FF38 - The Sands of Iwo Jima

Intro by John Roderick

Before John Wayne was a cliche, synonymous even by the late 1960s with an especially American kind of retro grade middlebrow masculinity, he was first an exemplar of that style, the archetype of it, during a time when most Americans wanted to see themselves that way. Sure, there were New York literary sophisticates who scoffed at the simplistic morality of his films and plenty of contemporary mid-century critics called a wry foul on the Hollywood idolisation of broad-shouldered fists-up heroes, but moviegoers ate up John Wayne and men and boys alike imitated his style. A man who never cried, who never lied, and who only punched a cattle when the cattle had earned a punch.

Sands of Iwo Jima was his 120th film, if you can grok that! Sergeant Stryker sounds like the name of a character from some dumb 1980s airplane-derived comedy that Adam saw on VHS from deep within his parents’ velour sectional, but the square-jawed caricature that Leslie Nielsen dined out on for two decades only worked because movie audiences got the references and those references were all to a bygone Hollywood more or less owned by this loose limbed California beefcake.

This film is a trope fruitcake even in its own time. There was nothing original about the story! The sergeant is too hard on his men, but it’s because he wants them not to die, but they can’t know it because he wants them to be tough and they can’t be tough unless they’re abused and he can’t abuse them properly unless they don’t know how much he cares. Also: He can’t reveal his pain from his failed marriage and estranged kid, because that would humanize him and that’s not tough and from thence cannot come the proper abuse profile to turn out true killers. And so on… That might even be true, who knows! None of the hosts of Friendly Fire have ever prepared any raw recruits for hellish battle, although I have definitely put some poor Indie Rock audiences through a kind of boot camp. I also know Ben has killed a lot of hot dogs.

Anyway: What set this movie apart from the steady stream of World War II movies of this era was that it was ripped from the headlines. We get two big battle set-pieces with tons of actual footage from those battles fully integrated into the production. We see the invasions of Tarawa and Iwo Jima with actual veterans, famous veterans, of those battles used as extras and we get a depiction of the famous flag raising over Mt. Suribachi that became the unofficial emblem of the Marine Corps. It must have played big in theaters. Unfortunately we also get a lot of soap opera and dramatic overacting in the scenes in Honolulu and elsewhere in between, spending a lot of time with the men in Stalag 17 anticipating slapstick male bonding scenes and in particular we spend time with the petulant Private First Class Pete Conway, whose father is an officer whom Stryker unabashedly admires.

Men die, fisticuffs are exchanged and strikers vulnerability is gradually revealed. There’s a lot of melodrama that is easy to mock, but like many films of the era there’s a surprising amount of self-awareness too. By the time the unit gets to a Iwo Jima they and we have been through a lot and Stryker has genuinely grown. That’s why it hurts so bad when many of them including Stryker die in the battle. In the aftermath the squad reads aloud strikers unfinished final letter to his son and music swells and the Marine Corps hymn pots up and we all stand and salute the flag and the movie and the god-damn United States of America. And there’s a lot to salute here: You don’t get more realistic in depicting combat than showing actual footage of actual combat. It’s never explicit, but it’s pretty clear actual soldiers of both sides are dying in real life on the screen and without question this is a time capsule of anti-Japanese racism that was commonplace verging on universal within Americans of all colors and creeds at the time. Don’t complain we didn’t warn you!

If war is nothing but trading real estate, then Friendly Fire is a real estate movie podcast. Are you ready to get rich? Today we are reviewing the 1949 Allan Dwan film Sands of Iwo Jima.


Welcome to Friendly Fire, the war movie podcast where ”We made a mistake and some guy don’t walk away. Forever more you don’t walk away!” I’m Ben Harrison and I’m Adam practica and I’m John Roderick.

A: We’ve done a number of John Wayne films and I don’t think any of us have done a John Wayne impression until then.

B: I felt bad that we hadn’t.

A: Well, thanks for checking that box!

B: That was honestly my feeling!

J: I feel bad now that we have!

B: It was a pretty bad one because John Wayne was not a person that I watched movies of growing up. His time had totally passed.

A: Way to make up for last time!

J: They didn’t show his movies in Berkeley?

B: No, there’s a civil civic ordinance that prohibits it. As a kid, it’s a black and white movie and there’s Ninja Turtle movies that you could be watching instead and it’s just a tough sell for your parents.

J: When I was a kid, John Wayne movies were Ninja Turtle movies. That was all they gave kids.

B: I think that may have been one of the sales pitches my parents attempted on me.

A: I was shocked to read that John Wayne almost didn’t take this movie, because inside he felt there may just be too many war movies right now. Can you believe that was ever a position that he took? It seems like he’s in 50 war movies!

J: The thing is though: He is in Westerns! He made more than 80 Westerns in his career, so we think of him as a war movie guy, but in 1949 he he was cowboy guy.

A: He considers himself more of a chaps man.

B: A helmet is just so much less breathable than a cowboy hat.


A: Speaking of chaps, John: I have seen many films from this era depicting what Marine military combat uniform was and I was fairly surprised to see that they just looked like Auto Mechanic Dickies. What’s the story with that? They seem so loose and blousy that you might actually trip on your pant leg or your shirt. What’s the thinking with that?

J: It was so hot and humid on those islands. Think about where they’re fighting! Up until that point all uniforms were wool, even summer uniforms were light wool.

A: They needed a Costanza on the scene to put them in cotton.

B: As the great Luciano Barbera once said to me when I was visiting his woollen mill in Italy: ”Wool is actually a wicking fabric and can be quite cool in the summer if you have the right weave!”

A: You are such a fucking dork! He was not an adviser on this film, or was he?

B: I almost like didn’t believe the costumes until they started cutting to real war movie stock footage from these campaigns and it was a perfect match.

Stock Footage

J: They used a lot of stock footage in this film, maybe more than any other movie I’ve seen. It was really well made to the footage they were filming and in some cases I really had to pour over it, like: ”Is this stock footage, or is this part of their set, part of the re-enactment?”

B: It’s really unbelievable, because some of the stock footage shows some real intense shit, like guys jumping into foxholes as a bomb comes down and the camera goes crazy because the camera man is obviously being buffeted by blasts of explosive air. I almost wonder if you would ever see this in a modern film! There are probably people dying on screen for real in this movie.

A: You definitely see real dead bodies in that footage.

B: I have a hard time imagining a Hollywood studio being okay with something like that nowadays.

J: Yeah I wonder about that. It is one thing to see stock footage where an airplane comes in and drops a bomb on a train, and you’re like: ”Yeah, he got that train!”, but it is another thing to see somebody stand outside of a bunker with a flame thrower and fill it with molten gas and say ”I wonder if he’s just exterminating some insects, or is that place full of people?”

Flame Throwers

A: We famously do a segment called ”Who’s your guy?”, but one of the things I thought to do for this movie was: ”Who’s not your guy?”, like: ”Who is the person that you would like to be leased?” and I think flame thrower guy is that guy for me. Nothing seems more harrowing than that walk up a sandy hill, carrying those gas tanks after seeing the first guy carry gas tanks up that hill and then explode.

B: ”Hey Ed! Could you stand a little bit further down the line for me?”

J: My understanding is that that if you had a flame thrower, you became an instant target for everybody.

A: You’re like the guy at the driving range, driving the little cart that picks up the balls.

J: They are easy to see and they are easy to shoot and they are the guy you want to shoot.

B: They are very satisfying when they blow up, I bet!

J: And then we saw later in the film, where they fitted Sherman tanks with flamethrowers, and that must have been terrifying to see!

B: Yeah no kidding.

A: To have one of those just parked right next to your bunker and stay there as it expands its gas ordinance for five straight minutes into your hole.

B: Also: Just like being around, even if it’s on your team! We’ve got the vehicle that is very difficult to see out of and we’ve given it a gas spraying nozzle. How many people just got caught by friendly fire from that?

Soap opera parts

A: If you haven’t seen this film, you may get the impression that this is a hard war film, but I’m here to disabuse you of that thinking right now, because I think the way the film opens and courses through its story, It is not! What makes the real war footage so shocking and disturbing is because everything that leads up to those scenes is soap-opera-like.

B: For as well integrated that stock footage is, and stock footage might not be quite the right word for it, but the real combat footage is so well integrated, and yet there are lots of scenes especially at the beginning of this movie where basic editing techniques are just being ignored.

Allan Dwan’s career and impressive dolly shots

A: I looked up Allan Dwan’s career. I thought this guy must be a fucking hack! What is his problem? Intercutting composition-to-composition that are almost totally identical, like jump cutting?

B: They have a two-shot of a couple of characters talking and then they cut to a different, but very similar two-shot of them talking from the same camera angle. It is just a jump cut! Did they just cut out 15 minutes of other stuff they were saying to each other?

A: Allan Dwan has a career that spans 100 films, starting in the 1910s. Ben, he invented the dolly shot. I don’t know why they didn’t call it the Dwan shot. He invented that and he also pioneered the crane shot. He’s the guy!

B: We talked a lot about how impressive some of the dolly shots were in this, we almost didn’t believe them to be real.

A: Because one of them in particular was really fast moving.

B: John, I’m sorry you couldn’t watch this with us! Giving you a peek behind the curtain: Adam and I are here in LA and you are back in Seattle.

J: Are you giving me that peek behind the curtain? Because I already knew that!

B: You are not the only person listening to the sound of my voice. I mean: Very few people listen to this show, but…

J: There’s Adam and there is your wife and your dog. It’s exciting for me that you guys are together, because it is an apt description of this podcast and how it really exists in space. You and Adam and your dog are all in a little cocoon together where it’s safe for Adam to talk and it’s safe for you guys to talk about dolly shots and stuff and then there’s me and Isengard, making Orcs.

B: I can’t wait to have people correct you on your pronunciation of Isengard.

J: I was calling it Isengard before any of them were alive.

This movie having a silly vibe

A: One of the other interesting choices about how this film operates visually is that we get a fully developed training montage five minutes into the film and it is long!

B: It really is!

J: It’s long with all those soft focus or half focused shots of a cross dissolve with John Wayne standing there giving orders, but clearly not saying anything, but just going like ”HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.”

A: And they just turn his head in either direction as if to yell at people out-screen.

J: Now you climb rope! Now you climb rope!

A: I definitely got a silly vibe from the film, which is what made people exploding holding flame throwers so much more incredible when you when you finally get there.

J: I also couldn’t reconcile that you. From Here to Eternity was just four years later and it’s a big soap opera too, but it had a lot of real human drama in it. This isn’t the era with cinema verité war movies, but we’ve seen other war movies from this period that weren’t quite so corny. The way that the Marines were interacting with each other all through boot camp, were it’s just like: ”Hey, see! Get off of my bunk!” and the two brothers that are always fighting and ”I’m going to represent this guy in the pictures.” It almost felt like a Marx Brothers film, except not really funny, but set up that unrealistically.

B: It is comedy adjacent

A: Which is exactly where our podcasts are located on iTunes.

Indistinguishable characters

J: But there’s no Rickles. There are half a dozen guys vying to be the Rickles, but I think this is pre-Rickles Hollywood.

A: It’s so much more than a Rickles you get with with Private Regazzi. He’s like the Andy Dick of the film.

B: He’s making inappropriate sexual advances offenses at somebody in a hotel swimming pool.

A: People really like him in this film, but I don’t know why.

B: The actors in this film are less actors than they are Brylcreem models. Everybody not John Wayne is barely punching above the weight class of the non-actor actual Marines that they gave a bunch of very prominent roles to. You can barely notice that difference!

J: In most cases when you have a cast like this and you give each one of them a one note character, like Regazzi is the sassy Italian guy from the Lower East Side, and you got these blonde bohunks and that blonde bohunk, there were a lot of bohunks, you usually give that one thing to a guy that is going to pay off somewhere down the line. We see a lot of that in this movie where the hard bitten guy that hates the sergeant ends up loving him and being his best friend after an entire movie of us having to deal with their sob-sister relationship with one another. We see that, but then there are a lot of these characters getting half developed and then the payoff either never comes, or guys are dying toward the end of the film and I’m like: ”Am I supposed to know which one that is? Is that the guy that had that one scene with the popsicle?” None of them really stood out.

B: We dunked on Saving Private Ryan a little bit for the very specific types that each character in the squad is, but the advantage of that is that you know who each one is and can distinguish them from each other. Everybody in this movie basically has the same face, especially when they have the helmets on. It is really hard to know when somebody we care about has died.

J: Regazzi gets his moment when he’s like: ”Let me go get a bazooka!” and he comes back with a tank and you’re like: ”Oh, of course! If anybody could do it, he could!”, but the problem is by that point in the film we don’t care about Regazzi, that’s no moment where we’re like: ”Yeah, he did it!”, because there were never any stakes about this guy, he was just in there to, I don’t know, make the film fun for people at the start? I couldn’t tell!


J: There wasn’t enough ethnic diversity to make it feel like these characterizations were in the family of ”It’s the Jewish guy!” and ”It’s the Italian guy!” We did see a Jewish guy later and when he gets killed he actually like does a little Hebrew prayer, like ”Wow! A little ethnicity!” and then John Wayne puts his hand on his chest and goes ”Amen!” Way to seal the deal there!

A: You may be expecting a lot from this film’s representation as a film that uses cartoonishly racist language throughout.

B: Yeh, really knock-your-socks-off racism

J: It is 1949, that is what you’re going to get!

A: Here’s the thing: I think we’ve seen a fair sample size of films from this era and this film seemed like an outlier.

B: It was going out of its way to use specifically ”Lemon Face!” or whatever.

A: It’s all fucked up, I want to be clear about that, but your example Ben is bizarre! It is mean because all racism like that is mean, but setting that aside for a second it’s just fucking silly racism. Why are you saying that?

J: The movies that we’ve seen from this era, we haven’t watched a lot of a lot of films about Marines on the beaches yet that were made immediately after the war. We’ve watched plenty of World War II movies like submarine movies and airplane movies, a lot of movies about sailors. Has there been another like Marines on Iwo Jima movie that we’ve watched?

B: That the closest thing we’ve watched to this is Flying Leathernecks, which is a totally different bag of tricks.

J: A lot of that what you would maybe describe as creative racism in terms of just finding ways to slur is maybe a result of the fact that these are the first people we’ve met in our whole war movie podcast that are actually in hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese. They have a different lexicon and within their own culture there’s a lot of reason to dehumanize the enemy and to present them as dangerous, treacherous figures that are worthy of being mocked and slurred. The example you gave Ben stood out to me, too!

B: I’m the only idiot that actually said it out loud and I just have to live with that shame and I apologize to everybody in the sound of my voice.

J: Ben, it’s fine! But.

B: So you are pro racism, John, is that the case?

J: Yes, it is!

A: It feels like they did ten takes of that and the director was like: ”Give me another weirder one! Get weider!” Like the police sergeant: ”And so I married an axe murderer!” That’s unnecessarily culturally insensitive to play that parts of racist police sergeant.

J: There’s no way for me to be able to teleport us and our listeners back to 1949.

A: I’m going to save that for the final countdown.

J: Yeah: ”Let’s go! Come with me in a magic ride on my sleigh where we go back to 1949 and try and say a nice thing about a Japanese person in a bar in Hawaii!” This is after probably 60 years of concentrated racism against Asians in the United States and it started with the Chinese. I’m sorry, probably closer to 100 years! The Chinese came over in large numbers to help build the railroads and they populated the West Coast and there was a lot of racism and a lot of government policy limiting the number of Chinese. Here in Seattle we had riots where the Chinese residents of the city were driven down to the docks and given a choice: ”Get on this boat and go to San Francisco or get pushed into the water!” and that was in the 1890s, but a lot of that anti-Chinese racism flipped really easily over into anti-Japanese racism and that started during the war. You have seen the propaganda! Even Dr. Seuss! There is an entire book of Dr. Seuss cartoons during the war where he is drawing anti-Japanese propaganda.

A: I do remember that book ”One fish, two fish, Japanese fish”

J: Kill your Japanese fish!

A: It was wildly unpopular!

J: I have that book here somewhere. My mom grew up during the war. She was born in 1934 and she lived her entire life as a colorblind person and a civil rights activist, but it took her a long time to forget anti-Japanese sentiment drilled into her in elementary school. My dad fought in World War II and never had racism against the Japanese, because he grew up with Japanese kids in high school. He went over to the Pacific and fought them and never had a problem really reconciling it. He watched his friends’ families get sent to camps here and understood it was a crime and the injustice of it, but then went over and fought in the Pacific and came back and was still friends with them. They all came to his fucking funeral! Did I ever tell you that story? At my dad’s funeral I’m standing there, getting ready to give the eulogy, and I look out and there’s half a dozen 88 year old Japanese guys and I’m like: ”Hi!” and they all came out and said: ”We loved your dad, he was the best basketball player on the high school team!” It must have been a weird high school basketball team. Anyway: The racism and the jingoism or whatever stands out, but I don’t think this movie was an outlier. Not even conscious, but this is the way people talked at that point and it was it was a long hard slog from 1947 to 1967 to get to a point where people would buy a Japanese product. This might even predate you, but in the 1980s there was tremendous anti-Japanese racism in the United States still. Look at the teen comedies of the 1980s, we were still portraying the sixteen candles effect!

B: Every action movie has Japanese businessmen that are either evil or there is redshirts or something.

J: What was that Michael Keaton movie where he was working on a car assembly line and they were going to make some American cars that competed with the Japanese cars that were taken over our market. It’s only really recently that this went away. We maybe weren’t so inventive later on with the slurs, but we kind of settled down into into a comfortable lexicon of five to seven things to say.

A: Gungho, right?

J: Anyway: I don’t want to go on a long screed about that, but that stuff really sticks out now, but at the time there just wouldn’t have been any self-reflection about it.

B: You see newspapers from the time using slurs in the headlines totally unquestioned.

J: This is what my mom says: They came into the classrooms and were like: ”Here’s what you need to know about the wily inscrutable Asiatic” - ”OK! Yes, teacher!” and those were the scientists, those were the smart adults.

B: We’ve done the most advanced phrenology on these people!


J: This is the first film we’ve seen that purports to be describing the Marine Corps in this moment. This Pacific theater, Tarawa and Iwo Juma, made the U.S. Marines! The whole reputation we have about the Marines now as being this kind of first in last out tough tip of the spear.

B: Really? I thought they made their reputation in the halls of Montezuma and on the shores of Tripoli?

J: They did! That’s their song! They wrote those lyrics! But this really solidified it and put the idea of the Marines in the popular imagination. These battles were so bloody and the outcome of them was foreordained. They talk in the movie about Guadalcanal, but as many people died on Tarawa in three days as were killed in Guadalcanal over the course of months.


J: These were D-days, basically. Every time they took an island like this, it was a new D-day.

B: I wondered about how much they learned from D-Day in doing these campaigns, because it seems so much more technically advanced than anything I’ve seen depicted of D-Day. The landing vehicles have tank treads, they start as boats and then they climb up on the beaches and they’ve got big forward facing guns to provide some covering fire as the Marines jump over the sides. They are still getting pinned down on the beach, but it seems way better than what Tom Hanks and his buddies were getting dropped off in.

J: Tarawa was pre-D-Day!

B: Oh really? So why did they not have those crazy truck boats in D-day?

J: That is a really good question!

B: It seems like they would have helped! All those jacks that the Nazis sprinkle on the beach to prevent tanks from getting up, is that why?

J: Well, it didn’t keep us from trying to land tanks on D-Day! Honestly, I don’t know! That is a fantastic question and I’m sure there’s an answer.

B: They were just building all those things in Oakland and it was just too costly to get them shipped all the way across to the Atlantic.

J: It is crazy to imagine that you could ship those all the way off to some atoll in the center of the Pacific and not get them to England somehow. Well, I am going to look into that!


Impressive explosions

B: There are two major beach landing scenes in this movie and they are so intense! Just incredibly frenetic! There are shots with the actors in the forground where they are blowing of real explosives in the background and palm trees are coming apart and stuff.

A: The things that made the Saving Private Ryan war scenes visceral and scary are the same practices used here: Super long shots down the beach line! It’s the depth of these compositions that are really impressive.

J: Some of that is actual old footage, but a lot of it isn’t. To your point, Adam: You start off this movie and you are like: ”This is one of these From Here to Eternity movies where we’re going to spend the whole movie in a bar, watching people in Hawaiian shirts cry into their bourbons.”

B: And they even almost set it up like that! There’s the one guy that dislikes Stryker from the beginning and it turns out they were both boxers in the corps.

J: That never delivered!

B: They had a fistfight and then they wrapped their arms around each other when the Colonel came by: ”We were just we practicing our Cada”

J: I guess that was a payoff, you are right! But when these war scenes started, this movie expended as much ordinance as Kelly’s Heroes did. There were explosions going off five miles away from the camera and big ones. Where are they getting all this ammo, first of all? To have the war scenes be so effective and so realistic and to have the rest of the movie just be out of an Archie? I’m still trying to figure out how they crafted those two movies together!

Missing connective tissue between scenes and emotions

B: They really do play like two totally different movies and I think that the problem is there’s no connective tissue. There are no emotional stakes established in the non-combat scenes that are paid off in the combat scenes. One guy becomes a family man and a father over the course of the movie and it’s just like: ”Okay, well… He got married and had a kid. Good for him!”

A: The conflict that I was feeling when I watched that part of the film was like: ”Have you ever had a friend that moved away too fast?” No one in his group of friends stops to go like: ”Hey man, do you think you should maybe chill out on getting married so soon?”

B: ”Maybe slow you roll, you met her in a bar three days ago!”

A: And then 90 seconds of film time pass and he’s getting a letter about his son, including a picture.

J: I wondered about that and I’m not very susceptible to romance, as you know. You guys just spent a weekend with me at MaxfunCon.

B: Yeah, you didn’t romance either of us! It was very hurtful.

J: I was too busy romancing Chuck Bryant. I don’t think this was uncommon at all! A lot of people got married the day before they shipped out, that was kind of a thing! The idea that you would meet somebody and say: ”You’re the one for me, Kiddo!” and get married, have sex on your wedding night and then you get shipped out and then you get a letter that you are a father, that’s maybe not that uncommon, but I felt soft about it, like ”Naaaw!”, compared to 1 million other more difficult ways that all that could go down. The only complication is when they both are back in a little house in Iowa and like: ”So! What are you like? Have you ever had spaghetti?”

A: For an era of film that led to nothing go without being said, I thought it was really strange that the Stryker character only stood in opposition to the Conway character in terms of family history and experience. There was never a scene where Stryker is like: ”You are making a terrible mistake, Conway! She is just going to leave you and take the key with her!” There’s never that moment and I fully expected it to happen. Their conflict is about other things.

B: It’s about Conway’s daddy issues.

J: But curiously: That scene where they are driving and Conway is saying: ”I’ll tell you what my dad thought of me! He thought I was a loser! He thought it was a failure!”

Bad rear projection effects

B: Is that the scene where they cut to one side of the jeep and the background is going by at one speed and then they cut to the other side of the jeep and it’s going by at a very different speed?

J: I didn’t notice that, but it definitely felt like it wasn’t a green screen as much as it was a guy with a filmstrip behind, rolling it on a reel.

B: They used a lot of rear projection in this movie and sometimes it is fantastic and other times it is insanely bad. When they’re looking at the map on the boat and the horizon is just flying up and down? Holy shit, this is like a really intense boat, but they’re all just talking like they’re inside a sound stage in Burbank.

J: In that moment on that Jeep ride, Stryker says: ”Well you’re the one doing the talking!”

B: ”There you go!”, John Wayne’s favorite catchphrase. ”There you go! Move those cows over there! There you go!” Is that our next T-shirt? Just John Wayne’s face and it says: ”There you go!”

A: I love it.

J: No, we’re going to get angry letters from people that have subsequently learned that John Wayne was a genocidal person despised in Latin America. But what that foreshadowed was a scene somewhere in the film where Stryker was going to sit him down and say: ”Here’s what your father thought of you: He said he thought you were the greatest bravest guy that ever lived and he loved you!” That was just so pregnant throughout the film and the only reference to it was when John Wayne was talking to his his Private First Class and said something like: ”No, every father is proud of his son!” or something like that. I wanted to grab the scriptwriters through the window of time and say: ”Missed opportunity!” It’s not that you didn’t do it because it was corny, because you did every other corny thing, but they foreshadowed a lot of things, they set up these perfect set pieces in the script and then didn’t deliver them later.

B: It’s almost like Save the Cat wasn’t written before this movie, so they didn’t get to learn how to write a screenplay from the genius screenwriter behind Blank Check.

J: Is this a Star Trek reference you’re making now?

B: No, this is a having gone to film school reference. Save the cat is one of the seminal screenwriting books, but the writer of it has really dubious movie writing credits. It’s a good book and you learn a lot about film structure, but also: It’s advice to be taken with a grain of salt.

Who is this film about?

A: Hey guys: Who is this film about? Is it about Conway or is it about Stryker? The reason I ask is: I don’t really like Conway.

B: I think it has the From Here to Eternity thing. It is both of their movie. John Wayne’s face is much bigger on the poster.

J: I think that they felt like we would know more about him than than we do. And the reason that we wouldn’t pick up on it is because the language that that character is using or some other quality would communicate to audiences at the time something about the guy that we don’t get. They didn’t need to write it into the script because everybody knew that ”Oh, well that guy is Polish, so therefore he is not going to know which end of the gun to point at the enemy”

A: Right, polish people are famous for that.

J: Thanks Ben! I appreciate it!

A: We’ve been to a gun range together, John!

J: Yeah, that’s true! You were using a camera though, mostly, right?

A: And which direction was I pointing at?

J: I don’t know, I’ve never seen the footage. You could have been pointing it at your own ear. In this case, what Conway was supposed to be was a spoiled rich kid and we hear it right at the end where John Wayne says something like ”Well, you got two degrees, but it doesn’t make you something or other” and it was the first time I knew that Conway had even been to college let alone had advanced degrees in college, and if so: Why wasn’t he an officer? Why did he enlist in the Marines as a private? He didn’t get any special treatment from his father, but that didn’t keep him from being a brat. His father was a war hero, he didn’t have to be there. Even in Platoon we have a scene where Charlie Sheen is like: ”Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking!”, but Conway’s only attitude is: ”I hate the Marines. I’m only here out of tradition!” What? That’s the dumbest dumbest thing I ever heard! We don’t get it really explicated so that we know his inner drama beyond just that he’s a brat and if you’re gonna be that kind of brat, what the hell are you even doing in this movie? What are you doing here?

Uniforms and ranks

B: A lot of the characters have been busted down in this movie. And as a total uniform-nayf I didn’t know quite what I was looking at when they get dressed up to go into town. John Wayne’s got three Chevrons, but a lot of them have one. Does that mean that a lot of those guys are also sergeants?

J: No! One stripe is a Private First Class. No stripe is a Buck Private. Two stripes Is a Corporal and three stripes is a basic Sergeant, the bottom of the sergeants. They say at one point that John Wayne had formerly been a master sergeant or something. I don’t think he was a command master sergeant, but he had a lot of stripes that got taken away and then we learned that it was for drunkenness, or at least that’s the implication. When they saw him stumbling down the street, the one guy goes: ”Oh, now I know how he lost his stripes!”

B: Gotta get to help him avoid the shore patrol!

J: But we never see a higher ranking enlisted person in the movie than three stripes, which is crazy.

B: It’s like John Wayne is personally winning this war.

J: We see two lieutenants, a captain, a major, a Lieutenant Colonel and I think a colonel, …

B: … and every single one of them a tour de force performance by an actual Marine officer.

J: Yeah right! Some of them really really really wooden performances!

B: ”We got the call in some airstrikes on this other sector because there are quite a few of the enemy over there.”

Women in this movie

A: We also see someone with the rank of single mother, perhaps the most challenging path taken for anyone in the film, right?

J: There were women in this movie, one of them we never saw, she was just implied: John Wayne’s wife who left him in a lurch. She left him because she didn’t want to be married to an absent Marine, she took his son. But then we meet two other women and they really foreshadow the From Here to Eternity women. They are both bar girls!

B: That one just like left her baby home alone to go pick up dudes at a bar.

J: Yeah, well, in order to get some food to feed him, I guess!

A: Maybe he got that set of plastic keys to play with, it will keep him busy for a while.

J: That was a touching scene where we got to see John Wayne’s nobility. He was transformed in that moment!

A: The restraint he showed by not breaking that bottle over the baby’s head!

J: That’s an old fashioned movie trope where: ”Yeah, I’m going home with this prostitute, but then I see that: Oh she’s got a little kid, she’s just trying to make it work! Well: Here’s all my money and I don’t even want to kiss!” and after that he’s like: ”Never let me feel sorry for myself again!” and it is a Hollywood moment where they’re talking about that it was hard to be a woman in the war, too. She has that in a lot of ways most bold-faced line in the movie, which is: ”There are harder jobs than being a Marine in this war!” and the implication being: ”I have to sleep with sailors in order to feed my baby!” and that was a pretty tough line for a 1949 movie.

A: His repudiation of her faith was also really interesting, too! She’s like: ”I’ll pray for you!” and what he’s saying without saying it is: ”Yeah, how has that been working out for you up until now?” and then she says it again and again he’s like: ”Alright, whatever!”

J: It was a great line! He said: ”Let’s not go get religion now!” Yeah, heard that. But then and it is confusing when Conway meets his wife to be in a bar in New Zealand, but she’s an American girl and it is never explained or asked why she is doing this work. We never meet a New Zealand girl!

B: She worked for the Red Cross or something?

J: I don’t know! I don’t think the Red Cross paid women to go across the seas and be dancehall girls. That’s normally in the Red Cross handout. You can work folding bandages or …

B: … you can donate blood or you can be a hooker with a heart of gold.

A: One thing that is in the Red Cross handbook is free cigarettes, as many as you can hold.

J: I loved that!

A: How about that desk back there?

B: Permanent free cigarette station from the people back home.

Being in jail

J: Yeah, from the folks back home that really care about you! I once did ten days in jail in Boulder Colorado. It was in the mid 1980s at a time when they still gave free tobacco.

B: You’v told us this story!

J: They don’t do it now, but back then…

B: It was a strong incentive to go to jail if you could just get all the smokes you want?

J: They wouldn’t give you coffee!

A: The prison industrial complex is interested in making money in every other possible way except jacked-up cigarette prices.

J: I don’t even know, can you smoke in jail now? I don’t know. I’m not interested to go back to find out.

B: You cannot! The currency of cigarettes has been replaced with what are called Macks. Those are cans of mackerel that cost about a dollar at the commissary. They have entirely replaced cigarettes in the prison system. You gamble for Macks… I don’t think anybody wants to eat them!

A: But no one wants to eat a $20 bill either! In that way it’s a perfect currency.

The iconic flag raising photograph

B: This movie feels like it is leading up to the famous flag raising scene at the end and I thought I’d share with you guys a quibble from the Internet pedants that I actually had myself watching this movie, so I was delighted to see somebody had already put it up on IMDB: ”The raising of the flag atop Suribachi, the Pulitzer Prize version, is shown as the first flag raised when in fact it was the second.” My understanding is that that was in fact a staged photo, not just something that happened, because they all wanted it to happen.

J: That story of it being stage is actually… actuallys is all the way down here! The photographer who took that iconic photograph was asked by someone in the immediate next two days. He took that picture, he sent it in to be developed, the person developing the film recognized that it was a classic photo, sent it out to the AP wire, and it was on the front page of every newspaper in the world within 48 hours of being taken, or even less. It was the first example of a viral meme.

B: It had a caption that said: ”Bay got me, like…”

A: Marines break the Internet!

J: He continued to be photographing things and he photographed some things that actually were posed, not having anything to do with Iwo Jima, but a picture of two guys boxing, or something like that. Someone said to him: ”Was that picture posed?” and he thought they were talking about a different picture and responded by saying: ”Sure!” That also went viral, so that within within the same week that the picture was still on the cover of everything, there was all this gossip about it that it was a post photograph. He was like: ”No no no! I was talking about the one with the boxers!” and never was able to completely correct the misunderstanding, because if you look at that picture, it’s not posed and there was also an Army cameraman there who filmed it in color and the Army cameraman was standing exactly next to the photographer. I should be able to call up that photographer’s name but I can’t. It’s not like I should. I also have to remember all the chords to Great White Buffalo, but I can’t recall his name. There was an Army cinematographer and you can google the footage and it shows these guys in color raising that flag and you can pick out the frame that is the photograph.

B: Joe Rosenthal is the photographer.

J: That is an example of a thing that because that rumor has echoed through time, all the people that don’t believe the moon landing was real also don’t believe that that photo was real, but it was the second flag. It was a bigger flag because the original flag was little and they wanted to put up a big one. Three of those dudes in that iconic picture were dead within two days.

B: Yeah! I’m looking at the Wikipedia now. There are 6 guys involved in raising it and Michael Strank, Franklin Sousley and Harlon Block were killed in Iwo Jima after being in that photo.

J: The photo represents that we have conquered Iwo Jima, but in fact all we did was get to the top of that mountain! There were still thousands of Japanese in tunnels.

B: There were 20.000 Japanese on the island when they start the invasion?

J: 20.000 that have nowhere to go! This is like Fires on the Plane, except a lot worse!

A: Unclear what the yam situation is.

J: In Fires on the Plane there there was always the suggestion that on the far side there were landing craft that were going to take them home. But on Iwo Jima they knew there was no escape and the instructions were: "Fight to the death!”


B: The title of the movie seems to come from a very labored establishment of one of the characters as an expert on farming and fertilizer and then he does not approve of the quality of Earth When they get to the island. Give me a fucking break!

J: And he gets a full minute, doesn’t he? "This sand is really sandy, I can’t believe it!”

B: ”Why are we fighting for something this Sandy?” George Lucas saw this scene and was like ”I think I’m going to base a lot of Darth Vader’s motivations around this kind of idea.”

A: George Lucas is like: ”Also: The dialogue in this film is fantastic!”

J: Another beef I had with the flag raising: One of the flag raisers was famously a Native American guy who was a big hero after the war and there is no Native American guy in the platoon throughout the entire film. There is no one who represents him, even in 1949. His name was Ira Hayes and he would have been famous. I guess they were fictionalizing this troop and they didn’t have anybody…

B: You didn’t really get the sense that any of our guys were meant to be pictured as in that flag raising though, did you? They hand the flag to what’s-his-nose and then he catches a bullet right before anything can happen, so they hand it to somebody else.

J: Oh, I see. Good catch!

B: What’s the guy’s name again? Oh: John Wayne!

John Wayne catching a bullet at the end, reading his letter aloud

J: Were you surprised that John Wayne caught a bullet at the end of the movie?

B: I think we were both pretty surprised!

A: I think I yelled out loud at that moment. I did not see that coming and neither did Stryker.

B: I also did not see you covering them pulling his letter home out of his fatigues and just reading it aloud to everything.

A: Yeah, that was fucked up! Isn’t that a federal crime?

J: What’s this here in his pocket? Oh it’s a letter to his girlfriend! Oh look at this, he’s been writing scheisse-porn!

A: And then Conway says that he’s going to finish the letter? Give me a break!

B: When that guy trails off I thought he was going to say: ”Maybe I shouldn’t be reading this aloud!”, but instead says: ”He didn’t finish writing it!”

A: Conway’s like: ”Give me that thing! No one knew him better than I did!”, evidently.

B: We were the thickest of thieves!

Stryker forgiving his comrade and becoming a real Marine

A: The entire film has been heading to this point, because Stryker is hated throughout the film, but we finally reach a moment where he is loved and respected by this group of people who he was so hard on, but it never felt like that love and respect was ever earned. Can you guys remember a turning point in the film where it was anything besides people feeling sorry for him? They find him in town and they find him drunk and they’re like: ”Oh, that’s why he got busted down!” So often you see the trope in films where the hard-ass is begrudgingly respected and loved through action and virtue or something, but I don’t feel like he earned their respect in a way that made any sense to me.

J: His primary antagonist at the at the very start of the film was this guy that had served with him before, who had been bumped down to private and he was a boxer and he spent the early part of the movie grousing about him. But then we see on Tarawa that he has this terrible experience where he went off and got a cup of coffee and his friend got killed as a result of his negligence. And he is carrying this burden, he hates himself for it, and then Stryker finds out about it, because the guy that survived that attack was convinced that the other private must have died because that’s the only reason he wouldn’t have come back. Stryker takes him and says: ”Your mine! Come out here! We’re going to do some fisticuffs!” and they beat each other up and then an officer comes by and is about to send Stryker to court martial for fighting an enlisted man and the guy says: ”No, we weren’t fighting! He was just showing me some Judo moves” and then confesses. Stryker says: ”You left that guy to die!” and he confesses and says ”You’re right. It’s really weighing on me!”, and the expectation is that Stryker is going to say ”You’re despicable to me!”, but Stryker instead says "We all have made this kind of mistake and the only thing we can try and do is not do it again” and he absolves this guy of what would have been a thing that tormented him the rest of his life. He absolves him from the from the position of not just his sergeant in authority, but also a combat veteran. This is a guy that knows and the suggestion is that he also has dead friends that are on his conscience. From that moment on that problem was resolved. For the rest of the film that guy is loyal to Stryker because he relieved him of a lifelong trauma in that act of forgiveness. Now: The relationship with Conway Twitty: Stryker throws himself in front of a grenade for the guy and he tries and tries and tries and he even does this crazy confession that seems very intimate, where he’s like: ”I’ve tried everything I know to get with you and you just won’t let me in, so: Go fuck yourself!” He throws his ”Congratulations! It’s a boy!”-cigar on the floor and I was like: ”That’s a pretty expensive cigar, bro!” There is a scene where Conway saved Stryker. They’re on Iwo Jima and the Japanese officer comes out from behind a log or barrell.

A: Right, he comes out with that sword…

J: … and Conwy gets him where he was about to behead Stryker.

B: What was that officer’s plan? That’s a good attack!

J: Kill the one sergeant! This is how my life will be remembered!

A: He was going for the demoralizing move. You see Stryker’s head get cut off, that changes their outlook.

B: ”See if he has a letter home in his pocket!”

J: ”I’m going to read it aloud!”

B: It’s almost illegible because there’s so much blood on it!

J: That was Conway’s ”Born Again Hard” moment that we’d been waiting for the entire film, where now he’s a real Marine and is no longer a sad sack powder. That’s confirmed in the last line of the film when they all turn an Conway says ”Alright, you guys! Pack it up! Lock and load!” Now he’s the guy. I think that was the moment he forgave Stryker when he realized that he had become the tough Marine that Stryker and his father had always wanted him to be and from that point on his face just lit up when Stryker was there and he loved him to pieces.

A: ”I am become Stryker, destroyer of families!”

J: What we don’t see is the subsequent film where his wife leaves him and takes his son.

B: ”Turns out we’re actually not that good a fit. Maybe we should have dated a little bit longer?”

A: ”And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon.”

The purpose of war

B: Another thing I just wanted to touch on is all of the different materiel that is shown in this film. There are some devices of warfare that I have never seen elsewhere in this movie. There is a Jeep at one point that just has a rack of rockets on the back that are shooting off in series. It’s amazing and I think that’s stock footage. There is amazing stuff of airplanes being slingshot off of carrier decks and all those airplanes with their wings folded up waiting to go are getting their engines going altogether. It is a total boondoggle of parked planes where they just going to have to go one by one. Getting to see all that real stuff is maybe only slightly tempered by being conscious of seeing what is probably real human beings being burned alive by all the devices.

J: I don’t know about you guys, but one of the things that I’ve experienced in doing this podcast with you is: Even after a lifetime of thinking about war and what its purpose is and in particular: I’ve grown up with an entire lifetime of the primary critique of war being a male folly. It’s something that boys do! There is a really common anti-war sentiment that if women were in charge there wouldn’t be war. This is just a thing that is an expression of masculine violence and it serves no other purpose. It’s just boy apes thumping their chests at one another. And I’ve always resisted that interpretation! Wars are between cultures and between peoples and between civilizations and men and women have equal agency. They participate in war obviously in different ways: Men fight them, but they couldn’t fight them if the whole culture wasn’t behind the idea. In situations like this where we are watching, just as you describe Ben, these aircraft carriers with these beautiful old planes and the rocket launchers that seemed like they were kind of just built out of parts in the garage. We have enough distance technologically between us and World War II that these things feel like really cool toys. Now an aircraft carrier that costs multiple billions of dollars and has these almost spaceship level aircraft just feels otherworldly. That was an aircraft carrier that had a wooden deck! These things were made pretty quickly by a bunch of people with just normal tools, using wood and paper. I really was reflecting on the ”boys and their toys” nature of a lot of this stuff. These guys were like: ”We got to make a bunch of stuff we will go through it at their stuff!” and the stuff is so cool, but contrasted with footage of guys being burned alive and we’re seeing actual people die in this movie and it’s all part of this setting for this dumb morality play. Half of this stuff wasn’t even surplus, it was actually still in service! Such a boy adventure! The whole point of this was that we didn’t want them to use it as an air base and we made a case that we were going to use Iwo Jima as an air base to launch attacks on Japan, but by this point in the war, as soon as we captured Iwo Jima, yeah they use that airport a little bit, but it was not massively strategically important.

B: It also seems like the amount of materiel being devoted to this project by us is so disproportionate to what the Japanese do. Stock shots of 48 boats steaming across the sea and half of them are doing fusillades onto the beach. It is un-fucking-believable how many millions of pounds of steel are bearing down on this island.

J: Right, and the Japanese have no air power and no sea power.

B: Yeah, the biggest threat is guys jumping out from behind a bush with a sword.

J: And yet it took it took the Marine Corps a long time to capture this island. But it’s such a folly and in it, it just makes war seem like such a folly. What we wanted was them to not have airplanes to shoot at us while we were taking our ships and airplanes to go shoot at them and this was a thing where 20.000 Japanese were killed and something like 7000 Americans and all of this money and gunpowder…

B: … and that one blonde kid with all the books in his pockets…

J: … who never even got to fire a shot! I don’t know what he was meant to represent, either! He wasn’t smart, but he had books. He brought books into battle. I don’t know! I spent a lot of time chewing on it, relative to the whole project we’re doing here of watching war movies and trying to stitch it all together into a into a single fabric. It’s a tricky film to know where to slot it in.

B: It feels like so many different films and you think that as a director, as an actor or as a screenwriter you have an idea of what you are trying to say or a set of things you are trying to say with a movie and I really don’t know that this movie feels like that’s happening. I don’t walk away from it going: ”We won this battle because of this” or ”We should have better relationships with our fathers because of that” or what. It almost doesn’t have a plot. It’s just showing a series of events leading up to a big battle.

A: Platoon used the letters as a way to make that case for itself and I wonder, if Stryker’s letter was better articulated, that the reading of it would have made that point.

B: There is that ambiguity in it, which maybe is…

A: … maybe that was the ending he wasn’t able to write? Maybe it would have been extremely profound? But it’s up to the viewer to write the end of that letter, isn’t it!

J: That’s some corny screenwriting and some corny podcasting!

A: ”Expend all remaining mental ordinance on my position!”

Rating system

A: We were just talking about weaving this tapestry of war films together. One of the ways that makes that extremely difficult is that each film gets a different rating system and this is of course by design, because it’s so difficult to compare war films to each other. For each war film I design a separate rating system based on something that really caught my eye in the film that we watched. In this film there is a scene where Stryker goes to visit Mary, they go home together and they drink the last of the one remaining bottle they have in the house and Stryker’s like: ”Why don’t you go to the store and get us another bottle?”, wings some cash at her and she takes off. By the time she gets back, she comes back with a bag full of groceries and in that grocery bag is the can of formula and that’s when the reality sets in for a Stryker of what he’s gotten himself into. That can of formula is the connection to a world outside of war and it really stuck out to me in that symbology. So: On a scale of 1 to 5 canisters of formula, it is really hard for me to to rate this film because of how we introduced it. The soap opera aspects really drag the overall quality of the film down, the unfortunate editing choices made throughout are also counterpointed by some of the great visuals that we have ever seen in a war film up until now. I’m just going to try to take this down the middle and say three cans of formula is the rating I’m going to give this film. Plenty of great things to see and experience but also a lot of stuff that didn’t work for me.

B: My reading is going to be pretty similar. The battle scenes are so amazing and such an amazing interplay between real footage and stuff that they shot for the film. Just the coordination of knowing: "Okay, we have this set of stock footage. What can we design using this? How can we depict this battle? We can cut back and forth between some guys hunkered down in a foxhole watching an artillery barrage hit the side of the mountain and they can comment on that” All of that stuff is totally amazing.

A: Remember in Flying Leathernecks how none of that seemed to match up? It just seemed like they were just throwing stock footage in wherever? You’re right, it’s so mindful here! It’s almost like they started with the footage and then shot to the footage that they had instead of the other way around.

J: Yeah, that wouldn’t have occurred to me, but I feel that way for sure now!

B: At the same time the non-combat portions of the film are almost amateurishly bad: No rising drama between any of the characters, they get distracted from the conflicts and forget about them sometimes, there is all this weird homoeroticism that pervades everything but doesn’t seem to have a place in it at the same time. The characterizations are weak, the cutting is extremely bad, it brings into relief how great the cutting is in the battle scenes because it is so bad in the soap opera scenes. It is going to be like a 2.5 can a formula film for me, because it’s right on that line: Half of the film is fantastic and the other half of the film is so forgettable and confusing. Adam, you said this morning that if the film had started with the first battle scene, we would have been so inoculated to how bad some of the other stuff was.

A: Yeah, because the film teaches you what it is in the first 15 minutes and we all thought this film was one thing based on those and it ended up not being.

B: Yeah! 2.5 cans of formula for me!

J: This film was nominated for several Academy Awards: Best Actor for John Wayne who clearly was not the best actor. ”What’s his nose?” got nominated as Best Actor. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing. They clearly were ignoring fully half of the movie. They were nominating it for the great footage that we’ve described, but forgetting that it was terrible at this. Best Sound Recording, which I kind of don’t dispute, and best writing motion picture story, which is also a terrible nomination. This all just points up to how the Academy Awards have always been: Completely wrong!

B: I almost feel like they should do the Academy Awards 5 years later than the year that we’re talking about so that we can marinate in each of these films for a little bit longer.

J: Yeah, let it shake down a little bit! We’ll figure out what the good ones are. I concur with exactly your points, fellahs. The war footage is must see, not just the the actual footage taken from World War II, but the way it’s intercut and the way that the battle scenes are are filmed and structured. There is a real sense of the geography of place, there’s a real sense of danger and the relationships between these soldiers make sense on the battlefield. You see all the drama that is set up in the soap opera played out on the battlefield and it makes sense. But 3/4 of this movie we spend in pointless and ineffective boot camp footage, completely cliched ideas of how this ragtag bunch of guys is going to get shaped up by this no-nonsense sergeant who they don’t like, but he doesn’t care, because he knows he’s saving their lives. That’s just like as cliched a a war movie trope as there can be. The war footage kind of from a plot standpoint depends on stuff that has been established in the rest of the movie, but the rest of the movie is one can a formula for me, excruciatingly bad, and the war stuff is some of the best war stuff we’ve seen, but I can’t forgive that 3/4 of this movie is one can of formula, so the whole kit and caboodle, the whole operation, the scuttlebutt on this is two cans of formula, a solid two. Two with a bullet.

A: What might have been with it with a modern editor?

J: Yeah right, a modern editor and one more pass on the script!

Who’s your guy?

A: Do any of you guys have guys?

J: I’m guessing that one of you guys is going to have a guy from this very brief scene, because it’s so ripe for guys: There is this scene on Tarawa where it cuts to the brass and they are on the island and a major is talking to a lieutenant colonel and one guy has a really great Salvador Dali mustache and the other guy is this pie faced chunkster and it is the most wooden performance I’ve ever seen in a film by anyone. There’s a full on battle being waged right over his shoulder and he’s just like: ”Unbelievable!”

B: Explosion debris raining down on these two guys and they are like: ”What units of guys do you get up there?”

A: They reach over to the map mid-line and you can see him working out all the beads in his head. It is great!

J: He doesn’t know where to look, it is so awkward. I’m talking in particular about the moon-faced guy.

A: You run into this a lot when you work with non-professional actors. I do this a lot when I do corporate video: You are trying to use people who work in a situation to tell other people about what it’s like to work there, and their mind is on articulating their point, but not about any of the other things that are critical in having a conversation with someone. And so all you get is the emotion of reading it on paper. You have to direct them like: Talk to me! I’m right here! I’m next to the camera! Tell me about your job! and this guy did not get that kind of direction, he is purely reading the dialogue and giving it no other thing.

B: Just to the side of the camera there’s a guy with cue cards with the words ”Well! Pass the word. They get to dig in and stay put.”

A: Sometimes it’s okay to get the dialog wrong in favor of some emotional core to it. This guy is a great guy, John!

J: There is no naturalism. You’ve mentioned already that there are a lot of actual Marines, actual veterans of that battle in this film. That man who is playing that role is David Shoup, who was the ranking officer on the ground at the Battle of Tarawa and he won the Medal of Honor for being wounded on the landing and he continued to direct the entire battle wounded and refuse to be relieved. He won the Medal of Honor and then became the commandant of the Marine Corps and was John F. Kennedy’s favorite general with whom he consulted throughout all the Cuban missile crisis and so forth. Then he retired and became the most prominent outspoken critic of the Vietnam War who was famous in America for saying: ”The whole premise of the Vietnam War is wrong! We should not be intervening in these small countries! We are going to get our ass handed to us.” He was a public intellectual as former commandant of the Marine Corps, four star general, Medal of Honor winner, …

A: It’s a hell of a combination!

J: … and for all intents and purposes an internationalist liberal critic of the military industrial complex and an awful actor.

A: One of the things that Ben and I were talking about when we saw this in person was how it must have felt to go to the Premiere if you’re this guy, to see your performance on screen and then here at the smattering of slow-clap applause from your friends and family.

J: He went to that, but immediately afterwards he was given his first star by Truman, so he had other shit going on in his life. He’s my guy: David Shoup.

B: My guy is that dog with with the hat and a life-vest running around on one of those ship. They never showed that dog before or after, but they did get a couple of shots of the little guy in there.

A: After seeing African Queen I thought for sure they were going to throw him overboard or something!

B: He wasn’t a cat, he was a dog!

A: Sure, you don’t turn the dog over boad!.

J: The dog jumps overboard on its own!

B: And he’s got a life preserver, which a cat would just resent, but a dog is like: ”Hey, look at my cool life preserver! Look at me! Im a dog!” How about you, Adam, did you have a guy?

A: I did! My guy did something good that ended up going very bad. My guy is Mack, the guy who sets up a barista to stand on the beachhead from hell. This is the circumstance that Thomas walks into and, being tempted by that delicious coffee, decides to stick around for a while and just gab on a mission to go get more ammunition. Thomas is definitely not my guy, because he had responsibilities that he…

B: The folly of that decision is really evident on its face, Thomas! You could be forgiven for making that mistake! Those guys need that fucking ammo!

A: It’s not Mak’s fault that he makes a great cup of coffee.

B: He doesn’t know what Thomas is up to.

J: Mack likes to chat! He’s chatty guy!

A: There was something about Mack’s circumstance that I understood: There is a break in the action, it may in fact be coffee time, but it was too much of a temptation for Thomas and his good thing ended up resulting in a very bad thing.

B: Helmet coffee has a reputation for being fucking delicious! The slight amount of salt from the guy whose head was sweating in it before they brewed the coffee. What was the deal with the helmets were the straps were on sometimes and other times they were like: ”Take your strap off!” What was that about?

A: There was a real thinking that if you strapped your helmet on and a bomb went off, the concussion would blow your helmet and take your head with it. The thinking would be that the concussion would kill you and so many people did not strap on their helmets, so that if you were near an explosion the helmet would fly off and you would have a higher chance of survival. Depending on what your belief system was, that’s what was evident in the film. If you were a helmet truther you strapped on the helmet. If you didn’t, you didn’t.

One other thing

B: Well gentlemen, do you want to select our next motion picture?

J: Before we do I had one other thing to mention: The last Marine Corps Medal of Honor winner from World War 2 is still alive as of this recording and he was a flame thrower operator on Iwo Jima. His name is Herschel Williams. Go read the Medal of Honor certificate! Every medal of honor comes with a description of how that Medal of Honor was awarded. You should read his, and given what we’ve just seen in this movie about what that was like you should read his citation. He is still alive, he is 94 years old. Interesting little link to that history.

Selecting the next movie

B: Let’s select our next film! We’ve got a big long list of movies, so big and long that it is taking a long time to scroll to the bottom. We have 152 movies currently on the unwatched list. You want to toss a number out, John?

J: Hmm 79, the year that Adam was born.

B: Oh man, this is a real fave of mine: This is a 2015 drug war movie directed by Denis Villeneuve and it is called Sicario. Adam, you put this on the list. This is one of my real faves and I’m really excited to be watching it!

A: Yeah, you and me both! Friendly Fire is no stranger to a drug war film, but you will find very few similarities between this and Clear and Present Danger.

B: This is a very post Patriot Act, post W. Bush drug war film, so the difference between 2015 and 1994’s idea of what the stakes and motives and goals of the drug war are change quite a bit. It will be fun to tuck into!

J: This movie infuriated me in the theaters. I’m very interested to watch it again and see if I just had some bad shrimp cocktail. I remember exactly what it was about and it was very central to the film that just made me I just rage quit.

B: Well, tune in next week to see if John rage quits the podcast!

A: That’s always been a possibility! Never more than next week on Friendly Fire.

B: Well, I will let Rob take it from here and in the meantime: For John Roderick and Adam Pranica, I’ve been Ben Harrison. To the victor go the spoiler alerts.


Friendly Fire is a Maximum Fun podcast. It’s hosted by Adam Pranica, Benjamin R. Harrison and John Roderick. This show is edited and produced by me, Rob Schulte and if you’d like to support the podcast, you can visit maximumfun.org/donate. Our theme music is War by Edwin Starr, courtesy of Stone Algate music and our podcast art is by Nick Ditmor. Do you feel like joining in the conversation? Well, you can over on Facebook and on reddit. We’ve got pages there that you can talk to a whole bunch of other fans. You can find Ben on Twitter @benjaminahr, Adam is @cutfortime, John is @johnroderick and I’m @robkschulte. Please use the hashtag #friendlyfire when you tweet. Thanks! We’ll see you next week!

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