The Perfect Film

A few months (yes, months–I am a slacker, just like George McFly) ago, I pondered the question of which films I would most like to take with me to a fictional desert island. I composed a long post sort of contemplating this question without ever reaching any conclusion.

The recent holiday season, however, reminded me of one film I would definitely want to take to that desert island. Even though I have seen this film so many times that I can recite each line of dialogue and anticipate every inflection of James Stewart’s voice, its story is just as compelling, revelatory, and poignant as its first viewing: It’s A Wonderful Life.

There is not a single mis-step in this film: every actor is perfectly cast, every line of dialogue is essential and perfectly delivered, and at no point does the film lag or lose its focus. It is a perfect film. That is not a statement of hyperbole; that is the truth. And even though in some ways, It’s A Wonderful Life is a product of its time, it remains, at the same time, essentially timeless.

A favorite scene? Impossible. Young George, his sore ear bloodied, cowering from Mr. Gower, who then embraces him for what he has done for him. George and Mary hovering near the edge of the swimming pool in the midst of a Charleston Dance Contest. “They’re cheering us, we must be good!” George and Mary, faces pressed together, on the telephone. “I don’t want any plastics, and I don’t want any ground floors, and I don’t want to get married – ever – to anyone!” Mr. Potter extends a tempting offer — George asks to have time to think it over with his wife — he reaches to shake Mr. Potter’s hand and realizes he doesn’t need 24 hours, he doesn’t need to talk to anybody, the answer is no, doggone it because Mr. Potter is nothing but a scurvy little spider. George, having seen how his absence affects the lives of those he loves, prays on the bridge where moments earlier he had contemplated suicide, “I wanna live again. I wanna live again. Please, God, let me live again.” Snow falls and…Zuzu’s petals! The final scene — George, overwhelmed and overjoyed at the love and support of his family and friends. “Look, Daddy, Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” “That’s right, that’s right. Attaboy Clarence!”  

A favorite line of dialogue? Equally impossible. “George Bailey, I’ll love you ’til the day I die.” “Oh, why don’t you stop annoying people?” “Isn’t it wonderful? I’m going to jail!” “I wish I had a million dollars…Hot dog!” “My mouth’s bleeding, Bert! My mouth’s bleeding!” “And that goes for you, too!” “…and then I’m comin’ back to college and see what they know.” “Excuse you for what?” “You were born older, George.” “Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!”

A favorite character? Ah, now that’s easy. There’s really only one choice, isn’t there? George Bailey, so proud of his membership in the National Geographic Society, was so sure he knew what he was gonna do tomorrow and the next day and the next year and the year after that — exploring and building things — but instead he ends up staying in Bedford Falls selflessly taking over his father’s job he found so stifling, ultimately feeling like a failure who wished he’d never been born — a wish whose devastation can only be revealed to George by an angel without wings. How fitting then that the film was not a critical or commercial success upon its release — like George and his father before him — and through the years has rightly been elevated to the status of classic.

It is often difficult to separate an actor and the character he plays, and it is never so hard as with Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life. He creates a character so real that the instant he speaks a line, you believe him. You believe George Bailey is a real person, not a character in movie, and Stewart does it so effortlessly that it’s hard to believe that he’s acting. Without George Bailey, the people around him and the town of Bedford Falls falls apart and without Jimmy Stewart, It’s A Wonderful Life, too, would fall apart.

It’s A Wonderful Life is quite possibly the most effective and affective film. You identify with George Bailey, you care about him and root for him as if you really know him, and at the end of the film, you’re so glad that he has recognized how wonderful he is that you are even able to forget that nasty old Mr. Potter is left unpunished.

It’s the perfect film to watch at Christmas. It’s the perfect film to watch in July. It’s the perfect film to watch on a desert island. It’s the perfect film.

Its-A-Wonderful-Life

Happy New Year to you…in jail!

How to Select and Attack a Vampire Victim by Barnabas Collins

In the spirit of Halloween, I’ve been revisiting Dark Shadows (circa 1897) and boy, is it awesome–and by it, I mean Quentin’s sideburns. I’ve been noticing a lot of things I didn’t notice before, and I’m prepared to share some of my knowledge. So to appease all you (hallo)weenies who whine about this blog’s lack of Dark Shadows content, here’s a brief tutorial on how to select and attack your vampire victims, as demonstrated by the master that is Barnabas Collins.

1. Go to the docks. 

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It’s the best place to find victims because, as you can see, the place is crawling with people–er, barrels. I think there’s a deleted subplot in On the Waterfront about this.

2. If you see something on the ground, (in)conspicuously pick it up.

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Especially if it’s a compact. Because you may need to glance at your reflection and–oh, wait, you don’t have a reflection…Pick it up anyway. It may be useful.

3. Eavesdrop, startle, and start a conversation about a lost item which you have…

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Eavesdrop on any conversations you may hear to pick up important details such as “I’m gonna go look for my compact.” Hover creepily so you can startle your victim. Then begin a conversation by asking if you can help her find something which you conveniently have…

4. Don’t mention your name. 

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Especially if you’re a Collins. Don’t want people to get the wrong idea–like that members of the Collins family actually leave Collinwood and interact with common, everyday folk who aren’t their servants.

5. Play “hard to get.” Pretend to get “cold feet.” In other words, act like you have to go to the bathroom REALLY BAD!! 

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“I don’t understand you. What’s the matter with you?” Haven’t you heard? Barnabas Collins has a really small BLADDER!! Also: you don’t look like Josette reincarnated, so you have negative one thousand percent of a chance with this guy.

6. When your cover is blown, remain calm. 

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Try not to look like you just crapped your pants when your victim asks why she can’t see your reflection. It just looks bad.

7. Just do it. 

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There’s no turning back now. Go in for the kill. Cue horrible scream. This show is never short of GREAT actors.

Good night and good luck and happy Halloween,

The Count(ess) Petofi

It’s…Hard

I recently saw this question posed: “Which five films would you take with you to a desert island?” I’ve been contemplating what my answer to this question would be, and in formulating a list of the films that I love and that reveal more to me with each viewing, I reached a point where I could not decide which film of a particular actor I would bring with me. There was no question as to would I bring a piece of this actor’s work; it was the torture of deciding which one to bring. There are days when I just want to be charmed by Cary Grant or drown in the jewels that are Paul Newman’s eyes or listen to Spencer Tracy tell it like it is or melt into a puddle at the sight of Robert Redford, but there is one actor above all the rest who means the most to me. That actor is, of course, Montgomery Clift.

But why? What would make a desert island so unbearable without one of his films to keep me company?

In the simplest terms, the man was spell-binding. It is difficult to imagine him as an actor today, in an age where it is hardly uncommon to watch a movie without resorting at least once to checking your e-mail or Googling the weather or checking IMDB to identify from which episode of a sitcom you recognize an actor, because when Clift is on the screen, you–or at least I–cannot take your eyes off of him, and it is not simply because of his looks.

1948

World peace is found in 1) your smile and 2) close-ups of your face

Clift had the ability to become so embedded in the script and character that you forget he is an actor; he is the character, and the transition he makes from actor to character is so seamless that you do not even realize it has taken place. You become so engrossed in his performance that you do not even realize that it is just that–a performance–until it is over. Then you are compelled to watch the performance again and take note of every nuance — how he underplays each scene in Red River and yet his presence still demands attention, how he bids goodbye to his wife in The Young Lions, only able to lift his hand to his waist in a final, small, pathetic wave, how he raises his hand to his lips to blow a kiss to Lee Remick in Wild River but falters, self-conscious.

This ability to embody his character so fully, to fuse his body and soul so seamlessly with the character that the distinction between character and actor is indistinguishable, is what some believe cost him an Oscar. (He was nominated four times and unjustly robbed each time. Not that I’m biased. No, really, I’m not. He. Was. Robbed. Four times.) If that theory is true, then that is utterly ridiculous. Isn’t that what an actor does (or should do)? Perhaps there is some truth in that theory, but I lend more credence to the theory that he never won because he always refused to play the game, so to speak, of Hollywood. He repeatedly refused to sign long-term contracts with studios, and when he did finally make the transition from stage to screen, he did so on his own terms. “I told them I wanted to choose my scripts and my directors,” he later recalled. “‘But sweetheart,’ they said, ‘you’re gonna make a lotta mistakes.’ And I told them, ‘You don’t understand; I want to be free to do so.'”

Photographed by Stanley Kubrick, 1949

“They try to put people into smart little pigeonholes. It’s the same way they make instant coffee, it’s quick and easy–but I’m not coffee and I don’t pigeonhole.”
— Montgomery Clift, 1960

The dedication and effort he put into perfecting his craft is remarkable. In Raintree County, there is a flash scene (a scene which lasts no more than a second or two on the screen) in which Clift’s character opens the door to his wife’s bedroom and sees his son for the first time. He practiced opening and closing the door countless times–abruptly, tentatively, fearfully, joyfully, excitedly–all in his search for the one way which would convey the exact emotion in the exact way he wanted.

He learned to play the bugle for From Here to Eternity not because his bugle-playing would be heard on-screen but because he believed it was necessary for his mouth and throat movements to be accurate. He memorized the entire Latin mass for his role as a priest in I Confess. He went to get a terrible haircut before filming his appearance in Judgment at Nuremberg because he believed it was the kind of thing his character would do. He nearly broke his back while learning to ride a bronco for The Misfits. On his final film, The Defector, he performed all his own stunts, repeatedly falling into the icy Elbe River and refusing to wear a waterproof suit beneath his clothes, despite his poor health.

So intense was his concentration that while filming A Place in the Sun, he would often finish a take drenched with sweat. “When I play a role I pour all my energy and emotion into it,” he explained. “My body doesn’t know I’m only an actor. The adrenalin rushes around just like in a real emotional crisis when you throw yourself into an emotional scene. Your body doesn’t know you’re kidding when you become angry, tearful, or violent for a part. It takes a tremendous toll on the performer emotionally and physically. I delve as deeply as possible into the characterization. I can’t pace myself the way some other actors can. I either go all out or I don’t accept the picture. I have to dredge it out of me. I’m exhausted at the end of a picture.”

Monty with the McCarthys and their son, Flip

“He struggled from the plane with an armful of unwrapped toys for all the kids he knows. His own luggage was in a beach bag…”
–Augusta Dabney, commenting on his return from a trip to Europe in the fall of 1948

Clift believed that a character could be defined by his gestures, in the way he walked, and so he poured over his scripts, paring his lines to a minimum. “Good dialogue simply isn’t enough to explain all the infinite gradations of a character,” he declared. “It’s behavior–it’s what’s going on behind the lines.” This philosophy made him ideal for the deaf mute in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, a script he was sent toward the end of his life and was enthusiastic about but unfortunately never lived to fulfill. While filming The Search, he persistently battled with the screenwriters about the changes he felt should be made to the script. His input and revision of the script was such that he should have received a writing credit. Instead, the men with whom he battled so relentlessly won an Academy Award for their screenplay.

The end result of this immense commitment to his craft was a character who was so real, so believable that you can imagine what he is feeling and seeing just by seeing the gamut of emotions reflected in Clift’s beautiful and haunting grey eyes. And the instant he speaks a line, so carefully culled, you believe him. So moving and realistic was his portrayal of the G.I. Steve in his film debut The Search that an audience member approached director Fred Zinnemann and asked, “Where did you find a soldier who could act so well?”

The Heiress

Clift watching himself in The Heiress (1949). He was not pleased.

Despite all the energy he put into his characters, despite his meticulous revision of his scripts, and despite his selectiveness about the roles he accepted, he was rarely, if ever, pleased with his performance on the screen. He didn’t like Red River or The Heiress or From Here to Eternity or, least of all, Raintree County, the film during which he had his near-fatal accident that changed his looks and life. He was too hard on himself.

The Young Lions (1958)

“I had to try to master myself, find the real me outside my looks which people were hung up on and so was I.”
–Montgomery Clift

There are, however, people who agree with Clift’s assessments of his acting. They say he always looked so frail and sensitive on-screen that you could pinch him or utter an unkind word and he would collapse and burst into tears. True, Monty was a sensitive man and often portrayed equally sensitive characters on-screen, but there was often an inner resolute spirit present in the characters he portrayed–and, I would venture to say, in himself. Was Matthew Garth frail and sensitive as he withstood the brutality of John Wayne’s Thomas Dunson in the final scene of Red River? What strength must have Clift possessed to continue to work after his accident that changed his looks, some would say ruined (boo!), in an industry so smitten with superficial beauty?

These same critics might even make a claim that Clift had limited range, that he only ever played the same character, a version of himself, over and over. Similarities exist between the characters he played–the tenacity of Noah Ackerman and Robert E. Lee Prewitt, the mercenary nature of Morris Townsend and George Eastman, the near-naiveté of Danny MacCullough and Ralph Stevenson, but these similarities are slight. The characters are diverse and distinct from one another; Noah and Prewitt may have been similar in their resistance to succumbing to the cruelty of the Army and their swiftness in crumbling at the rejection of a girl, but the two characters are hardly identical. There is a nervous edge, an unsurety to everything Ackerman does–how he bounces on toes when he talks, how he lights his cigarette, how he takes hold of a girl’s face with both hands to kiss her. Prewitt, on the other hand, appears constant, immovable, unaffected; his moments of weakness and vulnerability flicker.

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Been watchin’ cowboy films on gloomy afternoons, tinting the solitude: Clift before his accident as the defiant adopted son of John Wayne in Howard Hawks’s Red River (1948) and afterward as the punch drunk cowboy Perce Howland in John Huston’s The Misfits (1960). 

Or perhaps these critics would try to blame Clift’s looks for the attention his acting receives and similarly denounce the films made after his accident. It is not disputable that the man was devastatingly handsome. It’s just not. (And if you want to dispute it…well, I don’t know. Don’t talk to me. I can’t help you, but glasses might.) Don’t be fooled, however, into thinking that he was less handsome after his accident; the accident made his features less delicate, not less beautiful, and the man aged and didn’t properly take care of his body. Don’t be fooled into thinking that his looks negated or sidelined his acting; he refused to be typecast and always put value on the complexity and interest of the role and story, not the amount of fame or money it would attract. Don’t be fooled into thinking his acting prowess deteriorated after his accident; some of his finest acting is found on film after the accident, despite the pain he was enduring.

Monty & Burt

“The only time I was ever really afraid as an actor was that first scene with Clift. It was my scene, understand: I was the sergeant, I gave the orders, he was just a private under me. Well, when we started, I couldn’t stop my knees from shaking. I thought they might have to stop because my trembling would show. But I’d never worked with an actor of Clift’s power before; I was afraid he was going to blow me right off the screen.”
–Burt Lancaster

And so where does this leave me? Back on that desert island, trying to decide which of his films I would most like to have with me.

Peter Bogdanovich recalled the one time he met Montgomery Clift, when Bogdanovich was working as an usher at a movie theater in New York City. One gray afternoon in 1961, the theater was showing several Hitchcock films, including I Confess, and Clift was in attendance. Part way through the film, Clift made his way toward the back of the theater and lit a cigarette, watching the breathtaking image of his younger, pre-accident self. Bogdanovich approached Clift, told him he liked the film, and asked if he was enjoying it. Clift turned to Bogdanovich and said sadly, “It’s…hard. It’s very…hard.”

That’s how I feel, trying to decide which film to take to this entirely fictitious desert island. It’s hard. Would it be his endearing screen debut, The Search, as he attempts to help a young boy, a survivor of a concentration camp who only answers “I don’t know” to every question, find his mother and teach him English? His arguably definitive portrayal of the stubborn and principled private Robert E. Lee Prewitt in From Here to Eternity? Or would I prefer his complex portrayal of a priest in I Confess, his speech restricted so that he says it all with his magnificent eyes? Would the power of his 17-minute performance in Judgment at Nuremberg as a man sterilized by the Nazis be enough to sustain me? Or what about The Heiress, the movie that introduced me to this wonderful actor, where his preternatural beauty is so distracting that I change my mind repeatedly about his character’s true intentions? (Currently: dude’s a cad but not as much of a cad as her father.) Would I want to be heartbroken by his portrayal of the sensitive Jew Noah Ackerman in The Young Lions, so similar to Prewitt in his endurance of “the treatment”? Or could I even bear to watch him, his thinning hair dyed and his taut skin stretched so thin he almost looks emaciated, perform all his own stunts, even though he was in poor health and probably dying, in his final screen performance, The Defector? Or would I want to enjoy the one film where he had the opportunity to display his comedic abilities (tripping on the train platform in Terminal Station and lambasting that dude about surf boarding in From Here to Eternity aside), The Big Lift, even if it is lacking as a film?

Back to that theater in 1961. Bogdonavich led Clift over to a ledger where patrons were encouraged to write suggestions of films they would like to see. Clift followed Bogdonavich, puffing absently on his cigarette. Bogdonavich opened the book to a page where someone had recently written in large, red letters: “ANYTHING WITH MONTGOMERY CLIFT!”

That, too, is my answer. Which films would I most like to have on a desert island? ANYTHING WITH MONTGOMERY CLIFT! I could watch any of them. Even when the script was weak (like Lonelyhearts or The Defector) or the film was wracked with problems behind the scenes (Raintree County and Freud), or his role was minimal (The Misfits, Judgment at Nuremberg, and Suddenly, Last Summer), his performance is noteworthy. He is compelling and fascinating, often more fascinating with each viewing, and I glean something new from his performance each time I watch. I am more aware of what he is doing as an actor, the extreme dedication and skill and understanding he is bringing to a character in order to bring him to life. Maybe it would be an exaggeration to say that he changed the way I watch movies. But the truth is: it’s not an exaggeration. I compare every actor to him; I watch and try to dissect what an actor is doing and what they are not saying because of him. And no actor is as mesmerizing and satisfying to watch as Montgomery Clift.

Montgomery Clift by Richard Avedon, 1958

“Luxury, swimming pools, expensive cars and all the rest just aren’t very important to me. The big job in one’s life is finding out what is important to you. It’s a major tragedy to race after things that you neither want or need.”
–Montgomery Clift

In his forty-five years and seventeen feature films, he created an indelible, if often unforgotten and underappreciated, impact on innumerable moviegoers, including me, born decades after his death. Today would have been his 94th birthday. Isn’t that amazing–amazing that someone can be gone from this earth for so long and yet still have such a lasting, powerful presence? I think so. Happy birthday, Monty. You were so special.

RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING

  • Patricia Bosworth, Montgomery Clift: A Biography 
  • Judith M. Kass, The Films of Montgomery Clift 
  • Peter Bogdanovich, Who the Hell’s In It 

SELECTED* FILMOGRAPHY

  • The Search (Fred Zinnemann, 1948)
  • Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
  • The Heiress (William Wyler, 1949)
  • The Big Lift (George Seaton, 1950)
  • A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)
  • I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock, 1953)
  • Terminal Station (Vittorio De Sica, 1953)
  • From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953)
  • Raintree County (Edward Dmytryk, 1957)
  • The Young Lions (Edward Dmytryk, 1958)
  • Lonelyhearts (Vincent J. Donehue, 1958)
  • Suddenly, Last Summer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1959)
  • Wild River (Elia Kazan, 1960)
  • The Misfits (John Huston, 1961)
  • Judgment at Nuremberg (Stanley Kramer, 1961)
  • Freud (John Huston, 1962)
  • The Defector (Raoul Levy, 1966)

* Do you know what I say? Ha ha! Do you hear me? HA HA HA! Oh, wait, that’s the other actor from Omaha I’m enamored of…

Clift & Brando

“What’s the matter with your friend?” Brando, pictured here with Clift on the set of From Here to Eternity, reportedly asked Clift’s close friend Kevin McCarthy in the 1940s. “He acts like he’s got a Mixmaster up his ass and doesn’t want anyone to know it.” 

(Can I please bring this to my desert island, too? 😍😍)

If you don’t have time to watch all of Monty’s films today or are looking for a sampling of his work and have seven minutes or so to spare, check out this sublime tribute video from YouTube.

It combines some of my favorite moments with beautiful photographs (as if any other type exist of Clift) and a gorgeous, fitting soundtrack (Out of Africa). I’m kind of obsessed with it.

Also I’ll be loading my Monty board on Pinterest with all kinds of pretty, if you’re in the mood to slip into a Montgomery Clift-induced coma.

Cheers: Sorry. We’re closed.

I feel like a zombie, just going through the motions. I wake up. I do stuff. I go to bed. Repeat. Where is the purpose? Where is the joy? Where is the contentment?

Yes, I have finally, regrettably finished watching all eleven seasons of Cheers. That’s 275 episodes, equalling approximately 110 hours or 6,600 minutes or about five entire days of watching nothing but Cheers. That’s infinite minutes of laughter, sadness, and feeling a part of an eclectic group of people who, on the surface, have very little in common except that they frequent a little bar in Boston called Cheers.

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I know, I’m being overdramatic. I can watch the show again — syndication, DVDs, Netflix! I know. I know how lucky I am. I honestly do not know how people coped — what people did on May 21, 1993. I really do not know. How did they find the strength to get out of bed the next morning? How did they cope with this immense feeling of loss? This indescribable feeling of emptiness?

I know, I’m being dramatic again. Shows end. People move on.

But I really, really, really loved Cheers. There were fantastic episodes. There great episodes. There were good episodes. But there was never really a bad episode — even when Diane Chambers, the most annoying character in the history of television, made me want to pull my hair out as she prattled incessantly about something that nobody — except maybe Frasier and then only maybe – cared about…even then, Cheers was good. Sometimes very good. Sometimes the best.

cheers1The original cast of Cheers: Ted Danson (Sam Malone), John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin), George Wendt (Norm Peterson), Nicholas Colasanto (Ernie “Coach” Pantusso), Shelley Long (Diane Chambers), and Rhea Perlman (Carla Tortelli).

In the early seasons, Coach was my favorite. I thought that when he left, I wouldn’t like the show as much anymore. I was wrong. Oh, I was so wrong. As much as I loathed Diane, I thought that when she left, the show’s quality would decline. I was wrong. Oh, I was so wrong.

cheers2The cast during the second half of the series: Rhea Perlman (Carla Tortelli), Woody Harrelson (Woody Boyd), Kelsey Grammer (Frasier Crane), Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith Sternin-Crane), George Wendt (Norm Peterson), Kirstie Alley (Rebecca Howe), Ted Danson (Sam Malone), and John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin).

Despite cast changes, Cheers never felt stale. It never reached a point where I thought, “This is no longer enjoyable. This really isn’t that good of a show anymore. I don’t need to keep watching it.” No, Cheers always made me laugh, made me feel a part of something, made me feel grateful to be alive.

frasierDiane’s saving grace: introducing Cheers – and the world — to Dr. Frasier Crane. When Cheers ended, only 1% of viewers surveyed voted Frasier as their favorite character on Cheers, with only 2% voting that Frasier should have his own spin-off.

While struggling to cope with this loss, I reached the episode in Frasier (thank goodness for Frasier) where Woody shows up.

Dear, sweet, dumb Woody. Every word out of your mouth is a gem.

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Woody as Mark Twain? Unforgettable. Dear, sweet, dumb Woody. Every facial expression of yours is a gem.

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Woody eating snowballs (which he hates)? Priceless. Dear, sweet, dumb Woody, you are a gem, and someday — someday soon — I am going to re-watch every episode of Cheers featuring Woody just so I can record every word that comes out of Woody Boyd’s mouth in a little journal because when Woody Boyd talks, people listen. And when I am sad and depressed, I can pull out this little journal and just laugh, laugh, and laugh. People will fight over this little journal when I am dead and gone. Believe me.

In “The Show Where Woody Shows Up,” Frasier and Woody reunite during Woody’s visit to Seattle. They swap stories about old times in Boston and laugh about Mr. Clavin and Carla and Norm and Sam. They have such a good time that they arrange to meet again. And again. And again — until Frasier is driven crazy at the thought of spending any more time with Woody Boyd, with whom he has nothing in common except their shared experiences in Boston — experiences and memories in which he has begun to feign interest and laughter. When Woody tells Frasier he has to leave Seattle early because of an infection his daughter has, Frasier is relieved.

But then he later sees Woody at a restaurant. Woody, embarrassed and ashamed because he has lied (Woody is a stickler for honesty, bless him), hides in the bathroom to avoid an awkward confrontation.

“Woody, come out of there please,” Frasier says, knocking on the bathroom door.

“No hablo Ingles,” Woody replies.

“I don’t understand this,” Frasier says.

“It means ‘I don’t speak English.'”

Love that Woody!

Woody and Frasier then admit to each other that their repeated reminiscences together became unbearable, and each felt the other was having such a good time neither one of them had the heart to break it to the other that he was no longer enjoying their time together.

Furthermore, Woody tells Frasier, he feels sorry for Frasier because he lives with his dad, spends most of social life with his brother Niles, and any other friends he has are kind of strange. Earlier, Frasier had been telling Niles how sorry he has felt for Woody because he’s been tending the same bar in the same town for the past 15 years. Instead of telling Woody this, however, Frasier realizes how lucky Woody is and tells him so. Woody is lucky, Frasier says, because he has found his place in life and he belongs there.

They share one last beer together, promising to reunite again in five or ten years (ten years it is, declares Frasier). “Cheers,” says Woody.

“Cheers,” says Frasier.

And I want to cry.

In the finale of Cheers, Sam reunites with Diane (gag me) and announces that he and Diane will marry and live together in California, denouncing his same old life tending bar in Boston. But by the end, he returns (without Diane, thank goodness). He shares cigars and beers with Norm and Woody and Carla and Cliff and reflects on the meaning of life.

“I’m the luckiest SOB on Earth,” Sam declares to a darkened, empty bar, pounding his fist on the counter, in the finale scene. A knock comes on the door, and Sam replies, “Sorry. We’re closed.”

What I love about this scene — and the scene in Frasier – is that both convey a level of contentment, a sense of ease with one’s self — what one has, the choices made, and where you are in life. It is a feeling I strive for, a feeling I have felt in those 6,600 minutes of my life watching Cheers, greeting “NORM!!!!”, rolling my eyes at Diane, wondering when Cliff would stop talking, rolling into a ball of laughter at the dim-wittedness of Coach and Woody.

Band of Brothers

I have now seen X-Men: Days of Future Past four times (I am a balanced and stable human being, don’t judge me) and each time I love it a little bit more (“Whip-laaaaaaaash”) and each time I see the preview for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes yet again and each time the preview begins, I say, “Joe Toye!”

Joe Toye is an Easy Company soldier portrayed by Kirk Acevedo in Band of Brothers and even though Acevedo is only an actor who has obviously gone on to do other projects, he–like so many of the other actors in the series–will always remain indelibly linked to the Easy Company man he portrayed so well.

Before X-Men took over my life, I was in the midst of another viewing of Band of Brothers, which I have struggled to write about before because it is so darn perfect. The opening credits are perfect. The acting is perfect. The writing is perfect. The music is perfect. The story is perfect–and true (…well, mostly). The series tells the true story of a group of American paratroopers in World War II as they jump behind enemy lines in Normandy on D-Day and progress through the war in Europe.

“The paratroops were life itself, life and death and the thrill of conquering yourself by jumping from an airplane.”
— David Kenyon Webster

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Part One: “Currahee”
“I will not follow that man into combat.”
— 
Sgt. Guarnere

The men are preparing for their first combat jump into Normandy, only to be told it has been cancelled due to the weather. They withdraw inside tents to watch Mr. Lucky starring Cary Grant and outside, Lieutenants Winters (Damian Lewis) and Nixon (Ron Livingston) speak of the weather and happy hour and Chicago, the hometown of their former commanding officer, a strict disciplinarian for whom the men had nothing but contempt, Captain Herbert M. Sobel (David Schwimmer).

Two years earlier, the men suffer punishment for the slightest infractions and endure vigorous physical training, which includes running three miles up and three miles down a mountain (more like a hill, actually) known as Currahee (meaning “stand alone,” the source of the regiment’s motto) under this man’s command. Following an intense session of physical training, Sobel berates a private.

“Why are you here, Private Gordon?” he shouts.

“I want to be in the Airborne, sir,” Private Gordon replies.

“I don’t believe you,” Sobel declares. His tone and face are expressionless as he repeats his question, “Why are you here, Private Gordon?”

“I want to be in the Airborne, sir!” Private Gordon repeats, this time louder and with more force.

“You have fifteen minutes to the top and back, and I will be watching you,” Sobel instructs him calmly. Gordon does not move, and Sobel tauntingly asks, “What are you waiting for?”

We do not see this conversation from the perspective of Gordon or Sobel but three faceless comrades watching the scene from a distance. Next, as Private Gordon makes his way up Currahee, we see these same men joining Gordon—presumably not because they have been similarly punished by Sobel but because they are there to support Gordon as a comrade, friend, and brother.

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Sobel’s enforcement of the Army’s rules and regulations is ridiculous. He raids the men’s sleeping quarters and discovers countless items that he considers contraband. He holds up a magazine with an image of a scantily clad woman. Pornography, obviously. Contraband! A red tie. Non-regulation clothing, of course. Contraband! One man had 200 prophylactic kits in his footlocker – how in the name of God was he gonna have the strength to fight the war? And why, Sobel wonders holding a stack of enveloped letters, does Private Tipper have so much time for so much personal correspondence?

This query proves too much for Lieutenant Winters, who interrupts Sobel to ask, “Captain, are personal letters to be considered contraband?”

Inhaling the scent from one of Tipper’s letters, Sobel answers, “These men aren’t paratroopers yet, Lieutenant. They have no personal property.”

Sobel discards the letters and then holds up what is clearly a can of Libby’s peaches, yet he still asks the officers present, “What is this?” Nobody answers. “Anybody?” He asks, shaking the can, as if it is so obvious what it is (which it is).

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“Uh, it’s a can of peaches, sir,” Lieutenant Nixon offers.

Although Sobel remains characteristically emotionless, this answer obviously delights him as it presents an opportunity for humiliation and punishment. “Lieutenant Nixon thinks this is a can of peaches. That is incorrect, Lieutenant. Your weekend pass is cancelled. This is United States Army Property, which was taken without authorization from my mess facility, and I will not tolerate thievery in my unit.”

Sobel is unequivocally hated by the men, some even going so far as to threaten to kill him in combat before the Germans or Japanese have a chance. Sobel may exercise authority over these men but they do not respect him. Their respect is reserved for another leader, Lieutenant Winters. Winters is a smart and natural leader. Sobel is an excellent disciplinarian but a poor combat leader who gets them “killed” and “lost” in field exercises (which is one of the funniest scenes in the series, headed as always by George Luz, bless him). When the tension between Sobel and Winters reaches such a point that Winters is removed from the men of Easy Company, the noncommissioned officers (NCOs) of Easy Company decide to turn in their stripes and risk their lives because their trust and faith in Sobel as a combat leader is so tenuous. Sobel is eventually re-assigned and Winters is re-instated, and by the end of the episode, the men, bound together by their training and loyalty to and faith in one another, are aboard C-47s, destined for Normandy.

Part Two: “Day of Days”

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“That night I thanked God for seeing me through that day of days and prayed that I would make it through D plus one. And if somehow I managed to get home again, I promised God and myself that I would find a quiet piece of land someplace and spend the rest of my life in peace.”
— Lieutenant Winters

Planes flying too low and too fast. Heavy flak. Men are dropped all over the place, scattered far from their designated drop zones. It is the perfect atmosphere for chaos and failure but the exact opposite happens, a testament to the strength of their training, skills, and character. Lieutenant Winters leads a group of men to take out a group of German guns shooting down on Utah Beach, undoubtedly influencing the success of the D-Day.

At one point, the men pass a group of German POWs. Malarkey (Scott Grimes) jovially greets the men, “Top of the morning to ya, fellas. Enjoying the war?” He then moves closer to one of the men and asks, perhaps in an attempt to imitate General Eisenhower who talked to thousands of enlisted men during inspections prior to D-Day and invariably asked each man he spoke to the same question Malarkey asks this POW, “Where are you from, son?”

Malarkey starts to turn and walk away when the POW startles him by answering, “Eugene, Oregon.”

Malarkey is from the nearby town of Astoria (locale of The Goonies) and is shocked and dumbfounded as to why someone from a town so near to him would be in a Kraut uniform.

“Volksdeutsche,” the POW explains. “My family answered the call. All true Aryans should return to the Fatherland. Joined up in ‘41.”

In the course of their brief conversation, Malarkey discovers that he and this German POW grew up near to one another, ended up working the same job twenty miles apart, and finally ended up in Normandy fighting the war on opposite sides. It is an eerie illustration of one of the saddest aspects of war – of how two men, boys rather, with so much in common would, under different, normal circumstances, have the potential to be such good friends but instead, amidst war, they are trained to kill and despise one another.

Malarkey bids goodbye and passes Lieutenant Speirs, who approaches the group of POWs and offers them cigarettes, which they gratefully accept. He even lights the cigarettes for them. The camera focuses on Malarkey making his way back to re-join the men, but he is stopped by the sound of gunshots. He turns around, stunned at the sight he sees that we do not – a sight we do not have to see because his expression tells us all we need to know.

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Part Three: “Carentan”

“You know why you hid in that ditch? We were all scared. You hid because you think there’s still hope. But Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept that you’re already dead and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function. Without mercy. Without compassion. Without remorse. All war depends upon it.”
Lieutenant Speirs, Motivational Speaker since 1944

The men are in Carentan, France, on D-Day plus 6, where they are engaged in intense and costly fighting. Two soldiers enter a house in order to clear it, and having deemed the building safe, one of the soldiers runs back through the house when a mortar shell unexpectedly explodes. The camera then turns, putting you in his position. He hears the muffled voices of his buddies calling his name, “Tipper! Tip! Answer me, Tipper!” His eyesight is blurry. His step is unsteady. He reaches his friends, and even though you cannot yet see his injuries, you can see the alarm and concern on their faces as they stare, open-mouthed, at the sight of their friend. One friend, Joe, tells him, “You’re looking good, Tip. You’re looking real good. Come here, buddy, you gotta sit down.” And then the camera turns, revealing the extent of Tipper’s injuries. Blood is pouring from his face. His left eye is bloody and swollen shut, and his legs are mangled and likely broken. But Joe sits there with him, and cradles his head as Tipper’s blood spills onto him, and he tells him, “You hang in there, buddy. We’re gonna get you fixed up.”

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What I love most about this scene is the fact that if you haven’t read Band of Brothers, if you don’t know these men and their stories, then you would believe, based on this scene, that Ed Tipper never made it to a medic station or if he did, he surely died from the wounds he received from clearing that building. But he didn’t. Joe and the other soldiers there had such great love for their friend that they were determined to get him the help he needed – and they did. They carried Tipper to an aid station, and because of their love and determination, he is still alive today.

By the end of the episode, the men are back in England. Malarkey and More ride in a motorcycle and sidecar, narrowly missing a collision with a truck, leading Malarkey to exclaim, “It’s good to be alive!” Later, though, with the orders that the men will be leaving England soon, Malarkey goes to pick up his laundry from a local woman. Having paid her and refused a cup of tea, he goes to leave when she unexpectedly asks him, “Lieutenant Meehan is one of yours, isn’t he? I hope he hasn’t forgotten his laundry.” Malarkey hesitates, unsure how to respond. Lieutenant Meehan was the commanding officer of Easy Company whose plane crashed in flames on D-Day. “I’ll take it,” he says, holding out his hand for her to take the money owed. She asks for more help, reading off name after name.

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Malarkey, scenes earlier so ecstatic and exhilarated to be alive, is frozen, unable to move, only able to extend his hand helplessly with his money to pay the woman and stare absently into the distance, reflecting on how many men have been lost since the men jumped into Normandy.

Also: One of the major themes of Band of Brothers is that Lieutenant Winters is awesome. In this episode, he nonchalantly heals the blind because he actually is The Messiah.

Part Four: “Replacements”

WINTERS: I don’t like retreating.
NIXON: First time for everything.

Following the costly fighting in Carentan, replacements have infiltrated the company. One of these replacements is Private James Miller.

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Professor! 

Yup. James McAvoy.

(And because everything is actually about X-Men in my life right now: Magneto is in Band of Brothers, too, which I never realized before, partly because I had zero idea who he was the previous times I watched it, partly because he’s not a prominent character, and partly because he’s not throwing his hands up looking constipated while controlling metal all the time. It’s a lot harder to recognize him when he’s not doing that.)

Replacements like Miller are not instantly welcomed into the fabric of the company. They are green and inexperienced, but their opportunity to gain experience arises quickly, as Winters explains their next mission: Operation Market Garden.

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“In terms of airborne divisions involved, this one’s even bigger than Normandy.” 

(Bigger than your pockets, sir?)

The men are headed to liberate Holland, where opposition is supposed to be light — the Germans are reportedly all old men and young kids — and if the operation is successful, the war will be over by Christmas. While preparing for their jump, a dark cloud appears. It’s Captain Sobel. Everybody pretty much poops their pants. But it’s okay. He’s just a supply officer.

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The jump into Holland is near perfect — the weather is beautiful, the men are dropped in the correct places, and there is no German opposition. They are welcomed and loved by the people of Holland. Privates Webster, Hoobler, and Van Klinken wander at night, in hopes of securing nicer sleeping quarters. A man steps out of his cellar, his air raid shelter, and is startled by the sight of the soldiers and their raised guns. He raises his hands to show them he is defenseless. With their discoveries that he is a helpless local man and they are friendly American soldiers, the men engage in conversation about whether the Germans are really gone and how long the Americans intend to stay in Holland. The men have little information to offer.

“Yeah, they don’t tell us very much,” Webster says sardonically.

“Or feed us very much,” Hoobler injects hopefully. The man goes back into his home and returns with jars of food for the men. They trade cigarettes and food, and a small boy then emerges from the cellar and sits down. Webster is softened by the sight of the boy and hands him a chocolate bar from his rations. He crouches down to his level and smiles as he watches the boy takes his first bite of chocolate – ever.

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“He’s never tasted chocolate before,” his father tells the soldiers. Oh, to be so innocent (and thin!). The little boy breaks into a smile, prompting Webster to smile in return. “It’s good, isn’t it?”

Yes. It’s the best. It’s what I live for.

Part Five: “Crossroads” 

RICE: Panzer divisions are gonna cut the road south. Looks like you guys are gonna be surrounded.
WINTERS: We’re paratroopers, Lieutenant. We’re supposed to be surrounded.

Winters reflects on Operation Pegasus and is haunted by his memory of shooting a young SS soldier. (This is an example of dramatization because Winters said he never thought about shooting this kid as much as depicted in the series.)

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Later, during a respite, the men are watching a film. This time it’s The Seven Sinners, starring John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich. George Luz (Rick Gomez), being George Luz, irritates the others by imitating Wayne. “Look at me, I’m John Wayne. The costume department set me up with these great Navy whites…”

“Luz, shut up!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wziwcfcy8hg

Jump to 2:05 for the scene (although all the other scenes are great and funny and worth watching, too.)

LUZ: Lip, favorite part. Got a penny? Got a…penny? Got a…penny?

I. Love. George. Luz.

The film is interrupted (“You can’t do that to The Duke!” exclaims George Luz, heh heh) by the announcement that the 1st and 6th SS Panzer Divisions have broken through in the Ardennes, overrunning portions of the 128th and 4th infantry divisions and necessitating Easy’s return to the front line of action–without proper winter clothing or adequate rations or ammo, hence the appearance of Jimmy Fallon, the most bizarre moment of the series.

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He’s all, “You guys want some ammo?” Uh, yeah.

“Where the Hell are we?”

“We ain’t in Hell, it’s too damn cold.” 

Nope. Ya’ll in Bastogne.

Part Six: “Bastogne” 

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“He was there when he was needed, and how he got ‘there’ you often wondered. He never received recognition for his bravery, his heroic servicing of the wounded. I recommended him for a Silver Star after a devastating fight when his exploits were typically outstanding. Maybe I didn’t use the proper words and phrases, perhaps Lieutenant Dike didn’t approve, or somewhere along the line it was cast aside. I don’t know. I never knew except that if any man who struggled in the snow and the cold, in the many attacks through the open and through the woods, ever deserved such a medal, it was our medic, Gene Roe.”
Lieutenant Foley

It’s freezing. The men lack winter clothing. They have little or no ammo. They have no aid station and limited medical supplies, as Doc Roe (Shane Taylor), the central character of this episode, scrounges for bandages, morphine, plasma, even scissors.

A group of men embark on a combat patrol. Doc Roe follows the group but is ordered to stay behind. He sits against a tree, staring into the distance, listening for every sign of what is happening to the men. He hears gunshots and frantic, anguished cries.

One man, Private Julian, is badly wounded. Ed “Babe” Heffron reaches across to him, telling him to stop moving so the Germans will stop shooting and promising him they will get him out of there. The men have to fall back, however, and Julian is left behind to die, his hand outstretched, puddles of his dark red blood sponging the white snow. The experience haunts Heffron, who had promised Julian he would gather his things to send back home to his mother if anything happened to him. Surely no one knows better than Doc Roe the frustration of not being to help a comrade and watching him die.

Roe befriends a French nurse, Rene, in Bastogne. She helps take care of the wounded who cannot be evacuated in a building. Roe is there one day, picking up some supplies, when a seriously injured man is brought in. He helps Rene to try to locate an artery to stop the profuse bleeding. The man dies. Roe throws the bloody rag he had been using to try to stop the bleeding down in frustration.

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“You’re a good nurse,” Roe tells Rene.

“No, I never want to treat another wounded man again,” she says, removing her blue bandana. “I’d rather work in a butcher’s shop.”

“But your touch calms people,” Roe insists. “That’s a gift from God.”

Throughout the episode, Roe repeatedly calls Heffron by his surname. At one point, Heffron asks Roe why he calls him Heffron. “You know my name, use it,” Heffron tells Roe.

“It’s Edward, right?” asks Roe.

“Edward? Are you serious?” Heffron says. “Only the Goddamn Nuns call me Edward.”

The final scene shows Heffron and Roe sharing a foxhole. These two men are on the edge, fatigued, weighed down by the deaths they’ve witnessed and been unable to prevent. But in this moment, in this foxhole, they pull each back from that edge.

“Everything okay? Babe?” asks Roe. Heffron is non-responsive. Roe notices an injury on Heffron’s hand and reaches to fix it up. Heffron absent-mindedly holds out his hand for Roe.

“Hey, Gene, you called me Babe,” he says, suddenly snapping to life.

“I did? When?”

“Yeah. Just now.”

“Babe,” Roe repeats in his deep Cajun accent. “I guess I did.”

Heffron laughs and imitates Roe’s accent, “Babe.”

“Heffron, watch the Goddamn line,” Roe snaps good-naturedly, wrapping Heffron’s hand using Rene’s blue bandana.

This (and the following episode) is my favorite episode of the series. I love the shift of focus to the medic, a figure easily relegated to the background. There are the biggest hearts in my eyes for Doc Roe.

Part Seven: “The Breaking Point” 

Battling near Foy, Belgium, the men suffer numerous casualties, both physically and mentally as men near “the breaking point.” Central to this episode is the incompetence of their C.O. Lieutenant Norman Dike, labeled Foxhole Norman by the men. (“Uh, 1st Sgt. Lipton, you organize things here and I’m gonna go…for help?”) When he is at the head of an attack on the town of Foy, the results are disastrous. The men are sitting ducks and repeatedly ask Dike what they should do, to which he desperately responds, “I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know!” Men are unnecessarily killed and injured because of his inability to make sound decisions. Martin calls to a Private Webb to fall back because he is too exposed. When Webb does not respond, Martin shakes to move him to action. Webb’s lifeless body falls limply.

Winters, now battalion commander, begins to make his way to take charge of the situation himself, only to be pulled back by Colonel Sink who reminds Winters of his position and that he is no longer in charge of these men. Frustrated and angry because of Dike’s incompetence and his bond with these men, Winters orders Lieutenant Speirs (aka Legend) of Dog Company to relieve Dike and take control of the situation. Speirs runs toward the men, grabs Dike by the neck, and calmly says, “I’m taking over.” Thank God, huh?

The men need to connect with I Company before they slip away, jeopardizing the success of the operation. Speirs (Matthew Settle) asks Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) if they have any sight of I Company or radio connection. No sight, no radio. “Wait here,” Speirs tells Lipton, as he sprints amidst the cascade of tanks and artillery. Earlier in the episode, Lipton, the narrator of the episode, said that Speirs was already a legend because of the stories about him shooting one of his own sergeants and lining up 20 (or more, depending on who was relating the story) German POWs after giving them a smoke and a light. This is where that legend solidifies.

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“At first, the Germans didn’t shoot at him. I think they couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing. But that wasn’t the really astounding thing. The astounding thing was that after he hooked up with ‘I’ company…he came back.”

The first time I watched Band of Brothers, I found Speirs scary and intimidating, his actions sometimes shadowed in doubt as to whether they were appropriate or right. I would now consider him one of my favorite characters. He is a fearless leader who protects and, in this case, saves the lives of the men. He is, quite simply, a L E G E N D.

Part Eight: “The Last Patrol” 

“I wondered if people back home would ever know what it cost the soldiers to win this war. In America, things were already beginning to look like peacetime. The standard of living was on the rise, race tracks and night clubs were booming. You couldn’t get a hotel room in Miami Beach it was so crowded. How could anyone ever know of the price paid by soldiers in terror, agony, and bloodshed if they’d never been to places like Normandy, Bastogne, or Haguenau?”
— 
Private David Webster

Band of Brothers, as a whole, does a good job of portraying what these men endured and accomplished in the course of the war accurately. Dramatization naturally occurs. Literary license is often taken to help tell the story. As a result, there are occasional inaccuracies. Some are major, such as the series perpetuating the falsehood that Private Blithe died because of the wounds he received during a patrol in Carentan, while some are minor, such as Private David Webster (Eion Bailey), the narrator and central character of “The Last Patrol,” being portrayed as having been part of the patrol depicted in this episode. He was not actually part of the patrol, but he did witness the patrol, as he manned a machine-gun on the bank of the river during the patrol

Webster, injured in Holland as depicted in Episode 5 (“‘They got me!’ You believe that? You believe I said that?”), returns to Easy Company at the start of this episode. He discovers that many of the men he once knew as part of the company are dead or seriously injured and he finds that the men that remain are changed, scarred from their tenure in Bastogne and Foy. Their resentment toward Webster is palpable. They do not extend their hands to help Webster into a jeep and even direct him to another platoon. They make sneering remarks about Webster’s lack of need for a hot shower. They single him out for information about the upcoming patrol.

Because of Webster’s actions during the patrol, by the end of the episode, the men help him into the jeep, symbolizing how they have welcomed him back among them. By making Webster a central character in this episode, the writers are able to show how changed and scarred the men are from their action in the Ardennes Forest. It isn’t 100% accurate, there is dramatization, there is literary license taken, but it is effective.

As a side note, Webster, too, is one of my favorite characters, due largely in part to reading his book, Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper’s Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich. Webster studied English Literature at Harvard and chose to volunteer for the paratroops rather than use his family’s wealth and connections to secure a cushy job far from the front lines. He detested much about the army but would not have traded his experiences because of it for anything. After the war, he was able to sell some articles about his war experiences but could never find a publisher for his memoir until Stephen Ambrose, impressed by Webster’s writings and convinced of their historical value, urged his widow to submit them again in 1994, which she did, resulting in its publication. Webster was a keen and insightful observer of the war, an excellent writer who was able to vividly describe the scenes of war he witnessed and make you feel as if you are right there with him. There are few writers I am truly envious of. Webster is one of them.

Part Nine: Why We Fight

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LIEBGOTT: So what did you study?
WEBSTER: Literature.
LIEBGOTT: Get out of here. You serious? I love to read.
WEBSTER: Do you?
LIEBGOTT: Yeah. Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon mostly.
Webster’s expression: priceless.

This is probably one of the most powerful episodes of the series. The men are now in Germany, riding on jeeps amidst endless lines of surrendered German troops. The men are tired of fighting, ready for the war to end so they can go home and get back to their lives. They consider the war all but over and wonder why they are there still fighting. Webster, tired and angry, stands up and begins a tirade directed at the surrendered marching troops, “Hey you! That’s right, you stupid Kraut bastards! That’s right! Say hello to Ford! Look at you. You have horses. What were you thinking?”

“That’s enough, Webster. Give it a rest.”

Webster sits down and speaks more calmly, “Dragging our asses halfway around the world. Interrupting our lives. For what?” He stands up again. “You ignorant, servile scum! What are we doing here?”

The answer to Webster’s question unexpectedly arrives later when during a patrol the men discover a concentration camp. It is heartbreaking and powerful as emaciated men lean on another to greet the soldiers, one even startling a private with a kiss of appreciation and joy. Winters orders food and water to be distributed among these starved men. As they begin to hand out the bread taken forcibly from a local Baker, Colonel Sink arrives with a doctor who informs Winters that they must stop feeding these men because they are so starved and will eat themselves to death; they need them centralized so they can supervise their medical treatment. Winters orders Liebgott to relate these orders to the members of the camp. Liebgott does so and having delivered his message, sits and breaks down into tears.

“The memory of starved, dazed men, who dropped their eyes and heads when we looked at them through the chain-link fence, in the same manner that a beaten, mistreated dog would cringe, leaves feelings that cannot be described and will never be forgotten. The impact of seeing those people behind that fence left me saying, only to myself, ‘Now I know why I am here!'”
– Major Winters

Amidst this powerful episode is Lieutenant Nixon’s breakdown. His wife is divorcing him (and taking HIS dog). He’s been demoted. He survived a combat jump when others were killed, and he’s never even fired his weapon in combat. And he’s staying in the only dry house in Germany and he NEEDS his Vat 69. I love this guy.

It also bears note that this episode contains an explicit and, in my opinion, unnecessary sex scene. It lasts under a minute, but it is so unexpected and unwarranted that I fail to understand why the producers felt compelled to include it except for the purpose of being shocking and provocative. Winters expressed his disappointment and disgust at this (and the amount of language, which he stated was the exception not the norm) being included in the series that could otherwise be enjoyed without concern by entire families and in classrooms. As unnecessary as this scene is, I do love the fact that Lieutenant Speirs enters the room, witnesses the activity, and is absolutely unaffected by it. He just wants to know where his stuff is. (“This war’s not about fighting anymore. It’s about who gets what.”) Love this guy, too. Are you sensing a pattern here?

Part Ten: “Points”

“Men, it’s been a long war. It’s been a tough war. You have fought bravely, proudly for your country. You are a special group. You have found in one another a bond that exists only in combat among brothers who have shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments, have seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You deserve long and happy lives in peace.”

With the suicide of Hitler and the surrender of Germany, the war in Europe is over, but the war in the Pacific is still raging and thus is the fate of the men who do not have enough “points” (awarded based on medals and wounds received) to be sent home. Before they receive details about their deployment to the Pacific, senseless deaths, caused by too many weapons, too much alcohol, and too much spare time, continue to occur.

One night, three men are riding in a jeep when they spot two jeeps on opposite sides of the road and a dead man on the ground. Sgt. Grant steps out of the jeep to find out what has happened. The Private tells him the dead British soldier wouldn’t give him any gas, so he shot him, and when Grant asks the Private for his weapon, the drunken Private shoots Grant.

Told by the Army doctor that Grant’s situation is hopeless and requires a brain surgeon, Speirs drags a German brain surgeon out of his home to perform the operation (which he does successfully, saving Grant’s life), while the other men begin their own search for the Private who shot Grant.

Speirs returns to find the Private tied to a chair, his face bloody from being beaten. “Where’s the weapon?” he demands.

“What weapon?” the Private sasses as he chokes on his own blood. (Apparently nobody told this guy the story about Speirs shooting all those POWs…)

Speirs slaps him across the face with his own weapon. “When you talk to an officer, you say ‘sir.'”

The other men tensely watch Speirs, who then aims his gun to fire at the Private. Many of the men, who had also been eager for revenge on this Private who unnecessarily jeopardized the life of their friend, turn away or close their eyes, unable to watch.

But Speirs doesn’t pull the trigger. Instead he wipes the blood, smeared on his hand from striking the man, on the man’s jacket, turns away, and instructs the men to have the MPs take care of him. Speirs, hardened and heartless soldier he may have been at times, has also seen too much bloodshed.

The men have survived Captain Sobel. They were part of D-Day, Operation Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. They entered Germany, saw the horrors executed on Jews and other unwanted persons, and reached Hitler’s Eagle Nest. And with Major Winters’ announcement that President Truman has received the unconditional surrender of Japan, the war, regardless of points, is over for every man. It is D-Day plus 434.

The men play a game of baseball, with Major Winters revealing the post-war lives of some (not all) of the men we have come to know and love over the course of the series. Warning: You WILL get a huge lump in your throat and you will be overwhelmed with love and gratitude for these men. You will also feel compelled to start the series all over again and read every book you can about their experiences and then start the series all over again and then read some more books about them. It is a vicious and wonderful cycle.

“Do you remember the letter that Mike Ranney wrote me? Do you remember how he ended it? ‘I cherish the memory of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, Grandpa, were you a hero in the war? Grandpa said, No, but I served in a company of heroes.'”

– Dick Winters

Five Favorite Roald Dahl Stories

A bulk of my time the past few weeks has been spent delving into the life and work (as far as children’s literature) of Roald Dahl for a project. Reading his works as a child, they were quirky, humorous, and magical. Reading his works as an adult, then, they unsurprisingly held that same magic. Equally captivating and complex was his life, which would merit a biography even if he had not eventually created the multitude of scrumdiddlyumptious stories that he thankfully did. Now having read all of his children’s works (looking toward his adult fiction next), some for the first time, here are five — or maybe more — of my favorites…

1. Danny, the Champion of the World 
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“I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself. A mouth-smile is different. You can fake a mouth-smile any time you want, simply by moving your lips. I’ve also learned that a real mouth smile always has an eye-smile to go with it. So watch out, I say, when someone smiles at you with his mouth but his eyes stay the same. It’s sure to be a phony.” 

This may be the most sentimental, most grounded in reality (no talking animals or magical powers here), most wonderful of all Dahl’s stories. It’s about a young boy, Danny, who lives with his marvelous father in a gypsy caravan. His father operates a filling station by day and engages in poaching pheasants by night. The pheasants inhabit the property of a cruel rich man, Victor Hazell, who sets a trap for poachers, namely Danny’s father. As opening day for pheasant season, on which Mr. Hazell hosts a extravagant party for stuffy rich people, nears, Danny devises a plan to poach ALL the pheasants before the big day — and if he succeeds, he will become the champion of the world!

The relationship between Danny and his father is so sweet — Danny thinks his father is the most wonderful person in the world, and he is! He teaches him, listens to him, walks him to school each day, and tells him bedtime stories, one of which features a character called The BFG…

2. The BFG

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“‘A whizzpopper!’ cried the BFG, beaming at her. ‘Us giants is making whizzpoppers all the time! Whizzpopping is a sign of happiness. It is music in our ears! You surely is not telling me that a little whizzpopping is forbidden among human beans?'” 

Whizzpopping = farting. The BFG speaks his own language, and it is wonderful.

The Big Friendly Giant, aka The BFG, collects and delivers good dreams to children. He is not like the other giants who are cruel, stupid, and eat humans. He is kind, eats snozzcumbers, and teaches himself new words by reading books by Dahl’s Chickens. (Get it? Dahl’s Chickens = Charles Dickens.) One night he captures a little orphan girl, Sophie, and they become friends. Together, they set out to rid the human world of those nasty, human-eating giants.

The BFG, who made his first appearance in Danny, the Champion of the World, was also a bedtime story Dahl would tell his own children, once going so far as to even dress up and visit his daughters’ bedroom window, pretending to be the BFG.

3. Fantastic Mr. Fox

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“‘I should like you to know that if it wasn’t for your father we should all be dead by now. Your father is a fantastic fox.'” 

Mr. Fox is absolutely fantastic. He is so clever and outwits those three horrid farmers: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. He does this because he is fantastic and clever and loves his family very much. Some have claimed this is the most autobiographical of all Dahl’s works, as he saw himself as a sort of Mr. Fox, a paterfamilias who held his young family together through crisis after tragedy after crisis — an accident that jeopardized the life of his young son Theo (resulting in Dahl eventually creating a new cerebral shunt to drain excess fluid from the brain), the death of his young daughter Olivia from measles encephalitis, and the stroke of his first wife, Patricia Neal. He even began to think that he was plagued with a neurological curse (he himself had suffered severe head injuries following a crash in his plane en route to his squadron in World War II). But he was resilient. And absolutely fantastic. Just like Mr. Fox.

And because this is relevant to my interests, here’s Damon Albarn reading an excerpt from Fantastic Mr. Fox:

Sigh. What a reading voice!

4. Matilda

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“‘Do you think that all children’s books ought to have funny bits in them?’ Miss Honey asked. ‘I do,’ Matilda said. ‘Children are not so serious as grown-ups and they love to laugh.'” 

Matilda is a bright, humble, young girl whose abilities go unnoticed and unnourished by her uncaring and dishonest parents, and so she escapes into a world of books. Miss Honey is her kind teacher who recognizes how special she is. But Miss Honey has problems of her own — like her cruel aunt who robbed her of her inheritance, Miss Trunchbull, who also happens to be the principal of Matilda’s school. Miss Trunchbull is truly horrid, throwing “naughty” children into the “chokey” and making a young boy sick on chocolate cake. Dahl had similarly cruel headmasters, masters (teachers), and matrons at the English boarding schools he attended. Unlike Matilda, however, he did not have any special powers to exact revenge on them. Then again, creating books filled with horrible characters based on those old teachers just might be the best revenge and most special power of all.

5. The Witches

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“‘Tell me what else to look for in a witch,’ I said. ‘The eyes,’ my grandmother said. ‘Look carefully at the eyes because the eyes of a REAL WITCH are different from yours and mine. Look in the middle of each eye where there is normally a little black dot. If she is a witch, the black dot will keep changing color, and you will see fire and you will see ice dancing right in the very centre of the coloured dot. It will send shivers running all over your skin.'”

Dahl’s father died when he was 3, but his mother was a great influence on him, telling him great stories about Norwegian myths, legends, and mythical creatures that would influence him as a storyteller. The grandmother in The Witches is undoubtedly his literary tribute to her. She, like his own mother, tells the story’s protagonist, a young orphaned boy, great stories, including a handful about REAL witches. Yes, there are real witches, and oh, are they horrid. While staying in a hotel, the young boy discovers the Grand High Witch conducting the annual meeting of England’s witches. During the meeting, the Grand High Witch unveils an evil plan to turn ALL of England’s children into mice. The young boy and his grandmother then design a plan of their own to rid England of all its witches.

Although I kept waiting for the story to end differently, I am sort of glad it didn’t. Its ending celebrates a love based on the kind of person you are inside, not what you look like on the outside. And they said Roald Dahl was macabre…

6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 

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“‘I don’t want a grown-up person at all. A grown-up won’t listen to me; he won’t learn. He will try to do this his own way and not mine. So I have to have a child. I want a good, sensible, loving child, one to whom I can tell all my most precious sweet-making secrets – while I am still alive.'”  

Of course I have to mention Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Nearly everyone knows the story of poor Charlie Bucket, who finds the final coveted golden ticket to enter Willy Wonka’s marvelous chocolate factory. I love the Oompa Loompas singing their songs to those naughty, naughty children. I love the idea of a chocolate river. I love the idea of winning a golden ticket, visiting this extraordinary chocolate factory, and eventually inheriting that factory.

One of Dahl’s happier experiences during his time at boarding school was that he was able taste-test chocolate bars for Cadbury, inspiring a lifelong love of chocolate. He was an expert on chocolate and its history. He ate a chocolate bar every day and instead of throwing the silver wrapper away, would roll it into a ball, which he kept in his writing hut. Love this guy.

7. Boy: Tales of Childhood  

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“One day, when we lifted it up, we found a dead mouse lying among our treasures. It was an exciting discovery. Thwaites took it out by its tail and waved it in front of our faces. ‘What shall we do with it?’ he cried.
‘It stinks!’ someone shouted. ‘Throw it out of the window quick!’
‘Hold on a tick,’ I said. ‘Don’t throw it away.’
Thwaites hesitated. They all looked at me.
When writing about oneself, one must strive to be truthful. Truth is more important than modesty. I must tell you, therefore, that it was I and I alone who had the idea for the great and daring Mouse Plot. We all have our moments of brilliance and glory, and this was mine.
‘Why don’t we’, I said, ‘slip it into one of Mrs. Pratchett’s jars of sweets? Then when she puts her dirty hand in to grab a handful, she’ll grab a stinky dead mouse instead.'”

Part of what made Dahl such an effective writer for children was that he was able to enter the mind of a child so easily, remembering how they see the world. That skill partly derived from his equally important skill of being able to vividly recall his own childhood, a skill he deftly demonstrates in Boy. Although Dahl occasionally sacrificed complete factual accuracy for the sake of an exciting and entertaining narrative, Boy is nonetheless rooted in reality and is as compelling as any fictional story he ever wrote. The Great Mouse Plot is incredible.

Roald Dahl was a spectacular storyteller. His stories are varied and timeless — and hopefully children (and adults, too!) will continue to read (…kids still read, right?) and enjoy them for years and years to come.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer, 2014)

Whoa! Apologies for the severe lack in updates — I’ve been preoccupied trying to fathom that there are people who miss the most annoying character in television history AKA Diane Chambers on Cheers (who needs Diane when you have Woodrow Tiberius Boyd? Actually, who needs anybody when you have Woodrow Tiberius Boyd?), sobbing over the third season finale of Homeland (and contemplating what I am now supposed to do with my life), and attempting to answer the most dreaded question any child could ask you, ever: “Who broke up the Beatles?” Yep. Oh, and I’ve also been re-decorating my room with these kind of timeless treasures that have been kindly donated to Goodwill:

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“Hollywood’s Most Eligible Bachelors, continued
MARLON BRANDO
Although he dresses as if he didn’t have a cent to his name, Marlon gets $150,000 per picture and invests most of it in cattle. He’s financially sound but while he can be charming on occasion, most girls don’t go for his moods and unconventional behavior.”   

Moods? Cattle? Uh, count me in.

Besides leaving the house to buy this, I also did manage to briefly step into the real world to see a movie made this century: X-Men: Days of Future Past.

That’s right. I broke my vow that I would never pay money to see a superhero movie again. Why? Two words: James McAvoy.

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And you thought Magneto’s helmet looked stupid…

Yeah. And we’re not just talking about any James McAvoy. We’re talking long-haired, bearded, tastefully attired in 1970s flowery print shirts, flared bottoms, and sweet shades, I-look-like-I-might-be-wheelin’-and-dealin’-drugs-even-if-I’m-not-wheelin’-in-my-wheelchair James McAvoy. Translation: Worth the price of admission.

Having never seen the earlier X-Men movies and not really caring about superheroes even if their dad is Marlon Brando, I was surprised when I enjoyed X-MenFirst Class. Besides lovin’ McAvoy, I loved watching the X-Men discover their abilities, the development of the friendship between Charles and Erik, and, best of all, Charles Xavier in sweats. Even though Days of Future Past does not feature Professor X in sweats, it is equally enjoyable.

Basically, in the future, the X-Men are hunted by these Sentinels created by a researcher who came into contact with the X-Men in the 1970s. In order to save themselves, the future X-Men send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) into the past to prevent a certain event occurring, thus hopefully preventing the invention of these Sentinels and the subsequent destruction of so many X-Men. Got that? No? Here’s another summary:

1. Magneto does bad things, all day, every day. Bad things like juggling little metal balls, throwing them at people’s heads, and breaking into a high-security place where his helmet is stored (’cause he’s been imprisoned in the Pentagon for “killing” JFK — but he didn’t kill JFK! He was deflecting the bullet because he was trying to save JFK because JFK actually was a mutant. Duh!). I thought that part was funny. But nobody else in the theater was laughing, so…maybe not? No, I’m pretty sure it was funny. Anyway.

2. Charles is sad and angry because Magneto does these bad things all day, every day. So he puts his fingers to his forehead and hopes, prays, and wishes that Magneto will stop doing those bad things. But guess what? He doesn’t. So he just starts yelling, “Erik, no! No Erik! NO ERIK!!!!!!!!!”

3. Magneto is all, “I prefer Magneto”, puts on his dumb little helmet, and starts levitating away. Uh, when the heck did he get that power? Charles is sad. But Beast is there, so it’s okay.

4. Oh, and in the middle of all this is Hugh Jackman having really bad headaches because he’s hovering between the past and the future. Get it together, Wolverine. Marty McFly never had this problem.

Does that help? No? Er…one more time.

1. In the future, Magneto looks A LOT like Gandalf from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Magneto and Professor X are good friends. The X-Men are being hunted by huge robots or something invented in the 1970s by a descendant of Reverend Trask from Dark Shadows (I think). Wolverine is in the future trying to stop this from happening but it’s not that easy because Magneto is so bad and makes Charles so sad in the past so it’s taking awhile. But the bad robots are getting closer to finding the X-Men in the future! At one point, Gandalf — I mean Magneto — gets so frustrated, he leaves Professor X to head back to the Shire.

2. In the past, Jim Croce plays while a young Quicksilver helps Charles and Wolverine get Magneto out of the Pentagon so they can stop this Trask dude. It’s my favorite scene in the whole movie. Once again, however, no one else was laughing…

3. Maybe they should have left Magneto in the Pentagon because he is SO BAD. He basically ruins the plan to stop Trask and the Sentinels. But before he starts doing bad things again, he and Charles play a game of Chess that is more romantic than…Titantic? Yeah.

4. There’s a huge battle with these Sentinels in the past. Mystique runs around changing into every other person. Wolverine ends up in the bottom of the ocean in the past but what about the future? Did he succeed in stopping the Sentinels?

Well, you have to see the movie to find out. It’s a good time. And I’m pretty sure there are no worthwhile movies coming out anytime soon because every single preview I saw looked dumber than Magneto’s helmet and Professor X’s little mind reading head-gear combined.