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History tells us when battles were fought
And whether they meant more than others or not,
But those who once knew them
And had to live through them
Experienced more than the lessons now taught.

A few passive words on a page about war,
Discussing the facts of who died and what for,
Are hardly precise
To recount sacrifice
Or the bloody-badged heroes on some foreign shore.

It’s hell, they say; so, we imagine the worst
From comfortable couches, no terror, no thirst,
So free to be blind
That we must be reminded
That freedom must be paid in sacrifice first.

MPAA rating: PG (PG-13 would be better due to frequent profanity)

I couldn’t let July 4th pass without reviewing a patriotic war movie, and since I’d seen it once a long time ago, Midway seemed ripe for a rewatch. One of the last big war films of yesteryear, Midway distinguishes itself less in the story department than in its in-depth overview of the battle and its sprawling cast of famous faces.

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If you’re looking for some gritty war story with non-stop explosions, this isn’t the film for you. Midway is far more interested in the build-up and strategy of the battle and spends most of its 132-minute runtime on the set-up. Certainly by the end, there are scout planes being sacrificed and battleships defending themselves with barrages of skyward gunfire, but we also get to see how the Americans deciphered Midway as the coded Japanese target, how unexpected illnesses and bad luck brought certain players to the fore, and how each side endeavored to figure out the others’ movements before it was too late. All the background information isn’t exactly boring, but it can get a bit dry…yeah, that’s the word. Yet what it lacks in dynamic entertainment, it makes up for in the sense of getting a comprehensive reenactment of how events played out at a time when the American forces were still on the defensive and sorely in need of a victory.

Midway’s greatest strength is its multitude of familiar actors. Just reading the cast list is a who’s who of both big-name stars of the time and some stars to be: Charlton Heston as Captain Garth and the de facto main character, Henry Fonda as Admiral Nimitz, Robert Mitchum as Vice Admiral Halsey, Hal Holbrook, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Cliff Robertson, Glenn Corbett, Robert Wagner, Erik Estrada, Tom Selleck, and Dabney Coleman (five years before starring with Henry Fonda again in On Golden Pond). That’s not to say all of them get much time to shine in their cameos; I’m not sure Robert Wagner even spoke at all, but it’s always fun to try and pick out someone you might recognize. Of course, not being as familiar with TV of the ‘60s and ‘70s as my mom or grandfather (who loved this movie), I’m no doubt missing out on the full “look-it’s-so-and-so” experience.

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In addition to all the western actors is a collection of pretty much every actor of Japanese descent known to American audiences back then (except Mako; where the heck was Mako?), most notably Toshiro Mifune of Rashomon and Seven Samurai fame as Admiral Yamamoto, whose voice was oddly dubbed by Paul Frees. There’s also James Shigeta of Die Hard, Pat Morita of The Karate Kid, Robert Ito of Quincy, M.E., and quite a few others I’m sure I’ve seen on M*A*S*H before. Unlike modern war movie trends, all the Japanese characters speak convenient English, but there’s no effort to demonize them beyond some references to Pearl Harbor. They are simply the opposing side in this life-and-death game of Battleship. Questions of prejudice are raised with the romance of Edward Albert as Heston’s son who falls in love with a Japanese girl (Christina Kokubo), but that story doesn’t get much closure by the end and is present simply to add some human interest to the film.

It’s interesting to note that, despite being a box office hit, Midway is something of a black sheep among war classics, largely because it borrowed many scenes from other films, perhaps to save money on a budget that likely went to casting its prestigious stars. The graininess of certain shots clearly marks them as actual footage, but many of the actual battle scenes are from films like Tora! Tora! Tora!, Away All Boats, and Battle for Britain (at least according to Wikipedia), which now makes me curious to see all those films and spot what was borrowed. Even if its parts were cobbled together to some extent, Midway thrives on its star power and paints both a broad and detailed picture of a decisive World War II battle.

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On this 4th of July, whether you celebrate it or not, I want to wish all my readers, both foreign and domestic, a Happy Independence Day! Let freedom ring!

Best line: (Admiral Nimitz, after the battle) “It doesn’t make any sense; Admiral Yamamoto had everything going for him: power, experience, confidence. Were we better than the Japanese or just luckier?”


Rank: List Runner-Up


© 2018 S.G. Liput
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