Screengrab: The Duke Goes to War- Hollywood Style



by Richard Lutz.

What with all the Jubilee stuff, the finals of The Voice, the re-intro of Big Brother and, finally,  Greece ready to pummel Russia 5-0 in the opening of Euro 12, I guess flatscreens will be burning bright throughout this blessed isle.

And with that in mind, television planners seem to have set aside their sliderules and expense forms and either gone to sleep or to Majorca when it comes to movies.

But something to chew on: The Dook (aka John Wayne) gets a fine look in with a pair of back to back films which were made in 1949 and 1950.

Both sum up what many would consider to be the swansong of the big studio era in Hollywood. In Sands of Iwo Jima (Fri; 13.05, Ch4), Wayne gets to play a bitter Marine whose wife and child left him. His job is to  whip into shape new recruits for a bloody march on Japan through the South Pacific ending in the notorious bloodbath that was Iwo Jima.

One scene portrays tough guy Wayne bawling out a bumbling recruit (played by Hal Baylor) because the new man can’t even march or hold a rifle straight.

Now this sums up the movies: Baylor was a real Marine vet who fought in the South Pacific. Wayne, though of draft age, never was in the military. So, a guy who never put on a uniform (except in a sound studio) is shown giving a real tough guy the once over for his lack of knowledge.

In real life, Wayne regretted his failure to serve. Director John Ford, who bullied the actor whenever they worked together, actually reduced him to tears because he never signed up. Ford himself, by the way, parachuted into Burma as part of a near-suicidal filming mission to bolster patriotism back home. Ford may have been a jerk. But he was a war hero.

Hey, that’s Hollywood.

A year after the army picture comes Rio Grande (Wed; Film4, 13.15) directed by Ford and starring John Wayne. It is the final part of a famed horse opera trilogy that included  Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.  Again, his character, Sgt Kirby Yorke, is on the losing end of a broken marriage with a son. But here, Wayne manages, I think, his greatest role and the nearest he comes to showing real depths. Yes, I knows the words ‘real depths’ and the name ‘John Wayne’ don’t really go together.

But Rio Grande comes close. Maureen O’Hara co stars and a year later they made The Quiet Man – set in Ireland- with, once again, narky John Ford behind the cameras. This brawling hard drinking Wayne bit of nonsense, by the way, contains one of Hollywood’s funniest naughtiest anecdotes which modesty forbids me to repeat.

Other stuff that is worth a view once you tire of Lizzie, tv-level singers and footie are: District 9 (Sun; Ch4, 21.00), a sci fi film that should have won the Oscar for best movie for 2009; Burn After Reading (Fri; ITV1, 22.35), a great comic turn by Brad Pitt makes it worthwhile; and The Shining (Mon; 23.15, TCM) a Kubrick effort that will have you cowering behind the sofa without a monster in sight.