I can think of no better way to spit in the eye of the current PC lineup at the Academy Awards than to turn off the show and instead watch the newly released DVD of John Dahl’s WWII epic, The Great Raid.
With authenticity and honesty, director Dahl details the U.S. Army Rangers’ raid on the Japanese prisoner of war camp, Cabanatuan, in the Philippines. Some 100 Rangers, with the vital assistance of Philippine resistance forces, safely released over 500 American POW’s who faced certain execution. All of the 250 Japanese guards were killed, where only two Rangers and 21 Filipinos were killed. Not one of the prisoners died in the action. (Not even the deaf British prisoner who fell asleep in the latrines shortly before the raid began, and woke up the next morning to an empty, corpse-ridden camp). The raid on Cabanatuan is the largest successful escape raid in American history and is studied in military schools as a textbook example.
Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of The Great Raid. The film came (eventually) and vanished (quickly) from the big screen. Originally on track to be released in the Fall of 2004, the finished and potentially patriotism-stirring story was inexplicably put on the shelf until well after the presidential election. Hmm…
This marvelous $70 million dollar film was quietly placed on only 600 screens in late August 2005 for a few weekends. Though the film had the highest per screen gross of any film in the nation on its opening weekend, the distributors did nothing to capitalize on that singular financial fact. Compare that to Brokeback Mountain, which opened with similar number one in the nation per screen grosses on but a dozen or so screens in the five cities with the largest and most politically and culturally active homosexual populations in the nation. The media and the distributor played those aberrant and artificially created numbers for all they were worth.
WHY DID THE GREAT RAID get the great shaft? Perhaps because it’s a rarity for a Hollywood film: It’s told with an understated and factual honesty. The Japanese soldiers are shown, in a matter of fact manner, committing a few of the atrocities they really did commit. Americans are shown valiantly and selflessly engaging in courageous and dangerous acts to rescue the prisoners.
Alas, it’s a sad comment on our expectations of Hollywood films that part of the dramatic tension in watching The Great Raid was waiting for the PC moments which never came. Fifteen minutes into the film and the U.S. still hadn’t been blamed for provoking Japan into the war. Thirty minutes into the film and still no vile atrocities committed by Americans. Ninety minutes into the film and no selfish motivations displayed by any of the U.S. or Filipino soldiers. Two hours into the film and our guys are still modestly behaving with integrity, their only purpose being to do what’s right. When the film was over, the bad guys died bad.
Is this because the ghost of John Wayne produced the movie? Hardly. It’s because the film was made the way all great art should be made: With the intent of aesthetically pointing toward a truth. Dahl used not only American historical experts, but Japanese military historians. No one disagreed about any of the facts of the events.
It may well be that a number of the snide reviews of the film perversely twisted Jesus’ statement “Those who are not with me are against me.” In other words, if a film is not blatantly PC, it must therefore be pro-American and conservative and therefore an artistic failure.
For example, Colonel Henry Mucci (as portrayed with integrity by Benjamin Bratt) gives a speech to his troops at the onset of the raid. Various liberal reviewers criticized the speech as “cliched,” “stereotyped,” and “sentimental.”
But in fact, as we learn from the DVD commentary, the speech is a verbatim reproduction of the real thing. And in fact, I got a little choked up listening to the words. And in fact, the Rangers were inspired by those words of their beloved leader, Mucci, and over 500 American lives were saved by them.
Mucci’s speech is the very type that is philosophically abhorrent to the PC crowd. It’s the kind of speech that might make Americans think good things about their country and, gasp, perhaps somehow extend that thinking to the Iraq war. Spielberg, Clooney, Moore, et al. certainly wouldn’t want the public thinking there are genuinely evil people outside the borders of America (with the exception of the Israeli Secret Police), or that American soldiers and leaders are not committing atrocities, but instead trying to do good.
Mucci to his troops:
“How you acquit yourselves for the next 48 hours will determine how you are judged for the rest of your lives: Men worthy of serving in this army, or, an embarrassment that history or time will eventually forget. You’re the finest, best prepared soldiers this country has ever sent to war and I expect you to prove it.
“One final thing. I want to see every last one of you in the chapel after this formation is over. I do not want any damn atheists on this raid. And no fakers, either. I want you to get down on your knees and swear before almighty God that you’ll give your lives before you let any of those prisoners die. That clear?”
The film cuts immediately to the outdoor prayer service. We hear the pastor: “…and build an enduring peace, founded upon Thy holy laws. And upon that unselfish good will to all those who love justice and peace which Thou hast given unto us through Jesus Christ Thine only son our lord.”
Next thing you know Hollywood will make a movie portraying the Founding Fathers as decent, intelligent, well-meaning gentlemen.
THE DVD OFFERS A NUMBER of extras that truly add to our appreciation of both the movie and the real story. We learn that famous Japanese actors refused to play their roles unless they were allowed to also show forms of insanity: They could think of no other way to explain the barbarous behavior of their grandfathers. Dahl was therefore forced to turn to lesser known Japanese actors. Even then, Japanese historians of the war had to assure them that WWII Japanese soldiers did indeed regularly commit such atrocities. The young actors were stunned. Apparently Japanese schools (which could learn a thing or two in applied self-loathing from the American public education system) don’t teach these things.
The additional historical information should prove surprising to most Americans, too. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know that the Japanese government publicly announced its intentions (in 1927) to eventually invade North America, and at the onset of the war had plans to occupy both Hawaii and California. Compare that information to the average high school history textbook, which devotes more space to blaming the U.S. for cutting off Japan’s oil supply and thereby “forcing Japan’s entry” into war.
Quite frankly, I’m flabbergasted that such an honest film was made in the first place, given the political climate in Hollywood. Especially when the honesty and values prompt you admire the good things about America.
And at the risk of sounding like a guilt-inducing liberal myself, I’m also flabbergasted at how little attention The Great Raid has merited from my circle of conservative friends. Though they’ve made a point of seeing Syriana, Brokeback Mountain, Good Night and Good Luck and Munich on the murky grounds that they should have firsthand familiarity with this PC tripe, not a one has taken the trouble to see The Great Raid, the very type of movie making (the honest type) that they claim they want Hollywood to produce.
My suggestion is to buy the “Director’s Cut” DVD of The Great Raid and watch it on Oscar night.
Or are you more interested in seeing if Ang’s sensitive Wyoming sheepboys can beat Steven’s mean nasty Israeli secret service agents out of the Oscar?