Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Between Heaven and Hell

Even though today was Veterans' Day, TCM decided to spend the day showing other stuff, which doesn't particularly bother me although it's agitated a bunch of people who sounded off on the Internet, apparently. FXM Retro did run some war movies, although I think I had already blogged about all of them. One Fox war movie I finally got a chance to see recently that didn't air today is Between Heaven and Hell. It does seem to be available at Amazon, so you can get a copy there if you do the streaming video thing.

The movie opens with army private Sam Gifford (Robert Wagner) just having been busted in rank and lucky not to face a court-martial for apparently having struck a senior officer, Since it's World War II and they're all in a combat zone on some God-forsaken island in the Pacific, it's apparently the least bad thing that he simply be demoted and sent to serve in a different company, which is how he gets sent to Company G. This company is headed by Captain "Waco" Grimes (Broderick Crawford), who has some peculiar rules of command. Specifically, he wants to be called "Waco" instead of "Sir", being afraid that the Japanese snipers will learn that he's the commanding officer and try to kill him. And Waco is a bit of a martinet, thinking Gifford's middle name Francis is a bit effeminate.

And then we begin to learn a bit about how Gifford got here. Some other soldiers in the company mention the former commander, Col. Cousins, and how sad it was that he got killed in battle. It was especially difficult for Gifford because he married Cousins' daughter (Terry Moore). Cue the first of the flashbacks.... In the flashbacks, which start off before the war, we learn that Gifford was a rich landowner down south, and had a bunch of white sharecroppers working his land. Gifford pushes them hard to get the most out of them, something that bothers his wife Jenny.

Back in the present, Gifford winds up serving with a guy from Chicago and another man, Pvt. Crawford (Buddy Ebsen) who just happens to be from a sharecropper family himself, close enough that he knows all the places Gifford talks about, but not close enough to have worked for Gifford. Gifford takes a liking to Crawford, and this combined with his war experiences begins to temper Gifford's outlook to the point that perhaps things will be different back on the farm if he survives the war.

Of course, to survive the war, he has to deal with Waco, which is a problem. Waco has Gifford command a sortie that is risky enough that you wonder whether Waco is deliberately trying to get Gifford killed. Gifford does a good job, but Waco doesn't want to believe him. Meanwhile, Waco is becoming more and more a difficult person to be around, to the point that you hope he's the one to get relieved. But not before Gifford has to go out on one last difficult mission, this time doing scout patrol up in the mountains.

Between Heaven and Hell is well-enough done, although there are a lot of the tropes of war movies that, I suppose, it's difficult to avoid falling into simply because there's only so much you can do and still be a realistic war movie. Robert Wagner does reasonably well in what is a somewhat atypical role for him; I think he was generally the sort of actor better suited to lighter material. Broderick Crawford shouts and gesticulates much the same way he did in Born Yesterday and All the King's Men, but these are things that befit his character. Unfortunately, the print that FXM Retro showed was panned-and-scanned from Cinemascope down to 16:9.

If you like war movies, I think you'll like Between Heaven and Hell.

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