“Wild Bill” Wellman
The guy had an incredible career, winning the first Academy Award for Wings, making great films like Public Enemy with James Cagney, a film that ushered in the Gangster Era of moviemaking and is the bookend to White Heat in terms of Cagney’s career. Both are about tough characters with doting mothers. This would make a great double bill. He also made The Ox-Bow Incident and another great war film Battleground. But it’s G.I. Joe that I’m here to tell you about. It’s my favorite war movie of all time. I even like it better than Attack with Jack Palance. I was gratified to learn via The Men Who Made The Movies that it’s Welman’s favorite film of all! It is great. Written by Ernie Pyle, a war correspondent, ably portrayed by Burgess Meredith in the film.
Burgess Meredith and Ernie Pyle flank an Unknown guy
Pyle went into the thick of the action and wrote about the common man, his stories of the dog soldiers on the front lines carrying out orders in the face of intolerable conditions are what inspired Wellman to make the film. Wellman spent time with Pyle in New Mexico at Pyle’s place. Ernie came to visit the Wellman’s in Hollywood and while playing shoot em up with the kids uttered a line that stuck in Wellman’s head “A man falls dying only once.” It would prove prophetic. The film follows a unit of infantry led by Capt. Bill Walker(Robert Mitchum) as they struggle to take Monte Cassino. Wellman filmed in real bombed out towns in Italy, where snipers still abounded. He used real soldiers as extras, firing a Howitzer and performing other military tasks to add reality. A lot of the soldiers in the film never got to see it, they were killed in action shortly after filming.
Life In A Bunker
There are some amazing sequences, one soldier carries a recording his wife back in the states made of his baby boy’s first words. He carefully guards the disc like a treasure, looking for a phonograph so he can hear it. Finally he finds one in a burned out village but it doesn’t work. He struggles to fix it but he can’t get it to go. Then after it seemed it would never work, it does. He hears his son’s first words and he snaps, charging out of the cave he’s been living in to kill all the Germans. He has to be restrained, his mind is gone.
Wild Bill got his nickname as a WWI pilot
But it’s Robert Mitchum’s nuanced performance as the bone tired world weary Capt. Walker that steals the show. He has to write the letters to the next of kin. He has to order new, inexperienced men out to the front line where there life expectancy is two hours. He has to be sane, and responsible in the face of the insanity of war. He delivers in spades. This is the film that made Mitchum a star. The Story Of G.I. Joe is an anti-war movie. One of the best. Something we need to see today, maybe more than ever. And Ernie Pyle never got to see the movie either. He was killed by a Japanese sniper bullet in the South Pacific before the film was released. ” A man falls dying only once.”