The Reenactor's Movie Guide III
by Jonah Begone
Madame Sans Gene: Sophia Loren. Peasant blouses. Loose European morality. Napoleonic armies. Need I say more? (Actually, the foregoing is a writer's crib on my part--I haven't seen this film since I was 17 and only remember one scene, fresh and fondly recalled despite the intervening years: La Loren, sweaty, disheveled and revealing lots of decolletage, heaving and shoving a cannon into place. Mamma Mia!) Translated from the Napoleonic, "Madame Sans-Gêne" means "Miss Free and Easy," which is surely a role Sophia Loren was born to play. I wanna see this film again, badly.
October 2008 Update - I did! I wrote the text above in 1994. But the film has finally been released on DVD. I can wholeheartedly recommend it; it's quite a romp, and Sophia Loren displays her comedic assets very well. (As she does her other assets.) Check out this frame-by-frame analysis, with admiring freeze-frames and zooms.
Alexander Nevsky: How many of you out there do medieval? Okay, how many of you do medieval Russian? All right, forget any tenuous connection with reenacting--this is a terrific film despite the antique Soviet production values. A Sergei Eisenstein production (if you've ever taken a film class you've heard of his "Battleship Potemkin," discussed below), it was made as a warning to Hitler, then threatening to invade Russia. It tells the story of Grand Duke Alexander's battle with the Teutonic knights on the frozen Lake Chud in 1242. This is a very stylish movie, depicting the Germans as heartless and mechanical and the Russians as warm and resolute in defense. Sheer propaganda, of course, but compelling anyway. Granted, some scenes are so foreign and bizarre they're laughable, but others, such as the knights tossing naked children into the bonfires of a sacked town, depict a face of war that is rarely shown in film. (Hitler obviously didn't get the message of this flick because his troops got the same warm welcome from Russia that Bonaparte and the Teutonic knights did!)
Battleship Potemkin: Didn't like it, but then I don't do a naval impression, either. The scene with the baby carriage rolling out of control down the steps is a film class cliche -- much better is the look on the faces of the sailors when they find all the maggots in the hardtack. We reenact this scene whenever we can in my unit. If you have your choice of Eisenstein films to see, skip this one and Ivan the Terrible and see Alexander Nevsky instead.
An Officer and a Gentleman: Chick film.
The Horse Soldiers: I suppose I'm obligated to mention Civil War films to make this article relevant. Very well. It's been pointed out that this is one of those productions that features virtually every quirky Civil War sideline story and odd cliche there is in an effort to lend color. A drunken Irish sergeant, a gorgeous female spy, homespun Confederate prisoners of war, VMI-style Southern cadets and a General or two tossed in for effect, they're all in this one. (They only missed the train chase.) My pard Mal Stylo, Chairman and CEO of the Constance Towers Fan Club, likes the dinner scene where C.T., in a low cut dress, leans over to John Wayne and asks if he prefers the leg or the breast. I like the neat little ditty sung during the opening credits ("We'd go to HELL and back/for Ulysses Simpson Grant!") and the oddly defeatist U.S. Grant in the opening scenes ("Gentlemen, we're getting whipped bad! We must do something!"). A stunt man died during the filming of this one, which leads me to believe that the only thing more tragic than a Civil War is somebody getting killed to make a Civil War film (or a reenactment). A John Ford film, and a fairly good one.
Johnny Shiloh: I love 1960's Disney films. As a parent, I still do. They're a safe haven of refuge against the liberal social themes that Hollywood types feel compelled to foist upon us these days. This one, however, sucks. First of all it has that nauseatingly ubiquitous 1960's Disney kid actor that once went by the name of "Moochie." You know who I mean: he was also one of the Swiss Family Robinson. Secondly it has an unintentionally uncomfortable relationship between bearded manly former blacksmith Brian Keith and Moochie that leaves me wondering if the guy isn't really a big homo. Nix on this one.
Shenandoah: This is meant to be one of those warm "we're-a-family-and-we'll-survive-anything-including-the-Civil-War" films, and to some extent it is. The youngest son is called "Boy" in the best Waltons manner, and there's a touching reunion between father and son at the end. The best theme in this film for me, however, is the proud father's getting humbled by God and circumstances. No memorable battle scenes, however. I found it mostly boring. Not discussed around reenactment campfires very much, for good reason.
Outlaw Josey Wales: This film starts out promisingly enough but gets sillier and sillier as it progresses. It really goes downhill after the Civil War ends and Clint Eastwood commences to roam the land, squinting, curling his upper lip Elvis-style, shooting and attracting this huge ridiculous crowd of followers wherever he goes. The best part in this flick is when someone at the end of the film tells Josey that the damn Civil War is over, something many reenactors haven't figured out for themselves.
How the West Was Won: This film would have been shorter and more interesting if the producers combined the Shiloh battle scenes with the buffalo stampede.
Kelly's Heroes: A World War II film with Sixties/Seventies sensibilities, this is the most obviously anachronistic (FARBY) flick I've ever seen. The title theme sounds like an old Association tune, the tank commander is a drugged-out hippie and the producers didn't even require Clint Eastwood to shave off his sideburns or cut his hair. Sheesh! Still, one of my pards thought well enough of it to include in his Two-Fisted Action Theater collection of Beta tapes I inherited when he went VHS, so who am I to disagree?
Green Berets: I saw this film when I was twelve, in the year of the Tet Offensive, and as youthful and clueless as I was I still knew that somebody was trying to manipulate my views of Viet Nam. Seeing this flick as a cognizant adult, I realize how shamelessly propagandistic it is. More or less coincides with the release of SSGT Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets," which Mal Stylo has adapted for Civil War reenacting as "The Ballad of the Blue Kepis (Key-Pays)." Why am I writing about 'Nam flicks in a Civil War rag, anyway?
Conan the Barbarian: I used to think this film sucked until a friend put it in perspective when he told me that it's good to watch after a bad day at the office. The connection between this film and the Civil War is that, 1) the Stonewall Jackson statue at Manassas Battlefield Park looks like Arnold with a beard, and, 2) Mighty Stonewall himself was once overheard at church responding to a question issued from the pulpit "What is good in life?" with "Crush your enemies, see dem driven before you, hear der lamentations of der vimmen!"
The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers: I realize you're expecting me to comment on Raquel Welch's, well, assets, but I refuse to. This is a well-rounded British slapstick, and just plain fun to watch; these generous movies don't take themselves very seriously, and one would hope that life in Seventeenth Century France looked something like this. Bouncing, supple and lovely, the camera work and production are velvety, and the screenwriting has a sort of creamy voluptuousness that lures one into the folds of Richelieu's Paris intrigues. The sword fights are ample, too. Did I mention that Raquel Welch is in these films?
Go to the Internet Movie Database