Monday, August 25, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Force of Arms (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

FORCE OF ARMS (1951) is a WWII romance/battle film which was released on DVD a few years back by the Warner Archive.

Like all Archive titles, FORCE OF ARMS is "manufactured on demand" and so never goes out of print.

FORCE OF ARMS stars the team of William Holden and Nancy Olson, who had previously costarred in Paramount's SUNSET BLVD. (1950) and UNION STATION (1950); the same year Warner Bros. released FORCE OF ARMS, they would also costar in one more Paramount film, SUBMARINE COMMAND (1951).

Since I'd seen Holden and Olson's other three films, I was glad to catch up with the fourth of their films together. They're a remarkably good team, and it would have been nice if somehow they'd been able to work together again beyond their quartet of films of 1950-'51.

FORCE OF ARMS starts in fine style with a stirring Max Steiner theme. Holden and Olson play Pete and Ellie, who meet while serving in Italy, as the U.S. Army marches closer to Rome. He's just back from the front, having been promoted to lieutenant after leading his squadron under fire following the death of his commanding officer. She's a lieutenant in the WACs.

He's battle weary and stressed out, and she's mourning the death of the soldier she was going to marry. Initially combative, they're all wrong for each other, and yet so very right.

Time is short and emotions are heightened as Pete and Ellie quickly admit their love for one another. But Pete's got to return to the front...

This is, quite simply, a lovely romance, well written by Orin Jannings, and portrayed with aching beauty by Holden and Olson. He's rough around the edges and at first thinks he wants a quick, meaningless fling while on leave, but he can't get the sweet, clear-eyed, and nervy young woman off his mind. And she quickly sees past his defenses to the real person underneath, recognizing a man worthy of love, who will love her.

Some of the scenes were so moving and beautifully played that I rewound and watched them again immediately, unwilling to move on in the story without more fully absorbing the scene I'd just watched. That's not how I typically watch a movie, but it speaks to the special way this film connected with me.

As part of the story, the film deals in a limited but moving fashion with what we now call PTSD. It seems to have been fairly rare for that subject to be addressed in that era, although, off the top of my head, it does come up in I'LL BE SEEING YOU (1944).

The only parts of the film I didn't enjoy watching were the gritty battle scenes, and there are three such extended sequences. However, these scenes do serve to show exactly what Pete goes through in battle and helps the viewer to better understand his character.

As a side note, it's interesting, I love submarine and aircraft carrier films but have a harder time watching ground combat. FORCE OF ARMS was based on a story by Richard Tregaskis, who wrote the book which inspired another movie about soldiers in combat, GUADALCANAL DIARY (1943).

Frank Lovejoy plays Pete's friend, Major Blackford. The cast also includes Gene Evans, Paul Picerni, Katherine Warren, Ross Ford, and Argentina Brunetti. If you don't blink you'll spot Phil Carey, who has a bit role as an MP who shines his flashlight in Holden and Olson's jeep.

This 99-minute film was directed by the very talented Michael Curtiz. It was filmed in black and white by Ted McCord.

The Warner Archive DVD includes the trailer.


Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

My wife Linda's favorite movie! At least her longest running favorite because she has watched it so many times since she was a child and loves it as much as ever. She introduced me to this gem. It is a beautiful movie. Great chemistry between the two stars (and sorry SUNSET BOULEVARD fans but this is the best of the four they made) and you can't love movies without loving Curtiz, who was still at his peak at the time.

11:36 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, that is so wonderful to hear it's Linda's favorite! I can well understand it. I'm sure I'll be rewatching it many times as well.

That moment in the hospital where he asks "Are you still my girl?" and is so vulnerable...well, it's just beautiful and they are wonderful together. I do agree it's their best pairing. This is a film which deserves to be better known.

Best wishes,

11:40 PM  

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