Archive for June 12, 2022

Magic Bullets

Posted in FILM on June 12, 2022 by dcairns

I suddenly got curious about what movie Lee Harvey Oswald was seeing when he was arrested. Turns out to have been a double feature of CRY OF BATTLE and WAR IS HELL.

CRY OF BATTLE seems interesting — it features Van Heflin and Rita Moreno and was directed by Irving Lerner, who made very interesting films like MUSCLE BEACH, MURDER BY CONTRACT and THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN. Oswald might have appreciated the irony of the fact that Lerner was suspected of being a Soviet agent — he was caught photographing a cyclotron in 1944, a piece of atom spy business that could have earned him the electric chair. We can be glad he was spared that, because he got to edit Scorsese’s NEW YORK, NEW YORK, just before he died. The movie was scripted by Bernard Gordon, a blacklistee.

But Oswald never saw a frame of CRY OF BATTLE — the movie that was playing while he sat, tousled and breathless in the Texas Theater, was WAR IS HELL (1961).

Incredibly, the movie seems to be listed as lost now. But here are some surviving scenes.

WAR IS HELL had been held up for release for three years, supposedly because of its anti- or un-American sentiments. They finally stuck an intro on from Audie Murphy to secure its patriotic credentials. So that the chances of it being in the Texas Theater on November 22nd, 1963, seem almost as remote as those of the president’s assassin, or a patsy thereof, being there.

The most suggestive, evocative clip is the above, taken from the 8mm version. The picture jumps and flutters with Zapruder unease, and the dialogue unfolds in subtitles alone. It’s better if you watch it with the soundtrack muted. The soundless soldiers mouth dialogue like “Let’s get out of here” amid mute explosions. The effect is eerie.

I tweeted about this movie being (partly) lost and it went slightly viral. I got a reply from @TexasTheater who say they screen a reconstruction of all the surviving footage every year on the anniversary.

One question was how Oliver Stone reconstructed Oswald’s arrest in JFK. Well, he dresses the movie marquee with the right titles, but doesn’t really bother about finding footage that looks as if it could come from WAR IS HELL. I’d be very happy if any of you can identify the film excerpted. Doesn’t seem to be a Korean war pic of any kind.

Another mystery: Twitter user @BalthazarBee had the false memory of Oswald watching some kind of giant insect movie. But now he recalls that Oswald’s arrest is also depicted in an episode of The X-Files, Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, which seems a likely location for the insect footage. But I’d like to know which movie that is, too.