Friday, March 14, 2008

Star Wars or Top Gun Fan?

TCM is showing The Bridges at Toko Ri tomorrow (Saturday, 15 March) at 6pm and, if you miss it then, again in April and May. This classic Korean War air-combat movie (set on an aircraft carrier) has a lot going for it, not the least of which is the similarity between the bombing runs against the bridge and the final attack in Star Wars.

But before giving several reasons for watching this film, I'll also mention that TCM is showing Gaslight tonight. This is a thriller made by George Cukor, starring Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten with Charles Boyer heading the bill as the bad guy. (This is a good role for an aging leading man like Boyer, but a better one for Cotten.) For Cotten, this 1944 film is bracketed by two of his classics with Orson Welles: Citzen Kane in 1941 and The Third Man in 1949. Curiously, when I mentioned him to my Mom, she said she was a huge fan of his and had spotted him in Hollywood circa 1950. Must be genetic.

Back to The Bridges at Toko Ri. The main reason a Star Wars fan should see it is to compare the scenes of jets attacking the bridge with the attack sequence on the Star Destroyer. Top Gun fans should watch it for the (real) carrier action scenes from 30 years earlier.

The IMDB trivia page credits two other films (Dam Busters and 633 Squadron) as resembling the final attack on the Star Destroyer. However, a long time ago in a state far away, I heard promo comments about Star Wars that said film from "Toko Ri" had been used as filler while the FX sequence was still in production. Having seen all of these movies, the reference to Dam Busters is a joke since the bombing run is over a wide lake with AA fire only from the dam itself. 633 Squadron makes more sense (attack runs up a fjord protected by AA fire), but lacks the "roll in" attack profile and intensity of the jet fighter-bomber run in Toko Ri.

Watch it, and see if you agree. The whole style of the attack, one plane at a time taking its shot at running the gauntlet to attack the target, is similar.

This film is also notable for several other things. Based on a novel by James Michener, the film captures the futility of the Korean War and the barely suppressed anger of reservists (such as the star of the film) who were called up from their civilian careers despite having served in World War II. (I think I mentioned this in a comment on one of the blogs I read. The father of an old HS girlfriend saw active duty in WW II, went to college, graduated, then went to Korea. He was not happy, although his was a case where he had experience that was needed immediately, because there was not time to train new draftees. My father was similarly resentful, mainly because what he did during Korea could have been done by a newly trained draftee rather than someone who had just graduated from college. This is the same issue that the movie "Stop Loss" will address in today's context with no draft to fill gaps in the military.)

The movie also has first-rate real footage of carrier combat operations in the jet era, having been filmed with the full cooperation of the US Navy. It is instructive to compare deck operations in 1954 with those from 1986 shown in Top Gun. It is all a bit rougher during the Korean era because the carriers had been designed for prop planes during WW II, not the early jet fighters used in Korea. Although it is a movie, much of the action footage is as real as any documentary.

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