Hey folks, it’s not too late to attend the very last Friends of Old Time Radio convention in Newark – indeed, some of the most enjoyable panels and live performances are slated for this Friday afternoon and evening, including “Radio Goes to War”, plus an episode of “Gunsmoke” – and much more tomorrow, when the panels and live performances start at 9 AM. One day’s entrance is just $25 at the door – a steal! – read the full schedule here!
From New York City, it’s a snap to get here even without a car – from NYC’s Penn Station, take either a NJTransit Northeast Corridor or a North Jersey Coast train to the Newark Airport Rail station, about $12.50 one-way regular, $8.75 for seniors, kids and disabled. At Newark Airport station, cross over to the AirTrain station (takes just a few minutes). Your NJ Transit ticket includes a $5.50 fare on the AirTrain, running every 2-7 minutes to the P4 station. From P4, head downstairs where the hotel shuttles run, including to the host hotel, Ramada Plaza (whose shuttles run all night) – rooms may still be available, call for more information.
And if you can’ t make it, be sure to tune in to YesterdayUSA’s live coverage, simulcasting all the panels.
My buddy on Twitter, the effervescent @filmclassics, pointed out the dearth of women in TCM’s marathon of movies this Memorial Day weekend. As a devoted war picture fan, I was disappointed to see that only The Best Years of Our Lives (a tremendously beautiful picture airing Saturday night) features prominent roles by women. This is quite similar to the Memorial Day features commonly shown by AMC in the past, before their recent reboot. Now, on the one hand, there are a lot of women who love, love classic movies and who have supported TCM throughout its illustrious career, and they may feel there’s no one that looks like them on the screen.
The more egregious slight, however, is that almost half a million women served in World War II alone, thousands more were nursing on the battlefield or nearby during Korea and Vietnam, and we have thousands of women who have returned from serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, alongside their brother soldiers. And to bowdlerize Sojourner Truth, ain’t they vets? Here are some excellent films that show women’s contribution to WWI and WWII, none of which, I’m sorry to say, aired on TCM this weekend or on this Memorial Day.
I do believe @filmclassics, who loves Clara Bow (and who doesn’t), would have been happy to see the amazing Wings, the silent from 1927, whose amazing air stunts, set in WWI’s Western Front, are still thrilling to watch. Plus, it has a very young Gary Cooper, and Buddy Rogers was never more handsome. Call it the “Band of Brothers” effect: a strong cast of male leads who happen to be gorgeous will have the gals lining up to watch the roughest war film, as well as the boys!
Two of the best war pictures about women’s contribution in WWII were set in the Pacific theatre, where over five thousand women served. During World War II, brave military nurses became national heroes: over 200 nurses died in the Army alone. Five nurses were captured on Guam after Pearl Harbor, repatriated after several months. Eighty Army and Navy nurses were able to escape when the Philippines fell to the Japanese. But an equal number became known as the “Angels of Bataan”; after working to save the lives of fighting men (and to stay alive themselves, under bombardment), more than eighty nurses, both Army and Navy, became POWs. They served as nurses throughout the war, operating a make-shift hospital even while being held prisoner, even while starving on bare-bones rations, each woman being offered less than 1000 calories a day. Fortunately, they do not appear to have been tortured, and all survived to see freedom once more.
So Proudly We Hail is an excellent war picture about these nurses, boasting three great performances. Claudette Colbert is the mature leader of her friends and colleagues; Paulette Godard plays her best friend, a love-em-and-leave-em type who shows an unexpected strength of character. And finally Veronica Lake gives one of the best, if not the best, performance of her career, as a depressed nurse who “isn’t there to make friends”, as we see here:
Cry Havoc is a solid picture that also talks of the Angels of Bataan: like MGM’s pre-wartime The Women, there is an embarrassment of riches in this marvelous, almost all female cast: Margaret Sullavan is terrific as a stolid, long-suffering leader; Ann Sothern is a naive, brassy nurse who constantly questions Sullavan’s authority; the always fabulous Joan Blondell provides comic relief, with excellent turns by Fay Bainter, Heather Angel, and Ella Raines. Sadly, no trailer appears available currently; TCM’s copy is down.
They Were Expendable,a fine, fine war picture by John Ford, features a key role for Donna Reed, as a nurse. It is implied she will be one of the Angels.
War Nurse is an early talkie which is a bit clunky, but boasts some excellent performances, namely from Anita Page and June Walker. A very, very young Robert Montgomery costars, as does tragic silent star Marie Prevost. There are some moments of true pathos in this 1930 film about World War I France. An interesting counterpart to the earlier silent classic The Big Parade.
Never Wave at a WAC,is silly fun from Rosalind Russell as a society dame turned soldier gal.
Keep Your Powder Dry, more fluff with Lana Turner. Eh… did I mention what a great film Cry Havoc was?
I Was a Male War Bride is a hilarious Howard Hawks piece, with the amazing duo of Ann Sheridan and Cary Grant starring as an American WAC and French officer respectively, who have fun bickering. It gives you sympathy as well for the experience of many wartime brides who emigrated to America, but mostly – you just laugh. This is a great date night movie!
AMC, who cuts up their films, is showing Courage Under Fire, which if you remember, stars Denzel Washington as an investigator exploring whether a woman soldier (Meg Ryan) deserves the first combat Medal of Honor given to a woman. Except, uh, considering what happens to her, and the truth we learn about Lou Diamond Phillips and Matt Damon’s characters …well, a war film it may be, and I personally would call it an intriguing one, was this meditation on loyalty and authority the best choice to honor the nation’s debt on Memorial Day? Interesting fact: the first woman to receive a Medal of Honor was a combat surgeon, Dr. Mary E. Walker… who received it in 1865, having saved lives during the Civil War. It was rescinded some years later, rumors are, because she was politically incorrect – a suffragette. It was reinstated completely by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.
I also think it would have been nice for TCM to show one more homefront picture to honor the families of our armed forces. These families serve, too, and their homefront efforts free up soldiers, sailors and marines to do their jobs. Some of them receive the dreaded knock on the door, the visitor no one wants; for them, as well as for the buddies and fellows-at-arms of the fallen, we too can show some support on Memorial Day. It would have been the height of class for TCM to show us The Fighting Sullivans, about the family that gave all – and I do mean all – of their sons during WWII. And another homefront film like Since You Went Away, The White Cliffs of Dover, or even Tender Comrade, which is interesting for its postwar controversy (Ginger Rogers’ mother felt that a group of women pooling their resources together was socialistic; writer Dalton Trumbo and director Edward Dmytryk of course, would later be in the Hollywood Ten), and according to this blog, the film is more of a fascinating political relic than a solid story.
Some beautiful stills from Since You Went Away here:
The trailer for The Fighting Sullivans:
The White Cliffs of Dover, which spans both World War I and the start of World War II.
As a precursor to the Memorial Day weekend, they could have also shown a foreign film the night before like The Cranes Are Flying or the equally beautiful The Grand Illusion, the “one film worth saving”, according to Orson Welles. The relatively recent Memphis Belle fictional film, after all, chose at its end to honor all the veterans of every nation, and it couldn’t hurt to show the broader canvas of the French and Russian experiences during World War I and World War II respectively. Indeed, why not show the British-set, American-made drama Mrs. Miniver, a film that got the United States ready to fight in WWII Europe, which dramatically shows the rescue at Dunkirk?
The Cranes Are Flying, gorgeously shot by cinematographer Sergey Urusevsky:
La Grande Illusion, Jean Renoir’s masterpiece (look closely, Casablanca fans!):
Here’s hoping TCM adds a film or two to remember our fighting women, and the bravery of folks on the homefront, next Memorial Day.