… Is almost over. I whiled away part of the patriotic three-day weekend watching some of the Turner Classic Movies “all war flicks, all the time” marathon. Saw almost all of “A Bridge Too Far,” which is extraordinary for its overuse of big-name actors and big-time pyrotechnics in the service of perhaps the last romantic World War II feature. Saw parts of “M*A*S*H,” which has aged amazingly well. Saw parts of “Patton,” which seems ludicrous to me now. Beyond my personal political leanings, I think the war-themed movies just look different in the post-“Saving Private Ryan”/”Band of Brothers” era, when there’s been an effort to bring something like combat verity into the movies and television.
For a film about such a famously hard-nosed character, “Patton” comes off as little more than a romantic caricature in which one great man spends a couple hours strutting around in front of a bunch of cardboard cutouts. That’s the way it looks now. Then — it came out the same year as “M*A*S*H,” 1970 — it was enormously popular and a big winner at the 1971 Oscars. It’s hard to say why looking at it now, though of course the period is suggestive: Vietnam was unpopular but not yet recorded in the “not-won” column, and the movie features a hero who built a reputation for driving tanks through any opposition, damn subtlety or consequences. “M*A*S*H” spoke a lot more directly to the anti-war audience then, and because of its grim humor, frankness about the business at a combat hospital, and Robert Altman’s handling of a great ensemble of actors, it still seems fresh.
That leaves “A Bridge Too Far,” which is almost embarrassing to watch. The stock upbeat theme music. The star-studded cast. The stiff upper lip in the face of insuperable odds. The impassive, smugly superior Nazis (this time with a reason to be smug and superior). The nobility of defeat and massive casualties. It’s good that Hollywood has almost quit making this movie, or this kind of movie (from the trailers, Mel Gibson’s “We Were Soldiers Once,” looks like an attempt to give Vietnam the same heroic treatment).
But it makes you wonder, a little, how Iraq will be turned into a big-screen treat. (The best clue: Go rent “Three Kings.” More pleasingly flashy entertainment, less reality — but we’re OK with that.)