Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

It always seems weird to me that a festive occasion should be called “Memorial Day.” The purpose of the day is to pay tribute to the men and women of our armed forces who have given their lives for our freedom. There is a national cemetery near my home and every Memorial Day American flags are posted in front of all the tombstone. It’s a startling sight – endless rows of matching white gravestones with American flags. When my kids were teenagers they helped plant the flags.

Having served in the Armed Forces Reserves, I've always considered myself incredibly lucky that I didn't have to fight in a war.  Back in those days we were drafted.  And it's all the more reason to give thanks to our current military personnel.  Not only are they there putting themselves in harm's way in awful hellholes, but they volunteered.  And they have a Commander-in-Chief who is out of his mind.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of participating in the Veterans Retreat Weekend put on by the WGA.  Returning vets worked in small groups with professional writers who served as mentors.  It was amazing how talented these people were.  And the stories they had to tell -- wow.

Maybe a cool thing to do today is watch some war movies.   And they don't have to be horrifically gruesome (although SAVING PRIVATE RYAN should be on the top of your must-see list).  CASABLANCA is a war movie of sorts.  And there are comedies like MASH.  APOCALYPSE NOW really captures the absurdity of war (and has some amazing performances), and if you've never seen Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY you will be blown away.

Others worth seeing are FULL METAL JACKET, SGT. YORK, PATTON, THE HURT LOCKER, THE DIRTY DOZEN, THREE KINGS, DEER HUNTER, and a film with one of my favorite titles ever -- DUCK, YOU SUCKER.

All terrific, and I'm sure you have your own, but my all-time never-to-be-topped favorite war movie is BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI.   It's David Lean's three-hour masterpiece starring Alec Guinness and William Holden.  It's not just one of the greatest war films ever made, it's one of the greatest movies PERIOD ever made.   And it's in Cinemascope!

Have a wonderful day. I plan to too. But I will be thinking about those flags.

30 comments :

Paul Dushkind said...

Regard this as a Friday question. How did it come to be that Admiral Crowe, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, became a guest star on Cheers? That has to be the strangest choice of a guest appearance on a TV show ever.

Earl Boebert said...

I would add to your list Sam Fuller's THE BIG RED ONE. Make sure you hunt up the restored version. Fuller and Marvin were combat veterans and it shows. The complete absurdity of war is encapsulated in the final scene.

Another little-known classic is A WALK IN THE SUN.

Mike said...

The Bridge on the River Kwai is one of my favorite movies. And I'm distressed at how few people under the age of 40 have even heard of it.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I know veterans made great sacrifices and have helped us live the lives we do. But I hate war in all its forms (probably not as much as many of them do), and can't imagine watching war movies as an appropriate memorial. Why not instead celebrate the freedom and peace they won for us? Including the right to protest?

wg

VincentS said...

Very well said, Ken. I never say, "Happy Memorial Day," because it sounds too weird. Some other great war movies that show, as William Goldman said, "war sucks," are THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI, THE BIG RED ONE, and A BRIDGE TOO FAR.

kent said...

The Great Escape. Everyone was in it.

Anonymous said...

I love the quiet, languid pace of David Lean films, especially Doctor Zhivago, Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. You can still get that type of pacing from Malicks films. It's nice to still be able to "settle in" to a film like those; a welcome change from all the blasting/shoot em up/action films.

Sean

Peter said...

A movie I strongly recommend is Sophie Scholl, which tells the heartbreaking true story of a brave German girl who formed an underground resistance group in Nazi Germany. Beautifully acted, moving and devastating, it's a tribute to someone most people haven't heard of but whose sacrifice is a lesson in decency against evil.

A more recent recommendation is Robert Zemeckis's Allied. A terrific old fashioned wartime thriller.

Not strictly a war movie but you can't go wrong with Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Indy killing Nazis.

Peter said...

P.S. I hope you watched the latest Twin Peaks and enjoyed the hilarious appearance of Wally Brando.

Mike Barer said...

George C Scott's opening in Patton was classic. Just the power of that portrayal and even though the movies was accused of glorifying war (reality I think it also pointed it's absurdities, just not in a comedic way), Scott became Patton. My image of Patton will always be George C. Scott.

Mibbitmaker said...

I usually watch animated cartoons from the WWII era, appreciating the sentiment from a just war (on our side, of course) while regretting the ethnic and racial caricatures all too popular during that time period.

We were shown Bridge On The River Kwai in junior high school around 1975, and I'd seen it a couple times since.

As for TV, the two M*A*S*H shows I watch on, and are perfect for, this day are "Sometimes You Hear The Bullet" and the aforementioned "Abyssinia, Henry".

Buttermilk Sky said...

Since Memorial Day began during the Civil War, I would add GLORY. Denzel's Oscar but an even better performance by Morgan Freeman.

TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH is one of the few Gregory Peck movies I can watch with pleasure, as the hard-driving general seems to mesh with his stiff personality. I like him better as a nasty SOB than as Atticus Finch.

Wartime comedies seldom work for me, but there are comic elements in A BRIDGE TOO FAR, the story of the Allied disaster known as Market Garden. Pay special attention to Michael Caine.

Anonymous said...

Sam Peckinpah's "Cross of Iron" with James Coburn, Maximillian Schell and James Mason is another one, but from a German point of view...

Joe K said...

Twelve o'clock high, written by two combat veterans, best showing of what it was like to be a member of the 8th Air Force in ww-2,
Best years of our life, outstanding movie showing the readjustment problems returning vets had.
Joe

Anonymous said...


Ken, the Commander in Chief remark was gratuitous on Memorial Day.
A day for remembrance, not for politics.

Earl Boebert said...

Re: Patton. Actually, Patton had a high, squeaky voice and there's (IIRC) only one recording of him extant. Think of that George C. Scott speech being delivered by Truman Capote and you'll get the idea. It's actually scarier.

Eric J said...

I searched Netflix for Paths of Glory. This was included in the description:

"Recommended based on your interest in Taxi Driver, Chinatown and Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

Nothing like targeted recommendations.

Mike Moody said...

My favorite war movie, by far -- and my choice of viewing this evening -- American Sniper.

Tim G said...

To Anonymous, who objects to Ken's mention of the commander in chief as gratuitous. Making that statement is political, at odds with your supposed objection. Now go have one of Ivanka Trump's champagne popsicles to honor the fallen, whoever you are.

Ken, thank you for your service. And for the deep humanism (with a twist) that always informs your columns.

Pat Reeder said...

I agree with Anonymous that Memorial Day shouldn't be politicized. But as long it's been done, it should be noted that military members voted for Trump over Clinton by a 2-1 margin. http://www.cnn.com/election/results/exit-polls/national/president

Also, while "Bridge on the River Kwai" is a great piece of filmmaking, many British World War II veterans were angered by it. It's a fictionalized story, based on a novel based on a true incident. Some (including even Alec Guinness) thought the character he portrayed was unpatriotic in his zeal to prove that his men could build a bridge better than the Japanese, regardless of the consequences, while the real British officer in that position had done everything possible to sabotage the project from the get-go.

James Mellicant said...

Battleground (1949) and Twelve O'Clock High (1949) are my two favorite WWII movies.

mdv59 said...

I'd add this years' Best Picture Nominee "Hacksaw Ridge", the heroic story of a conscientious objector.

James Mellicant said...

Battleground (1949) and Twelve O'clock High (1949) are my two favorite WWII movies. Also The Red Badge of Courage with Audie Murphy.

Wally said...


Aside:
Billion Dollar Kiss is worth a read for anyone that wants to delve into the business & marketing side of TV - but also the writing.

Louis Burklow said...

There are so many great war movies listed here. I want to add one of my own personal favorites, one largely forgotten today: The Story of GI Joe. This movie based on Ernie Pyle's World War II columns detailing the troops he met is subtle, so much so that any death is even more powerful. It was directed by World War I veteran William A. "Wild Bill" Wellman but don't let that fool you; it's not some prototype for "The Green Berets." Watch it to see Robert Mitchum's only Oscar-nominated performance.

Earl Boebert said...

Re: Twelve O'Clock High. When I went through USAF Officer Training School in 1962 (just in time for the Cuban Missile Crisis -- interesting times), that movie was part of the curriculum. Stuck with me ever since.

Unknown said...

The Green Beret is another must see.

MikeKPa. said...

I always enjoy THE DIRTY DOZEN. Great cast and script. Although it's post-war, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES is another movie I never tire of.

ScottyB said...

They weren't blockbusters by any means, but 'Hamburger Hill' and 'The Boys in Company C' have stuck with me. (Re 'Hamburger': Courtney B. Vance's acting is always pretty awesome to watch, whatever he's in.)

SharoneRosen said...

AND, it had that great whistling theme music!

(Bridge over the River Kwai, that is..)