A Movie A Day: Quint on SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949) You know, my natural dislike for you is turning into a great hatred.
Published at: July 7, 2008, 9:40 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we follow John Wayne from the walls of the Alamo to the shores of Iwo Jima. Oddly enough, both of these stories have been retold with big budget studio films in the last 4 years. The Alamo in 2004 and Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima.
And I’ve enjoyed the John Wayne films a lot more than the newer studio tentpole versions.
That’s not to say there aren’t thinks to like in Eastwood’s films or John Lee Hancock’s film. I think the cast assembled for the 2004 Alamo was a great one and some of the sequences were really well done and while I greatly disliked Flags of Our Fathers, I did like Letters From Iwo Jima, even if it never did fulfill the wonderful promise of being the counter-point film, the viewpoint of the other side during the same battle, with cross-overs and the exact same scenes told from different perspectives.
What I found most strange about SANDS OF IWO JIMA was that we don’t get to Iwo Jima until the last 25 minutes of the movie. In fact, the taking of another island, Tarawa, has more screen time, I think.
Iwo Jima might be the hook of the movie and the final stage for the character’s we’ve gotten to know, but the real focus is on camaraderie between these soldiers, with a particularly fine point made about John Wayne’s drunk, emotionally scarred squad leader, Col. Stryker.
The B story follows young John Agar as a private with a massive chip on his shoulder. He signed up out of obligation to his family name, but his dad was an overbearing dick to him and he has no desire to be in war at all. In fact, Stryker served with Agar’s father and Agar soon sees him as a replacement father figure, both for good and bad.
At first it’s all bad. Agar says everything to Wayne that he couldn’t say to his own father, challenging command at every opportunity.
We also follow Agar as he sweeps a Kiwi girl off her feet during the squad’s stay at a base outside of Wellington, New Zealand, played by the very cute blonde Adele Mara. It’s a simple love story. They meet, fall in love, get married all before he ships off. It’s supposed to show Agar’s human side and it does its job well (even if Mara’s accent was about 90% American, 5% British and 5% other), but it’s not a romance for the ages.
Another curiousity with the flick is the large amount of actual war footage used as B-roll and I’d wager the good majority of it is actually from the battles portrayed in the film. It’s easy to notice the 3rd or 4th Generation film dupe (less sharp and more scratched), but instead of pulling me out of the movie it pulled me further in. It’s quite fascinating.
Final thoughts: Sands of Iwo Jima is a very likable flick. It was a huge hit in its day (in fact, the whole film started with a request from the Marine Corps. to have this story told as the government at the time was thinking of disbanning it after WW2) and there’s good reason for it. Agar is fantastic, as are Forrest Tucker, James Brown (not that one), Wally Castle and Richard Webb as soldiers in arms.
You’ll see huge streams of liquid fire… flame-throwers that give to giant flame-throwing tanks. No shit. It’s awe-inspiring, macabrely beautiful. You’ll see very interesting original war footage, shot as the battles went down. You’ll see some real great character comedy peppered in at just the right moments… In fact, I’d go so far as to say you’ll see SAVING PRIVATE RYAN’s grandfather. I’m a big fan of Saving Private Ryan and I don’t know if I’d say I enjoy Sands of Iwo Jima as much or more than that film, but the parallels are impossible to ignore. Watch the two of them back to back and tell me I’m wrong.
One final bit of trivia before I give it up, but it was during this flick’s premiere at the Chinese Theater that The Duke left his bootprints and clenched fist imprint in the cement outside.