Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

14 July 2007

Battleground

I liked William A. Wellman's Battleground a lot. It's a World War II movie about the Battle of the Bulge and it is filled with action and fraternity and friendship. Of course it's from 1949, so it has its moments of pro-war propaganda, and promotion of both religion and the military in general. But these moments don't really invade the narrative structure of the film and the story of Battleground is incredibly effective. it's a great movie. It's shot in really sharp black and white, with one of the smartest scripts I've seen in a war movie. Take this extended exchange from the second act. Let me set it up. Van Johnson and crew are patrolling the forest in Bostogne, but the Germans have access to their passwords somehow and they have guys who can speak English with an American accent and infiltrate the ranks. So on patrol, Van Johnson is very suspicious. Our guys are John Hodiak and Ricardo Montalban and they come upon a jeep with a major and two other guys with guns:
Van Johnson: What's the password?
Major: Texas. (Then he whispers to his men:) Keep 'em covered they may be Germans.
Van: Any lions in these woods major?
Major: I didn't hear the countersign.
Van: Leaguer. Texas Leaguer.
Major: Which road'll take us to Third Bat headquarters?
Van: Straight ahead.
Major: (To his driver) Get going.
Van: Just a minute. Just what is a Texas leaguer, major?
Major: How's that?
Van: I said 'what's a Texas leaguer'?
Major: It's some kind of baseball term.
Van: What kind?
Driver: A safe hit over the head of the infielder—
John: Nobody asked you. How did the Dodgers make out this year?
Major: Hey, who's your commanding officer?
John: Whoever he is he knows how the Dodgers made out.
Van: Let's see your dog tags.

Major: What?
John: Come on, we're not taking any chances.
(At this point Van starts to speak German to them and try to trick them into speaking German back.)
Van: Spreken ze Deutsche?
Major: What is this?
Van: Was ist dein name?
Major: What kind of nonsense—
Van: Schnell!! Schnell!! Name! Name! Spreken ze
(The guys in the car start to freak out and aim their guns. And now the dialogue moves at rapid speed between the guys.)
Major: Drop those rifles.
Driver: You. Who's Betty Grable going with?

Ricardo: Cesar Romero.
Driver: Shut up. Who's the Dragon Lady?
John: She's in Terry and the Pirates.
Driver: What's a hotrod?
Van: A hopped-up jalopy.
Driver: Hello Joe whaddya know?
Van: Just got back from a vaudeville show! (Beat) I guess they're okay!
Major: Thank you sergeant.
Van: PFC, major. Praying for civilian. That's why I believe in being careful. May I suggest, sir, that you study up on baseball?
Major: I guess I'd better. And by the way, you might tell your buddy that Cesar Romero is out. She's married to Harry James.
Did I mention how well shot this Wellman film is? It's an American genre-film and it looks like a well-made art film. I enjoyed the Hell out of it.