09 July 2008

Destination Common Cause

There's something comforting and comfortable about watching World War II movies made at the time of the war and for the first few years after it ended. Yes, the subject is war and there are deaths, violence, and destruction, but those horrors are rarely the theme of the film and they're not graphically depicted.

It wasn't until the late 1950's with films such as Bridge on the River Kwai that there was a more cynical edge to war pictures and the suffering shown was more realistic. By the time of Arthur Hiller's Americanization of Emily (1964) war movies were becoming philosophical and were more likely to dwell on the folly of war rather than serving as patriotic drum beatings. Three years later, in the spirit of the 1960's, The Dirty Dozen was belittling army officers.

WWII films have been fewer and farther between recently with those that are made being absolutely unflinching in the depiction of blood, brain matter and blown off limbs, Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan is a case in point.

Last night I watched Destination Tokyo, directed by Delmar Daves in 1943. It was downright cozy. Yes, there was death and destruction but it was highly sanitized. When an American was killed it was sentimentalized. When Japanese were killed it was justice. Blood and gore were absent.

Like virtually all war pictures made during WWII, Destination Tokyo was war propaganda, plain and simple. It was a patriotic rallying cry for Americans to support the war and see the value of the cause. The Japanese, Cary Grant's character told us, were victims of a horrible system that must be wiped out. Not only for our sake but for the Japanese as well. So films like Destination Tokyo (set almost entirely on a submarine heading from San Francisco to Japan via the Aleutians) were not terribly realistic and wore their messages on their sleeves. What's the possible attraction?

It's a chance to hang out with the guys. What WWII movies like Destination Tokyo did so well was to put together a group of people from various walks of American life with a common cause. In this picture you had your scared but ambitious kid, your playboy, your gruff but lovable cook (Alan Hale, who else?), your philosophical future doctor, your wily veteran, your cool collected leader (Grant); in other words a potpourri, if a commonly used one, of men. The quirky, the urbane, the cool, the fiery, the hyphenated American and the Yankee Doodle do or die. Between them they were everymen. Representing the wide array of attitudes, feelings, hopes, dreams and fears that we all encounter within our simple hum drum lives. The men had their differences but always managed to work things out. In times of peril they pulled together. In terms of the American ethos it was Eden.

Watching World War II movies from the 1940s is like the best time you ever had hanging out with the fellas. A difference here or there but everything worked out and a good time had by all. What a great group of guys! Destination Tokyo also happens to be watchable because of a strong performance by Grant, his co star, John Garfield and the rest of the ensemble cast. It was also an excellent directorial debut by Daves who recreated the claustrophobia in and tension of being on a war time submarine.

One can only imagine the effect such movies had on audiences at the times of its release. Americans. by and large. supported the war and were proud to participate in the shared sacrifices ( a far cry from today when nothing is asked of us except to shop till we drop). Destination Tokyo must have been a feel good movie. Feel good about the war, the sacrifices, and our fellow Americans.

It feels good today, too. War is just the backdrop – it's a movie about people working together, uccessfully, no less. What a concept!


rdfinch said...

Riku, what an interesting post. The photo of Cary Grant (my favorite actor of all time) and the great John Garfield (the Marlon Brando of the 40's--did you know he was the first choice to play Stanley Kowalski in the movie version of "Streetcar"?) immediately grabbed my attention. I liked what you had to say, too. As one who was a teenager during Vietnam and now must endure Iraq, this is to me a strange way to feel. Yet there is something comforting about WW II. Despite the xenophobia and racism, its image was not tarnished while it was happening, and the movie propaganda is so blatant that it is easily ignored.

Have you seen the short TCM filler segment where Tony Curtis talks about Cary Grant and how this movie made him want to BE Cary Grant? He credits it with his inspiration to do his famous Grant imitation in "Some Like It Hot."

And speaking of director Delmer Daves, I'm currently working on a post about Daves's great Western "3:10 to Yuma" for my new movie blogsite, "The Movie Projector" (www.movieprojector.blogspot.com), which was directly inspired by your site. I only have one post up yet but am working on more. I'll be publishing only on Mondays, although I have a special post about a Hitchcock movie coming out shortly. I hope you'll take a look at it. Thanks for the inspiration.

Richard Hourula said...

Thanks for the nice words and I'll be checking out your site. Yes I've seen the filler and in fact it was why I recently watched Operation Petticoat (disappointing) and Destination Tokyo again.

Anonymous said...

When are going to get to the real meat and potatoes of American films? I am talking about the Holy Trinity.

Animal House


enough of this garbage, get to the real stuff!

Best Regards,


rdfinch said...

I felt the same way about "Petticoat" that you did. I watched it because of its cast and because of Leonard Maltin's high rating of the movie. It was entertaining enough but not nearly as good as I had expected. I wouldn't bother to watch it again, although anything with Cary Grant in it is worth watching once.

My second post is now up. In the future, as I said, I'll be writing about "3:10 to Yuma," the screwball comedy genre, and "His Girl Friday." By the way, your site is one of my links.