Lex’s Favorite War Movies VII: The Dam Busters

The Dam Busters is one of those classics I never got around to seeing. I finally saw it today, and it immediately gets classed as a favorite.

I was familiar with the story, from reading David Jablonski’s two volume Air War; when I was, I am guessing, twelve years old. I have sitting on my shelf Paul Brickhill’s book, entitled the Dam Busters. I have not read it yet, but back in my teen years I read his excellent books, The Great Escape, which the movie was based on, and his Reach for the Sky, the story of the legless Spitfire pilot, Douglas Bader.

There is a good synopsis of the movie on Wikipedia. The essence of the story is this. It is during the dark hours of World War II. that British inventor Barnes Wallis has figured out a way to destroy certain dams in Germany that provide water and hydroelectric power to the Ruhr, by “skipping” bombs off the water like you skip stones across a pond.. Wallis has to convince the government to let him do it. Then, a squadron has to be assembled, the men gathered and trained, the specially modified aircraft supplied. Then, the raid has to be carried out, successfully but at great cost. The squadron commander Guy Gibson was played by Richard Todd. Todd was a good actor, who according to the Wikipedia article, was Ian Fleming’s first pick to play James Bond. Michael Redgrave gave a solid, understated performance as Barnes Wallis.

The whole thing is done in a very straightforward style, without a lot of unnecessary emoting. This is pre-Diana Britain, thank Heavens.

The actual attack was damaging to the Germans, but not as devastating as hoped, which is almost the entire Allied bomber offensive in a nutshell.

The theme music became an instant classic, and can be heard on this clip.

(Links to earlier war movies posts here.)

Taking a Chance

Anyone out there ever see Being There (1979)?

The film starred the late great Peter Sellers as a mentally challenged gardener named Chance. Born and raised on the estate of a reclusive rich man, he spent his entire time working with plants and watching TV. When his patron dies, he is cast out into a world that he has only observed through the far remove of television. One would expect that this babe in the woods would soon come to a untimely end.

But the plot is a comedy instead of a tragedy. The main character’s bovine placidity is mistaken for gravitas, his confusion is seen as deep thought, and the occasional cryptic non sequiturs that he utters are heralded as the most precious of wisdom. Chance, the extremely simple gardener, is mistaken as Chauncey Gardener, a successful entrepreneur and man of the world who was brought low by a hostile business environment. It doesn’t take long before the movers and shakers in the world take notice, and congregate to pay homage.

The movie ends with a cabal of political heavyweights deciding that they need to nominate this barely functional idiot for President. The fact that there is no public record of his past life is seen as a boon, since there would be no skeletons in his closet or past scandals to unexpectedly torpedo the campaign.

Isn’t this pretty much the problem that the Democrats have been struggling with for the past few elections?

The Dems nominated John Kerry back in 2004, thinking that his past military service would endear him to patriotic voters. But they weren’t able to erase the memory and recordings of extremely hateful remarks he made in the past, remarks where he accused every single one of the soldiers he served with as being war criminals. Instead of showing Kerry as being a patriotic fellow American, his service was then perceived as a shameless ploy to gain legitimacy before embarking on a political career based on scorn for the very values he was supposed to hold so dear. Incidents during his Presidential campaign also went a long way towards convincing the swing voters that he was actually something of a son of a bitch.

It was obvious that having Kerry wrap himself in the flag during the campaign didn’t work because he showed such contempt for his country at the beginning of his political career, and his own prickly and elitist personality put off a lot of people who were willing to give that a pass. What the Dems needed was a leader who had no skeletons in his closet. They needed someone with enough charisma so everyone could mistake empty platitudes as being profound, confusion at the outside world would be seen as deep thought, and calm placidity would be mistaken for being approachable and friendly.

Just as obviously, Hillary didn’t fit this description in any way.

The first time I heard of Barack Obama was when he threw his hat in the ring to become President, and the first thing that struck me when I started to look in to his qualifications was just how unqualified he was for the job. Seven years in the Illinois state Senate, four years in Washington, and someone actually thinks this guy can be trusted with the crushing responsibility of helming our ship of state for four years? It became clear to me what the Dems were trying to pull when I came across an old VHS copy of Being There while cleaning out one of my closets.

The analogy isn’t exact, of course. The main character in the film was a moron, while Obama is a highly educated and intelligent man. Chance the gardener fell into his enviable position through sheer luck, while Obama has worked tirelessly for decades to achieve his success.

But I bet that the Dems would prefer someone like Chance, since Obama is too smart to shut up when he is supposed to.

Does this spell the end of Obama’s chances to be elected President? Dunno. It is a long time before the election, or even the end of the Democratic primaries. Just about anything can happen. But I bet that right about now the Dems are wishing that they went with moron who sounded like an educated man, instead of the reverse.

Cloverfield

Go see it. Five stars. I loved it.

New York gets whacked again, this time by some kind of alien assault. If you remember 9/11, this will look familiar.

The movie gives a picture of what it would look like if open conflict occurred in America. Could happen.

The movie harks back to many classics: Alien, War of the Worlds, Godzilla, Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, others I haven’t thought of yet. There is definitely an H.P. Lovecraft element to it, as well. In its way it is a cinematic homage to the unhallowed but totally great B-List of Hollywood SF and disaster films.

Hollywood lost a fortune depicting the American Army as a bunch of rapists and war criminals. This movie shows the Army going straight on against some God-awful things from outer space (I suppose), with cold professionalism. The fantasy film is closer to the reality of what the Army does — put its life at risk to kill America’s enemies, whether human or alien.

The (main) monster was cool. Query: If tank main-gun rounds couldn’t put the thing away, maybe it is made of some kind of alien gelatin, like Cthulhu, and the shells just go throught it? Only directorial misstep: showing the monster too clearly. Better to have left it at glimpses.

The movie also has a good depiction of a metrosexual yuppie guy acting like a man amidst danger and destruction, when the chips are down. Nice to see that, too.

This movie says more things about America that are true than most of what is packaged as slice-of-life drama.

I hope it makes a fortune for the people who made it. I am sure it will do a raging business in the Middle East, where the sight of New York being blown-up is a proven crowd-pleaser, and the audiences can cheer for the monsters.