Saturday 4 August 2007

A Walk in the Sun (1945) Lewis Milestone

Lewis Milestone directed a lot of movies in a lot of genres, and I've been finding them to be surprisingly consistent, but it's for his war movies that he's best remembered. This one in particular seems to have been well regarded by real World War II veterans who appreciated the lack of what Hollywood was always best at: jazzing things up to keep folks with short attention spans interested. This certainly isn't a Rambo-esque shoot 'em up extravaganza, it's slow and talky how it would have been in real life. War has often been described as long periods of nothing punctuated by short episodes of shocking violence. That's what novelist Harry Brown, scriptwriter Robert Rossen and director Lewis Milestone gave us in A Walk in the Sun.

It follows the action (and the lack of it) experienced over a day in Italy by the lead platoon of the Texas Regiment in 1943. As the opening song points out, 'It was just a little walk in the Italian sun but it wasn't an easy thing.' They land on the beach at Salerno and work their way six miles inland to take a farmhouse from the enemy and blow up a bridge.

Now this may be realistic, but there are problems with it and to be fair they're not really the fault of the people making the film. Most people complaining about this film seem to complain about the lack of action but I'm not going to jump on that bandwagon. To be honest, it's refreshing to hear the mindless philosophising and pointless jokes that the soldiers indulge in to fill the many empty moments. The action is there: we hear it and we see the smoke, we're just not in the heart of it. At least most of the time. I've also seen enough bad Nazi portrayals to relish a war movie in which we never really see the enemy. They're there, in planes or destroyed tanks or shooting out of farmhouse windows but that's it. We don't get to know them at all.

What was most annoying for me was the choice to include army swearing knowing full well that it would have to be sanitised to satisfy the censors running the show. It's not overdone but using the word 'loving' in place of its more salacious alternative is just dumb. It would have made more sense to avoid swearing altogether than to bowdlerise it. I could have done without the ballads too, and it's a little disconcerting to hear big tough American soldiers keep asking for butts.

The acting is solid, not just from Dana Andrews in the lead but from the entire platoon that include such luminaries as John Ireland, Lloyd Bridges and Sterling Holloway. Even Huntz Hall is decent, making a rare foray away from the East Side Kids movies. I'm used to seeing Leo Gorcey but I can't remember seeing Huntz Hall anywhere else. Richard Conte is probably most fun as the talkative Private Rivera. It's the story that matters though, or more accurately what the story stands for, real people fighting a real war from a human perspective that has no axe to grind.

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