FF136 - The Great Raid

Pre-intro by John Roderick

When we started recording Friendly Fire back in the spring of 2017 we didn't really have a plan for it or a home for it or any kind of timeline for its debut, we just liked the idea of doing a war movie podcast together and we maybe didn't have a plan beyond that. I don't think we expected to record for months before we premiered, but by the time Friendly Fire appeared in your podcatchers in January of 2018 we already had several months of back catalog in the can.

As anyone in media can attest, having a trove of unreleased material is like having a cupboard full of canned soup, or for you sports fans it is like having three flasks of brown liquor taped to your calves. We used up that buffer over the next couple of years, taking vacations and getting into tumultuous and ultimately gratifying, but - alas - somewhat ill-fated affairs with carpentry bloggers who lived in Palm Desert, such that earlier this year we had almost no buffer at all. Nerve-wracking, to say the least!

So we kicked it into gear and recorded 10 shows a week until we built our cushion back, but that luxury comes at a price - like all luxury - except this price isn't paid in pieces of silver or in your tarnished, filthy lucre earned at the expense of an exploited working class. It is a price paid in sometimes forgetting having ever watched a movie in the first place. I don't think it is an indictment of any one particular movie that three or four months later I only recall some mist-shrouded details like: Wasn't Marky Mark in this movie? I could swear that he was! Maybe it is an indictment of the film. I don't remember.

The point is that Ben or Adam wrote this particular intro. I am not sure which, and I can't tell anymore because they have stopped using their homey regional vernaculars of Kirkland, Washington and East Bay Private School. Suffice to say, this well-written and professional intro is full of cleverly researched bits and is of the "Summarize the plot of the film. Don't just talk for 5-7 minutes about some ideas you had three minutes ago about the 1970s, Bismarck, Coney Island hot dogs, and the nature of man!" [variety].

Anyway, I am going to read this intro straight because it was composed by one of those adorable Ding Dongs, it is good, and I honestly can't remember this movie at all, except that it features a prolonged crawling sequence and stars Marky Mark or someone who looks like him. To wit:

The actual intro, probably by Ben Harrison

John Dahl started his directing career making music videos for Kool and the Gang and it has been an interesting ride since then. It used to be that honing your chops on music videos and then making a big transition to the silver screen meant you had secured your place as a Hollywood director. He had some buzz early on making films like Red Rock West (Never heard of that) and The Last Seduction (Also never heard of it), largely forgotten now (Oh, thank you!), but well thought-of in their day.

Then he cemented himself in the psyches of emotionally stunted college age bros forever with the film Rounders, a Matt Damon / Ed Norton gambling movie that probably did more for the playing card industry than a mid-sized riverboat casino in the decade after its release. Dahl mostly directs television now, and the film we are here to watch today is one of his last big screen releases.

Stepping back down to direct television used to be considered a stunt at best, like Quentin Tarantino directing an episode of ER or a late career slump at worst, but John Dahl's career-arc has landed him in the director's chair of some fairly prestigious television shows in the age of peak TV, so you could drag the guy and say that today's film is part of why he is not making feature films anymore, or you could look at it more charitably and say he made a transition into the part of Hollywood where all the excitement is these days.

This film has almost everything it needed to be as great as its title implies. A jailbreak is a perfect setup for a war film. The stakes of the challenge are clear and interesting, and all you need to do is pick a perspective and populate your story with interesting characters. The jailbreak in this film takes place on Luzon late in the war, and the prisoners in question are American and allied POWs who landed in a prison camp after surviving the Bataan Death March.

Unlike many of our previous POW entries, this story is primarily told from the perspective of the group of Army Rangers who lead the mission to free those prisoners. Benjamin Bratt (Oh, right!) plays the colorful Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci, the leader of the raid, and we get a B-story about Margaret Utinsky, played by Connie Nielsen, an American nurse secretly helping the Filipino resistance movement at the same time as the raid (Totally forgot about that!).

I will reserve my judgments about the overall quality of the film for later, but it is interesting to think that a movie with this amazing a true story to base its script upon could have landed its auteur in director jail, and ironic that the film in question is about one of the most amazing wartime jailbreaks of all time. "I am not talking about the publicity, Bob! I am talking about the kind of glory you carry inside you the rest of your life, knowing you have done something worth remembering, something that made a difference!" Today on Friendly Fire: The Great Raid.

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