Night at the Movies


As movie theaters open up across the country, the Italian American Veterans Museum will continue to offer stay-at-home options. Reviews will be written by museum board members and all films will have a military theme. We hope you enjoy our recommendations. (Links that work at the time of posting may no longer work by the time you click on them. Please email us at info@iavmuseum.org if you run into trouble.)


Jim Nabors, in a 1964 episode of Gomer, U.S.M.C., getting chewed out by Frank Sutton as Gunnery Sgt. Vince Carter.

“Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”

During the 1960s and early 1970s, television’s evening news brought the Vietnam War home to America, in real time and in living color.  While Vietnam was proving to be the country’s most unpopular war, a strange phenomenon was occurring. With Americans fighting and dying overseas, military-themed TV shows were a hit with audiences back home.

Some of the more popular ones were “Combat” (1962 to 1967), “McHale’s Navy” (1962 to 1966), “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” (1964 to 1969), “12 O’Clock High” (1964 to 1967) and “Hogan’s Heroes” (1965 to 1971). All but “Gomer Pyle” were set in WW II.

Gomer Pyle took place in contemporary times. Jim Nabors introduced the character on “The Andy Griffith Show” and studio execs gave him his own series by having him join the Marines. Paired with Frank Sutton as Gunnery Sergeant Vince Carter, we follow Pyle to Boot Camp and beyond. Country bumpkin Pyle drives Carter crazy. He’s the square peg Carter must fit into a round hole. This creates endless comedic scenarios, making for a lighthearted comedy within a military context, but one totally out of touch with its time.

The Vietnam War cost the Marine Corps 101,600 combat casualties, of which 13,607 were fatalities, yet any reference to the war was conspicuously absent from the show. NCOs and officers wore combat decorations, but none related to service in Vietnam. During its five seasons, the word Vietnam is never mentioned. For Gomer, the war didn’t exist.

The show received full cooperation from the Marine Corps. The opening scenes were shot at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, California, using real Marines. Nabors would later say he had difficulty watching those scenes, because several of the Marines used in the filming were killed in Vietnam.

Perhaps because of this cooperation, the show’s writers complied with the Marines’ desire to eliminate any reference to Vietnam.  Gomer remained comfortably stationed in California for the duration. The closest the show ever came to acknowledging the war was in its last season. In episode 146 out of 150, which aired on March 28, 1969, Gomer befriended a group of hippies who give him “peace beads” and Gomer sings “Blowing in The Wind.” Incidentally, one of the hippies was played by Rob Reiner, who two years later achieved stardom as Archie Bunker’s son-in-law in the TV series “All In The Family.”

Of Note: Frank Sutton, born in 1923, tried to enlist in the Marines during WW II, but didn’t pass the physical. Subsequently drafted into the Army, he saw extensive combat in the South Pacific, participated in several assault landings in the Philippines and was decorated with the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart for wounds received in action.  For their unwavering support and service to the Marine Corps, visiting and entertaining at numerous hospitals, bases, and Vietnam itself during the height of the war, Nabors and Sutton were accorded the rare distinction of being awarded the title, Honorary Marine.

— Steve Corbo

To view the portion of “The Andy Griffith Show” that served as the pilot for “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” click here.

To view episode 1, Season 1 of “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” click here.


“Downfall”

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, this 2004 film takes us into the madness of Adolf Hitler’s Fuhrerbunker in the last weeks of WW II. As the Russians surround Berlin, we journey into a delusional subterranean world where Hitler and his cronies are living out the last days of the Third Reich.

This film is unique because it is told from the perspective of Traudl Junge who, at the age of 22, became Hitler’s personal secretary. She joins the Fuhrer’s staff in 1942, nine years after Hitler came to power and just in time to witness his and Germany’s destruction. Junge is movingly portrayed by Romanian-born actress Alexandra Maria Lara, but the film opens with footage of the real Junge. Then 80 years old, she is at odds with herself for failing to understand the regime she was working for and the crimes against humanity they were perpetrating, while she wonders how fate could have taken her on a journey she never wanted.

Hitler is portrayed brilliantly by Bruno Gans. The Swiss born Gans, who passed away in 2019, turns in a believable performance as a man breaking down physically and psychologically under unrelenting pressure of knowing that his personal, political and ideological demise is imminent. Gans even looks like Hitler.

In “Downfall,” we witness a Hitler who is completely out of touch with reality. He orders his Generals to attack with non-existent armies, waits for reinforcements that never arrive, all while his most loyal aids plot their escape from what will soon become their coffin. Having given up all hope of survival, many in the bunker turn to drunken partying culminating in suicide, while others, like Junge, broke through the Russian lines and into the hands of the Western allies.

Ulrich Matthes and Corinna Harfouch deliver chilling portrayals of Joseph and Magda Goebbels. Both were ardent Nazis, he as the Minister of Propaganda, and both refused to leave Hitler’s side. With the Russians encircling Berlin, they move with their six children, ages 4 through 12, into the bunker. After Hitler’s suicide, Goebbels and his wife poisoned their six children and took their own lives.

Subtitled in English, the film was nominated for an Academy Award as “Best Foreign Language Film.” It won the BBC Four World Cinema competition and was ranked  No. 48 in Empire Magazine’s “The Best 100 Films of World Cinema.” Perhaps the UK’s Channel 4 summed it up best, by simply stating, “It’s a happy ending. He dies.”

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To watch the movie, click here.

For a scene from the movie, click here.

For a brief documentary related to that scene, click here.


“Somebody Up There Likes Me”

This 1956 movie, directed by Robert Wise, is based on the autobiography by boxer Rocky Graziano. Starring Paul Newman as Rocky and Pier Angeli as his wife, it also features appearances by Sal Mineo and Steve McQueen.

Raised on New York’s Lower East Side, Rocky was a gang member and criminal by his early teens. As a child, his father made him fight for the entertainment of adults in the neighborhood. He soon developed a talent for knocking down anybody that stood in his way. In and out of reform schools, Rocky was on a fast track to the graveyard or the penitentiary. If you thought his stint in the Army might straighten him out, think again.

Despite his lengthy criminal record, he was drafted during WW II. The Army didn’t have a chance. He refused to train, was constantly in trouble and when push came to shove, he shoved back hard. He crossed the line when he beat up his commanding officer. Now in serious trouble, Rocky went AWOL back to the streets of New York. Hiding out and wanted by the authorities, he wandered into Stillman’s Gym hoping to make a couple of bucks as a sparring partner. As he prepared to climb into the ring to face a pro fighter, he’s told to make sure he has the protective cup all boxers wear. Unfamiliar with the world of pro boxing, Rocky replies, “I don’t need no cup, I’ll drink out of the bottle.”  He then proceeds to knock the other fighter out with his sledgehammer right hand.

Rocky embarked on a career as a pro boxer, but he was on the run and couldn’t fight under his own name. So, Thomas Rocco Barbella became Rocky Graziano. It wasn’t long before word got around about the dynamite-fisted middleweight. Rocky was soon arrested and turned over to military authorities. He was court martialed for desertion, given a dishonorable discharge, and sentenced to prison at Leavenworth. Released from prison, he returns to New York and to the ring. He met his future wife, who believed in him and encouraged him when the whole world seemed against him. Bolstered by her love and his winning ways in the ring, he turned his life around, joined the “legit world” and was soon a top-rated fighter.

The movie takes us through his rise in the ring to his fight with “The Man of Steel” Tony Zale for the Middleweight Championship. In one of the most vicious fights in boxing history, Graziano gets knocked out by Zale in the 6th round. Undeterred, Rocky gets a rematch 10 months later, but not before an ex-con tries to blackmail him and destroy his career. The rematch took place in the Chicago Stadium and was recognized by Ring Magazine as the “Fight of The Year.” Rocky Graziano, the dead-end kid with a nowhere future, knocked out Zale in the 6th round to become Middleweight Champion of the World. The movie ends with a parade through the streets of the Lower East Side, welcoming home the conquering hero. Rocky looks up to the heavens and says, “Somebody up there likes me.” His wife adds, “somebody down here, too.”

The movie was a box office and critical hit, winning two of three Academy Award nominations (Best Cinematography, Black-and-White and Best Art Direction, Set Decoration, Black-and-White). It was also nominated by the American Film Institute as one of the top 10 sports films of all time. This movie is worth watching just to see the breakout performance of a young Paul Newman. Originally James Dean was cast to play Rocky, but his death resulted in Newman getting the part.

— Steve Corbo

To view a trailer featuring co-star Jinx Falkenberg, click here.

To view a trailer with a soundtrack by David Bowie, click here.

To watch the movie for free, click here.

To purchase the DVD, click here.

To purchase the book on which the movie is based, click here.


“All Quiet on the Western Front”

The 1928 novel by former soldier Erich Maria Remarque is considered by many to be the greatest anti-war work of the 20th century, if not of all time. A product of Remarque’s experiences as a German Infantryman in WW I, this timeless story has twice been adapted into a motion picture by U.S. studios, first in 1930 and again in a 1979 made-for-TV movie.

The 1930 version, directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Lew Ayres, was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning Best Picture and Best Director. The later version, directed by Delbert Mann and starring Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner Richard Thomas and Academy Award winner Ernest Borgnine, was also a critical success, winning a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Made for Television and an Emmy for Outstanding Film Editing.

Each movie opens by telling us that “It will try simply to tell of a generation of men, who even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.”  From there we follow idealistic schoolboy Paul Baumer and his classmates from their small German village into the German Army at the onset of WW I. We accompany them through training and finally into the horrendous slaughter of WW I’s trench warfare. They are assigned to a squad led by Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky. A grizzled veteran, “Kat” tries to teach the boys all they need to know to survive in combat. But it is not enough to save them from the physical and psychological ravages they are doomed to endure.

Although told from the German soldiers’ point of view, its universal condemnation of war made it an international success. In perhaps an unintended validation, both the book and movie were banned, and actually burned in 1930s Germany. They were deemed unpatriotic and not in keeping with the spirit of the Third Reich as the Nazi regime was preparing its people for war.

As a side note: Partially due to the aftereffect of making the movie, actor Lew Ayres declared himself a conscientious objector in WW II. This was at a time when Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable and many of Hollywood’s biggest stars were volunteering for service. Thought to be a coward, Ayres was shunned in Hollywood, and MGM Studios dropped his contract. What was not known was that Ayres told his draft board, “I would like to be of service to my country in a constructive way and not a destructive way.” He volunteered for service overseas, serving as an Army medic and a chaplain’s assistant, earning three Battle Stars in the South Pacific.  Although he did not carry a weapon, Ayres saw extensive combat, principally in the Battle of Leyte in the Philippines. True to his convictions, he donated 100 percent of his Army pay to The American Red Cross!

— Steve Corbo

To view a trailer of the 1930 version and purchase the video, click here.

To view the 1979 version free in its entirety, click here.

 


“The Package”

Set in the midst of the Cold War, this 1989 spy thriller takes place in Berlin and the United Sates, but with the exception of the opening scene in Berlin, it was filmed entirely in and around Chicago.

Directed by Andrew Davis, the talent-laden cast includes two-time Academy Award winner Gene Hackman as Green Beret Master Sergeant Johnny Gallagher, Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones as assassin Thomas Boyette, Academy Award nominee Joanna Cassidy as Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Gallagher and Emmy nominate John Heard as Colonel Glen Whitacre. It also features appearances by Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Pam Grier along with Golden Globe and Emmy winner Dennis Franz. (Note: Gene Hackman served in the United States Marine Corps, in China, Japan and Hawaii, and Dennis Franz, a native of west suburban Maywood and graduate of Proviso East High School, was drafted into the Army and saw extensive combat in Viet Nam with the 82nd Airborne Division.)

The movie centers around a rogue group of high-ranking American and Soviet military officers who are bent on making their own foreign policy despite the desires of their respective countries.

With arms limitation talks going on between the two superpowers, they undertake the assassination of the Soviet General Secretary while he is attending a meeting in Chicago. Jones, an assassin in the “black world” of espionage is smuggled into the United States under the guise of a U.S. soldier being sent back to be court martialed. Hackman, totally unaware of the unfolding plot, is assigned to escort a “package” from Berlin back to the United States. That “package” is Jones.

In addition to actual images of a divided Berlin, scenes in Chicago appear throughout the movie. Thanks to some movie magic, a U.S. Kaserne (military base) in Germany is so authentic, it seems to have been shot on location. It was actually shot at The Altenheim in Forest Park, just down the street from Franz’s high school alma mater.

This movie is a personal favorite. A fast-paced, thought-provoking thriller with an outstanding cast, it is well worth the investment in time to watch it in its entirety.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To view the movie, click here.


“The Blue Max”

Released in 1966, this WW I adventure was directed by John Gillermin and stars George Peppard, James Mason and Ursula Andress. These three “A” listers alone would have ensured the movie’s success, but what made it a cut above the rest was the magnificently directed aerial combat scenes.

Peppard plays German infantry soldier Bruno Stachel, who is mired at the start of the movie in the mud, blood and the massive, impersonal death of static trench warfare on the Western Front. He manages to escape this living hell and wrangle a transfer to the German Air Service, where he becomes a pilot and receives a commission as lieutenant. Overnight, he leaves the filth and stench of the trenches to join a flying squadron billeted in a chalet that houses the aristocracy of the German military, who toast their dead comrades with champagne! It’s a rough adjustment for Stachel. When asked why he isn’t toasting the death of a squadron mate, he says, “Perhaps it’s force of habit. In the trenches, we couldn’t even bury the dead; there were too many of them. I’ve never had the time … to discuss them over a glass of champagne.”

With his humble origins as a simple soldier, Stachel is obsessed with proving himself their equal by shooting down enough enemy aircraft to win the coveted Blue Max, Germany’s highest decoration for valor. Stachel proves to be a brilliant yet ruthless pilot who will let nobody stand in his way. All the while, he’s carrying on a running feud with his commanding officer and having an affair with a general’s wife: two moves not considered “career enhancing” for a young lieutenant in an Army!

Hollywood melodrama aside, what truly lifts this movie are the magnificent flight scenes, including a deadly game of aerial “chicken” between Stachel and his chief rival, who has already earned the Blue Max. This incredible scene, where both pilots fly under a bridge, was filmed 55 years ago, in real time, with real pilots flying real aircraft. The flight scenes alone make “The Blue Max” well worth watching, earning it a spot as one of the all-time greats of its genre.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To watch the movie for free, click here.

To purchase the movie, click here.

To view Peppard’s plane in action today, click here.


“Soldier in the Rain”

This 1963 gem had the misfortune of premiering just five days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. With America still deeply in mourning, it never received the attention it deserved. Directed by Ralph Nelson and based on a book by Academy Award-winning author William Goldman, it stars Jackie Gleason in a dramatic role as Army Master Sergeant Maxwell Slaughter. The talent-heavy cast includes Steve McQueen as his sidekick Sergeant Eustis Clay; a 20-year-old Tuesday Weld as Gleason’s girlfriend, Bobby Jo Pepperdine; character actor Tom Poston; and Adam West, who went on to greater fame as Batman. Also featured is 22-year-old Chris Noel as McQueen’s girlfriend.  This was the first of many roles for Noel, but her true claim to fame was as the “Voice of Vietnam,” the nickname she acquired because of her Armed Forces Network radio show, which was broadcast to U.S. troops and earned her millions of adoring fans during the war.

The film takes place in peacetime on a Southern Army post in between the Korean and Vietnam wars. The actual filming location was Ft. Ord, California. Slaughter is a career Army sergeant. Bright and articulate, he knows his way around the Army and he knows how to play the game. He is idolized by his sidekick, a not so bright draftee who is about to finish his hitch in the Army and return to civilian life. While Slaughter’s main concern centers around his creature comforts, including Butter Brickle ice cream and endlessly working crossword puzzles, Clay is full of get-rich-quick schemes. He is determined to get Slaughter to leave the Army and join him in some sort of business venture, where they’ll surely make millions. Part of his plan includes introducing Slaughter, who has found a home in the Army, to the charms of civilian life via the golf course and setting him up with a girl.

Certainly a drama, there are several comedic scenes that come off well, as does the chemistry between Gleason, Weld and McQueen. There is also an exceptionally realistic barroom brawl that sets up the movie’s conclusion. This movie is definitely worth watching, as is listening to the music by Henry Mancini. The title track is a classic in its own right.

— Steve Corbo

To purchase the DVD, click here.

To view a clip, click here.

To view another clip, click here.

To listen to the title track, click here.

For a clip of Chris Noel entertaining the troops, click here.


“No Time for Sergeants”

With World War II and the Korean War safely in the past, the period sandwiched between them and the Vietnam War was a time for military comedies. On television there was “The Phil Silvers Show,” aka “Sergeant Bilko,” and on the big screen there was “No Time for Sergeants.”

This 1958 release came with a cast of several young actors who went on to greater fame. They included Andy Griffith in the starring role of country bumpkin Will Stockdale; a pre-Barney Fife Don Knotts; a pre-Johnny Yuma Nick Adams; a pre-Cpl. Max Klinger Jamie Farr; and Raymond Bailey, who would make a name for himself as banker Milburn Drysdale in “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

The movie follows the comedic exploits of Stockdale and his compatriots as they face the rigors of Air Force Basic Training. During the induction process, Stockdale completes a medical questionnaire and is asked “Have you ever broken any bones?” To which he replies, “I broke a leg bone once.” Then adds, “He still limps a bit, the feller whose leg bone I broke.”

Eventually Stockdale gets inducted, classified and endures a stint as “Permanent Latrine Orderly,” which he considers a promotion. He graduates from Basic Training along with his sidekick Ben, played by Adams. After some unauthorized hijinks, they both are transferred into the Infantry.

A breezy comedy presented at a time when the American public was ready for a lighthearted look at the military, it was a box office smash. What’s most fun about watching this movie in 2021 are the performances by Griffith, Knotts, Adams and Farr: four young, unknown actors who were about to break through to superstardom.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.
(The above link also allows you to rent or buy the video from YouTube.)

For other options to rent or buy, click here.

To view a scene from the movie, click here.

To buy the novel upon which the movie was based, click here.

To view a television production based on the book, click here.


“The Messenger”

This 2009 release stars Ben Foster as Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery and Woody Harrelson as Captain Tony Stone, two U.S. Army soldiers detailed with the unenviable task of making in-person notifications to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq. This critically acclaimed movie won several awards and earned Woody Harrelson Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations in the category of Best Supporting Actor. But because of its utterly heartbreaking storyline, a dark subject matter seldom addressed by Hollywood and a release while U.S. troops were still fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, this movie has not played to a wide audience.

Foster and Harrelson must avoid all physical contact with the next of kin they are charged with notifying and Harrelson instructs Foster, “In case you feel like offering a hug or something, don’t.” We accompany them as they go from family to family, delivering news nobody wants to receive. We see the emotional toll it takes on the families while we witness Foster and Harrelson fighting to contain their own emotions and maintain their military bearing as the worlds of those around them crumble. We also bear witness as Foster and Harrelson struggle with PTSD, a residual effect of their combat experience that’s triggered by their challenging assignment. Veteran character actor Steve Buscemi gives a brief, haunting performance as the father of a young soldier killed in Iraq.

This is not a feel-good movie, but it is worth watching. Thankfully, this is a side of war most of us will only experience vicariously through movies like “The Messenger.” For too many American families, though, this is a glimpse at their reality.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To view on Hulu, click here.

To rent or buy on Amazon Prime, click here.

To purchase on DVD, click here.


“The Desert Fox”

Released in 1951, “The Desert Fox” stars James Mason in the title role of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. While he fought on the side of Nazi Germany against the British and Americans, Hollywood chose to tell his story only six years after the war ended. Rommel served in the German Army during WW I, winning Germany’s highest award for bravery. He remained in the Army between the wars, but it was in WW ll, as commander of Germany’s vaunted Afrika Korps, that the Rommel legend blossomed. The movie focuses on this period of his life. An aggressive and fierce commander, he was a master strategist in the tank warfare of the North African battlefield. It was here where he earned the respect of his allied counterparts, who nicknamed him The Desert Fox. He was also promoted to Field Marshal and again decorated with the highest honors Nazi Germany could bestow.

Known for his strict adherence to the rules of warfare, his eventual disgust with Hitler and the Nazi regime led him to play a role in the unsuccessful 1944 assassination attempt on the Fuhrer. For this he paid with his life. So great a national hero was Rommel that Hitler allowed him to commit suicide rather than be tried, convicted of treason, and summarily executed. The Nazi propaganda machine released a statement that he had succumbed to wounds received in battle and he was given an official state funeral. It was only after the War that his efforts against Hitler became known. Of Rommel, Winston Churchill said, “He also deserves our respect because, although a loyal German soldier, he came to hate Hitler and all his works, and took part in the conspiracy to rescue Germany by displacing the maniac and tyrant.” Shot in black and white and interspersed with actual combat footage, this film takes an interesting look at the life of one of history’s great military commanders.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To view the film for free, click here.

To buy the book upon which the movie is based, click here.


“I’m Staying With My Boys”

U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone was the only enlisted man in World War II to receive the nation’s two highest awards for valor. Credited with almost single-handedly saving the Allied assault on Guadalcanal, he earned the Medal of Honor for his heroics on the island, and he perished while earning the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for his actions on Iwo Jima. Returning home from Guadalcanal to a hero’s welcome, he did a brief stint as a war bond spokesman before returning to the front, declaring “I’m staying with my boys.”

That inspirational pronouncement is the title of a stirring film about Basilone produced by Jerry Cutter, Edward H. Schaller and Jim Proser. The 45-minute documentary takes you from Basilone’s youth in Raritan, New Jersey, to his training at Quantico, Virginia, and his marriage to fellow Marine Lena Riggi, in addition to his war-time heroics. The story is told through historical photos, narration and interviews with his siblings and fellow Marines.

— Felicia Reilly

To view the film free of charge, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

To buy the book upon which the film is based, click here.


“Sayonara”

Based on the James Michener novel and released in 1957, this critically acclaimed romantic drama won four Academy Awards, including best supporting actor (Red Buttons) and best supporting actress (Miyoshi Umeki). With an all-star cast including Marlon Brando (nominated for best actor) and James Garner, the movie is set in 1951 Japan. It deals with American servicemen forming relationships with and marrying Japanese women.

Subjected to an official policy that not only discouraged but refused to recognize such relationships, U.S. military personnel who married Japanese women were transferred back to the U.S. and not allowed to bring their wives with them. In addition, they faced hostility and discrimination from both Japanese and American societies. The U.S. Armed Forces were officially segregated until 1947. This film looks into the changing dynamics of race relations in post-WW II America.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

To buy the novel on which the movie is based, click here.


“American Son”

The 2008 feature “American Son” stars Nick Cannon as Mike, a 19-year-old who joins the Marines to escape a life of dilapidated bungalows, broken cars, dysfunctional families, a drug-addicted older brother and a group of friends who are going nowhere. With his training completed and his unit set to deploy to Iraq, he is given 96 hours to return home for Thanksgiving to say his goodbyes.

He initially tells nobody he’s being sent to Iraq, but when the secret gets out, he must deal with the realities of his imminent deployment along with repercussions among his family, friends and new girlfriend. His mother is furious; his father, a former Marine, berates him; his girlfriend begs him to look for a way out; and his drug-dealing friend is resentful at being left behind in their dead-end hometown. Along the way, he meets a disabled former Marine, wounded in Iraq and suffering from PTSD, who forces him to come to grips with his decision, all the while wearing a T-shirt that reads, “I went to Iraq and all I got was crippled.”

This movie is about relationships, accepting responsibility and how the choices we make affect those around us. A timeless film, it could just as easily be set in 1944 or 1968. It is an American story repeated far too often, in far too many families, for far too many years.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To view a listing of upcoming screenings on Cinemax and ThrillerMax, click here.

To rent or buy, click here.


“A Bell for Adano”

This 1945 WWII drama is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1944 novel by John Hersey, which was in turn inspired by the true story of U.S. Army Major Frank E. Toscani. Victor Joppolo, the character based on Toscani, is put in charge of the Italian town of Adano, a fishing village in Sicily. In the midst of running the village, gaining the residents’ trust and easing their hardships, including finding enough food to eat, Joppolo discovers their most pressing concern. They yearn to replace the 700-year-old bell the Fascists had taken from their city hall and melted to make ammunition. John Hodiak plays Joppolo and Gene Tierney plays Tina, the fisherman’s daughter who befriends him. Watch for Harry Morgan of “M*A*S*H” fame as an American MP. He’s credited as Henry Morgan, the name he used early in his career. A stirring musical score by Alfred Newman enlivens a touching story about initially suspicious townspeople who eventually embrace a caring foreign administrator who provided for their needs, no matter how inconsequential they may seem.

— Felicia Reilly

To view A Bell for Adano free of charge, click here. (Must register by entering email address and creating password.)

To buy the DVD, click here.

To buy the book upon which the movie is based, click here.

To view an episode of “To Tell the Truth” featuring Major Toscani, click here.


Walking Across a Minefield

This 15-minute documentary packs a real wallop. It tells the stirring tale of Samuel Lombardo, a World War II veteran who grew up in fascist Italy, came to America with his family in search of a better life, and enlisted in the Army to fight for his newfound country’s freedom. He fought with honor in the Battle of the Bulge, with his greatest act of heroism coming at the tail end of the fray, with Nazis in retreat. His singular act of bravery earned him a Bronze Star and Silver Star as well as a unique memento now enshrined at the Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia.

“Walking Across a Minefield” is one of nearly 30 entries in “Memoirs of WW II,” a series of short films dedicated to preserving the history of the Second World War and the memory of those who served. Though each entry is roughly 15 minutes long, hours of riveting, deeply personal and excellently crafted military history awaits.

To access Lombardo entry in the series, click here.

To access a trailer and all the clips in the series, click here.

To read Steve Corbo’s incisive synopsis of the Battle of the Bulge, click here.


1st Lt. Baggio shows Caan, Coppola the ropes

A few weeks ago, Steve Corbo reviewed the movie “Gardens of Stone,” Francis Ford Coppola’s somber exploration of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment known as The Old Guard, which stands watch over Arlington National Cemetery.

We were delighted to learn that Retired U.S. Army Colonel Dan Baggio was a 1st Lieutenant and the Executive Officer of Charlie Company (Company C) of the Old Guard in 1986 when the movie was filmed. Hollywood came calling and Baggio was on duty and ready to serve.

Real life soldiers and officers auditioned to intermingle with actors in certain scenes during the movie, and Baggio was among them. Baggio recalls working closely with actor James Caan, whom everyone called “Jimmy.” They ended up having to film Caan from the waist up during marching scenes because he never quite got the hang of it. “He was kind of herky jerky,” Baggio sympathetically recalls. “I remember him as a really nice guy.”

In a rain scene that was cut from the movie, real soldiers stood wet and shivering, while actors were covered with blankets to keep warm between takes. “They were getting the prima donna treatment,” Baggio says.

Coppola wanted the movie to be genuine and relied on Baggio and other officers and noncommissioned officers for military advice. “Whatever scenes we were involved in, we’d do on-the-spot recommendations about how it should go,” Baggio explains. Soldiers wore authentic Vietnam fatigues, and the interiors of barracks from that era were used in the filming. “The movie showed barracks life, training, etc. and what it was like to be a soldier in the Old Guard,” says Baggio. “Some of the scenes outside of military duties tended to be a little bit Hollywood, but as far as the military scenes were concerned, it was spot on.”

At the end of the filming, all of the men were given bottles of wine from Francis Ford Coppola’s vineyard. “It was a cool experience,” says Baggio. “As an Old Guard member, I liked the movie because it reflected what we did and we got to be a real part of it.”

— Linda Grisolia

For a full account of Baggio’s military history, click here.

Scroll down to read Steve’s review of the film.


“Gardens of Stone”

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, this seldom seen 1987 release stars James Earl Jones, James Caan, Anjelica Huston, D.B. Sweeney, Dean Stockwell, Mary Stuart Masterson and Laurence Fishburne. Despite its all-star cast, the film was released on a limited basis and received mixed reviews, though it earned the admiration of Chicago’s very own Roger Ebert for its unflinching look at the heartbreak of war.

“Gardens of Stone” refers to Arlington National Cemetery. Jones and Caan play a couple of old sergeants. Both highly decorated combat Veterans, they are the top NCO’s in a unit assigned to be Honor Guards at military funerals. It is 1968 and an increasing number of those funerals are for soldiers killed in Vietnam.

Frustrated at playing a “toy soldier,” Caan takes a young soldier (D.B. Sweeney) under his wing, determined to pass on to him the survival skills he acquired through combat in two wars. The young soldier is the son of a deceased comrade who Jones and Caan served with previously. They mentor the kid as he excels at Army life and gets accepted into Officer Candidate School.

Commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Infantry, he gets married and volunteers for Vietnam. He is motivated by patriotism and a sense of duty and he wants to be in on the action. He also wants to earn a Combat Infantryman Badge: the hallmark of a fighting soldier. Both his mentors have earned theirs and he earns his … posthumously.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To read Ebert’s review, click here.

To rent this movie, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

To buy the book the movie is based on, click here.


Lifeboat

Based on a John Steinbeck story and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, this 1944 drama was nominated for three Academy Awards. It centers on the occupants of a lifeboat, all of whom survived a German U-boat attack on a passenger ship in which both vessels were destroyed. The film stars Hollywood legend Tallulah Bankhead as Connie Porter, a wealthy journalist, and William Bendix as Gus, an injured sailor. They and the other survivors all have their own distinct personalities and backgrounds. The interaction among the survivors is the focus of the film. A moral dilemma arises when one of survivors rescued from the water turns out to be the captain of the U-boat that sunk the other ship. See if you can spot Hitchcock’s trademark cameo appearance!

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To view the movie free of charge, click here.

To rent the movie, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

To view a video about Hitchcock’s cameo in the film, click here.

To view a video about the making of the movie, click here.


The Harrodsburg Tankers

“The Harrodsburg Tankers” tells the story of a National Guard outfit called to active duty before the United States was at war. In November 1941, they were sent to the Philippines and 18 days after their arrival, the Japanese attacked.  They became part of the Bataan Death March and went on to endure 3-1/2 horrific years as prisoners of the Japanese. Of the 66 members taken into captivity, only 37 survived. Several were interviewed for this hour-long documentary.

— Steve Corbo

To view the documentary for free, click here.

To purchase the book “Death March: The Survivors of Bataan” by Donald Knox, click here.

To purchase the book “Some Survived: An Eyewitness Account of the Bataan Death March and the Men Who Lived Through It” by Manny Lawton, click here.


The Man Who Never Was

Based on actual events, this 1956 spy thriller stars Clifton Webb as Lt. Commander Ewen Montagu, author of the book by the same name. It’s 1943 and the Allies are about to invade Sicily. British Intelligence develops an ingenious plot to fool the Germans into thinking the invasion will take place elsewhere.

Using a recently deceased corpse, they create a man who never existed, with a briefcase full of official looking documents handcuffed to his wrist. The body of the fictitious “Major Martin” is released from a submarine off the coast of Spain. As planned, the body floats to shore, is recovered by authorities and repatriated to the British, but not before German intelligence agents get a look at the briefcase’s contents. The trap has been sprung, and the outcome had a major impact on the war in Europe.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

To buy the book the movie is based on, click here.

To view a video by the UK National Archives, click here.

To view a video about this true story, click here.


5,000 Miles From Home

With movie theaters still shuttered and VJ Day on the near horizon, viewing our award-winning WW II documentary is a great way to commemorate this watershed moment in history.

“5,000 Miles From Home” tells the riveting tale of a generation of Italian kids from the streets of Chicago who proudly answered the call to serve their country during World War II. In-depth interviews with two dozen veterans are interwoven with vintage film footage and rare archival photos as you follow these brave men from their working-class roots to their wartime travails to the very different lives they led when they came back home.

Narrated by Bob Sirott, “5,000 Miles” earned two local Emmys along with six nominations, as well as six national Telly Awards. Our DVD also includes a treasure trove of deleted scenes, featurettes, biographies of the veterans and a brief video tour of our museum.

Purchase your copy by August 10 and you’ll receive it in time to watch it on August 15: the 75th anniversary of VJ Day!

To find out more about this remarkable documentary and purchase your copy, click here.


Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

Based on a book by the same title, this 1944 film follows the unprecedented 1942 bombing of the capital of Japan during WW II. It stars Van Johnson as Lt. Ted Lawson, author of the book and a pilot on the mission, and Spencer Tracy as Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle. The film won an Oscar, was nominated for another and is considered one of the best films to come out of WW II.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Doolittle led a squadron of 16 B-25 bombers on their daring mission. They were spotted by the Japanese prior to takeoff from their aircraft carrier. Knowing that Tokyo might be tipped off and that his planes lacked the fuel to return to their carrier or make it to a friendly base, Doolittle launched the attack anyway. After releasing their bombs, they headed for China, flying until they ran out of fuel and hoping for the best.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To rent the movie, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

To buy the book the movie was based on, click here.

To view archival footage of the actual bombing mission, click here.


Saboteur

 An Alfred Hitchcock thriller, this 1942 film taps into a very real fear in wartime America: sabotage! Robert Cummings plays Barry Kane, a defense worker in California falsely accused of setting fire to the aircraft plant where he works. He escapes the authorities and sets off on a cross-country journey to track down the real saboteur. In the process he takes a hostage, Patricia Martin, played by Priscilla Lane, and uncovers a Nazi spy ring. While making their way to New York City, Martin begins to trust Kane and soon believes in his innocence. Hot on the trail of the real saboteurs, Kane foils their attempt to blow up a U.S. battleship being launched at the New York Naval Yard. The climactic scene takes place on Liberty Island at the Statue of Liberty, where Kane catches up with the real saboteur and clears his name. Watch closely for director Hitchcock’s trademark cameo appearance.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To rent the movie, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

To view a video about the casting of the movie, click here.


Bleier (left) in 2009, showing his Super Bowl rings, which are being worn by U.S. Army Captain Larsen. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story

This inspirational 1980 film stars Robert Urich as standout Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier and Art Carney as Steelers owner Art Rooney. Considered too small and slow to play in the NFL, Bleier proved the critics wrong by making the Pittsburgh Steelers roster. While in his rookie season, he was drafted into the Army, served a tour of duty in Vietnam and left the military with a leg so badly damaged in combat that doctors told him he would be lucky to walk again let alone play football at the professional level.

Through sheer force of will, Bleier again proved the critics wrong, battling his way back onto the Steelers roster and helping them win four Super Bowls. Retiring in 1980 after 11 years in the sport, he was the fourth leading rusher in Steelers’ history at the time of his retirement. The quality of the video is poor, and you may have to hunt around for the beginning of the film once you click on the link, but your patience will be rewarded with an uplifting tale along with some nice historical footage before and after as icing on the cake. This movie isn’t about football and it isn’t about the Vietnam War. It is about the indomitable spirit of a true hero!

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To view the movie free of charge, click here.

To buy the book upon which the movie is based, click here.

To view a video of Bleier talking about the book, click here.

To view a video of Bleier returning to Vietnam 40 years later, click here.


“G.I. Blues”

Drafted in 1958, Elvis Presley had just spent two years in the Army, mostly in Germany with the 3rd Armored Division, when he filmed “G.I. Blues.” The musical comedy was his comeback film and the first chance fans had to see him in action in a long time. Presley is cast as a guitar-playing GI named Tulsa MacLean who also serves with the 3rd Armored Division in Germany. Coincidence? Definitely not. Elvis was still a real soldier in a combat unit and the Army wouldn’t permit him to leave to shoot the film. As he was getting ready to be discharged, a production crew flew to Germany to shoot on location, with off-duty GIs from Elvis’ own division serving as extras. Tulsa gets the girl (Juliet Prowse), of course, and lives happily ever after, and Sgt. Presley was honorably discharged in March 1960. The film was completed in the States and released in November 1960. The soundtrack was turned into an album that was nominated for two Grammys. Elvis was back!

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

The movie can be viewed for free on DailyMotion in two parts.

For Part 1, click here.

For Part 2, click here.

To rent the movie, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

To buy a book about Elvis in the U.S Army, click here.

To view a video about the present-day movie locations in Germany, click here.


“The Young Lions”

Based on the novel by Irwin Shaw, this 1958 feature was nominated for three Academy Awards and features an all-star cast including Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Dean Martin, Maximilian Schell and Hope Lange.

It begins in pre-war Germany, with Brando playing ski instructor Christian Diestl. We later find ourselves in New York City as Michael Whiteacre, a show biz personality played by Martin, and Noah Ackerman, a Jewish clerk played by Clift, are being drafted into the U.S. Army. The movie follows the path of these young men as they are transformed into soldiers in the heat of battle during WW II. Noah faces bullying and anti-Semitism at the hands of his fellow soldiers and commanding officer. Diestl sees duty in Paris and North Africa as a Nazi soldier, where he is badly wounded. He grows to hate the war but is torn between his conscience and his duty as a German. Meanwhile, feeling guilty about showbiz connections that land him a safe job in England, Whiteacre volunteers for front-line duty in the infantry. All three soldiers meet in the movie’s climactic scene.

Coming on the heels of his split with longtime show-biz partner Jerry Lewis, the movie helped Martin launch his solo career, establishing him as a far more versatile actor than a mere straight man for the manic Lewis.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To rent the movie, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

To buy the book the movie was based on, click here.

To view a video about the movie’s world premiere, click here.


“Go for Broke”

This 1951 classic starring Van Johnson tells the true story of the U.S. Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team during WW II. They were the most decorated unit of its size in the history of the U.S. Army, a remarkable feat considering the unit was comprised entirely of Japanese Americans, many of whom came directly from the internment camps set up by the U.S. government. The movie follows the unit from its initial training in the United States through combat in Italy and France. Six combat veterans of the 442nd appear in the movie, including Lane Nakano, who had a leading role as Sam. His family took in and raised Guy Gabaldon, the subject of “Hell To Eternity,” previously featured in our “Stay At Home Movie Night” series. Also making cameo appearances are John Banner, who later gained fame as Sgt. Schultz in TV’s “Hogan’s Heroes,” and Hugh Beaumont, better known as Ward Cleaver from “Leave it to Beaver.” Although not portrayed in the movie, Daniel Inouye also served in the 442nd, sustaining wounds during combat and losing his right arm. He earned the Medal of Honor for his battlefield heroics and later served as a U.S. Senator from Hawaii.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer click here.

To view the movie free of charge, click here.

To rent the movie, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

To purchase a book about the 442nd, click here.

To view a video about the 442nd, click here.


Gino Merli:  The Healing Hero

This PBS docudrama about the WWII experiences of Medal of Honor recipient Gino J. Merli uses actual war footage as a backdrop to Merli’s recollections delivered by an actor as a one-man play. On the night of Sept. 4, 1944, Pfc. Gino Merli was manning a machine gun during the Battle of the Bulge when the Nazis attacked in force. The outnumbered U.S. troops began their retreat, but Merli held his position, providing cover fire for his comrades. He sustained bayonet wounds by playing possum again and again, but he continued to rise up and fire at the Germans once they left him for dead. Merli’s heroism allowed American forces to regroup for a counteroffensive that resulted in the enemy’s surrender. When he was found the next day, covered in blood and surrounded by scores of enemy dead, Merli’s only request was to visit a church to pray for the fallen, including the men he had just killed. After returning to civilian life, Merli worked for more than three decades at a Pennsylvania Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

— Felicia Reilly

To view the trailer, click here.

To view the movie free of charge, click here.

To view an interview with Gino Merli, click here.


“36 Hours”

Called “an ingenious thriller” by The New Yorker, this 1965 film is based on the premise of an American intelligence officer being kidnapped and drugged by the Nazis in 1944, six days before D-Day. He is spirited to Germany, where he is made to believe he is recovering from amnesia in an American military hospital in 1949, after the war has ended in victory for the Allies. In the process of his “recovery,” he unwittingly reveals the plans for and details of the invasion. This seldom-seen classic stars James Garner, Rod Taylor and Eva Marie Saint. In a preview of things to come, John Banner plays an overweight, overage German guard. Later that same year, Banner began starring in his career-defining role as Sgt. Schulz on the TV sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes.”  “36 Hours” is anything but a “sitcom.” This is an intriguing and thought-provoking mystery set during WW II, and it’s well worth watching.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To view the movie free of charge, click here.

To rent the movie, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

To read “Beware of the Dog” by Roald Dahl, the short story upon which the movie is based, click here.


“Hell to Eternity”

This isn’t the famous, fictional “From Here to Eternity,” it’s the fascinating, real-life story of WW II Marine Guy Gabaldon. A Mexican-American kid living on the streets of East Los Angeles, Gabaldon was taken in by a Japanese-American family who helped turn his life around. As World War II exploded, the nation turned on its residents of Japanese descent, forcibly relocating 120,000 of them, including Gabaldon’s parents, to internment camps. Enlisting in the Marines, Gabaldon took part in one of the epic battles of the war: the invasion of Saipan. In the midst of this killing field, Gabaldon found a surprising way to save lives. Operating alone and behind enemy lines, he used his limited knowledge of Japanese to talk 1,500 of the enemy into peacefully surrendering, earning him the nickname “The Pied Piper of Saipan.” He was only 18 years old.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To rent the movie, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

To read transcript of an oral history interview with Gabaldon, click here.

To view a brief video clip about Gabaldon’s exploits, click here.


“A Foreign Affair”

This 1948 romantic comedy explores the stark reality of post-WW II Berlin. Directed by Hollywood legend Billy Wilder and starring Marlene Dietrich, John Lund and Jean Arthur, the film revolves around a congressional fact-finding mission to investigate the morale of the 12,000 U.S. troops occupying the city, who are described as “being infected by a kind of moral malaria.” A love triangle ensues between Berlin resident Dietrich, Army Captain Lund and Congresswoman Arthur, hence the romantic comedy angle. But below the surface, the movie examines the underbelly of a conquered civilian population under the control of an occupying army, where the only thing that matters is survival. Filming took place on location in Berlin while bodies were still being recovered from the ruins we see on screen. Dietrich, a real-life Berlin native and vocal anti-Nazi who fled Hitler’s Germany for the United States, plays the role of a pro-Nazi cabaret singer. We witness a black-market economy where barter reigns and cigarettes are the prevailing form of currency. This dark social backdrop is lightened by the comedic and romantic interplay among the main characters and an improbably happy ending.

— Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

 


“Decision Before Dawn”

This 1952 movie is realistic, stark and unsentimental, but gripping and absolutely worth watching. It was filmed in the German cities of Wurzburg, Nuremberg and Mannheim, amid actual destruction and bombed-out buildings that remained from World War II. This also resulted in unparalleled accuracy in the uniforms, equipment, weapons and vehicles used, as most, if not all, were original and actual war surplus. It centers around two German POWs who were recruited by American forces to infiltrate a German tank corps and get information on their whereabouts back to the Americans. Though a post-World War II film, it speaks to us now as powerfully as it did to audiences who had lived through the war themselves. Besides the edge-of-your-seat espionage, Decision Before Dawn shows the moral choices the Germans and Americans had and how each responded to those circumstances.

— James Scalzitti, with input from Steve Corbo

To view the trailer, click here.

To view the movie free of charge, click here.

To rent the movie, click here.

To buy the DVD, click here.

To buy the book upon which the movie is based, click here.

 

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