Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Kings Go Forth
It sounds stupid, but what about racist soldiers? Wrapped in a worldwide conflict, some surely still found times to criticize or ridicule blacks, Hispanics, and any number of other ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. Just because you're defeating Hitler doesn't mean you still can't have some fun, right? I meant that sarcastically if you didn't pick that up. That is the basic premise of 1958's Kings Go Forth where personal prejudices end up playing a large part in the relationships of two soldiers and a young French girl in the months following the D-Day invasion in 1944.
Working with an advanced observation unit positioned ahead of the lines, Lt. Sam Loggins (Frank Sinatra) is used to working in dangerous situations, doing his best to get his men through the war unscathed. The casualties continue to mount though with a new radioman, Cpl. Britt Harris (Tony Curtis) assigned to Loggins' squad who starts to stir things up. While on leave in Nice, Sam meets a young French girl, Monique (Natalie Wood) who he instantly clicks with. As the war wages onward, their relationship grows, but two things stand in their way. Monique has a secret she's worried about sharing with Sam, and smooth, suave ladies man Britt shows up just in time to possibly steal her away from Sam.
The story description does come off as a bit too much like a soap opera, but it's not as painfully obvious while watching. Sinatra, Curtis and Wood have a good chemistry together in making this love triangle (maybe the laziest plot device ever) not only entertaining, but believable. It's fairly clear from early on in the movie that Sinatra and Curtis are going to butt heads, it is only a matter of time until we find out why and how. I should also point out this is a love story set in WWII, not the other way around. Don't go in expecting epic battle scenes with hundreds of extras. What little action there is in the movie is saved for the end when Sam and Britt undertake a dangerous mission in a German-held Italian town.
Director Delmer Daves is hamstrung a bit by 1950s censors but gets away with a fair amount in his storytelling. Parts are subtle so pay attention because you're not going to be hit over the head with any obvious reveals. The secret Monique is so worried about is that her father was black so she thinks no American is going to want any part of her. Sinatra's Sam seems more bothered about it while Curtis' Britt doesn't seem fazed in the least. Of course, that would be too obvious an ending so don't think I gave anything a way. These elements make the soap opera-esque story more worthwhile and not just three lonely individuals trying to find happiness in war. If that was the case, I might have turned the movie off halfway through.
Telling this story, Daves wisely focuses on his three main characters with a few supporting parts worth mentioning. Sinatra didn't have the greatest range as an actor, but when he found the right part he typically knocked it out of the park. His Sam Loggins is a good example of what he can do with that right part. Curtis gets to play against type to a bit, putting a harsher spin on his typical lovable rogue who you still like. He's not a straight bad guy, but if there is a villainous character here, it is him. It is fun though seeing two performers like Sinatra and Curtis work together with some meatier roles. Other than her French accent, Wood is excellent as Monique. The 20-year old actress looks beautiful and makes Monique sympathetic in her trials as she grows up, trying to figure out what she wants in life while dealing with this cloud over her head she has no control over. Leora Dana has a good if small part as Monique's mother while Karl Swenson is good as Sinatra's commanding officer.
Other things worth mentioning include the camerawork and the filming locations. Daves shoots the movie in black and white, a good choice that makes the story and setting more sparse, more basic emotion. With color, I don't know if the movie works as well. With a few notable exceptions, the movie was also shot in France and Italy including some great shots of the French Riviera. A beautiful movie to look at, and with a good story on top of it. See this unheralded WWII love story for the acting thing, especially the three stars.
Kings Go Forth <----trailer (1958): ***/****