Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Midway

Moving to the Pacific theater of war, MIDWAY centers around a battle I actually know something about. The engagement at Midway plays a significant part in TRIAL BY FIRE, the second novel in my World War II trilogy, so I did quite a bit of research about it. Other than adding a fictional protagonist, a pilot and intelligence officer played by Charlton Heston, the history in this one is pretty accurate. There's also a fictional sub-plot about the son of Heston's character falling in love with a Japanese-American young woman, which naturally causes trouble in Hawaii six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

But to get back to the war . . . I would have liked to see a little more about the Battle of the Coral Sea, which is also pretty interesting. Some of the characters discuss it, mentioning the fact that the aircraft carrier Lexington was sunk there, but other than that it's sort of brushed aside. Of course, the movie is fairly long as it is, and that would have just made it longer. As in THE LONGEST DAY, there's a considerable lead-up to the action, with scenes of both sides jockeying for information and position. Henry Fonda is Admiral Nimitz (the pride of Fredericksburg, Texas, which gets mentioned but not by name), Robert Mitchum is Admiral Halsey, Glenn Ford is Admiral Spruance, Toshiro Mifune is Admiral Yamamoto, Hal Holbrook is code-breaker Jim Rochefort . . . You get the idea, familiar names of actors and historical figures alike.

Once the battle itself gets underway, there's plenty of action as new footage is interspersed with combat footage from the real thing. Another thing I really liked about MIDWAY is that all the aircraft carrier scenes were filmed on the U.S.S. Lexington (the second Lexington, which was commissioned in 1943 to replace the one sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea), which is now permanently docked at Corpus Christi where it's been turned into a museum. I've been there several times and have walked every foot of the flight deck, as well as visiting the pilot ready rooms and the bridge that figure so prominently in the film. Even the scenes set on the Japanese carriers were filmed on the Lexington, with the negatives flopped because the Japanese carriers had the island on the opposite side of the flight deck from the American carriers. It was also good to see so many scenes of the Dauntless dive bombers in action, since two of my characters in the novel flew in a Dauntless and I learned a lot about those planes, too.

I'm probably letting my inner WWII buff influence me too much here, and I'll admit the fictional romance stuff is pretty hokey. But so much of the film rings true that I don't mind. I thoroughly enjoyed MIDWAY and I'm glad I finally watched it.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I am planning on a visit to the Midway ship in January.

Bill Crider said...

Isn't there a whole movie about the Battle of the Coral Sea. Cliff Robertson? My memory isn't clicking yet this morning.

James Reasoner said...

Patti, you mean you're coming to Texas and going to see the Lexington? Corpus Christi is a nice town, and there are several decent bookstores in the area.

There may be a Coral Sea movie, Bill. I'll see what I can find out. Cliff Robertson is in MIDWAY, though, so that may be what you're thinking of.

Creature said...

I've seen "Midway" a couple times and have really enjoyed it. There are some real intense and suspenseful moments as the viewer tries to unravel the decisions between the Japanese and the Americans as to when and how to launch counter offensives. Very exciting. This is a good solid movie loaded with name stars so for anyone who hasn't seen it...do yourself a favor and watch it.
Have a Great Day!!!
The "Creature"

Anonymous said...

As a boy--before my hometown theater closed, around 1960--I saw "The Battle of the Coral Sea," with Cliff Robertson, and liked it. Even my father, who did not care for war movies, liked it. (I think the reason he wound up seeing it was that it was on a double bill with a western.) It was one of the first war movies I ever saw, and it helped turn me into a lifelong history buff. I'd like to see it again, and see if it still holds up.

Cap'n Bob said...

I saw it when it came out and enjoyed it a lot despite Edward Arnold being in the cast. A lot of people don't realize that this battle, fought just six months after Pearl Harbor, effectively destroyed Japan's naval power and put them on the defensive for the rest of the war. It was a huge turning point, like D-Day in the ETO. And don't worry about displaying your love of history, James. You have a receptive audience in me.

David Avallone said...

I saw this in a theater, with my dad, and in sensurround, which was kind of amazing. I wasn't crazy about it at the time, and subsequent viewings haven't blown me away.

One of the great things about LONGEST DAY, for me, was the actors working in their native languages... it gave that movie a verisimilitude this lacks. Poor Toshiro Mifune, surrounded by Californians like Robert Ito and Pat Morita, seems confused that he's the only Japanese man in the whole Japanese navy, and genuinely alarmed at the sound of Paul Frees voice coming out of his mouth.

Still, the Sensurround was cool, and the opening sequence -- lifted whole from THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO -- is really great.