Film, History

Veterans’ Day

My parents met in the mid-1940’s while working for W.T. Grant at the chain store’s Manhattan headquarters. My Dad was an early airline commuter flying around the country designing and overseeing the construction of new stores while my Mom worked as a secretary for Grant himself. On one of their early dates as a couple, in Fall of 1946, they attended a showing of “The Best Years of Our Lives”, the classic film that won numerous Academy Awards the following Spring, including Best Picture. The film, about a trio of returning World War 2 vets and their attempts to adjust to post-war home life, remained a favorite of my parents’ for the rest of their lives, so it means a great deal to myself as well. My Dad was designated 4-F for the war, due to an esophagal stricture, and spent the war years working on the development of the Norden bombsight for Manufacturers Machine and Tool Co., Inc. in lower Manhattan (I still have his War Worker plaque). Like my Mom, he was an amateur musician (violin) whose musician friends with whom he played chamber music served in both theaters of the war. A close friend who was an excellent pianist was killed during the Battle of the Bulge. Although he was very proud of his work on the Norden Bombsight, my Dad always seemed to envy his friends their actual war experiences. There were a number of World War 2 related films released through the early 1960’s that I remember watching with them whenever they were on TV, but the one closest to their hearts was “The Best Years of Our Lives”, which isn’t really a “war film” at all. The scene depicted above shows Dana Andrews, playing a former pilot with PTSD who walks through a huge field filled with scrapped fighter planes like those he flew, as the wonderful Oscar winning score by Hugo Friedhofer swells. At one point he climbs up into one of the cockpits and feels himself instantly transported back to the war. This is one of the most striking and unforgettable scenes in film and no doubt sums up the experiences of many returning veterans of the day. It sends shivers up my spine whenever I see it. Director William Wyler won a well-deserved Oscar as well. Another memorable performance is turned in by a first time actor named Harold Russell, who lost both arms in a wartime training accident. In those pre-CGI days, the only way to portray such an injury was to use an actor who had actually suffered it. Russell’s performance is one of the most moving you’ll ever see, and he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. This great film is available on DVD at the Library and also for immediate download from the Library’s Kanpoy digital services provider, and can be directly accessed through the following link: https://lindenhurstlibrary.kanopy.com/video/best-years-our-lives

Another film we enjoyed watching together is “The Caine Mutiny”, from 1954. A fictional story about the mental breakdown of a sadistic Navy captain played by Humphrey Bogart and the subsequent court martial of a Lieutenant played by Van Johnson who took over command of the ship. I’ve watched this film over a dozen times and it always remains fresh and riveting. Although it was nominated for a number of Oscars, it failed to win any. The Library owns a copy of the DVD for circulation as well as the 1951 Pulitzer Prize winning novel on which it was based, by Herman Wouk, who passed away last year at age 103.

“Mister Roberts”, a Naval comedy-drama from 1955, starring Henry
Fonda (repeating his role in the Broadway stage hit), a young Jack Lemmon (Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor), James Cagney (his final film for Warner Bros.) and William Powell in his final film role, is another film I always enjoyed watching with my parents. Like the others on this list, it was shown often on TV as I was growing up. Along with the Caine Mutiny, this is one of my absolute favorite films and my favorite Cagney performance. He portrays a comic version of the sort of paranoid, sadistic captain played by Bogart in Caine.
The Library owns the DVD of this classic film for circulation.

Another of our perennial favorites was “The Bridge On the River Kwai” from 1957, starring William Holden and Best Actor Oscar winner Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan himself). The fictional story based on the novel of the same title depicts British World War 2 prisoners of war held in Burma forced by their Japanese captors to construct a railway bridge. The film is perhaps best known for the prominent use of the famous Colonel Bogey March on its soundtrack, whistled by the prisoners as they march as well as its climactic final scene and the final words of the screenplay: “Madness…madness”. The Library also owns this Best Picture Oscar winner directed by the Oscar winning David Lean in our DVD collection.

One more classic World War 2 film is “The Longest Day” from 1962, a multi-national production featuring a huge cast depicting the D-Day invasion of Normandy, which we would usually see broadcast on or around June 6. Although not anywhere near as graphic as the unforgettable invasion scene at the beginning of “Saving Private Ryan”, another “required viewing” title for Veterans’ Day, “The Longest Day” nonetheless portrays very effectively the tremendous effort, number of participants and loss involved in turning the tide of the war. It stars John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum and the late Sean Connery. The Library owns a copy of this great film for circulation.

“Tora, Tora, Tora” from 1970 was another film we watched frequently whenever it turned up on TV. Starring Joseph Cotten, Jason Robards and James Whitmore, this film details the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harboe, from both the American and Japanese points of view. The Library also owns this one.

In 1970, my parents took my younger brother and I to see “Patton” in the theater, where we were impressed by George C. Scott’s larger-than-life Best Actor Oscar winning performance (he refused to accept the award), including the salty language of his famous opening scene in front of a huge American flag, the sweeping battle scenes, and epic score by Jerry Goldsmith. The Library also owns the DVD of this film, the winner of numerous Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

By the mid-1970’s, when I was in high school, my younger brother and I kept up our enjoyment of films having to do with World War 2 in the theater, usually upstairs in the balcony. In particular, two blockbuster titles stand out, both with huge casts and lengthy running times that included an intermission. With a huge single screen running the entire length of the theater and a gold curtain that opened as the films began (and closed and opened again for intermissions) movie attendance back then was truly a grand experience in most theaters. The first was “Midway” from 1976 (there was a remake released last year). This one had a majestic score by John Williams, another huge cast including Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda and Robert Mitchum, and a special soundtrack feature called “Sensurround” which augmented the sound of engine noises, explosions, crashed and gunfire. We had experienced the same gimmick a couple of years earlier for the disaster movie “Earthquake”. The next was “A Bridge Too Far” from 1977, with Anthony Hopkins, Michael Caine, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman and the late Sean Connery, along with an Oscar winning score by British composer John Addison. Again, both films are available at the Library on DVD for check-out.

I would also like to point out the upcoming Zoom program we are featuring on the evening of Wednesday, November 18 at 7:00 pm, presented by Lawrence Starr of the American Airpower Museum in East Farmingdale. Mr. Starr will present a virtual tour via Zoom of the museum, housed in an original hangar on the former site of Republic Aviation at Republic Airport. To register for this online only event, please click on the following link: https://lindenhurst.librarycalendar.com/events/virtual-visit-american-air-power-museum-zoom-register-now

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