Tagged: Military

Midway: Charlton Heston’s Naval Aviation Khaki

Charlton Heston as Captain Matthew Garth in Midway

Charlton Heston as CAPT Matthew Garth in Midway (1976)

Vitals

Charlton Heston as CAPT Matthew Garth, U.S. Naval Aviator

Pearl Harbor to Midway Island, Spring 1942

Film: Midway
Release Date: June 18, 1976
Director: Jack Smight

Background

Many familiar with World War II history are familiar with the significance of Monday’s date as, on June 6, 1944, the Allies landed at Normandy in northern France as part of the “D-Day” invasion that laid the groundwork for the eventual Allied victory. Two years earlier, the Americans had been engaged in yet another decisive battle that would turn the tide of the second World War.

The Battle of Midway had commenced 80 years ago today on June 4, 1942, following intelligence gathered by the U.S. Navy that allowed it to prepare for a counterattack against the Imperial Japanese Navy. Three days of battle followed, with American forces destroying all four Japanese fleet carriers that had engaged and—in both a tactical and symbolic victory—had also been part of the six-carrier force that attacked Pearl Harbor six months earlier.

Though the Americans also suffered the loss of a carrier, a destroyer, and approximately 150 aircraft, casualties were considerably higher on the Japanese side (including nearly double the amount of aircraft lost), marking an early turning point of the Pacific War in favor of the Allies and which historian John Keegan has called “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”

In addition to an 18-minute color documentary directed during the battle by John Ford, the Battle of Midway has been the subject of two major movies, mostly recently in 2019. A star-studded retelling of the battle and its lead-up was produced by The Mirisch Company in 1976, starring—among many others—Henry Fonda as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet. Having served in the Navy in real life during World War II, Fonda had actually partly narrated Ford’s 1942 documentary and also appeared as an unnamed admiral inspired by Nimitz in the 1965 epic In Harm’s Way.

The cast was rounded out by both established international stars from Robert Mitchum to Toshiro Mifune and relative newcomers like Dabney Coleman, Erik Estrada, and a non-mustached Tom Selleck. Being made just over 30 years after World War II ended meant a number of actual veterans among its cast; in addition to Fonda, Glenn Ford, Charlton Heston, Hal Holbrook, Cliff Robertson, and Robert Webber had all served.

Though most of its characters are real-life figures, Midway centers around a fictionalized hero in the form of naval aviator CAPT Matthew Garth (Heston), for whom the battle presents the culmination of his increasing personal and professional troubles. Continue reading

Tom Hanks in Greyhound

Tom Hanks as Commander Ernest Krause in Greyhound

Tom Hanks as CDR Ernest Krause in Greyhound (2020)

Vitals

Tom Hanks as CDR Ernest Krause, USN, commanding officer of USS Keeling

North Atlantic Ocean, February 1942

Film: Greyhound
Release Date: July 10, 2020
Director: Aaron Schneider
Costume Designer: Julie Weiss
Military Costume Consultant: Steve McColgan

Background

…the goods will be delivered by this nation, whose Navy believes in the tradition of “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

— Franklin Delano Roosevelt, October 27, 1941

Greyhound begins just over three months after the United States entered World War II and nearly five months after FDR’s address for Navy and Total Defense Day, in which he reinforced with the above words the protection that the U.S. Navy would offer merchant ships carrying supplies to support the Allied war effort. The eponymous “Greyhound” is the codename for USS Keeling, one of the American destroyers assigned to protect a 37-ship convoy on its way to Liverpool.

We join up with the multi-national convoy HX-25 as it enters its first of two days traveling through the “Black Pit”, the area of the North Atlantic considered most vulnerable as it was beyond the range of air cover. Leading the convoy’s military escort from the bridge of USS Keeling is straight-laced Commander Ernest Krause, played by Tom Hanks. Continue reading

William Holden in Stalag 17

In recognition of POW/MIA Day, observed on the third Friday of September, let’s delve into one of the first major movies to shine a light on the POW experience.

William Holden as Staff Sergeant J.J. Sefton in Stalag 17 (1953)

William Holden as Staff Sergeant J.J. Sefton in Stalag 17 (1953)

Vitals

William Holden as J.J. Sefton, USAAF Staff Sergeant and prisoner of war

“Somewhere on the Danube”, December 1944

Film: Stalag 17
Release Date: May 29, 1953
Director: Billy Wilder
Wardrobe Credit: J. Allen Slone

Background

I don’t know about you, but it always makes me sore when I see those war pictures… all about flying leathernecks and submarine patrols and frogmen and guerrillas in the Philippines. What gets me is there never was a movie about POWs… about prisoners of war.

… and so Clarence Harvey Cook (Gil Stratton) begins his narration, setting the scene for the week leading up to Christmas 1944 when he and his fellow downed colleagues discovered a potential informant—er, a “dirty stinkin’ stoolie”—in their barracks.

After two airmen are shot trying to escape, suspicion eventually falls on J.J. Sefton, the cigarette-dealing but cigar-chomping staff sergeant whose cynicism has already rendered him unpopular with most of the Americans aside from Cookie, who serves as Sefton’s unofficial batman and describes him as “one of the most unforgettable ch-characters you’ve ever met.” Continue reading

Apocalypse Now: Robert Duvall as Colonel Kilgore

Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now (1979)

Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now (1979)

Vitals

Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, U.S. Army Air Cavalry commander and surf fanatic

Vietnam, Summer 1969

Film: Apocalypse Now
Release Date: August 15, 1979
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Costume Supervisor: Charles E. James
Costumers: Luster Bayless, Norman A. Burza, Dennis Fill, and George L. Little

Background

Happy 90th birthday, Robert Duvall! Today’s post looks at one of the most recognizable roles from the actor’s prolific career, his Academy Award-nominated performance as the gung-ho surf enthusiast Colonel Kilgore in Coppola’s war epic Apocalypse Now.

Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s you-probably-had-to-read-it-in-high-school novella Heart of DarknessApocalypse Now needs little introduction, nor does Kilgore’s famous monologue celebrating the aromas of incendiary devices after commanding his 9th Cavalry squadron to attack a VC-held village to the tune of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”.

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The Sound of Music: Christopher Plummer’s Flap-Pocket Country Suits

Christopher Plummer as Captain Georg von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965)

Christopher Plummer as Captain Georg von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965)

Vitals

Christopher Plummer as Captain Georg von Trapp, widowed ex-Imperial Austro-Hungarian Navy officer

Salzburg, Austria, Spring 1938

Film: The Sound of Music
Release Date: March 2, 1965
Director: Robert Wise
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins

Background

Happy birthday, Christopher Plummer! Born 91 years ago in Toronto, the distinguished actor continues to be a familiar face on screen, most recently as the doomed mystery writer at the center of Knives Out (2019). Plummer’s most recognizable performance remains arguably that of Georg von Trapp, the Austro-Hungarian patriarch whose family of young singers was depicted in The Sound of Music.

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Battle of Britain: Robert Shaw as Squadron Leader Skipper

Robert Shaw as RAF Squadron Leader "Skipper" in Battle of Britain (1969)

Robert Shaw as RAF Squadron Leader “Skipper” in Battle of Britain (1969)

Vitals

Robert Shaw as “Skipper”, RAF Squadron Leader

England, Summer to Fall 1940

Film: Battle of Britain
Release Date: September 15, 1969
Director: Guy Hamilton
Wardrobe Credit: Bert Henrikson

Background

Although the battle was waged for more than three months in 1940 over British airspace, September 15 has been established as Battle of Britain Day in recognition of the No. 11 Group RAF repelling two waves of German attacks on London. The Germans had instigated their air and sea blockade earlier that summer, followed by Luftwaffe air raids that started with ports and shipping centers, eventually moving further inland to airfields, factories, and ultimately civilian areas. Hitler had intended to gain air superiority over England prior to an invasion dubbed Operation Sea Lion, but a strong national defense from the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy successfully routed the Luftwaffe and prevented this full-scale invasion of the United Kingdom.

This British victory was considered an early turning point in favor of the Allies during World War II that inspired Winston Churchill to famously declare: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

On the 29th anniversary of this famous British defense against Germany in the skies over London, the United Artists war epic Battle of Britain with a star-studded cast including Sir Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Christopher Plummer, and Robert Shaw. The latter portrays a talented and brash Squadron Leader, said to be inspired by South African fighter ace Sailor Malan, commander of No. 74 Squadron RAF during the actual Battle of Britain.

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Elliott Gould’s Aloha Shirt as Trapper John in MASH

Elliott Gould as Captain "Trapper John" McIntyre in M*A*S*H (1970)

Elliott Gould as Captain “Trapper John” McIntyre in M*A*S*H (1970)

Vitals

Elliott Gould as Capt. “Trapper John” McIntyre, irreverent U.S. Army chest surgeon

Korea, Summer 1951

Film: M*A*S*H
Release Date: January 25, 1970
Director: Robert Altman

Background

Before there was Magnum, there was M*A*S*H, in which Elliott Gould set the “Gould standard” for effectively pairing a prolific mustache with an Aloha shirt. Robert Altman’s film was based on the then-recently published MASH: A Novel of Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker, which would in turn be adapted into a long-running TV series that would last almost four times as long as the Korean War itself.

While maverick Army doctor “Hawkeye” Pierce was arguably the central figure (and increasingly the show’s moral fiber, under Alan Alda’s creative direction), I was also fond of his cinematic sidekick, Captain “Trapper John” McIntyre as portrayed by Elliott Gould, born 82 years ago today on August 29, 1938.

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Rock Hudson’s Parka in Ice Station Zebra

Rock Hudson as CDR Jim Ferraday in Ice Station Zebra (1968)

Rock Hudson as CDR Jim Ferraday in Ice Station Zebra (1968)

Vitals

Rock Hudson as James “Jim” Ferraday, U.S. Navy Commander and nuclear submarine captain

The North Pole, Spring 1968

Film: Ice Station Zebra
Release Date: October 23, 1968
Director: John Sturges

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Despite its lukewarm critical reception at its release, Ice Station Zebra was not only among star Rock Hudson’s favorites of his own films, but it also includes among its fans director John Carpenter (who admits it’s somewhat of a guilty pleasure) and Howard Hughes. During the reclusive tycoon’s years hidden away in his penthouse at the Desert Inn hotel, Hughes would supposedly demand that the local Las Vegas TV station that he owned play the movie on loop, eventually owning a private print that he reportedly watched around 150 times on a continuous loop. “We all knew when Hughes was in town,” wrote Paul Anka in his autobiography My Way. “You’d get back to your room, turn on the TV at 2 a.m., and the movie Ice Station Zebra would be playing. At 5 a.m., it would start all over again. It was on almost every night. Hughes loved that movie.”

The object of Hughes’ obsession was based on a 1963 novel by Alistair MacLean, the Scottish author also behind classic military adventures like The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare that were also adapted into movies during the ’60s. Inspired by a few real-life Cold War incidents, the novel was adapted into a screenplay by MacLean as well as Douglas Heyes, Harry Julian Fink, and W.R. Burnett, with a few diversions from and additions to MacLean’s source novel, including the renaming of the leading character from Commander Swanson to Commander Ferraday.

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White Christmas: Captain Wallace on Christmas Eve 1944

Bing Crosby is joined by an exuberant Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954)

Bing Crosby is joined by an exuberant Danny Kaye in White Christmas (1954)

Vitals

Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace, U.S. Army captain and popular entertainer

European Theater, Christmas Eve 1944

Film: White Christmas
Release Date: October 14, 1954
Director: Michael Curtiz
Costume Designer: Edith Head

Background

Merry Christmas Eve! The prologue of perennial holiday cinema classic White Christmas begins exactly 75 years ago today, Christmas Eve 1944, as the title card tells us…

Private First Class Phil Davis is proudly assisting Captain Bob Wallace, evidently a known entertainer on par with Al Jolson, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, or—um—Bing Crosby, as they host a “yuletide clambake” for the men of the fictitious 151st Division, providing the type of entertainment that Davis boasts would cost $6.60 or even $8.80 stateside. Continue reading

Gary Cooper’s Aviator Uniform in Wings (1927)

Gary Cooper as Cadet White in Wings (1927)

Gary Cooper as Cadet White in Wings (1927)

Vitals

Gary Cooper as Cadet White, U.S. Army Aviation Section, Signal Corps aviator

Camp Kelly (San Antonio, Texas), Spring 1917

Film: Wings
Release Date: August 12, 1927
Director: William A. Wellman
Costume Design: Travis Banton & Edith Head (uncredited)

Background

Ninety years ago today, Wings won the first Academy Award for Best Picture—more accurately, the award read “Academy Award for Outstanding Picture.” Though silent movies were still the norm at the time of Wings’ release in August 1927, The Jazz Singer introduced recorded sound to film upon its release two months later, and Wings remains the only true silent film (unless you include The Artist) to take home the Best Picture prize.

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