Friday, August 24, 2018
Gung Ho Soldiers
This is my entry in the Second Van Johnson Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood
The heroes who won the Big One never got the respect they deserved so much as they did in Battleground, in your bloggers honest opinion. The cast included Van Johnson, who was himself no stranger to war films. beginning with A Guy named Joe, Johnson was in about a dozen films that centered on military escapades, including The Caine Mutiny, Go for Broke!, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo and The Last Blitzkrieg.
Joining Johnson in this story about the events in a battle in Bastogne were Ricardo Montalban, James Whitmore, John Hodiak, Richard Jaekel and even James Arness.
The credited star of the movie is Holley (Van Johnson), but the viewpoint of the movie is mostly told from a new recruit, Layton (Marshall Thompson). Layton arrives just as the news of the troop's orders come in and he is initially treated as an outsider.
The 101st Airborne is going to Paris on leave. However, events change those plans as the Germans unexpectedly start having a few successes in the battle.. The company is ordered to the front.
On their first night they hole up in the town of Bastogne. Several of the soldiers bed down in the home of a local woman, and Holley tries to put the moves on her. But of course, the brass (and in effect the Breen censorship committee) has other plans. Holley gets off on his maneuvers with only a few eggs that he manages to commandeer from the chicken house. (The eggs become a running gag throughout the movie as Holley tries vainly to cook them, only to have his plans interrupted because they have to move out).
Realistic or not, the movie shows not only the bravery of the soldiers, but also the occasional acts of cowardice. Several soldiers try to desert, even Holley at one point. One soldier, Slezak (George Murphy), is hoping for a discharge order to come through because of situations back home, but these are slow to arrive.
At one point, one soldier on guard ends up inadvertently letting some German soldiers pass his guard point. The word is that some Germans have commandeered American uniforms and speak perfect English, but the word comes a bit too late for the poor soldier. The Germans get by him and end up blowing up a strategic bridge a few miles down the road.
This is war, so some of the soldiers do end up dying. I won't reveal all of them, but one dramatic scene involves a patrol who end up under German fire. Rodrigues (Ricardo Montalban) is wounded and tells his patrol members to go on without him, since his leg wound would only slow them down. He crawls under a damaged jeep to hide and await the soldiers to return at a later time to get him, but he dies before they can get back to him.
One of the more dramatic scenes occurs during a Christmas church service. The chaplain (Leon Ames) delivers the typical Hollywood propaganda speech in the form of a sermon:
"And the $64 question is: "Was this trip necessary?" I'll try to answer that. But my sermons, like everything else in the army... depend on the situation and the terrain. So I assure you this is going to be a quickie. Was this trip necessary? Let's look at the facts. Nobody wanted this war but the Nazis. A great many people tried to deal with them, and a lot of them are dead. Millions have died... for no other reason except that the Nazis wanted them dead. So, in the final showdown, there was nothing left to do except fight. There's a great lesson in this. Those of us who've learned it the hard way aren't going to forget it. We must never again let any force dedicated to a super-race... or a super-idea, or super-anything... become strong enough to impose itself upon a free world. We must be smart enough and tough enough in the beginning... to put out the fire before it starts spreading. My answer to the sixty-four dollar question is yes, this trip was necessary. As the years go by, a lot of people are going to forget. But you won't. And don't ever let anybody tell you you were a sucker to fight in the war against fascism. And now, Jerry permitting, let us pray. "
On that note folks, it's time to move on. Drive home safely, and say a prayer of thanks to the men and boys who helped and continue to help keep America and the values of liberty and freedom still alive.