power away from his captain. In my opinion, one of Bogart's best performances.

Horatio Hornblower: Mutiny I previously reviewed this under Pick of the Week for December 7 2008. It's a good enough series to warrant two mentions.

Damn the Defiantfrom 1962 with Sir Alex Guinness, Dirk Bogarde and yet more cat o' nine tails and navy battles.

And although not about mutiny, but a good swashbuckling tale nontheless, try Master and Commander with Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany from 2003.

Acting Under Orders

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I've chosen 5 movies to look at this week that examine the sometimes disastrous, even murderous orders given in war. Whether done for the right reason and things just go terribly wrong, or done for the wrong reasons, like blind ambition, these films tell the stories of the men who pay the ultimate price for acting or failing to act under orders. These movies have an impressive 40 plus nominations from the Oscars, BAFTAS, Golden Globes, and Cannes Film Festival---and many wins.

Glory 1981

Matthew Broderick heads an all star cast including Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes, Andre Braugher and Denzel Washington (in an Academy Award winning performance for best supporting actor). Colonel Robert Shaw (Broderick) commands the first all black volunteer company to fight in the civil war. Not just up against the prejudices of the south, they must also overcome difficulties amongst themselves and the men in charge of training and leading them. I watch this movie regularly--- excellent story, solid performances, wonderful cinematography and a haunting sound track.

Das boot 1989

This Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Film tells the story of a U boat crew in 1942. The filming is so close and tight you almost experience claustrophobia. The result is a tense, mesmerizing portrayal of what it must have been like in these submerged death traps. The tag line for the movie was "Hitler sent out 40,000 men aboard German U-Boats during World War 2. Less than 10,000 returned." This movie has sub-titles.

Gallipoli 1981

Starring a very young Mel Gibson early in his career. Two young Aussies join the ANZAC forces in WW 1 and are eventually sent to fight the Turkish army at Gallipoli. What ensues is one of the bloodiest battles of WW 1- with losses (Australian, New Zealand, British, French and Turkish) estimated to be anywhere from 500,000 to 800,000-- just to secure a beach head of a few kilometers. One of my fellow bloggers finds this movie 'ham-fisted' but I have seen it more than once and find it worth the two hours.

Paths of Glory 1957

Stanley Kubrick directs Kirk Douglas in this gripping WW 1 story about a French unit commander (Douglas), an egotistical, self righteous general and the enlisted men who must suffer the consequences of their failure to follow orders.

Breaker Morant 1980

This Australian film tells the story of 3 Aussie lieutenants on trial by a British Military Court. They are charged with shooting prisoners during the Boer War (1901) in the Transvaal Republic. At court they attempt to prove that they had not done so willingly but rather had been ordered to do so by their superiors.

Answers to the post from February 21st. Scroll down to see the questions, and another twenty from an earlier post.

  1. Jaws
  2. Field of Dreams
  3. Streetcar Named Desire
  4. Apollo 13
  5. Annie Hall
  6. Psycho
  7. Godfather
  8. Dracula
  9. Almost every James Bond
  10. Star Trek-Wrath of Khan
  11. Dead Poets Society
  12. Rocky
  13. Citizen Kane
  14. Marathon Man
  15. On the Waterfront
  16. Godfather
  17. Wall Street
  18. When Harry Met Sally
  19. Grand Hotel
  20. Sunset Boulevard