November 20, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: BATTLE CRY

Starring Van Heflin, Aldo Ray, James Whitmore, Nancy Olson, Tab Hunter, Anne Francis, Dorothy Malone, Mona Freeman, William Campbell, John Lupton, Perry Lopez, Justus E. McQueen, Fess Parker. Directed by Raoul Walsh. (1955, 148 min).

Battle Cry is definitely one of those classics that can only be appreciated if viewed in the context of when it was made.

Once upon a time in Hollywood, war was a good thing, young men craved battle, women were dames, enemies were Japs and soldiers' dads approved of their sons' decision to start smoking. Yeah, Battle Cry is definitely a gung-ho movie that wears its nationalism proudly, but so were most war movies of the time.

And really, Battle Cry is not-so-much a war movie as it is a melodrama that just happens to take place during World War II. Despite a lot of tough talking narration by dedicated platoon leader Sgt. Mac (James Whitmore), very little of this film takes place on the battlefield. The narrative follows a variety of Marine recruits ("Huxley's Harlots") from basic training through their return home to their wives, girlfriends and families (those who survive, that is). We mostly see how they live & love while waiting to be called to fight, growing increasingly frustrated at being regulated to "mopping up" after battles, much to the chagrin of their CO, Colonel  Huxley (Van Heflin).

"Sorry, lost in your eyes for a sec."
There's the usual collection of assorted characters - the feisty Latino, the stoic Indian, the comic relief, the backwoods country boy, the lovesick Dear John, the blonde dreamboat, etc. The most interesting is Aldo Ray as Hookens, a proud, self-proclaimed womanizer who ironically falls in love while stationed in New Zealand. Hookens is the only character who undergoes any real change throughout the film; most of the others are walking cliches. Everything almost plays like an epic soap opera.

"I give up...what does the fox say?"
Yet despite some cardboard characters, cornball melodrama and a complete lack of action for the first two hours, Battle Cry is actually quite entertaining. These characters may not be unique, but they're enjoyable and the narrative more-or-less gives each equal attention, at least until the story calls for some to die, mostly off-camera. Speaking of which, Battle Cry tends to swiftly - and lazily - write several characters out of the narrative. Those who died in skirmishes are merely given a quick shout-out by our narrator after-the-fact. This jarring vanishing act isn't just regulated to the soldiers. Both Dorothy Malone and the beautiful Anne Francis show up to complicate two soldiers' lives, then abruptly disappear for the rest of the movie.

But even with its narrative shortcomings, Battle Cry remains consistently engaging. In some ways, I was reminded of 1970's Airport (coincidentally also featuring Heflin), which was marvelously entertaining despite of a plethora of shallow characters and eye-rolling dialogue. While Battle Cry isn't as dumb, it juggles nearly as many melodramatic subplots and does it very well. It also helps if you keep in-mind when this was was made.


No comments: