| May 26, 2015


It seems like every filmmaker has the secret desire to tell their version of the Second World War.

Countless filmmakers and actors have tackled this subject since the war itself began. It’s undeniable that the attraction to story tellers is that it is ostensibly a clear cut case of “good vs. evil” that almost builds the script itself. World War II and the events leading up to it play out in a fascinating tragedy with devastating consequences, with every point of view feeling shattered in their own way as the dust settled on VJ Day. And its portrayal in Hollywood has developed over the years much like the war itself evolved as time went on till its conclusion. From the once shining idealism of our boys fighting the good fight over there punching out Nazis as fast as some Captain with a shield (wink), we have over the past 30 years started to come to the point our boys did when the concentration camps were liberated and the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima; a world where the atrocities of the past must be more than just flash and glory.

And Clint grew up through Hollywood on both cylinders. His acting career as a rough tough fighting soldier of fortune only lasted two films, but they are sterling examples of the gritty gung ho war films of the 60s that we think of today when we think about any military action/adventure.

Some 35 years later, Clint had reached a point in his directing career where he was starting to break down the mythos and legacies of his own characters. Along this same line, Hollywood had become much more responsible with it’s portrayal of WWII and its devastating effects on victims and soldiers. So when he finally tackles directing his own two films on the battle of Iwo Jima, he is packed with knowledge that most filmmakers dont have: what we were then and what we are now.

So join me in examining Clint’s four films that delved into the subject of the greatest generation. He leads us into an operation to rescue a general, the lust ridden search for gold behind enemy lines, into the understanding of men returning home as war raged on, and then finally shows us the side of the war we rarely ponder.


4 outta 4 TIGER TANKS

In the grand scheme of things, Kelly’s Heroes may only be remembered to todays audience for its score by Lalo Schifin and its use in 2009’s Inglorious Basterds. Hopefully though, those who are in the mood for a gritty action packed mad cap comedy. A lot of descriptives for a film that is at its core the Oceans 11 of war films (context lying within the 1960s version, not the 2001 version)

The film, directed by Brian G. Hutton, follows Clint as Pvt. Kelly who learns of a bank behind enemy lines carrying $16 million in gold bars. He assembles a team of his own to carry out the dangerous mission to retrieve the gold and say “Up the Brass” to their superiors. His team consists of the curmudgeonly Don Rickles as Crapgame, the gritty Telly Savalas as Big Joe, and the hippie- dippie Donald Sutherland as Oddball. All the while, the teams exploits are being followed by a blowhard General played by All In The Familys own Archie Bunker, Carroll O’ Connor.

The cast works incredibly well, playing on their own strengths, with Clint leading the group in his lovable rough and tough self. The director even managed to sneak in a brief visual homage to Clint’s Sergio Leone days. The films strength lies in a very anarchic spirit that recalls Mad Mad World mixed with machine gun mortar, balancing the action and comedy without tipping the scale.

And as stated, the Lalo Schifrin score is dynamite, ably accompanied by “Burning Bridges” by The Mike Curb Congregation.


3.5 outta 4 Ski Lifts

Brian G. Hutton, director of Kelly’s Heroes and this film, has one visible trait in his two notable films outside of the backdrop of the second world war. He relishes the “men on a mission” realm with a panache that would be among the top tier examples in the genre that would influence films today. WHERE EAGLES DARE is a prime example of such feats.

Richard Burton leads the relatively obscure cast as a British Intelligence operative who plays double agent with the help of an American Soldier (played by Clint) to infiltrate a Nazi infested castle and rescue a General.

The film excellence and disappointment lie in its running time, which does test patience while at the same time grandly capturing the scale of the action on a beautiful dark lit canvas. So call it a draw.

Burton is slick in the role, though he lacks any of the charisma of his co-star Clint offers, and he is essentially written off in the film as a lackey with cool demeanor and tasty one liners.

Ultimately, the film is worth the investment, if nothing else to see what it looks like for Clint to play second banana.

Now onto the IWO JIMA DOUBLE BILL. Both films will be examined separately as usual, but post review their will be an analysis of the films as a whole.


3.5 outta 4 Flags

It is tough to follow what Spielberg did visually with SAVING PRIVATE RYAN in 1998, but Clint comes closer than any other director has with FLAGS while still holding firm with his reputation as a storyteller who cares deeply about characters.

Following the story of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, the film flips back and forth narratively between the battle and the aftermath which finds 3 of the men that raised the flag (played aptly by Ryan Philippe, Jesse Bradford, and Adam Beach) on a US Bond tour to raise money for the war effort. The Homefront narrative proves more fascinating than the battle at points, as Clint is showing us a side of WWII Hollywood rarely dives into. Its strongest aspect is Adam Beaches incredible performance as Corporal Ira Hayes, who deals with survivors guilt and racial prejudice as he returns home, yet is still eager to get back overseas and fight.

Clint does a great job directing his actors through the bouncing narrative and presents a bleak and grey visual atmosphere that blends together with its characters. He definitely took some cues from Spielbergs Normandy Invasion, but theres a light touch that harkens back to war films of the 60s and early 70s that is unmistakeable.

Overall it is a gripping and fascinating story that leaves you enthralled.


4 outta 4 Letters…. From Iwo Jima

The sheer feat of directing a film in a language that is not your own is impressive itself. To create an utterly beautiful masterpiece out of it is just astonishing. LETTERS is the perfect film to show anyone just how powerful Eastwood can be as a storyteller. His key trigger as a director is the breaking down of mythos and idyllic glory, and here he lays it out in the most brutally honest fashion.

The film covers the Battle for Iwo Jima through the perspective of the Japanese defending the island under the command of General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) and the inner conflict of the soldiers as they deal with duty versus survival. The emotional complexity of the story is unique to American cinema and puts the audience through a very gripping watch that they cannot possibly look away from topped with a brutally claustrophobic atmosphere that puts you right into the thick of it with the soldiers. In addition, the film provides a dual viewpoint of Americans on screen as we see both the good and the down right nasty of soldiers in the battle; one particular scene involves two Americans shooting dead their Japanese prisoners rather than stand guard and watch them. Its an unrelenting, challenging, and honest viewpoint of war that mainstream cinema normally likes to tackle and Clint
handles it perfectly.

Ken Watanabe’s performance as Kuriyabashi is not just the best of his career, it was one of the best performances of 2006. His position as General of an already lost battle is tragic and deeply human.

Of all the films that Clint has directed without him starring, this is the one to beat all others and is easily one of the greatest WWII films ever made.


Of course the IWO JIMA DOUBLE BILL is a unique case, as the two films work with each other in conjunction to present the full visual and psychological scale of the battle for the Island. Theres an interesting aspect where the two films are filmed in such a way that they could both be re-edited inti one massive 4 hour and change epic, based on the choreography of the battle sequences with the flash forwards in time, it would be interesting to see. Alas, the beauty of the set is that separation is necessary to grasp the full impact of the overall purpose of the duo.

Thats 12 films down and 45 films more to go.

Who knows what the next batch will bring? Only I do, and I dont even know.

About the Author:

Zach Eastman is the filmmaker responsible for films such as TWOMBLEY (Starz Film Festival 2012 Official Selection) and THE BOY WHO STARES. He is also the producer of Matty O Connor's film GUNS DRUGS AND SYNERGY, Adam Jewels award winning film THE ZONE, and Tony Grosz's TWO YEARS SINCE FRIDAY. He has been a frequent guest on REEL NERDS PODCAST and now is one of their contributors.
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