Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mister Roberts/Anchors Aweigh

Mister Roberts
seen on TV @ TCM

I never had a hankering to join the Navy, or any of the armed forces, for that matter, but for a long time I had a fascination for ships and water. Chalk up the latter to a love of swimming as a kid, though my skills have gotten mighty rusty since. Oh, I can tread water in the deep end of a pool just fine, but you'll not see me go much farther than my waist at the beach. I suppose that's due to the unrestrained nature of a beach: waves that come and go at will, no (visible) boundaries, not being able to see the bottom - it can be a little scary if you're not careful.

As for ships, well, one of the highlights of my trip to San Diego five years ago was going down by the waterfront and taking guided tours on the sailing ships, military vessels, and even a submarine. Every so often (though not as much as I used to), I like to go down to South Street Seaport or Battery Park to watch the ships. And of course, I got to visit the Intrepid for the first time last year. I've read some of the Horatio Hornblower books, and I started, but never finished, a Jack Aubrey book, and I read Moby Dick when I was in college.

It's amazing how much mileage Hollywood has gotten, and continues to get, out of World War 2 movies, regardless of which branch of the armed forces (or civilians), regardless of genre. For someone who was born during the height of Vietnam, grew up with the Cold War, and has lived to see two conflicts in Iraq, it's harder for me to imagine a time when war was seen as not only a necessity, but as The Right Thing To Do - at least, not through the mythology of pop culture, but as something real.

I bring this up because in both Mister Roberts and Anchors Aweigh, we see the desire to serve, to get involved in the conflict despite the risks, because the war and/or the Navy have an allure to them. In the latter, there's a subplot involving a little kid who wants to join the Navy, but of course, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra don't have the heart to tell him he's too young. In the former, Henry Fonda's title character believed he'd get involved in the fighting at sea, but at the time the film begins, he hasn't - and he wants to. Nobody questions this desire in either case.

Regardless of whether it's in times of war or peace, with either a Republican or a Democrat in the White House, we're always gonna need fighting men and women, and I have nothing but respect for those that do serve or have served. But I think entering the armed forces, and wanting to go where the fighting is, is not something that should be done lightly. It's a decision that needs to be made with eyes wide open to all of its realities and all of its possibilities. We have a tendency to glamorize war, to give it an allure it probably doesn't deserve, and that's awful dangerous.

Yes, this is the one where Gene Kelly dances with Jerry.
This, however, is probably thinking too much about two otherwise enjoyable, delightful movies about the Navy. With every movie of his I see, my admiration for Fonda grows. He never made it look like acting, and he always seemed to project such a morally upright character. One not only believes him, one believes in him. As for Kelly & Sinatra, you'd be hard-pressed to find two better song-and-dance men. And did you know that the 23rd would've been Kelly's 100th birthday?

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