Category Archives: War film

Playing dirty: war as a criminal enterprise

Towards the end of last year I posted on my love for the 1968 espionage/war thriller, Where Eagles Dare. My first post for 2019 continues what is becoming an unofficial series of sorts on this site, ‘in praise of films I watched with my parents on the television on Sunday night when I was young’. This time, I want to briefly pay tribute to the incredibly hard-boiled late sixties revisionist war film by Hungarian emigre, Andre De Toth, Play Dirty.

I am not sure exactly what was going on with war films in the late 1960s – I assume it was the influence of the radical tenor of the times –  but there was a whole crop of them that really took the gloves off in terms in their cynical, gritty depiction of the utter corruption and folly of war. Think Jack Cardiff’s The Dark of the Sun (1968), and Phil Karlson’s  Hornet’s Nest (1970), as well as the aforementioned Where Eagles Dare, just to name a few I have featured on this this site previously.

Set on the North African front during World War II, I reckon Play Dirty is up there with the most hard-boiled and cynical of them. Plus January 1 was the 50th anniversary of its release, a milestone that went totally unmentioned anywhere, so the time is right to give it a bit of love.… Read more

‘Broadsword calling Danny Boy’: In praise of Where Eagles Dare

Like a quick and dirty mission behind enemy lines, last weekend I polished off Geoff Dyer’s love letter to the 1968 war thriller, Where Eagles Dare, ‘Broadsword Calling Danny Boy’.

It is a strange little essay. Not really a monograph, because it tells you very little about the making and impact of the film, the things a monograph usually does, and more an extended meditation on why it is such a great action film and the culture milieu into which it was born. A milieu that Dyer grew up in and which was pretty similar for a boy in Australia in the 1970s when I was growing up.

One of my favourite things about Dywer’s essay was the various cultural associations and memories it aroused. The war had only been over for a quarter of a century and, looking back then, it still felt strangely present, like it was not quite ‘history’ in the way it is now; war films were big business and our parents unselfconsciously took us, often at a very young age, to see them; newsagents were full of those graphic Sven Hassel paperbacks; we lived on British comics that were full of German soldiers barking basic English; and, the must have toy was a GI Joe, who amongst his many uniforms, could be dressed as a German soldier.Read more

Hornet’s Nest

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll know that I have a lot of work coming out in the next few months. That means a lot of shilling from yours truly about my wares, on this site and my various social media feeds. It is unavoidable.

But amidst all the sales talk and my other commitments, I don’t want to forget why I originally started this site, reviewing books and films that take my fancy. Seriously, I miss bullshitting about this stuff with you all. Then it occurred me, the answer is shorter, sharper reviews, less formal, more stream of consciousness, fun to write and (hopefully), read. Obvious, I know, don’t know why it took me so long to realise it.

So, first up in the new regime of reviewing, Phil Karlson’s terrific 1970 revisionist World War II noir film, Hornet’s Nest. I first watched Hornet’s Nest with my folks, when it showed on a Sunday night on TV way back in the late 1970s. I can’t remember what I made of it then, but I sure as hell liked it when I re-watched it recently.

A detachment of US paratroops is dropped behind German lines in Italy to blow up a major dam and, thus, disrupt German troop movements ahead of a major allied offensive.… Read more

Lee Marvin: 10 essential films

Prime CutThe iconic American actor, Lee Marvin was born today, February 19, 1924. To celebrate the occasion, my latest piece for the British Film Institute looks at his 10 essential movies.

You can check out the piece in full here at the British Film Institute site.

The 50th anniversary of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers

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The most disturbing aspect of viewing Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers half a century after its release is how familiar the images of the civil conflict involving Western soldiers in an Arab country now feel.

The strange sense of familiarity kicks in from the very beginning, a small, dingy cell where white men in military uniform stand over an Arab male. The traumatised look on his face tells us the Arab has been tortured. That he has given his captors information against his will only adds to the pain and shame etched on his bruised features. His captors dress him in one of their uniforms and take him as they raid an apartment block, no doubt based on the information he has revealed. The soldiers identify a hidden section in one of the apartments where two men, a woman and a child hide. The soldiers wire it with explosives and threaten to detonate unless those hiding surrender.

A decade and a half of reportage on the West’s military involvement in the Arab world, particularly post the mass circulation of images from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and their pop culture reflection in countless movies and television series give Pontecorvo’s chilling iconography of civil strife and military repression an almost everyday feel.… Read more