19 August, 2013

Desperate Journey

                You know the story. 

December 7th, 1941;  a date which will live in infamy. 

America’s in World War II. 

Why does that matter to our story?  Because Hollywood was now in World War II.  And you bet the movie business contributed significantly to the war effort, putting out the – duh – kind of pictures we wanted to see then.  For instance, who can forget Bob Hope’s contribution?  Think that’s nothing?  Look at those boys’ faces – only eighteen, nineteen years old – when he tells them a joke;  reminding them the people back home still say thank you.  Even Sherlock Holmes, the classic 1880s detective, was suddenly sixty years older later fighting Nazis in ‘… And The Secret Weapon.’  (And today?  Sure, think about it.  When did ‘Three Kings’ and ‘Blackhawk Down’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ get released?  Where did ‘Iron Man’ begin?  You see what I mean.) 

It’s no secret that Propaganda – movies, television, radio, books, comics, you name it – supports our troops.  But then?  The early forties?  Patriotism was the central theme.  So it shouldn’t be a surprise at all that Warner Bros. got in the game, sending their own Captain America – Ha! An Australian! – “over there.” 

After all, it’s exactly what the theatre-going-public wanted.
‘Desperate Journey’ (1942)
w Arthur T. Horman
d Raoul Walsh

            So far in our Top 5 Retrospective of Mr. Flynn’s films we have –

            ‘The Adventures Of Robin Hood’
            and ‘They Died With Their Boots On’

Now coming in at number three – and, again, numbering them like that is just when the films were released – is “The Rover Boys Go Deutschland” (a newspaper originally wrote) as an RAF Bomber Crew fights their way out of Germany.  Ronald Reagan is the American, Arthur Kennedy the Canadian and Alan Hale the comedian, systematically outfoxing and out-punching Raymond Massey and his storm troopers.  Rotten Tomatoes wrote, “just when it seems all of the odds have turned against them, they find themselves faced with a German plot to wipe out part of London, and one last opportunity to get home!”

               Step aside, Indiana Jones.

I have to admit, of all the films in this Retrospective, this is the most personal.  Let me explain that.

‘Desperate Journey’ has been called, “[a] superabundance and ludicrousness of heroics,” and, “good noisy fun.”  One line in the film’s original prevue read, “They know but one command – attack!”  Indeed, the film is bigger than life;  a comic book, high adventure.  And in my opinion it hits the mark perfectly.  In fact, first seeing it at eight or nine years old – for anyone seeing it at that age – it’s as magical as ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’ in its time.  (And, yes, ‘Raiders’ is ‘The Perils Of Nyoka’ and ‘Gunga Din’ and all the great forties Adventure Films and Serials forty years before it came out.  Anyway ...)

This is the Flynn of kids’ adventure, and it picks up the ball and runs.  And this is what I meant by it being the most personal in this Retrospective.  I’m not going to argue against it being tongue-in-cheek,  of course it is.  But so many films resonate with you based on when you see them.  And for me, first seeing it at eight or nine years old, I loved it.  I still love it.  Is it landmark cinema?  No.  But is it a great movie?  You bet.

The New York Times originally wrote, “The Warner Brothers have assembled one of their rugged gang-busting male casts and pulled an invasion of Nazi Germany which would put The Commandos to shame.  If a handful of guys can do this much, you wonder what an Army might do – provided, of course, it had the service of a Warner scriptwriter and cast … [But] for a more funloving bunch of fallows you’ll probably never meet than the crew of D-for-Danny.  And such hair-raising, side-splitting adventures as they have in a wild-goose trek across Germany … you’ll not see this side of the comics.”

Certainly the funnest of this Top 5 Retrospective – it’s a word – Mr. Horman’s script is fun;  and, remember, he came from the likes of Abbott & Costello (‘Buck Privates’ and ‘In The Navy’) so the humor in this can’t help but shine.  (In my opinion, Reagan’s great throwaway, “Well why wait, there’s only twelve of ‘em” ranks with that other great cinema crack, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”  And if you don’t know that one, look it up, you’ll thank me.)

A couple bits on our Supporting Cast.  You remember Arthur Kennedy, don’t you?  We just saw him in ‘They Died With Their Boots On’ where he played Flynn’s – er, Custer’s – nemesis, Ned Sharp.  One of our leading Character Actors, Mr. Kennedy was nominated for an Oscar five times (sadly never winning).  And when Edmond O’Brien was originally cast in ‘Lawrence Of Arabia’ (and sadly suffered a heart attack and had to be replaced), it was Anthony Quinn who recommended Kennedy;  they were in ‘Boots’ together, and Kennedy replaced Quinn in ‘Beckett’ on Broadway.  Then there’s everybody’s favorite, Alan Hale.  In this Retrospective, we last saw him as Little John in ‘Robin Hood,’ but he and Flynn made thirteen films together.  (And do you remember the link Mr. Hale has to the 1922 Fairbanks ‘Hood?’  And what famous TV show starred Alan Hale Jr.?  Enjoy the search!)  Last but not least there’s Flying Officer Johnny Hammond, played by Ronald Reagan.  ‘Desperate Journey’ is his thirty-third film, and he continued acting long into the sixties, lastly on television in ‘Death Valley Days.’  After that, someone said he went into Politics. 
(A couple of asides here.  When Mr. Reagan’s character is awakened, he says in his dream he had a date with Ann Sheridan.  Reagan played opposite Sheridan three times, including his two previous pictures, ‘Juke Girl’ and ‘Kings Row.’  And do you remember the exchange in ‘Back To The Future’ when Doc asks Marty who the President is in 1985?  I love when Doc gets to, "I suppose Jane Wyman is the first lady!”  Reagan and Wyman were indeed married at one point.  But I digress …)
And speaking of ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark,’ there are a few specific “steals” from our film here today.  (And I say “steal” but, knowing Lucas and Spielberg and their love for the genre, it’s fairly more an homage.)  Did you notice the tracking line on the map?  That’s in all of the Indiana Jones movies.  Did you notice the motorbike chase?  That’s in ‘Last Crusade.’  Did you notice firing the plane guns as the plane takes off at the end?  I can’t help but think of Marion in ‘Raiders.’  And of course there’s Kali in ‘Temple Of Doom,’ very much an homage to Our Soldiers Three in ‘Gunga Din;’  much like ‘Desperate Journey,’ one of the classic High Adventures (and, for those of you keeping track, yes, Lone Pine’s hallmark film). 

One (2008) review of 'Desperate Journey' writes, “This film was just what The U.S. needed during its darkest times – when The Japs and The Nazis were running amok throughout the world and our forces were taking their lumps – to raise moral and give good entertainment. Flynn is Flynn, a consummate hero and all around true movie star.  His supporting cast is especially strong, as are the villains.  This is a great, fast-paced, fun WWII action movie that is true to its times.”


            There's a wonderfully touching moment, about halfway through the film, when the boys have to bury one of their English comrades (in Germany, remember) and Flynn picks up a piece of dirt and eulogies (it’s the famous quote from the Rupert Brooke poem), “there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.”
            And for us cinephiles, yes, there’s a corner of our library that is forever Flynn.

            Next up?  Yet another Raoul Walsh collaboration, ‘Objective Burma.’

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