Featured Films--MacArthur to Midway

MacArthur (1977), Director: Joseph Sargent, Running time: 130 minutes.

This is a biographical and semi-documentary look at the career of General Douglas MacArthur (Gregory Peck) centering on his WWII and Korean War experiences. The movie examines MacArthur's 1942 recall from the Phillipines by Franklin Roosevelt; his triumphant return to liberate the country from the Japanese; his guidance of & influence on the allies' post war policies in Japan; his often volatile & fragile relationship with Harry Truman; and finally his Korean War experiences which resulted in his dismissal from the army by Truman. (E.W. DesMarais for IMDb)


A Man Escaped (1956), Director: Robert Bresson, Running time: 102 minutes.

In a genre crowded with quality films, director Robert Bresson's POW drama has become legendary, in part because it strips down the experience of a man desperate to escape to the essentials. That's in keeping with the approach Bresson took with all of his films. The filmmaker, who spent a year in a German prison camp during World War II, based this story on the experiences of Andre Devigny, a French Resistance fighter sent in 1943 to the infamous prison in Lyons, where 7,000 of the 10,000 prisoners housed there died either by natural means or by execution. Lt. Fontaine (Francois Leterrier) is certain that execution awaits him, and he almost immediately begins planning his escape, using homemade tools and ingenuity for detecting the few weaknesses in the prison's structure and routine. For a time, he goes it alone, takes on a partner, but only reluctantly. Fontaine does get some help from a couple of prisoners allowed to stroll in the exercise yard, but for the most part he is a figure in isolation. For Bresson, the process of escape is all, and in simplifying his narrative he ratchets up the tension, creating a film story of survival that many feel is without peer. (Tom Wiener for All Movie Guide)


Man in the Middle (1964), Director: Guy Hamilton, Running time: 93 minutes.

Despite its exotic WWII locations, Guy Hamilton's Man in the Middle is a courtroom drama with Robert Mitchum as a military lawyer urged by his superiors to cover up the facts behind a civilian murder committed by a military officer. Set in 1944 India, Mitchum plays a lieutenant colonel assigned to defend American soldier Keenan Wynn after he murders a British civilian; Mitchum quickly discovers that everyone involved in the case, from top general Barry Sullivan to British medical officer Alexander Knox, wants him to fall in line with a rush to execute Wynn and save face, despite his obvious insanity. Mitchum is typically solid in the lead, and the supporting cast, which includes France Nuyen as his semi-love interest and Sam Wanamaker as an army psychiatrist, offer fine performances; Hamilton, who would direct Goldfinger the following year, handles the legal fireworks with finesse. The DVD includes the original trailer as well as a gallery of promotional photographs (which play up the barely-there romance between Mitchum and Nuyen).  (Paul Gaita for Amazon.com)


Man of Marble (1976), Director: Andrzej Wajda, Running time: 165 mintues.

Not only is Andrzej Wajda’s award-winning Man of Marble one of the most important films in the history of Polis cinema, it is also one of the most compelling attacks on government corruption ever made. It is a Citizen Kane-styled story where Wajda introduces us to a young woman in Krakow, Agnieszka, who is making her thesis film. She is looking behind the scenes at the life of a 1950s bricklayer, Birkut, who was briefly elevated to the status of a communist hero. She wants to know how his heroism was created and what became of him. She gets a hold of censored footage and interviews with the man’s friends and ex-wife, and the filmmaker who made him a hero. A portrait of Birkut emerges as a man who believed in the socialist ideals, the workers revolution, and in building housing for all. However, the young filmmaker’s hard-driving style and the content of her film unnerve her supervisor, who thinks it’s getting too close to a political nerve. The film project is killed with the excuse she is over budget, but the young filmmaker pushes forward against all odds to finish her film.  


The Man Who Never Was (1956), Director: Ronald Neame, Running time: 103 minutes.

Clifton Webb stars in this fascinating account of a daring intelligence operation designed to mislead the Nazis prior to the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. In an effort to convince the Germans to redeploy their defenses, Lt. Commander Montagu (Webb) creates a false English officer and fabricates letters that indicate the British intend to land in Greece. Montagu than plants these documents on a dead man and orchestrates the "discovery" of this "officer" on the coast of Spain, Knowing the papers will fall into German hands. What follows is a taut cat-and mouse game as British Intelligence waits for Berlin to respond, then races to stay one step ahead of the Nazi agent dispatched to determine if the dead man is genuine. This true story of ingenious deception is a riveting tale of wartime espionage.


Mediterraneo (1991), Director: Gabriele Salvatores, Running time: 87 minutes.

This 1991 comedy by Gabriele Salvatores was knocked for not being deep enough, but it is what it is, and it's actually an easygoing, sunny movie about eight Italian soldiers who manage to strand themselves on a tiny Greek island paradise during World War II. The sort of mutts who would shoot a donkey for not knowing the proper password, these clumsy warriors become a comic variation on the Lotus Eaters of myth, their fighting spirit evaporated in the midst of so much beauty and sexual availability among the local women. There are also sundry opportunities for the men to find another purpose for their lives (one particularly artistic fellow works on the restoration of a church, for example). Amid the sometimes coarse jokes and gratuitous nudity, there are subtle themes about the contrast between what men are truly like in their natural state versus what they are like as killers. (The Thin Red Line this isn't, but Salvatores does, in his own way, touch on some of the same themes.) Watch this one on a cold winter's day and vicariously enjoy the tans as well as the antiwar sentiment.


Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Director: Rob Marshall, Running time: 145 minutes.

It's hard to find fault with the fascinating story, which traces a young girl's determination to free herself from the imprisonment of scullery maid to geisha, then from the imprisonment of geisha to a woman allowed to love. Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo), a young girl with curious blue eyes, is sold to a geisha house and doomed to pay off her debt as a cleaning girl until a stranger named The Chairman (Ken Watanabe) shows her kindness. She is inspired to work hard and become a geisha in order to be near the Chairman, with whom she has fallen in love. An experienced geisha (Michelle Yeoh) chooses to adopt her as an apprentice and to use as a pawn against her rival, the wicked, legendary Hatsumomo (Gong Li). Chiyo (played as an older woman by Ziyi Zhang), now renamed Sayuri, becomes the talk of the town, but as her path crosses again and again with the Chairman's, she finds the closer she gets to him the further away he seems. Her newfound "freedom" turns out to be trapping, as men are allowed to bid on everything from her time to her virginity.  (amazon.com)


Memphis Belle (1990), Director: Michael Caton-Jones, Running time: 108 minutes.

The "Memphis Belle" is a World War II bomber, piloted by a young crew on dangerous bombing raids into Europe. The crew only has to make one more bombing raid before they have finished their duty and can go home.  In the briefing before their last flight, the crew discovers that the target for the day is Dresden, a heavily-defended town that invariably causes many Allied casualties.


Men Behind The Sun (1989), Director: Tun Fei Mou, Running time: 95 minutes.

This is a "voyeuristic insight" into Japanese atrocities that they committed on the Chinese in World War II. They used the Chinese as "guinea pigs in gruesome experiments to create mutated plague bacteria used for bacterial warfare." They claim that the Japanese government wished that this story would not be known and that it will "provoke, anger and sicken." They also say that this film is a "chilling, realistic portrait showing the brutal torture and experimentation that took place in the Japanese terror camps."  This work is extremely graphic.


Midway (1976), Director: Jack Smight, Running time: 131 minutes.

The battle of Midway sounded its furious thunder in June 1942, just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. "Midway" interweaves the dramatic personal stories of the men who fought the courageous battle that was to be the Pacific turning point for the United States. The all-star cast also includes Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson and Robert Wagner.