A Movie A Day: Quint watches WW2 flick NEVER SO FEW (1959) Did I just see Sinatra pour a shot for a monkey?!?
Published at: June 6, 2008, 9:05 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. From John Sturges, known best for directing THE GREAT ESCAPE and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, which was the film he did directly after the one we’re talking about today. Strangely enough, all three star Steve McQueen and feature Charles Bronson.
NEVER SO FEW is a WW2 flick set in Burma where Allied troops were training Kachin natives to fight the Japanese. The opening scroll tells us this is not only a true story, but that this core group of only a few hundred men fought off tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers and ensured an Allied victory in the South Pacific.
Despite the attempt to sell it currently as a war movie, back in the day it was sold on the romance angle. The trailer on the disc shows almost none of the war scenes and focuses instead on Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobridgida (together, at last!). Of course that’s barely on the lower corner of the re-release poster art (used on the DVD), with the biggest part showcasing McQueen and Sinatra guns in hand.
But I’d say both aspects, the war and the romance, are successful. Lollobridgida is stunning and, even better, is a well layered character. She plays Carla, a young woman who is torn by her passion and sense of obligation. It’s not exactly a unique angle to have in a film, but Lollobridgida really brings an energy and humanity to the character. There's that fantastic scene where she totally fucks with Sinatra while she's bathing, causing him to lose his cool for an instant and not be the suave ladykiller that comes naturally to him.
Honestly, though, the romance is secondary to the war story and that’s why I liked it so much. I think it would have been a very different, and probably more dull, movie if that wasn’t the case, but the romance does take a backseat to the camaraderie of the soldiers.
Sinatra plays Captain Tom Reynolds and he plays the hell out of it. Sinatra had the goods, man. Between this and MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE I’m convinced of that… and we have a couple more Sinatra movies following this one.
Rat Packer Peter Lawford is also in the movie, but plays a minor character, a Captain that somehow always ends up kowtowing to Sinatra during his brief leaves out of the jungle. More central is the friendship between Sinatra and Richard Johnson, who is probably the heart of the movie. He’s a proper British soldier, quick with a joke and loyal as can be.
If Johnson is the heart of the movie and Sinatra the soul, then McQueen has to be the spirit. Maybe spirit and soul are the same thing, but I think you understand what I’m getting at here. McQueen is hungry in this movie. You can tell. He’s full of energy, taking his first real steps to becoming the iconic movie star he would become. He has the same kind of energy here that Paul Newman had in Harper, even though they were both at different points in their careers.
McQueen’s role isn’t very big, but he does have a good amount of screentime. In fact, trivia has it that the role was originally intended for Sammy Davis Jr., but then Sinatra heard an interview he did where Davis claimed he was a better singer than Sinatra and had him booted from the film. Whether that’s real or Hollywood legend I can’t say, but it’s a fun little tidbit, isn’t it?
Also keep your eye out for none other than George Takei as a wounded Burmese soldier with, like, 2 or 3 lines. Yet he still somehow managed to get his shirt off…
Oh, yeah. Bronson became well known for the type of role he has in this film. He’s quiet, he’s strong and he’s a badass. Someone you definitely want to have on your side. I love pissed off old Bronson, of course, but this era is my favorite. Between this, MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE DIRTY DOZEN, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and even MISS SADIE THOMPSON he really hits home.
And Dean Jones is in it as a radio operator! Yeah, that Disney guy from THE LOVE BUG and THAT DARN CAT and a ton of other ‘60s/’70s Disney live action movies. Bizarre to see him in this setting.
Also of note is a nice bit role for Paul Henreid, who you'll remember as Victor Lazlo in CASABLANCA, playing the influential and rich older suitor to Lollobrigida. He is always calm, cool and composed, even when he knows how Sinatra feels for his woman... then you have that wonderful scene between him and Lollobrigida where the claws come out a little... it actually made me wish for the movie to take a kind of battle of wits turn between Sinatra and Henreid, but it wasn't meant to be for this one.
The headline... Yes, Sinatra pours not one, but multiple shots for a monkey always on his arm in the first act of the movie. How sweet is that?
The war stuff I quite liked, but I found the big raid on the airfield to be a little sloppy. How they attack is pretty sweet and what they use (grenades in gas cans) is pretty badass, but just in how it was put together I felt it lacked any suspense and flow.
That’s really the only criticism I can think of at this point. Once again, beautiful in Technicolor.
I can’t really think of much more I want to talk about, so let’s close this up and get ready for the talkback continuation.
Coming up in the next 7 days we have:
Saturday, June 7th: A HOLE IN THE HEAD (1959)
Sunday, June 8th: SOME CAME RUNNING (1958)
Monday, June 9th: RIO BRAVO (1959)
Tuesday, June 10th: POINT BLANK (1967)
Wednesday, June 11th: POCKET MONEY (1972)
Thursday, June 12th: COOL HAND LUKE (1967)
Friday, June 13th: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950)
Tomorrow comes A HOLE IN THE HEAD starring Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson and directed by Frank Capra. Should be a good one! See you then!