Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Story of GI Joe

Yesterday, when I discussed Crossfire, I mentioned that Robert Mitchum had already become a star when he made The Story of GI Joe. By a happy coincidence, that movie is airing overnight tonight, at 2:00 AM ET on TCM.

The title of the movie is more metaphorical, in that there is no one GI Joe, and the movie wasn't really conceived as being the story of a GI. Instead, it's the story of journalist Ernie Pyle, played by Burgess Meredith. Pyle is serving as a war correspondent but, unlike mnay of his colleagues, he has a great desire to get closer to the troops and report their personal stories. As a result, he repeatedly ends up with the 18th Infantry as they make their way from Tunisia to Sicily to the Italian mainland. This is not a romantic view of war; instead, war is shown as the almost unrelenting horror that it was for those who had to take part in it. Thanks for that goes in no small part to director William Wellman, who had served in World War I (albeit in the Air Corps). Also lending an air of realism is the fact that many actual servicemen are playing themselves.

Although Meredith is technically the star, Mitchum steals the show. He plays the commander of the unit, and is clearly a man who's seen too much. He's tired of the war, and exudes the same constant ghastliness that war is. Mitchum does this effortlessly and brilliantly, and received an Oscar nomination for doing so.

The movie was released before the war ended, so it doesn't have a happy ending, simply because the US hadn't yet won the war. In fact, the movie doesn't even have an epilogue mentioning what happened to Pyle: he was transferred from the European theater to the Pacific, and was killed in the battle for Okinawa.

If you don't wish to stay up late at night to watch The Story of GI Joe, and don't record it, you're still in luck, as this excellent movie has been released to DVD.

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