Memorial Day Special: Pictorial Tribute to U.S. Soldiers in the Movies


The final Monday of May is a Memorial Day holiday here, which is a day to remember the fallen men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. As a U.S. resident, I’m definitely grateful of the service of Military men and women. Freedom is definitely NOT free and the people serving in the various U.S. military branches – Navy, Army, Air Force and the Marines – risk their lives to protect their country and its citizens.

So today, as I reflect on their bravery and dedication, I thought I’d do a pictorial tribute to memorable portrayal of American soldiers in the movies from various era and genres. Obviously I have not seen too many war/military-themed movies so these are meant to only be a sampling of military roles represented.

So here are (roughly) 27 of them, simply to coincide with today’s date of May 27:

Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) – ‘Independence Day’

Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) & Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) – ‘The Hurt Locker’

Lt. Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) & Capt. Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) – ‘Crimson Tide’

Major "Dutch" Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) – 'Predator'
Major “Dutch” Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) – ‘Predator’

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) & Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) – ‘Captain America’

U.S. Army Private Witt (Jim Caviezel) – ‘The Thin Red Line’

Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) & Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) – ‘Forrest Gump’

Marine Sergeant Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) – ‘Born on the Fourth of July’

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) – ‘Rambo’

Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) & Lt. Colonel Serling (Denzel Washington) – ‘Courage Under Fire’

Gen. ‘Buck’ Turgidson (George C. Scott) – ‘Dr. Strangelove’

US Army helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) – ‘Source Code’

LT Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson), Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) – ‘A Few Good Men’

Navy Commander Shears (William Holden) – ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’

Major Archie Gate (George Clooney), Sergeant First Class Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) – ‘Three Kings’

Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) – ‘Twelve O’Clock High’

Sgt. Emil Foley (Louis Gossett Jr.) & Officer Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) – ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’

Now, I made an exception with this last pick. Even though I have not seen Saving Private Ryan yet, but everything I’ve read (including this fine review by good friend Mark) about this Steven Spielberg masterpiece suggests that Tom Hanks as Captain Miller is more than worthy to be included.


Happy Memorial Day to my fellow Americans!

Now, which other U.S. military movie characters would YOU add to the list? Let me know in the comments!

Classic Flix Review: Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

Greetings and welcome to all and sundry. It’s my great pleasure to offer a Guest Review of a film I grew up with and have seen many, many times on television. With and without commercials. Though only a few times on the big screen. One of the great World War II films.

Winner of two Academy Awards. From 1949. Directed by Henry King. With Gregory Peck, Dean Jagger and stalwart of many 1950s Science Fiction films, Hugh Marlowe the focus of a large cast of seasoned, well versed character actors depicting life in a B-17 heavy bomber squadron attached to the Eight Air Force in the thick of Daylight Bombing Missions in 1942.

The film begins with mild mannered Dean Jagger’s Harvey Stovall stepping out of a post war London Haberdashery after spending ‘A splendid hour and a half.’ selecting and purchasing a Bowler Derby. Satisfied, Harvey passes by an Antiques Shop and notices something in the front display window. A keepsake from a bygone era. Another purchase is made and Harvey rides his bicycle out along far off paths and roads. To what once was USAAF Archbury, home of the 918th Heavy Bomber Squadron.

The scene dissolves into the return of a group of B-17s. Fewer than had gone out. Some flying well. Others damaged and straining to keep in the air. Crash crews and ambulances are scrambled as one bomber bellies in. Slides and grinds and comes to a stop. Hatches open and the crew escapes. One seriously wounded airman is stretchered out and a medic enters the stricken hulk and brings out something wrapped in a blanket. Another bad day after another tough miserable mission for the 918th. One of the 8th Air Force’s ‘Hard Luck Outfits’.

Arguments ensue during a somber debriefing. While just outside London a newly promoted Brigadier General Frank Savage is in discussions with Generals of even higher rank. It seems that the 918th and other squadrons have hit the point of diminishing returns. Losses on bombing missions are bad to staggering. Unit cohesion is suffering. Savage’s new orders are to relieve the 918th of its Commanding Officer, Colonel Keith Davenport and do whatever is necessary to get the 918th back in the plus column.

Savage arrives with little aplomb to see just how bad things are. Lax security at the front gate. The squadron’s Executive and Air Operations Officer, Lt. Colonel Ben Gately, is Absent Without Leave (AWOL) after Davenport has been relieved. Savage orders Gately be put under arrest and goes over the assigned staff records until Gately arrives and reports  for a private dressing down.

Savage demotes Gately from Air Exec to Aircraft Commander and orders him to paint ‘Leper Colony’ on the nose of his assigned bomber. To be crewed by Gately and any complainers, malingerers and those whose work is far below par. Because Gately rates them. The only way off ‘Leper Colony’ is improvement!

There’s a new sheriff in town and the officers and crew discover the next morning as Savage lays down the law. Leaves are canceled. No more combat missions until things improve. So, it’s back to fundamentals. Formation flying. Very tight. Very close. And lots of it! The crews gripe and groan as they are dismissed.

The crews revolt of course, and the Orderly Room is flooded with Transfer Requests. Enter Major Harvey Stovall. A lawyer in civilian life. Magnificently underplayed by Dean Jagger, who’s been sitting on the sidelines and slowly sizing up his new C.O. after having been earlier read the Riot Act. What he has seen, he likes so far. And an important alliance is formed as the bomber crews continue their griping and training.

Improvement occurs slowly but surely. Combat missions are scheduled. The officers’ Club is reopened and the keepsake from the Antique Shop takes its place on the O Club’s mantle. Facing those inside when there would be mission the next day. The missions go out and the crews practice what they’ve learned about tight box formations of eight planes and utilizing each plane’s ten machine guns to keep German fighters away. Military Air Doctrine at work when long range escorting allied fighters were still months away.

The missions go deeper and deeper into France and finally, Germany! By now the crews feel as though they are part of something bigger than themselves. Morale has improved and the squadron can hold its own with the enemy and takes bigger and bigger chances. Peck’s General Savage may still not be loved, but he is respected in spades! Men in unpressurized steel and aluminum  bombers will tempt death for him. Which was the overall objective of Savage’s assignment in the first place.

Which sets the table for a strategically important mission to bomb a ball bearing factory in Germany. All parts of the squadron are functioning as a well-oiled machine. The planes are scarred, but are ready to go. The crews board their B-17s and…. I won’t go further than that. Lest we get into Spoiler Territory.

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Ramrod straight, spit & polish Gregory Peck playing a by-the-book officer, much to the alarm and dismay of his newly-assigned squadron. Who believe they have it rough until Peck’s General Savage shows them what rough really is! Peck’s Savage knows he’s not been given the 918th to be loved. He’s been given it to punch holes in the sky until its B-17s stand a better than decent chance of  survival against the Luftwaffe. Then punch more holes in the sky to bomb Fortress Europe. If that means closing the Officers’ Club until further notice. And telling your men to forget about going home or someplace better and consider yourself already dead.

Savage is more than willing to do that. Since Savage understands that he is but one large sprocket in a much larger machine. With even larger sprockets above and smaller ones below which all need to mesh for the machine to operate.

The film’s beautifully lit, B&W photography fuses subtly with the sunlight lit, spartan offices and adds to the overall power of the film. That meshes smoothly with the stock gun camera Dogfight footage of German Messerschmitts and Focke Wolf fighters for the brief times the 918th’s B-17s are airborne and over enemy territory. Some of the best aerial photography in film.

A large and impressive cast of secondary characters and their actors. Specifically, Gary Merrill’s Colonel Keith Davenport, Hugh Marlowe’s Lt. Col. Ben Gately and Paul Stewart’s ‘Doc’ Kaiser. Merrill’s Davenport is near to being burned out as the film begins. Only to return on a later visit to see that Savage starts showing small signs of being where he was before being relieved.

Marlowe’s Lt. Col. Gately is a spoiled, privileged son and grandson of Army generals as the film begins. Though through many weeks of the Savage Method, becomes his most ardent disciple. Even flying multiple combat missions with a chipped vertabra that later results in bed rest and Traction. His transformation is subtle, but intriguing to behold.

Paul Stewart’s ‘Doc’ Kaiser is the quiet one in the group, Watching and discreetly reporting to Savage and later, Air Exec, Major Stovall on the overall fitness of the crews and probably to the Big Brass in London on Savage’s fitness as well. Stewart is a past master of under statement and doesn’t disappoint.

What Makes This Film Great?

Everything that makes it good. Plus Gregory Peck firmly wrapping himself around a figure of authority that will be visited time and again in future films. Particularly Captain Horatio Hornblower and Captain Newman, MD. Though much more rigidly as General Frank Savage. The scenes Peck shares with Dean Jagger are sometimes humorous, though completely believable and a treat to watch. As is the dialogue and Technical Direction. Kudos to the film’s director, Henry King for making parts of Eglin Air Force base in Florida and its Auxilliary, #3, Duke Field, which is in the middle of nowhere, for filling in for USAAF Archbury.

On an historic note, Twelve O’ Clock High has been used for decades after its release as a case study and training aid  in countless military and private sector leadership seminars throughout the United States and the world. Specifically used to stimulate discussions regarding authority and respect for the chain of command. The film was nominated for the National Film Registry in 1949 and was selected for the Registry in 1998.

Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews

Have you seen this film? Thoughts are welcome in the comments.

Weekend Viewing Roundup

Hello folks, I’m assuming it’s a short week for most of you? For sure I won’t miss this 3-4 day work-week like this come January when the hustle and bustle returns at the office.

Well, The Dark Knight Rises trailer pretty much sidelined this post, but I still want to give y’all a rundown of the movies I saw this week. I’ve been averaging about 4-5 movies a week since my Gregory Peck marathon started and I’m still having a blast watching his movies!

I’ve posted my Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol review so here are my mini reviews of the others:

Twelve O’Clock High (1949) 

I actually saw this the week before but forgot to include it in my roundup post

Peck played a tough-as-nails general who takes over a bomber pilot unit suffering from low morale and whips them into fighting shape. Those who think Peck as the romantic Joe Bradley or calm-as-a-cucumber Atticus Finch will see a whole different side of him here, he lends credibility to Brig. Gen Frank Savage who’s based on a real life General Frank Armstrong, and the fact that he looks ruggedly handsome in those bomber jacket is a major plus 😀
His performance was nominated for an Oscar (his fourth in five years) and I wish he had won. His transformation from the stern, uncompromising leader to the moment of his breakdown at the end is compelling to watch… it’s a controlled performance Peck is known for, and the supporting cast is great as well, especially Dean Jagger and Hugh Marlowe.  There’s not a heck of a lot of air battle scenes despite the title but the ones that appear in this film were actually  photographed in actual combat by members of the United States Air Force and the German Luftwaffe, as stated in the opening. No wonder Savage’s leadership style is used as an example in US Navy and Air Force schools, as well as leadership training in civilian non-military seminars. Even though I’m not generally a fan of war films, I really enjoyed this one as it’s more character-driven and focused more on the psyche of the troops.

The Valley of Decision (1945)

Ok, back to the sweet & romantic Gregory in this one set in 19th Century Pittsburgh. Oh man, talk about a fairy tale, forget Cinderella, I want to be Mary Rafferty!! Get this, she came from a poor family of steel mill worker, when she goes to work as a maid for the wealthy Scott family, the eldest (and of course the most gorgeous) son Paul Scott falls for her. 29-year-old Peck turns on the charm big time, in only his third film, he displayed such magnetic presence on screen. His romantic scenes with Greer Garson just made me melt, and it’s really impossible for you not to root for these two to be together.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen Garson (never even heard of her!) but she comes across very likable, I might check out her other films after this. She reminds me a bit of Lucille Ball with curly her hairstyle and giant eyes, and she had a nice chemistry with Peck. I confess that even if the story is terrible, it’s still well worth buying this DVD just to stare at Gregory, ahah, but fortunately I find the story really engaging. Paul & Mary’s romance is complicated by the bitter strike among the mill workers, and a tragic incident involving both their families. Lionel Barrymore co-starred with Peck again here as Mary’s father, but his character is pretty much a variation of Mr. Potter. In any case, this one now stands as one of my top 10 favorite Gregory Peck movie now. Boy, it’ll be tough to make that list as he’s got so many great classics.

Bourne Supremacy (2004)

The second installment is perhaps my favorite of the Bourne franchise. Yes perhaps the presence of the über hunky New Zealander Karl Urban as the baddie Kirill has something to do with it, but I think the film is just more enjoyable than the first. We’ve got British director Paul Greengrass at the helm this time and the movie starts off with a dynamic chase scene almost right away. Damon confidently reprises the title role, growing more weary and exasperated by the relentless pursuits of the CIA. Of course he always managed to get one step ahead of them every single time.

Urban as Kirill

Bourne is on the run once again, this time flying solo across Goa India, Berlin, and Moscow. Hot on his trail is the CIA led by Deputy Director Pamela Landy (the always excellent Joan Allen) who’s immediately suspicious that Ward Abbott (equally compelling Brian Cox) knew more about the ‘Neski files’ case than he let on. The battle of wills between these two are great to watch and once again this film benefits from a great combo of gripping action and tight script, woven together nicely by Greengrass’ dynamic directing style. It’s also nice to see Julia Stiles’ getting more screen time this time around also. Both she and Allen are such underrated actresses.

Btw, my favorite action sequence is this killer car chase scene in Moscow, with Bourne driving with only one arm after Kirill shot him. Oh man, it’s downright gripping and it stands as one of my favorite movie car chases of all time!

Helvetica documentary (2007)

A documentary about typography, graphic design, and global visual culture.

As graphic designers naturally the subject matter appeals to us and we both love typography. This documentary focuses on evolution of the ubiquitous type formerly called Neue Haas Grotesk, it’s developed in 1957 by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann. You may not know what type face that is but you sure are surrounded by it, everywhere you look you’ll likely to find a Helvetica type face being used, whether in an ad or in a street sign. The doc also shows the origin of this type face and feature various interviews with type designers from mostly Europe and the US.

The history stuff is quite insightful and captivating, but I think the execution falls a bit flat for me. I was bored a lot of the time watching this 80-min doc, which is a shame as it could have been handled in a more dynamic way. Still, it’s worth a watch and I’d still give a similar documentary on product design called Objectified a shot, it’s also directed by Gary Huswit.

Well, that’s my weekend roundup, any thoughts on any of them? Feel free to share about the movies you saw this weekend.