A WALK IN THE SUN – IS IT THE BEST MOVIE TO COME OUT OF WW II ?
Hello Everybody. Mister Joe Morella and Mister Frank Segers here again .
Today we all – notably including our esteemed Books to Movies contributor Larry Michie – have our say about one of the best movies to come out of World War II.
We wonder if it IS the best. What do you think? What is your personal favorite WW II movie?
First, a few words from Michael Caine:
“British war films were always about officers; American films were about enlisted men.”
Caine is right, and no movie better illustrates his observation about officers versus enlisted men in American movies better than “A Walk In The Sun,” made by 20th Century Fox, directed by Lewis Milestone (nee Lev Milstein) and released in January 1945. (A freshly minted DVD of the film came out a year ago from VCI Entertainment.)
The movie has an all-star cast of character actors (George Tynes, Herbert Rudley, Sterling Holloway, Huntz Hall, Norman Lloyd, Steve Brodie and a very young-looking Lloyd Bridges) aided by bigger stars, Dana Andrews, John Ireland and Richard Conte — all portraying dog faces. After a hapless lieutenant’s face is blown away in the movie’s opening scenes, not a single officer appears in the rest of the movie.
A “Walk In The Sun” tracks an Army platoon in the 1943 Italian campaign from a Salerno beach landing through an assault on a bridge and a rural farmhouse infested with German machine gunners. There are bursts of action but equally emphasized are the personality quirks of each GI, even their interior monologues. Ireland’s Pfc Windy Crave, for example, mentally composes letters from the battlefield to a female cousin. (We know this because we hear his voiceover narration of what he is composing.)
The movie is based on a book written by Harry Brown, originally published in 1944 by Alfred A Knopf Inc., and reprinted in 1998 by First Bison Books, Univ. of Nebraska Press.
HERE’S LARRY: To judge by the heavyweight endorsements of Harry Brown’s WWII short novel “A Walk in the Sun,” the book is a major prize.
It was published a year before the movie came out. The New York Times said it was one of the most honest books to come out of World War II. The New Yorker called it “A book that is a book — natural, deeply moving, funny, and soundly American.”
Orville Prescott, writing in the Yale Review, said, “Harry Brown knows human character so intimately and has such superb powers as a writer that he can portray men in battle wonderfully well, better than has any other author writing of the Second World War of whom I have a knowledge.”
John Hersey said, “The book is by a soldier who is also a poet, and it is very good indeed.” It better be good after all that praise…
Well, the book was right on target, and so was the movie, although both naturally show their age. The men who landed on Salerno and helped close the Italian phase of the war are portrayed honestly in both media, although it now takes one aback to frequently have one soldier say to another, “You kill me.” That was a way of saying “You make me laugh,” but it’s kind of odd when enemy machine guns are in action.
The new DVD of the movie is worth a look. It’s in good shape and has had elements restored that were dropped from earlier prints.
The movie has some dated styles, but is true to the book and certainly catches the weary truths of the long grind of a miserable war. The story begins with an excellent depiction of the fears and horrors of an amphibious landing. The platoon’s new lieutenant is killed while taking a foolish look over the landing craft’s bow.
There are several other casualties by the time the platoon is hunkered down on land, and the upshot is that a sergeant, played by Dana Andrews, is in charge of leading the platoon on a six-mile walk. Their objective: Kill any Germans in a targeted farmhouse and destroy a nearby bridge.
The platoon succeeds, at considerable loss of life. One aspect of the plot and its success that appeals to me is that there is no certainty at all that the capture of the farmhouse and the destruction of the bridge was of any significance whatever.
The long-suffering soldiers had a job to do and they did it, so don’t think too hard about how necessary the orders might or might not have been. The narrator was perfect: Burgess Meredith.
FRANKS SAYS: I have been smitten with “Walk In The Sun” for decades now (I am not entirely sure I did not catch the movie upon its original theatrical release).
I love the poetic touches spoken in the movie by John Ireland and in the book by the sergeant portrayed in the film version by Dana Andrews, one of my very favorite actors. The combat action seems credible to me, and so does most of the profanity-free GI talk, albeit mild-mannered by today’s screen standards, from screenwriter Robert Rossen
HERE’S JOE: As coauthor of “The Films of World War II” (The Citadel Press, 1973), Joe surveyed nearly 100 wartime titles and found that “’A Walk in the Sun’ hit the core of what must have actually happened in countless small encounters on battlefields wherever fighting men met the enemy…
“(The film) concerns itself intimately and in close-up with the men involved, with their thoughts and feelings. It was a compelling and honest account of humans caught in the mill of an inhuman situation.”
Well, there you have it – what we think. Let’s hear what YOU think.