Sunday, September 22, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Hell Is For Heroes

1962, Don Siegel (Dirty Harry, The Shootist) -- Netflix

Part of my movie enjoyment experience is a pondering of origins of cliches & tropes. We all know the grizzled, rebellious hero in action or war movies. These characters stand sullenly aside while others listen to orders, they buck authority and always come out ahead. They take chances, they do what is not expected and succeed where others would have failed. Often, they have a bleak outlook on things, don't really want to be there but are more capable than their reputation lets on. They are sort of an anti-hero.

In my mind's eye, I see Steve McQueen known for playing those sorts of characters. I have read he was sort of that way in his real, Hollywood life. But I also assumed that this trope emerged in later pop culture, more around the broken heroes of Vietnam or Korean war movies. I was curious to see how a WWII movie from the 60s would handle the character. It actually turns away from the current version of the character, eventually showing little respect for this type of hero. Or, more likely, showing how this kind of character is just plain dangerous.

Steve's character is a soldier with a bad rep assigned to a new squad. He holds back from his squad mates, drunken and sullen. In their first assignment, they are stuck in rough spot, with little ammunition and no reinforcements. McQueen's Reese wants them to attempt a dangerous attack on a pillbox, despite all odds being against them. With a reputation as a skilled warrior and a massive amount of self-confidence, he convinces them to join him on the attack. And it fails. He gets almost his entire squad killed. Then the rest of the company does show up and complete the attack via proper organization, following orders and overwhelming forces. Reese's final act is self-sacrifice. I saw it more out of shame than anything. So, in the end, the trope I was seeking to see an early example of, was tossed on its head.