Archive for November 8, 2022

Plane Sailing

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2022 by dcairns

THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI is another Mark Robson war movie made for people who have just had a bath on a Sunday. That really is the mood it’s aimed at.

It’s not a distinguished film, but it has odd things of interest. It has to do with aircraft carriers, planes, the Korean war. William Holden flies a plane and Mickey Rooney flies a helicopter. Fredric March sails a ship. So much for characterisation. Well, in fact, Holden is bitter about being called up, Rooney is a hot-tempered Irishman who wears a leprechaun hat when doing air-sea rescue, March misses his son who was killed in action. OK now? Then so much for characterisation.

Early on, Fredric March is giving a pep talk in his cabin, but there are people moving about overhead, visible through gaps in his ceiling. This is odd. Apparently the DVD’s 1:1.33 aspect ratio is incorrect, the film was shot open-matte and so we are seeing things we shouldn’t be seeing. Still, I don’t know why March’s ceiling was built with gaps, or why somebody’s moving about up there. Possibly a boom operator?

The next thing of interest is William Holden in bed with his wife, who is Grace Kelly and who loves him. Characterisation achieved, moving on. But this is 1954 so I was mildly surprised to see man and wife in the conjugal bed, or at least a Japanese hotel bed, with neither of them keeping one foot on the floor as far as I could see. I guess the Hays Code injunction was breaking down (“the characters may be married by the audience knows very well that the actors are NOT” — didn’t anyone try casting married actors to see if they could then justify shared beds, penetrative sex, graphic childbirth?). Otto Preminger released THE MOON IS BLUE without a certification the previous year, so maybe the Breen Office felt it was adapt or die. It must’ve been a bit like Glasnost — for decades we’ve maintained brutal oppression from the fear that any laxity would lead to chaos — now we’re absolutely forced to loosen up — and the result is chaos. Next stop, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, THE EXORCIST, SWEET MOVIE…

I was excited about seeing 50s Tokyo — the world of Ozu as presented by Hollywood. But this Japan rarely resembles the native film industry’s portrayals, despite the presence of Keiko Awaji from STRAY DOG. There are some sidestreets that do call to mind Ozu’s bar-hopping scenes, but the big night club is something else — this might even be a matte painting for all I know.

The interior of “the Showboat” might be a set, too. But everything is very solid and expensive to build — showgirls circulate on a miniature battleship on rails, and the bandstand rotates. It also seems cramped, like there was no way to get the camera far back enough to see everything properly, so it feels like a real place. And it’s crazy enough to be a real place in Japan.

The big climax is pretty impressive. Apparently the air attack was used as placeholders for the effects shots in STAR WARS. It looks totally real. But I’d just seen VON RYAN’S EXPRESS, which seemed real until I started looking for frame grabs and then suddenly the model shots popped out at me. All cut together expertly — Robson was an assistant editor on CITIZEN KANE I think and cut CAT PEOPLE — so your eye follows a real Messerschmidt across an edit where it becomes a toy plane, and William Holden fires an MG-42 on a sound stage and his stand-in fires it from a real train and a model train gets strafed…

So, basing this solely on what the film DOESN’T show us as we soar down into the valley, explosions all around us in the air, and we fly through clouds of smoke — we don’t see people running about on the ground — so I think they built some really big model bridges in a miniature valley with real mountains in the background. And they really flew the camera through it filming in slomo while they blew everything to blazes. And it looks real, really real. I think it’s a shame nobody gave Robson a scifi movie to make. They kept giving them to Robert Wise, who did pretty well with them for a while.

We also watched the new ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT which made two films in one night that ended with major characters dead in a ditch, covered in mud. Which was probably just the distraction we needed after having to say goodbye to the cat.

THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI stars Joe Gillis; Lisa Fremont; Dr Henry Jekyll/Mr Edward Hyde; Mr Yunioshi; Sgt. Stanislaus ‘Animal’ Kuzawa; Sgt. Det. Sgt. Walter Brown; Harumi Namaki, the girl-friend; Mingo; Jason Tully – conductor; Buzz Gunderson; Mr Osato; and Mirador Motel Night Manager.