Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Film Review: The 1000 Plane Raid (1969)





I picked this up, along with The Red Baron (1971), and Master Of The World (1961), all £3 each, with a Fopp voucher at the Cambridge branch of the now quite small Fopp chain. The plot basically concerns an American bomber group commander and his plan to try out a massive daylight raid against Nazi Germany, in the hope of dealing a 'knock out blow'.

Near the beginning of the film Col. Greg Brandon (Christopher George) nearly loses novice pilot Lt. Archer and his crew, when the bomber group is attacked. Fortunately a British Spitfire comes to their aid. But the brash pilot upsets Brandon. Back at base Brandon chews out Archer, and seeks retribution against the cocky Spitfire pilot.

George as Brandon. Suitably rugged leading male material.

The 1000 Plane Raid belongs to that quite large domain of WWII movies starring B-list, or second rank, acting talent. Such films, if you'll pardon the bombing pun, can be quite hit and miss. This is not as good as, say, Decision Before Dawn, but it's better than some star vehicles. Anzio, with Robert Mitchum and Peter Falk springs to mind.

The plot is familiar, akin to 12 O'Clock High, with a hard-ass leader alienating his subordinates, overworking both them and himself. But, in the time honoured tradition of the iron-butt commander, really, underneath it all, his heart is made of candyfloss and marshmallows. 'It's just this damn war', and 'I can't stand losing any more men', is the sort of thing our stalwart will confide to his token love interest (Laraine Stephens, in this case).

The well lit token woman.

And the less well lit token man, or rather, token Brit.

The problems the allies were facing - the incredible inefficiency, not to mention indiscriminate barbarity - of night bombing, were very real. To use the title of another bomber related tale, they faced a proper old Catch 22: bombing in daylight was deemed unacceptable, on account of the likely losses to the attacking side, but then night time bombing was not proving to be the weapon its inter-war years apologists had prophesied.

In this film, rather as in the much more recent U-571, Americans gleefully rewrite history to their own advantage. In U-571 Bon-Jovi and pals capture an Enigma code machine from a U-Boat. The events that travesty was based upon were a far different British action! And in this movie, Col. Greg Brandon (Christopher George), of the US 8th Air Force, is credited with the idea of the first 1000 Plane daylight bombing raid.

'No offence to you Brits, but we Yanks...'

Lt. Archer, centre, the not so ugly duckling...

Allegedly based on a book by British ex-RAF man turned author, Ralph Barker, that book's title, The Thousand Plan: The Story of the First Thousand Bomber Raid on Cologne, already diverges from the plot of the film, in which the target is a more ethically palatable war objective (a Focke factory). And not only was the target different, but it was a British idea, carried out by the RAF. And furthermore, as a read of Overy's enormous The Bombing War informs, bombing was always a deeply inefficient 'blunt instrument'.

The title sequence looks fab.

The film's in colour. But this black and white still is nice.

Having moaned about the historical innacuracy, I'd like to do a volte face, and admit that this film is, for all that it's an ahistorical pile of propagandistic cobblers, really quite fun to watch. I remember reading someone else's review of this film (here), in which they said that Oakmont, the production company that made the film, were good at delivering 'first rate entertainment on a second rate budget'. I'd have to agree.

As with so many postwar WWII films, stock footage is frequently used, and - as per the norm - not always exactly seamlessly. What saves the film is, chiefly, the charisma of George, and the charm and humour of RAF liaison officer, Wing Commander 'Taffy' Howard (he of the cheeky Spitfire rescue), played, very engagingly, by Gary Marshal. The script and direction also help, so that one grows to care for even relatively minor characters, such as put upon chief mechanic, who's later pressed into service as a waist gunner.

So, not much cop in terms of historical accuracy. But, as the title implies, a gert big dose of bomb-dropping movie fun.
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NOTES:

Whilst looking for pics online, to illustrate this post, I stumbled upon this

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Film Review: The Red Baron (1971)

This is the version I have.



This proved to be a pretty enjoyable film. Directed by Roger Corman, more famous for his prolific output of B-Movies, it's a creditable stab at a more mainstream period/historical WWI dogfight drama. It was actually filmed and released as Von Richthofen And Brown. But has subsequently been re-released under the snappier and more obvious title, The Red Baron.

The real 'Red Baron'.

John Philip Law in the role.

This is also yet another war movie populated by actors I don't recognise, giving, by and large, very decent performances. [1] Or perhaps I should say very adequate? There’s a fair bit of wooden acting, and not a small amount of ham, at times, but not so much as to really spoil things. And the leads acquit themselves respectably enough. 

Wow, cool wings!

As well as an obvious passion for the flying machines of this period - the Red Baron's colourful 'flying circus' stealing the aerial show - this film also focuses on themes related to the evolution of class cultures, and how this might relate to methods of making war. 

The film starts with Richthofen joining the squadron of Oswald Boelcke. Scenes depicting his developing career are interspersed with scenes of his adversary, Roy Brown, who is portrayed as a rather surly disagreeable type, hell-bent on alienating his plummy British chums.

In this rendering of the story, or rather the popular myth, von Richthofen embodies the 'knights of old' idea - not only does he refuse to camouflage his planes, he goes the opposite way - see above pic [2] - making them more colourful and eye-catching, justifying his disobedience in chivalric terms - which is set in opposition to the down and dirty approach of (as this film has it) his nemesis, Canadian fighter pilot, Roy Brown.

The real Roy Brown.

I watched this with a regular war movie buddy, and right after it we watched an American (PBS?) documentary on the subject, in which the case was made that The Red Baron was probably killed by fire from the ground, and therefore not by Roy Brown, as was maintained at the tine, and as depicted in this film.

In this version of events, Richthofen is drawn into attacking a novice pilot Brown is trying to keep out of the fight. Ironically, Richthofen is coming to the rescue, in this film telling, of his brother Lothar. The way the films plays fast and loose with the historical facts, such as they are, or can ever be known or guessed, doesn't necessarily detract from the value of, nor the fun to be derived from, this film. 



And anyway, as well as cogitating on myths vs. facts, we military gear buffs can also both enjoy the uniforms and equipment, etc, whilst critiquing it! Most of the impressive aerial combat is between British SE5s and German Pfalz D IIIs. Only at the end of the film do we get to see some of the legendary - and very cool looking - Fokker DR I triplanes, including the Baron's iconic red beast. 

There's a very bizarre and very Corman-esque scene, in which Fokker shows off his new (and unpainted) triplane design - all shiny and silver - to Richthofen, and the two discuss 'her', in overtly erotic terms, whislt a Hun honey fondles the fuselage and offers herself to the Baron... bonkers, but great fun!
An older poster, from which the modern DVD cover (at the top of the post) is derived

The DVD Cover art, which is a rather handsome and evocative painting, shows Fokker Triplanes in a dogfight with Sopwith Camels, as indeed happened on that fateful day - his last day of active service, and only days before his 26th birthday - when Von Richthofen was brought down permanently. Sadly, what we actually get, as in The Blue Max [3], are the rather box-nosed SE5s, in place of the more attractively curvaceous Sopwiths.

Aerial scenes were shot in Ireland. Doesn't look like the Somme, does it?

If I were to be critical, then I'd find fault more keenly with the backdrops to the aerial combat - only one scene attempts to integrate the aerial warfare depicted with the ground war that it took place over (and none too convincingly then) - as opposed to the fact it follows the old and contentious line re events. 

What it does best, is recreate believable milieu for both sides, especially in terms of life (and death!) on the bases, in the air, and off duty, showing how the grim realities of modern mechanised war work against old-fashioned codes of chivalry. 

Law in airborne mode.

And the aerial combat footage really is quite something. Unlike many air war movies, this features footage that is clearly genuinely aerial filming of the key leads - perhaps sitting, miming combat, in the rear seat of a two seater, but definitely airborne. Films of this vintage that fake such scenes generally look rather lame as a result. 

Anyway, whilst far from perfect, this is a highly enjoyable portrayal of a compelling and fascinating aspect of WWI.

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NOTES:

[1] Well, actually, I did kind of recognise Law - it's hard to, with all his clothes on (and no wings): he's the blind angel in Barbarella!

'Jasta' (Jagdstaffel) 11.

Corman's pilots.

[2] Mind you, the colours and markings in this film aren't, like the story itself, entirely authentic. They're a kind of amalgam. But they still look very cool!

[3] In fact the planes in this movie are the same planes used in The Blue Max. One rather sad footnote to this later production is that during filming there were two serious crashes, one fatal, and the other seriously injuring two pilots.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Book Review: The Last Days of Hitler - Hugh Trevor-Roper

This is the edition I have.


Hugh Trevor-Roper's reputation as an expert on Hitler took a knock when, as Lord Dacre (he was made a life peer by Margaret Thatcher) he appeared to endorse the forged 'Hitler Diaries', which were actually the work of a certain Konrad Kujau. This whole farrago is the subject of the very interesting and entertaining British TV series Selling Hitler.

Oops! Hugh endorses the fake Hitler diaries.

Trevor-Roper in his Army Intelligence togs.

But way back in 1945 Trevor-Roper, as a British military intelligence agent, was commissioned, largely in response to Russian (or rather Stalinist) myth-mongering, to get to the bottom of what really happened to Hitler. After stating the facts pretty much as they were, Stalinist Russia was looking to exploit Hitler's downfall, and began to take the line that the Western powers were keeping the former Fürher in captivity, for some darkly malevolent bourgeois purposes. [1]

Trevor-Roper's task was to marshal all available intelligence - and he had access not just to documents, but surviving captive participants - and tell the sorry tale of Hitler's ultimate demise, in the Götterdammerung of the collapse and, as it transpired, the literal self-immolation of the supposed thousand year Reich. Such a 'Viking funeral', as he describes it, 'is the natural end of a chapter in history; the history, it seems, of a savage tribe and a primitive superstition.'

Hitler Youth jump over a Solstice bonfire. [2]

Torches at Nuremburg. [2]

I've read The Last Days of Hitler twice now, and thoroughly enjoyed the read on both occasions. Trevor-Roper is not just knowledgeable on his subject, but he is also a very entertaining and adroit writer. He's as witty as he is well-informed. Indeed, his wit can be quite caustic. The subject - words like enjoyable and entertaining seem almost blasphemous in the face of the horrors this coterie of sinister clowns were responsible for - is not an easy or straightforward one. But he handles it about as adroitly as one could hope for.

Having said this, I'm withholding half a balkenkreuz for his indulgence in his own shorthand characterisations, which in some instances (see below) don't just border on, but march in and annexe, caricature. Another theme that might not stand too much scrutiny - and something that he shares with Kenneth Clarke in his magnificent series Civilisation - is his characterisation the Germans themselves, and Southern Germans in particular - in a way that does smack of the same kind of oversimplification of racial/tribal (stereo-)types that the Nazis so obviously took too far.

Hitler originally decreed that this man, Herman Goering, should be his successor. [3]

Goebbels, the family man.

Despite these provisos, the portraits that emerge are very compelling: Hitler himself is deemed to powerfully support the 'great man' idea, inasmuch as it was his dark charisma (to use a more modern historian's term) that was the catalyst for the terrible events of these years. Even isolated in the Berlin bunker, his word was Holy Writ. And indeed, he could even command from beyond the grave, as witness the performances of many of his former cronies, at Nuremburg.

In the Byzantine labyrinthine internecine world of Nazi power-politics, Himmler built the SS Empire. 

Bormann, the omnipresent intriguer, always at Hitler's elbow.

Himmler and Bormann both emerge as strange nonentities, able to rise to enormous power purely as ciphers or channels for the dark lord's will. When he goes, they effectively cease to exist. Some characters are portrayed as outright buffoons, like Schwerin von Krosigk, or Schellenburg, whilst others, Goebbels and Speer in particular, have rather more to them. But all depend on and breath the bizarre 'metaphysical' air of Nazism.

Hitler outside the bunker, 1945. [4]

And in the cramped isolation of the bunker, it's a stifling gaseous aura of neurosis, as euphoric dreams persist, and alternate, like the stormy weather of Hitler's volatile emotional character, with the bleakly nihilistic gloom that is, for Trevor-Roper, the core and lasting testimony of Hitler's fundamentally negative ideology.

Oberwallstrasse, near the bunker, as it looked after the fall of Berlin, 1945.

As Trevor-Roper points out, Hitler understood the power of myth. And whilst this book is an attempt to put the lid on the dangerous genie of Nazism, 'myths are not like truths; they are the triumph of credulity over evidence.' And, lest we get too smug, he adds 'When we consider upon what ludicrous evidence the most preposterous beliefs have been easily, and by millions, entertained, we may well hesitate before pronouncing anything incredible.'

Inside the bunker, at the end.

US press examine the grave Hitler and Braun were cremated in. [5]

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NOTES:

[1] Whilst publicly proclaiming such balderdash, Stalin's agents were in fact compiling a huge dossier on Hitler, which became a 'book' of sorts, expressly put together for Stalin to digest. It's subsequently been published in English as The Hitler Book.

[2] I include these pictures to evoke the pagan ceremony aspect of Nazism, as also suggested in Trevor-Roper's 'Viking Funeral' statement. There are some pictures on the web purporting to show the burnt corpses of Herr and Frau Goebbels, and their six children. But in the interests of keeping this a family friendly blog, I refrained from including them.

[3] But by the time of the period this book covers, Goering had long since ceased to be either a favoured or a credible successor.

[4] Pictures of Hitler in 1945 seem to be quite a rarity. This one is allegedly a photo of an event depicted in the film Downfall, in which Hitler decorated a number of Hitler Youth, in the Chancellery garden, just outside the bunker. The cover image of the Pan edition I have might also have been taken at this same event.

[4] The Russians, first on the scene as they were, told these guys that this was where they'd found the burned remains that they believed to be Hitler and his wife.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Film Review: When Trumpets Fade (1998)




Set in the Hürtgen Forest, during the long and bloody conflict which raged over the winter of 1944-5, When Trumpets Fade is a made for TV movie from HBO NYC. It has the look, for the most part, production wise, of a proper full-on big-screen affair, which is impressive on the smaller budget TV films usually get. It also feels very real, overall, with lots of well rendered combat (and concomitant gore), good solid acting, and a refreshing lack of obviously synthetic looking CGI.

Ron Eldard, as 'Manny', plays a conflicted soul caught in conflict.

We're introduced to central character, who's certainly not your typical war movie 'hero', Pvt. Manning, at the film's outset, as he carries a wounded comrade towards the rear, through barren, battle-scarred woods. This rather grim opening scene sets up the movie, which moves next to a bloody aid-station, where mangled, bloody corpses mark the thoroughfares in an otherwise uniform sea of mud, churned up by weather, traffic and shelling.

The film pulls no punches regarding blood 'n' guts.

It transpires that 'Manny' is the lone survivor from his platoon. A fact that earns him both accusations of shirking and cowardice, and, rather paradoxically, a battlefield promotion to sergeant. Trying to avoid this unsought for advancement, by appealing for a 'Section 8' (psychologically unfit for combat), he instead finds himself given charge of a squad of raw recruits.

Fresh-faced recruits arrive on the line...

... and are sent straight out on patrol, under the reluctant 'Manny'.

Their fraught first patrol makes up the first part of this film's real action. Manning's troubled position doesn't improve. And then things start to get plenty worse, for the sector they're in, as they come under heavy fire. The action is pretty full-on, and we're treated to a number of bloody and exhausting combat scenarios. I'll leave synopsising there, as I don't want to give too much away for those who haven't seen film. Suffice it to say it's both compelling and draining.

I really enjoyed this film a lot, watching it twice in a row (on two consecutive evenings). The dialogue and characterisation are much more straightforward and down to earth than many war films, a lot of which, especially American ones, suffer from the kind of gung-ho machismo that makes a film like Fury, frankly, rather ridiculous.

Capt. Pritchett is really put through the mincer.

Dwight Yoakam's Lt. Col. Rickman.

'Sandy' toasts the enemy, in the climax to a gruelling episode.

I didn't know Rob Eldard, who plays Pvt. Manning, prior to seeing this - I often prefer movies in which less than famous stars' reputations don't get in the way of the film - but found him very convincing. Indeed, I thought all the actors acquitted themselves very well. Only Zak Orth's Pvt. 'Sandy' verges a little towards caricature at times. But he too was generally excellent, with his gonzo flamethrower scene making up for the goggle-eyed hamminess that sometimes threatened his aura of veracity. Martin Donovan as Capt. Pritchett, and Country singer Dwight Yoakam as Lieut. Col. Rickman are both good as war-weary but staunch, strong leaders, whilst Timothy Olyphant is convincing as a younger commander who cracks under the strain.

A worthy attempt at what assumes is meant to be a Pz. IV, but not good enough to fool the pernickety buff.

Likewise with the 88s.

Much of the gear looked convincing. Even the 88s, whilst neither the real thing nor exact replicas, looked near enough. My only gripe in this department was that the German tanks were obvious fakes. I was also slightly troubled by the tactical scenario, with large numbers of US troops being shredded by nowt but two 88s and a few tanks. I've always got the impression, from my reading, that such admittedly formidable firepower was very vulnerable to infantry, if it wasn't defended by its own attendant infantry support.

Mainstream American films often assume - or so it seems to me - that the viewer's mental age is in single figures, heavily signposting anything less than totally obvious. Rather refreshingly, this film doesn't really do that, but instead suggests things, whilst leaving them unstated. I'm not sure I would go so far as to say this is a really great film. But it is a very solid and very enjoyable one, addressing a neglected area of the conflict, and treating it with due respect.

We see very little of 'the hun' up close... But when we do...

...we feel decidedly edgy, much as the recent recruits no doubt did.



Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Fujimi 1/76 Tiger ... & Valerie Leon!

Valerie Leon's pussy stops traffic.

After what feels like aeons away from both mini-military hobbies and blogging, I finally managed, last night, to do what my pal Marcus refers to as 'a bit of gluing'.

DAY I


I picked a Fujimi 1/76 Tiger from one of my several piles of kits.

The main causes of this latest hiatus are working on our new home, and pure exhaustion. I had envisaged our Yuletide break as a surefire opportunity for a festival, nay, a Bacchanalian orgy of bibulous building. But, alas, 'twas not to be.





I'm typing this in the wee small hours, as tired as ever, and now with just one day separating me from my forty-fifth birthday. So, I'll keep things super-basic, and just note that it's great to start gluing again.




At the time of starting this post the tanks chassis and running gear are mostly completed, albeit sans tracks and some upper body furniture. Talking of upper body furniture. Teresa and I watched Blood From The Mummy's Tomb earlier. Crivens... that Valerie Leon! [1]



Sadly, my Fujimi Tiger, unlike Leon, is far from perfectly built. Partly due to my own cack-handedness, and perhaps also partly due to some less than perfect design on the part of Fujimi. As the pics below (hopefully) show, my attempt to make the rear part of the running-gear conform to the illustrations in't instructions left the wheels all cock-eyed, so to speak.



DAY II

So, on  the eve of turning 45, I've spent much of the day clearing rubbish from our wasteland of a garden, and searching for misplaced documents. Ah me, the joys of adult life! So, I've administered some beer, and got back to work on the Tiger I.




In terms of gluing, the kit is pretty much finished. One of a number of oddities with this presumably quite old kit is the absence of any description of the tank, such as many kits contain, or the necessary parts to connect the exhausts to the air filters, which the instructions vaguely insinuate are to be made DIY style, from some string, or somesuch...


And so the Fujimi Tiger I joins my ever growing divisions of panzers et al awaiting a proper paint job. It was fun to build, being relatively easy/straightforward. I've left a few bits out, including a rather clunky engine that wouldn't be visible anyway.

From the rather clumsily sculpted commander figure (but he does at least fit into the turret opening/cupola), to the tiny tow cables that are integral to the side mouldings, this isn't the best or most detailed model. It also lacks a fair bit in the clarity of the instructions, or indications for where certain parts ought to be located.


The hideous rubber band tracks do at least actually glue with the normal poly-cement. The dark grey styrene is, I feel, tiring on the eyes. Especially, perhaps, my ageing optics. It's probably my least favourite of the four or so Tiger I's I've built. And, being 1/76, as opposed to 1/72, a junior partner both quality and scale wise.

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NOTES:

[1] I'd also enjoyed Leon's all too brief moments onscreen in The Spy Who Loved Me, only a few days before. I'm tempted to say her part wasn't big enough in that film. Of course her p-p-p-parts were p-p-p-p-plenty big enough, as Arkwright would've noted, they just weren't onscreen often/long enough.

Leon in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Anyone know which film this is?