War Films

A Review by MIKE TOONEY:

THE HUNTERS. 20th Century-Fox, 1958. Robert Mitchum, Robert Wagner, Richard Egan, May Britt. Based on a novel by James Salter. Director: Dick Powell.

THE HUNTERS Robert Mitchum

   Dick Powell, former pretty boy film leading man, directed a Korean War-era actioner about heroism, duty, and self-sacrifice. Unfortunately The Hunters spends far too much time on the ground wallowing in soap opera clichés and not enough in the air.

   Robert Mitchum plays a World War II fighter pilot retread who has volunteered to fly F-86 Sabres against Russian-made (and sometimes Russian-manned) MiG-15′s in what the United Nations and the U.S. State Department wanted to call a “police action” — but, as this movie makes clear, was a war.

   (Then, as now, the rules of engagement [ROE] favored the enemy — if the Red pilots got into trouble, they could always skeedaddle for the border and sanctuary. Just a decade later, American aviators were encumbered with similar limitations in the Vietnam War. At least one pilot in Nam, Col. Jack Broughton, let the world know about it in two books: Thud Ridge and Going Downtown.)

   Gradually, Mitchum falls in love with the wife of one of his subordinates, and she reciprocates. The fact that her husband is a coward at heart and is willing to let Mitchum have her in exchange for a favor almost pushes this film over the top. Only Mitchum’s integrity saves this sticky situation from unadulterated bathos.

   What he does towards the movie’s finale — going that extra mile that honor demands to save the man he’d easily be justified in leaving to the tender mercies of the Communists — elevates his character from merely a superior officer charged with responsibilities to out-and-out hero. His nonchalance after having resolved the dilemma is fun to watch.

   Also nearly over the top is Paul Sawtell’s opening musical score, a riff (or, if you prefer, a rip-off) of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” Somehow, though, it seems appropriate.

THE HUNTERS Robert Mitchum

   Speaking of Wagner, then teen heart throb Robert Wagner steals every scene he’s in as a hot-shot throttle jockey whose recklessness costs the life of his wingman. Once Mitchum straightens him out — with a satisfying punch to the jaw — he becomes more of a menace to the Reds than his own guys.

   The main problem with The Hunters is its tendency to slide into clichés: the love triangle, the eager beaver who’s as much of a threat as the enemy at times, the would-be warrior who’s a coward when you come down to it. A better script coupled with those fine aerial sequences (see, for example, The Bridges at Toko-Ri) would have made this film a winner. The acting is first rate, with everybody convincing in their roles (although I do find May Britt rather weak in that department).

   As it is, if you can get past the sloppy melodrama, you should find The Hunters quite entertaining. If you happen to own the video, watch it through once and the next time fast forward to the flying scenes. They’re easily the best part of the movie.

THE HUNTERS Robert Mitchum



WHAT PRICE GLORY. Fox, 1926. Victor McLaglen, Edmund Lowe, Dolores Del Rio, William V. Mong, Phyllis Haver, Elena Juardo, Leslie Fenton, Barry Norton, Sammy Cohen, Ted McNamara. Director: Raoul Walsh, director. Shown at Cinevent 38, Columbus OH, May 2006.

   This was a year for repeat screenings, but I had never seen this great success of 1926. The film was based on the Lawrence Stalling/Maxwell Anderson stage hit of 1924, but with the antics of co-stars McLaglen (Captain Flagg) and Lowe (Sergeant Quirt) beefed up at the expense of the strong anti-war message of the play.

   Much of the film deals with the combative womanizing of Flagg and Quirt, but the climax features a well-staged battle sequence that does play up the brutality and inhumanity of war, with the obligatory sacrifice of a secondary character whose demise you can spot coming very early in the film. (He’s the young artist who’s the least likely of the recruits but performs gallantly until his heroic death.)


   There’s a similar sacrificial lamb in the first talking-film sequel (The Cock-Eyed World, 1929), demonstrating once again that Hollywood loves nothing better than a formula that strives to repeat the success of the original. Still, with its engaging cast and Walsh’s vigorous direction, the film has retained much of its impact.

Editorial Comment:   Mike Grost has a long in-depth look at this movie on his website. Check it out here.



THE EAGLE AND THE HAWK. Paramount, 1933. Fredric March, Cary Grant, Jack Oakie, Carole Lombard, Guy Standing, Forrester Harvey, Kenneth Howell, Leyland Hodgson, Virginia Hammond, Yorke Sherwood, Adrienne D’Ambricourt, Lane Chandler, Dennis O’Keefe. Screenplay by Bogart Rogers and Seton I. Miller, from the story “Death in the Morning” by John Monk Saunders. Photography by Harry Fischbeck, with photographic effects by Farciot Edouart, assisted by Loyal Griggs. Director: Stuart Walker (also Mitchell Leisen, credited as associate director). Shown at Cinecon 44, Hollywood CA, Aug-Sept 2008.

   No film at the convention made a more powerful impression on me than this WWI drama of pilots manning two-man planes making reconnaissance flights over enemy territory in France, with a tailgunner photographing target installations.


   The flights are euphemistically called “observation flights,” but the incidence of downed planes or planes returning with the tailgunner killed by enemy fire is high. Jerry Young (Fredric March), an American whose unit has been transferred to France to serve with a British company, keeps returning successfully but is increasingly depressed by the significant numbers of tailgunner losses.

   The unit is joined by Henry Crocker (Cary Grant), a pilot from Young’s American unit who had been left behind at Young’s recommendation. The antagonism between the two charges the close quarters with a palpable electricity, but it is Crocker who is most aware of Young’s instability, leading to a stunning conclusion.

   This is a powerful portrait of the human costs of war, with brilliant performances by March and Grant. Grant, who, with no trace of his man-about-town persona, has the kind of role he wanted to play when he tired of his type-casting. I think he gives one of the great performances of his career in the film.


DESTROYER. Columbia Pictures, 1943. Edward G. Robinson, Glenn Ford, Marguerite Chapman, Edgar Buchanan, Leo Gorcey, Regis Toomey. Director: William A. Seiter.


   Some of the patriotric combat movies made during World War II while the fighting was going on overseas are still worth seeing today, but this isn’t one of them. Bits and pieces here and there, perhaps, but all good intentions aside, this isn’t one to go more than a few steps out of your way for.

   I’ve checked on Google, and I’ve come up with two different ships called the USS John Paul Jones, but both came along a long time after World War II. Until I’m told otherwise, I’ll continue to assume the story told in Destroyer is quite fictional.

   Working as a shipyard welder and construction boss in building the one in this story is Steve Boleslavski (a swaggering Edward G. Robinson), but when he re-enlists for the new hostilities with his former rank as chief bosuns mate, he finds that his knowledge of the new gunnery (as well as command techniques) are far out of date.

   Resenting being pushed aside in the chain of command is Glenn Ford’s character, Mickey Donohue, who has the double misfortune of falling in love with Boley’s daughter (Marguerite Chapman). Fate and bad luck continue to haunt the ship and its crewmen until at last, demoted to mail boat status, there comes the chance to show what it (and they) can do.

   Perhaps there is simply too much story here to be contained in only 99 minutes of film time, very close to A-movie standards. There’s the story of the ship; the story of Boley vs. Mickey; and the romance, which has the couple running off to elope only the third time we see them together, before we know that they are even talking civilly to each other.

   There must have been a lot going on when the cameras weren’t rolling.