They Were Expendable, John Ford (1945)

Foursquare WWII picture about the advent of the PT boat in the days after Pearl Harbor. Ford can do this sort of thing in his sleep and still do it beautifully by this point. Perfect chiaroscuro lighting and moments of utter horrible authority. A wounded soldier with his eyes bandaged over smoking a cigarette. A young sailor at a bar just after the news about Pearl comes through, finishing off his glass of milk and wiping his mouth on his sleeve. Most impressive of all, though, is the way the movie uses silence. It’s a war picture, and the sense of threat is present in nearly every moment, but there’s almost no shoot-em-up sequences. The most quintessential war movie scenes, in fact, are the ones in which nothing remotely warlike occurs, such as the earnest attempt at a dinner party at a forward base, which can’t help but remind me of the dance scene at the end of My Darling Clementine: ordinary people longing to live in ordinary times.

I used to loathe John Ford, but he’s growing on me in my old age. Next thing you know I’ll be saying that Abbey Road is better than Exile on Main Street.

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