A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Air Force (Howard Hawks, 1943)

John Garfield, George Tobias, and Harry Carey in Air Force
Capt. Quincannon: John Ridgely
Lt. Williams: Gig Young
Lt. McMartin: Arthur Kennedy
Lt. Hauser: Charles Drake
Sgt. White: Harry Carey
Cpl. Weinberg: George Tobias
Cpl. Peterson: Ward Wood
Pvt. Chester: Ray Montgomery
Sgt. Winocki: John Garfield
Lt. "Tex" Rader: James Brown
Maj. Mallory: Stanley Ridges
Col. Blake: Moroni Olsen
Susan McMartin: Faye Emerson

Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Dudley Nichols
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Art direction: John Hughes
Film editing: George Amy
Music: Franz Waxman

"Fried Jap coming down!" crows gunner Weinberg as a Japanese fighter pilot and his plane attacking the Mary-Ann are consumed in flames. It's a much-quoted and much-parodied line that puts Howard Hawks's Air Force squarely where it belongs: in the wounded jingoism of the period immediately post Pearl Harbor. We wince at the line today, but Air Force has endured not so much because it's a period piece as because it's a tremendously effective piece of filmmaking. Hawks, who was a licensed pilot and had served in the Army Air Corps during World War I, was the exactly right person to make the film, which producer Hal B. Wallis put into production shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and which he wanted to release on the first anniversary of the attack in 1942. Hawks was too savvy and persistent a craftsman to allow anything like an arbitrary deadline to hinder him, and his failure to adhere to Wallis's schedule led to a brief replacement as director by Vincent Sherman. Wallis was exasperated in particular by Hawks's constant departure from the producer-approved screenplay, particularly the dialogue. Nevertheless, Hawks persisted, and called in William Faulkner to rewrite Concannon's death scene, which the director found too saccharine. The result is one of the most affecting moments of the film. The rest is pretty much razzle-dazzle heroism and entertaining male-bonding: There's no Hawksian woman in the movie to take the guys down a peg, although Faye Emerson's bit as McMartin's sister and Williams's girlfriend has a good deal of the Hawksian tough cookie about her. Hawks wanted the film to be a wartime version of his great movie about pilots, Only Angels Have Wings (1939), but the propagandist pressures to support the war effort, and probably a good deal of meddling from Wallis and Warner Bros., kept him from achieving that goal. Still, the action is exciting and the performances are good, especially John Garfield as the reluctantly heroic Winocki and Harry Carey as the oldtimer mechanic -- though Carey, in his mid-60s, was probably more of an oldtimer than the role strictly calls for.

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