Museum Launches Stay-at-Home Movie Night


The Italian American Veterans Museum hopes all our supporters and their families are staying healthy and safe during the coronavirus pandemic. Since our activities are limited for the time being, we’ve launched a Stay-at-Home Movie Night to keep you entertained while you’re sheltering in place. 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.)


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 view the movie free of charge, 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 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.


“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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