The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, June 16, 2014

Objective, Burma!

With any actor or actress with a devoted fan following, that following is going to have differing opinions. What is your favorite film? This one or that one? All of them? When we're talking about an actor who worked over multiple decades, it gets that much tougher. Take Errol Flynn who started working in the 1930s and stayed in films through the 1950s. He's got more than a few gems to his name, but my favorite is and always will be 1945's Objective, Burma!

It's 1944 in Burma and Allied forces are preparing to invade the country they were kicked out of by Japanese forces two years earlier. The men across the branches are just waiting for their orders. Among the forces waiting to unleash the attack is Capt. Nelson (Flynn), an officer in command of a platoon of paratroopers. With his friend and second-in-command, Lt. Sid Jacobs (William Prince), Nelson will lead a behind the lines mission into Burma, his men tasked with finding and destroying a key radar station used by the Japanese forces. A 2,000 man garrison isn't too far away from the radar station, meaning Nelson's paratroopers must drop in miles away and find the hidden radar station, all the while avoiding thick Japanese patrols. With a newspaper reporter, Mark Williams (Henry Hull), along to report on the mission, the paratroopers take off from their base with a dangerous mission ahead of them. As prepared as they are though, nothing can really prepare them for what awaits.

What a great movie, one that qualifies in the overused at times but appropriate 'They don't make them like that anymore' category. As far as pure action/adventure movies go, this 1945 WWII flick from director Raoul Walsh is simply hard to beat. It was released in theaters in early 1945, the war winding down but the fighting still very much going on both in the Pacific and Europe. It was a movie ahead of its time, patriotic but not flag-waving and propaganda thankfully. With an Oscar-nominated score from composer Franz Waxman (one that would be used again in the similarly-themed Merrill's Marauders), the action in the 142-minute movie is always on the go, never really slowing down. You feel like you're there with the soldiers, seeing their exhaustion, beards and facial hair appearing as the mission goes awry. It's the perfect popcorn movie, but there are other layers and levels to appreciate. A war movie that still resonates almost 70 years later.

At the tail end of his heyday in terms of popularity, Flynn is the without a doubt, no question star here. I love his performance, especially because he switches things up a bit. Flynn was Robin Hood, a pirate, a swashbuckler, a ladies man, but here, he is just a very capable, very tough and well-liked officer. His Captain Charlie Nelson has been tasked with a dangerous mission that will prove essential to the Allied war effort. Is he rattled, even nervous? Yes, every minute, but he embraces it, hides the feeling away and shows that confidence and even a little bit of a swagger so his men need to see. Flynn was an underrated actor -- for me at least -- but that's one of his biggest attributes. He was confident. He was cool, smooth, and he looked like he belonged on-screen. If it looks like he's not acting, that's the work of an actor who could make it look effortless. At one point with the mission in doubt, one of Nelson's men encourages the other men with "I'd follow him down the barrel of a cannon." Little schmaltzy? Sure, but it works in context, and you see why. I'd follow Errol Flynn into battle too!

Take a look at the cast and you see some names and faces you recognize, but this is Flynn's movie. The rest of the cast becomes part of the unit picture, men brought together from disparate backgrounds forced to work together to get the job done. I liked Hull's journalist, a crotchety old writer trying to tell the story of the soldiers. Nelson's friendship with Prince's Jacobs certainly adds another layer to the story as well. As for Nelson's paratroopers, look for James Brown, George Tobias, John Alvin, Richard Erdman, Joel Allen, and uncredited parts for Anthony Caruso and George Tyne in uncredited parts. Warner Anderson and Hugh Beaumont (Beaver Cleaver's Dad) play higher-ranking officers while Mark Stevens gives a solid supporting part as Lt. Barker, a pilot with the closest ties to Nelson's paratroopers. I liked Tobias, and there's another paratrooper I can't identify by name who has a great bit with a Japanese soldier.

There's so much good going on here, things I picked up on during a recent viewing. It is that perfect war action movie, but it's more. There are a handful of scenes that really resonate, giving an eye into the eyes and thoughts of the paratroopers. Prior to jumping into Burma, the camera moves along a row of faces, the men reacting differently to their upcoming jump and mission. When the mission goes awry, we see the looks on their faces when they have to adjust on the fly. I thought the highlight though was when Nelson and his men come across the mutilated bodies of the paratroopers who didn't make it, the result of a Japanese ambush. One soldier remains, Walsh filming only the man in a door frame so we can't see what's been done to him. We only know he's been cut up, shot up, and he's bleeding out. Over the course of the movie, we see the exhaustion set in, the frustration weighing on all their shoulders. An epically exciting action movie? Yes, and much more.

That is one of the huge appeals for 'Burma.' The action is everywhere, and it doesn't disappoint. The attack on the radar station is the biggest set piece, the rest of the shooting all about the tension and the chase. We don't see the Japanese in frame a lot, but their off-screen presence is a menacing, intimidating cloud hanging over the paratroopers just waiting to strike. The final sequence is especially effective, the pursuing Japanese trying to infiltrate the paratroopers' position on a lonely isolated hill marked by trenches and foxholes. Filmed in the dark with little music, it is a doozy of a success. The whole movie is, one of the great war movies around.

Objective, Burma! (1945): ****/****

No comments:

Post a Comment