The Hack Writer Becomes War Movie Critic – Well, Not Really

The word critic (Greek, Latin) flashes back to the word judge. We know a critic as:

1. One who forms and expresses judgments of the merits, faults, value, or truth of a matter.

2. One who specializes especially professionally in the evaluation and appreciation of literary or artistic works: a film critic; a dance critic.

3. One who tends to make harsh or carping judgments; a faultfinder.

I know what a critic is because they destroy the lives of authors, script writers, and hack writers like me.

A critic is supposed to be objective and not put his own taste on the plate. Well, evidently, not really.

A critic says anything that he pleases.

Sometimes a critic makes an important person angry such as the one that angered President Truman–during the worst time of the Korean War–saying that his singing daughter, Mary Margaret, was not all that great at her operatic art.

The president wrote these words to the critic: “Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”

The letter did not make more folks angry at the critic. It did make the people angry at the president.

Later, the president’s daughter took up writing mysteries. I know that President Truman is dead, but I’m not taking any chances by judging her novels. His ghost might come after me.

Here are some examples of what critics say:

“The covers of this book are too far apart.” ~ Ambrose Bierce

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” ~ Dorothy Parker

“She had been critical of his new torch song, “A Side Order of Heartache, Please,” suggesting it could be used as a good way to break in their new paper shredder.” ~ Woody Allen (Mere Anarchy)

 

Those critics could make an author feel just awful.

Here is what famous people have said about critics and criticism (same ref.):

Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway. ~ Anna Eleanor Roosevelt

The rule in carving holds good as to criticism; never cut with a knife what you can cut with a spoon. ~ Charles Buxton

A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him or her. ~ David Brinkley

A painting in a museum probably hears more foolish remarks than anything else in the world. ~ Edmond and Jules De Goncourt

To escape criticism — do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. ~ Elbert Hubbard

It isn’t what they say about you, it’s what they whisper. ~ Errol Flynn

If criticism had any power to harm, the skunk would be extinct by now. ~ Fred Allen

Don’t be afraid of opposition. Remember, a kite rises against, not with, the wind. ~ Hamilton Mabie

From my close observation of writers… they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review. ~ Isaac Asimov

Before you criticize people, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away. And you have their shoes. ~ JK Lambert

A negative judgment gives you more satisfaction than praise, provided it smacks of jealousy. ~ Jean Baudrillard

There is no defense against criticism except obscurity. ~ Joseph Addison

Nothing is more apt to deceive us than our own judgment of our work. We derive more benefit from having our faults pointed out by our enemies than from hearing the opinions of friends. ~ Leonardo da Vinci

I cried all the way to the bank. ~ Liberace (when asked whether he minded being criticized)

I love criticism just so long as it is unqualified praise. ~ Noel Coward

I have always been very fond of them (drama critics) . . . I think it is so frightfully clever of them to go night after night to the theater and know so little about it. ~ Noel Coward

Sticks and stones are hard on bones, aimed with angry art,
Words can sting like anything but silence breaks the heart.
~ Phyllis McGinley

A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still. ~ Samuel Johnson

Criticism is a study by which men grow important and formidable at a very small expense. ~ Samuel Johnson

Anyway, I’ve decided to become a war movie aficionado rather than a critic. I don’t want to make anyone angry.

There are only a handful of great war movies in existence. (The latest version of the War of the Worlds movie starring Tom Cruise is not one of them.

Any movie with stereotype actors like John Wayne are excluded because the actors become bigger than the story–especially if they are old and fat.

Some stars, like Tom Hanks and Humphrey Bogart, are somehow able to blend into a story. It’s called “acting the part” rather than grandstanding. When John Wayne played Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, he played the part.

Before I mention the movies, I must give you this criteria that affects my judgement: My brother was in the Navy in World War II and he kept a wonderful log of war in the Pacific. My uncle and some friends were in World War I and fought in the trenches. I was with the Seventeenth Infantry Regimental Combat Team in Korea during 1951-52 when the war was still hot. My criteria is simple: Is the movie really like war based on my experience?

Some great war movies are as follows:

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930):

Plot:

“This is an English language film (made in America) adapted from a novel by German author Erich Maria Remarque. The film follows a group of German schoolboys, talked into enlisting at the beginning of World War 1 by their jingoistic teacher. The story is told entirely through the experiences of the young German recruits and highlights the tragedy of war through the eyes of individuals. As the boys witness death and mutilation all around them, any preconceptions about “the enemy” and the “rights and wrongs” of the conflict disappear, leaving them angry and bewildered. This is highlighted in the scene where Paul mortally wounds a French soldier and then weeps bitterly as he fights to save his life while trapped in a shell crater with the body. The film is not about heroism but about drudgery and futility and the gulf between the concept of war and the actuality.” Written by Michele Wilkinson, University of Cambridge Language Centre,

Aficionado’s Comment:

When I was a boy I saw the results of the Great War. One veteran in our town walked the streets continually whistling the same tune. He never spoke a word. I often walked with him and we became friends. But the war had destroyed him.

Another man I knew spent his time in the street an in the bars near the Union Pacific Railroad station in Salt Lake City. In the street, he directed traffic and reported to his imaginary superior officers, saluting and standing at attention. In the bars, he hoped for a free drink. Another life lost.

My uncle was in that war. Like others, he was gassed by phosgene or mustard gas or such. Trench foot was often referred to by those who fought in the trenches in France. My cousin’s father was declared dead during the flu epidemic and a tag was tied to his toe. He lived.

My father was sent of to that war, but after two weeks at Camp Lewis, Washington, the army decided that they couldn’t find him and other recruits uniforms and sent them back to the farm. My father said there was not much to eat either. He said that they had “jerky.” A piece of pork rind was tied to a string and hung from the roof of the barracks. Each recruit climbed up on a stool, swallowed the pork rind, and then jumped down from the stool, leaving the pork rind for the next guy to swallow. I’m not sure if that actually occurred.

The movie may have some shortcomings but they put over the point that war is not glory but gory and the worst plaque of all mankind, breading all human sorrows. I think I have mentioned in other articles about how the Korean war devastated families and communities. Unless man can find a substitute for our killing instincts and the falsities of military-minded men, this planet will be left to the ground squirrels and snakes. At least, I hope there is that much left.

Sahara (1943):

Plot

“Filmed during World War II, this film was intended to be a propaganda piece for the U.S. government. Sergeant Joe Gunn (Bogart) leads an abandoned tank unit after the fall of Tobruk in North Africa. The tanks picks up British, French, South African, and Sudanese soldiers along the way, becoming a microcosm of the Allied troops. The group works together to defeat a much larger German force that wants the same water well that they have. The film portrays all of the images that the U.S. deemed important for the American people see in regards to the war.” Written by Kasey Kist

Aficionado’s Comment:

I was eleven years old when this film was released. World War II was in full force, my brother was in the navy, the stars in the windows of the homes in the neighborhood were changing from blue, to bronze, to silver, to gold as our servicemen were missing, wounded, or killed in action.

We kids were anxious to get into the war. The Utah State Fair Grounds were changed to an army camp. We ran the obstacle course and amazed the troops that we could run the course and some of them could not.

My sister’s boy friend was serving in Africa. We read his letters to her and learned about the war there. I remember his description of the bazooka and how it helped change the war. That is a weapon that I have fired, but not in combat. The film gets it’s message across as described in the plot. In those days, Rommel, Patton, and Montgomery were the big news but the movie bonded us to a tank and the German and multinational soldiers who were fighting for what is really important–water.

Run Silent Run Deep (1958):

Plot:

“The captain of a submarine sunk by the Japanese during WWII is finally given a chance to skipper another sub after a year of working a desk job. His single-minded determination for revenge against the destroyer that sunk his previous vessel puts his new crew in unnecessary danger.” Written by Kevin Ackley

Aficionado’s Comment:

After Pearl Harbor, our brave submariners were able to fight while the other forces were trying to recoup from December 7, 1941. The acting in this movie is good and the plot is strong. I was excited by what the skipper learned about the enemy while laying injured in his bunk and how he got his revenge. But the bottom line is that no greater courage was required than by our submariners. When I was an engineering professor at Iowa State University, a fellow worker lost his son on the Thresher. Just like the families that are suffering as members or our forces die daily, he was devastated.

Das Boot (1981):

“It is 1942 and the German submarine fleet is heavily engaged in the so called “Battle of the Atlantic” to harass and destroy English shipping. With better escorts of the Destroyer Class, however, German U-Boats have begun to take heavy losses. “Das Boot” is the story of one such U-Boat crew, with the film examining how these submariners maintained their professionalism as soldiers, attempted to accomplish impossible missions, while all the time attempting to understand and obey the ideology of the government under which they served.” Written by Anthony Hughes {[email protected]} http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082096/plotsummary

Aficionado’s Comment:

Not quite the same tone as All Quiet on the Western Front, but close. I was never in underwater combat. It must be the most discouraging of all warfare systems. Something close must be when our shuttle astronauts reenter our atmosphere at a breakneck speed–depending on the heat shield made from materials developed by people like me.

Gettysburg (1993)

“The three day battle that was a turning point in the Civil War is shown from the perspectives of both sides, highlighting the fight for Little Round Top, and Pickett’s Charge. Other focuses include Longstreet … and Lee’s relationship as they have differing strategic opinions, Armistead fighting on the opposite side of his old friend Hancock, and the Chamberlain brothers.” Written by Anonymous

Aficionado’s Comment:

We lived in York, PA for five years and I often visited our factories in Adam’s County so close to Gettysburg that we often had lunch there. But I had always been interested in Gettysburg and spent a lot of time on the various battlefields. I visited the battlefield with my father and we toured the wax museum. I was amazed at how much my father knew about the Civil war even though my grandfather had mentioned seeing Lincoln’s funeral train, etc.

To me, the Civil War was a great tragedy causing too much suffering on a young nation. I often think what the population of the United States would be now if that war had been avoided. What great individuals were never born because their would-be fathers were killed in the war.

Great acting and the true portrayal of heroism is what makes this movie great. The shortcoming of leaders amplified the carnage that took place there.

War is hell.

Note: My novel Bone China uses this area as a backdrop.

Saving Private Ryan (1998):

Plot

“Opening with the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion under Cpt. Miller fight ashore to secure a beachhead. Amidst the fighting, two brothers are killed in action. Earlier in New Guinea, a third brother is KIA. Their mother, Mrs. Ryan, is to receive all three of the grave telegrams on the same day. The United States Army Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall, is given an opportunity to alleviate some of her grief when he learns of a fourth brother, Private James Ryan, and decides to send out 8 men (Cpt. Miller and select members from 2nd Rangers) to find him and bring him back home to his mother…” Written by J.Zelman

Aficionado’s Comment:

I liked this movie because it showed infantrymen at work the way they actually work. Sometimes war movies are hard to watch because they bring back to my mind sad and dangerous situations. Still, I ‘ve watched this movie more than once.

Letters from Iwo Jima (1996):

Plot

“The island of Iwo Jima stands between the American military force and the home islands of Japan. Therefore the Imperial Japanese Army is desperate to prevent it from falling into American hands and providing a launching point for an invasion of Japan. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi is given command of the forces on the island and sets out to prepare for the imminent attack. General Kuribayashi, however, does not favor the rigid traditional approach recommended by his subordinates, and resentment and resistance fester among his staff. In the lower echelons, a young soldier, Saigo, a poor baker in civilian life, strives with his friends to survive the harsh regime of the Japanese army itself, all the while knowing that a fierce battle looms. When the American invasion begins, both Kuribayashi and Saigo find strength, honor, courage, and horrors beyond imagination.” Written by Jim Beaver

Aficionado’s Comment:

The script is in captions unless you can understand Japanese. I only know a few words, having visited Japan during the Korean War and on business trips after the war. Still, the captions did not bother me.

I learned young on my first visit to Japan that there was another side to the Japanese not revealed in World War propaganda. I’m sure that the innate Samurai nature of some Japanese is still there in some of the older folks, but I doubt that it exist in the newer generations. The film depicts exactly what the Japanese soldiers were like because of the letters they wrote home.

The movie revealed a bit of American “unfairness” when marines murdered two prisoners they were charged to care for. It was a simple act of laziness, the marines not wanting to do their duty. It was what the Japanese were doing to American prisoners, and that is what the marines did.

In Korea, I saw crude behavior between civilians and G.I.s, but I never saw an American soldier injure or kill a civilian, at least not intentionally. As for prisoners, on my part, I just saw them as big Chinese kids from Manchuria too-young to fight. We fed them and chatted with them and treated their wounds. What happened to them once they got down to the line may have been a different thing. I hope they were treated properly. I know there were riots in the prison camps. I would suspect that they were incited by North Koreans more than by Chinese prisoners but I have not researched that idea. Wounded American prisoners were murdered during the war. For example,

How did I feel about all those Chinese soldiers we killed? I knew that their wifes, sweethearts, parents, siblings, and friends would soon mourn.

The End

copyright©2007 John T. Jones, Ph.D. (Taylor Jones the Hack Writer)