Weekly Update: This week I watched the Netflix miniseries Five Came Back, about 5 Hollywood filmmakers who during WWII served in the military producing propaganda films for the Allied cause. This inspired me to watch a few of the actual propaganda films, many of which Netflix now hosts as well. (I’d call that a shameless Netflix plug, but who the fuck besides me watches WWII era propaganda films?) I also ended the week watching a few older genre films and some new direct to VOD releases.
Curious what else I’ve seen this year? -Click here to read the full list of movies viewed year to date-
112. Prelude to War (1943)
This first entry in the Frank Capra-helmed “Why We Fight” series of American Military Propaganda films attempts to boil down all of the reasons for the U.S. entry into WWII over the course of just under an hour. Modern eyes will be able to pick out the obvious appeals to populist sentiments. One must remember that this was a time when the true horrors of Japanese and NAZI atrocities had not really been widely publicized (or at least had been easy for isolationists to dismiss). Frank Capra uses Axis propaganda film footage decisively, contrasting the cultures of Fascism, Militarism, and NAZIism with those of the Allied powers. Even though the film is approaching 75 years old, it remains an effective a piece of persuasive filmmaking.
113. The Battle of Russia (1943)
Yet another Frank Capra-helmed film in the “Why We Fight” series, created to present the Soviet Union in a positive light, as an equal Ally in the war against NAZI tyranny. The film does this by summarizing the history and culture of Russia while casually omitting negative or controversial details. Anti-Communist sentiment was potent in the U.S., and Capra brilliantly manages to convey much about Russian culture without once directly referencing their political system.
The Triumph of the Will is widely shown in classrooms as a cautionary story of how filmmaking can be used for Evil. But arguably, a far more potent lesson can be learned from deceptive propaganda created to further a moral cause. It was certainly an important thing for the Soviet and the American people to be on good terms during WWII and this film did much to further that purpose. There is a powerful irony in viewing this film with the context of the Cold War and modern U.S./Russian tensions.
114. Ulzana’s Raid (1972)
When an Apache raiding party strikes out against homesteaders in the area, a small force of Cavalry is sent out against them, led by a young inexperienced Lieutenant Garnett (Bruce Davison) and time-weathered Scout MacIntosh (Burt Lancaster). At first the cruelty of the Apache warriors against the homesteaders angers the upstart Lieutenant, but the experienced MacIntosh knows this is just another volley in a long running series of reprisals on one side or the other. Ulzana’s Raid is a cunning Vietnam allegory barely masked by the Wild West setting. It isn’t the most subtle of metaphors, but it makes for compelling viewing.
115. Chato’s Land (1972)
Directed by Michael Winner (Death Wish) Chato’s Land shares similar themes of violence begetting violence to Ulzana’s Raid, though Winner doesn’t aspire to any deep meaning other than to present a revenge story. The performances are broad and the writing is serviceable at its best. Charles Bronson has almost no dialogue, and as silent performances go, he holds his own. This is potboiler gritty Western filmmaking, for hardcore genre fans only.
116. The Purple Plain (1954)
Gregory Peck plays Bill Forrester; a Canadian officer in the Royal Air Force during WWII in Burma. Traumatized by the death of his wife during the blitz over London, Bill volunteered for the duty that would get him as far away from home as possible. Nearly suicidal, his fellow officers fear he’ll get them killed on a mission. With the support of a Burmese nurse named Anna he begins to heal, until he and two comrades crash-land in Japanese held territory. The Purple Plain is an uncommon war film for the period, dealing explicitly with mental trauma and absent any glorification or nationalist sensibility. Gregory Peck delivers one of his career-best performances, and this forgotten classic should not be ignored.
117. I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore (2017)
In the depths of a depressive episode noticing all the little things people do that annoy her, Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) comes home from work to find her house burgled, with her laptop and an heirloom set of silver missing. The police do not seem quick to investigate, so she takes the matter into her own hands, eventually teaming up with her metalhead neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood). The two manage to find out who robbed her, but find themselves horribly in over their heads when the crooks prove to be a dangerous combination of violent and stupid. One of the most compelling movies to come out of 2017 so far.