What does Clint Eastwood's American Sniper have in common with a 1967 film The Dirty Dozen?
Forget that John Wayne turned down the starring part in Dirty Dozen that was subsequently played by Lee Marvin, because Wayne realized the premise of the movie was a piece of sh't.
As a matter of fact, Wayne one time threw down a proposed western script which would have starred himself and Eastwood. Wayne threw the script down in disgust and said, "This is all they know how to write nowadays. Me and Eastwood ride into town and act the big guys. The townspeople are a bunch of jerks. I'm interested in better things, like a man's love, a kid's love."
I could of said to him, "But Duke, acting the big guys, you've just described just about every successful movie you've ever made."
Oh, where were we, I'm getting off track.
Oh yes, American Sniper
, the film about a Navy Seal in the Middle East (dusting) shooting people long distance. Pundit film documentary maker Michael Moore said the film's hero is a coward because he shoots people from ambush hundreds of yards away. Others including Michele Obama defended the film.
What does this have to do with the Dirty Dozen, a film about a group of condemned convicts being released to raid a Nazi officer's club on the night before the World War II Normandy Invasion of D-Day?
Like American Sniper perhaps, The Dirty Dozen reflects a growing or reoccurring ruthlessness. A group of released murdering perverts and religious maniacs kill unarmed German prisoners and their wives in an attack on an officer's club in which they have no idea who is in residence at the site.
This massacre is portrayed as a heroic action.
Somehow, we're supposed to believe this will help the Allies achieve victory on D-Day. In other words, a battle involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers covering hundreds of square miles of the French Cotentin Peninsula, somehow will be saved by the random murder of some unidentified officers at this plush resort, a couple of privates and a few sergeant majors as well.
We don't know exactly who we're killing.
Actor Ernest Borgnine, who played in The Dirty Dozen, later said the film's director was determined to show the gritty brutal realism of war, and so made the movie particularly (for the time) violent. Letting dead-heads out of jail to murder unarmed prisoners is an example of realism?
The film was hugely successful, particularly among teenagers.
Marvin beat up everybody in the movie despite the fact he was at the time a 43-year-old alcoholic who looked old enough to be your grandfather.
Michael Francis Moore, born April 23, 1954, is an American director, producer, writer, author, journalist and liberal political activist. | Photo: Archives |
But the year the film was made, 1967, was near the time of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam (early 1968). I think there is a possible tie-in psychologically. Could it be that the Dirty Dozen told us more about our growing frustration in Vietnam, a quagmire we were stuck in, that we weren't winning?
Was it a glorification of a newly developed ruthlessness, perhaps Fascism, American Fascism? Did it hint that we had lost our soul as a people and we were going to commit atrocities in revenge, but done in the name of freedom?
In other words, to defeat the Nazis, we had to be more like Nazis. Is that what The Dirty Dozen really meant?
Of course, Wayne went on to produce and star in his own epic The Green Berets in 1968, a blatant piece of pro-war propaganda posing as entertainment.
Sometimes movies tell you more about the time period in which they were made than they do about the date of the event depicted in the film.
Move forward to the new film, Eastwood's American Sniper.
I like Clint Eastwood and I've interviewed Clint Eastwood and had a beer with him at his Mission Ranch. But his politics are to the right of Genghis Khan compared to me.
Like The Dirty Dozen, does American Sniper reflect a new type of police-state mentality to match our torturing prisoners and drone-bombing innocent people (as well as terrorists)? Has permanent war in the Middle East turned us into a new type of militaristic warlords? For example, like the jailers at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, who for some perverted reason posed prisoners for photos in sexually humiliating postures---because they enjoyed it?
Is American Sniper a reflection of that same kind of perversity?
Snipers in war are necessary. They are also brave. But does the glorification of them in a movie say something more about how we perceive ourselves?
Consider Willie and Joe. Willie and Joe were two cartoon characters created by Bill Mauldin during World War II and came to symbolize America itself, our values. The two often appeared looking like bearded bums sitting forlornly in a foxhole somewhere in Italy. Their sardonic cynical comments were genuinely funny, yet the two gave off a tragic aura. They didn't want to fight a war, but they had to.
They didn't feel themselves any more patriotic than the next guy. In reality they were more patriotic than for example the thousands of their countrymen sitting out the war at home making profits and living in comparative luxury.
The strip made the point that Americans were for the most part not militaristic people, and didn't like war, but did what they had to do. They wanted to get the goddamned thing over with and get home.
Willie and Joe fought and killed the German Nazis in the war, but they never abandoned their humanity. They didn't become like the Nazis themselves. They stood for something better, even if in World War II American troops did sometimes kill unarmed prisoners, and even though the U.S. was bombing German cities and civilians because the reign of Hitler had to be stopped.
Willie and Joe still had a candy bar for an impoverished Italian waif or nylons for his mother. Killing was something that had aged them beyond their years. Theirs was a look of sad resignation, a war-weariness soaked into the bones.
They weren't portrayed as elite killing professionals indoctrinated into conscienceless and efficient joyful killing.
Is the premise of American Sniper a hint we're becoming more like Nazis, or terrorists, losing our basic humanity? I have not seen the film and I don't intend to, and I won't comment on its quality, because any judgment of any artistic work is purely subjective.
However, I'll tell you one thing. If I did go see American Sniper, I would probably end up missing Willie and Joe.