A Movie A Day: Quint watches WW2 flick NEVER SO FEW (1959)
Did I just see Sinatra pour a shot for a monkey?!?
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. From John Sturges, known best for directing THE GREAT ESCAPE and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, which was the film he did directly after the one we’re talking about today. Strangely enough, all three star Steve McQueen and feature Charles Bronson.
NEVER SO FEW is a WW2 flick set in Burma where Allied troops were training Kachin natives to fight the Japanese. The opening scroll tells us this is not only a true story, but that this core group of only a few hundred men fought off tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers and ensured an Allied victory in the South Pacific.
Despite the attempt to sell it currently as a war movie, back in the day it was sold on the romance angle. The trailer on the disc shows almost none of the war scenes and focuses instead on Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobridgida (together, at last!). Of course that’s barely on the lower corner of the re-release poster art (used on the DVD), with the biggest part showcasing McQueen and Sinatra guns in hand.
But I’d say both aspects, the war and the romance, are successful. Lollobridgida is stunning and, even better, is a well layered character. She plays Carla, a young woman who is torn by her passion and sense of obligation. It’s not exactly a unique angle to have in a film, but Lollobridgida really brings an energy and humanity to the character. There's that fantastic scene where she totally fucks with Sinatra while she's bathing, causing him to lose his cool for an instant and not be the suave ladykiller that comes naturally to him.
Honestly, though, the romance is secondary to the war story and that’s why I liked it so much. I think it would have been a very different, and probably more dull, movie if that wasn’t the case, but the romance does take a backseat to the camaraderie of the soldiers.
Sinatra plays Captain Tom Reynolds and he plays the hell out of it. Sinatra had the goods, man. Between this and MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE I’m convinced of that… and we have a couple more Sinatra movies following this one.
Rat Packer Peter Lawford is also in the movie, but plays a minor character, a Captain that somehow always ends up kowtowing to Sinatra during his brief leaves out of the jungle. More central is the friendship between Sinatra and Richard Johnson, who is probably the heart of the movie. He’s a proper British soldier, quick with a joke and loyal as can be.
If Johnson is the heart of the movie and Sinatra the soul, then McQueen has to be the spirit. Maybe spirit and soul are the same thing, but I think you understand what I’m getting at here. McQueen is hungry in this movie. You can tell. He’s full of energy, taking his first real steps to becoming the iconic movie star he would become. He has the same kind of energy here that Paul Newman had in Harper, even though they were both at different points in their careers.
McQueen’s role isn’t very big, but he does have a good amount of screentime. In fact, trivia has it that the role was originally intended for Sammy Davis Jr., but then Sinatra heard an interview he did where Davis claimed he was a better singer than Sinatra and had him booted from the film. Whether that’s real or Hollywood legend I can’t say, but it’s a fun little tidbit, isn’t it?
Also keep your eye out for none other than George Takei as a wounded Burmese soldier with, like, 2 or 3 lines. Yet he still somehow managed to get his shirt off…
Oh, yeah. Bronson became well known for the type of role he has in this film. He’s quiet, he’s strong and he’s a badass. Someone you definitely want to have on your side. I love pissed off old Bronson, of course, but this era is my favorite. Between this, MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE DIRTY DOZEN, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and even MISS SADIE THOMPSON he really hits home.
And Dean Jones is in it as a radio operator! Yeah, that Disney guy from THE LOVE BUG and THAT DARN CAT and a ton of other ‘60s/’70s Disney live action movies. Bizarre to see him in this setting.
Also of note is a nice bit role for Paul Henreid, who you'll remember as Victor Lazlo in CASABLANCA, playing the influential and rich older suitor to Lollobrigida. He is always calm, cool and composed, even when he knows how Sinatra feels for his woman... then you have that wonderful scene between him and Lollobrigida where the claws come out a little... it actually made me wish for the movie to take a kind of battle of wits turn between Sinatra and Henreid, but it wasn't meant to be for this one.
The headline... Yes, Sinatra pours not one, but multiple shots for a monkey always on his arm in the first act of the movie. How sweet is that?
The war stuff I quite liked, but I found the big raid on the airfield to be a little sloppy. How they attack is pretty sweet and what they use (grenades in gas cans) is pretty badass, but just in how it was put together I felt it lacked any suspense and flow.
That’s really the only criticism I can think of at this point. Once again, beautiful in Technicolor.
I can’t really think of much more I want to talk about, so let’s close this up and get ready for the talkback continuation.
Coming up in the next 7 days we have:
Saturday, June 7th: A HOLE IN THE HEAD (1959)
Sunday, June 8th: SOME CAME RUNNING (1958)
Monday, June 9th: RIO BRAVO (1959)
Tuesday, June 10th: POINT BLANK (1967)
Wednesday, June 11th: POCKET MONEY (1972)
Thursday, June 12th: COOL HAND LUKE (1967)
Friday, June 13th: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950)
Tomorrow comes A HOLE IN THE HEAD starring Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson and directed by Frank Capra. Should be a good one! See you then!
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June 6, 2008, 8:52 a.m. CST
June 6, 2008, 8:52 a.m. CST
Much better title for this movie.
June 6, 2008, 9:07 a.m. CST
You're a stupid cunt! Quint, I love the fact that you're doing something different on this site and that it actually involves movies. Now that *is* cool...
June 6, 2008, 9:31 a.m. CST
Now the Asphalt Jungle is on this here list....I'm starting to think you haven't even seen Jaws now...Christ man, what's the deal-i-o?
June 6, 2008, 9:51 a.m. CST
this has quickly became the main reason for me to check out aic. thank you. since you seem to have a thing for McQueen have you seen "The War Lover" with steve and Robert Wagner? Or, "The Getaway" with an almost sexy Sally Struthers?
June 6, 2008, 10:06 a.m. CST
Tell me about the gophers!<p><p>Actually, I saw this many years ago and enjoyed it. Sinatra never got the credit that he deserved as an actor. It seems that he knew his own limitations and picked roles that he knew he could deliver on. Sort of like a Hoboken version of Charlie Sheen.
June 6, 2008, 10:54 a.m. CST
to get drunk with.
June 6, 2008, 11:02 a.m. CST
12<p><p>My apologies if this becomes a thread hijack.
June 6, 2008, 11:03 a.m. CST
I'm definitely going to look into Never So Few, but before this movie was released, Sturges made this western with Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn that - in my admittedly limited experience - felt COMPLETELY UNLIKE most "good vs. evil" American westerns of its day. There was a moral ambiguity to Gun Hill that completely knocked me on my ass, and I think you'd love the hell out of it assuming you haven't seen it already.
June 6, 2008, 11:09 a.m. CST
Good call on LAST TRAIN. For some reason that makes me think about Kubrick. Maybe because of Kirk Douglas. I always whished Kubrick would of made a Western. RIP.
June 6, 2008, 11:12 a.m. CST
I always that of Barry Lyndon as a Western in different clothes. And I LOVED that film.
June 6, 2008, 11:45 a.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
June 6, 2008, 11:48 a.m. CST
The Asphalt Jungle?! What next? Citizen Kane? Godfather? Ghostbusters? You're pretty brave to be exsposing yourself like this
June 6, 2008, 12:18 p.m. CST
Yeah... envious people always says that... :)
June 6, 2008, 12:42 p.m. CST
by Lenny Nero
With great movies, you want to see them under great circumstances (re-releases, theatrical retrospectives, Q&A sessions, etc), and when they never come around, especially for someone who sees not just the classics but attempts to see all kinds of movies, they kind of sit on your Netflix queue. He's still probably seen more films than you and I combined. (Well, maybe that's not true. I watch a movie a day at least.)
June 6, 2008, 12:45 p.m. CST
I never claimed to have an all encompassing film knowledge. That's the point of this column. I'm sure you've seen every movie ever made, but most of us don't have your fantastic brain.<BR><BR>I knew when I started this column that I was going to get a lot of flack and yes, I deserve it, but I think it's a bit much accusing me of not having seen anything. I've seen most of the biggies, the Kanes, the Gone With The Winds, the Casablancas and Key Largos, the Ms... and I've seen a lot of more obscure older stuff like Old Dark House... seen dozens of silents on the big screen with live orchestra, etc. But when it comes to the 40s-60s I come up rather short, which is why you'll see a good deal of the movies here from that era of cinema. To be fair, I've seen a lot of these movies in pieces, but I don't count those. I count watching the movie from beginning to end, giving it your full attention and not having it be background noise, etc. So, that's where I'm coming from here. Nobody has seen everything and everybody... yes, everybody, has an embarrassing movie they haven't seen.
June 6, 2008, 12:58 p.m. CST
I'm just kiddin' friend. I said you were a brave man for "exsposing" your gaps. (I exposed my spelling skills) Notice I didn't give you shit for Rio Bravo. I never saw it. Carry on...
June 6, 2008, 1:10 p.m. CST
...Citizen Kane. But I DID sit through Troll 2. There, I said it.
June 6, 2008, 1:37 p.m. CST
Takes a lot of balls to admit to not seeing some of these films on a site like this. Not that I've seen all of them either. Quickly growing into the best column on the site.
June 6, 2008, 1:47 p.m. CST
I'm so tired of the crap that they put out today so I've been digging in the dust for classics too. Thanks for letting me discover Papillon! Great movie! I'm going to try and watch all the stuff you are watching here..
June 6, 2008, 1:52 p.m. CST
NEW MOVIES PLEASE!!!
June 6, 2008, 1:56 p.m. CST
it is time someone talked about older films- good and bad, aside from the over blown "classics"....Gone with the wind- come on man....
June 6, 2008, 2:30 p.m. CST
"If you haven't seen it then it is NEW TO YOU."<p><p>And that's cool to me.
June 6, 2008, 3:54 p.m. CST
Quint - could not disagree more... I thought this movie was so boring - and (this will probably piss a bunch of people off) I think Sinatra was a bore... basically a note actor in this - I did notice, like you, that Takai found a way to get his shirt off. I thought McQueen was the ONLY spark in this film - just like you I compared his presence to Newman in Harper. I think the romance part of the story seemed tacked on and slowed the movie down to a crawl... should have stuck with the action bits. Saying that - thanks for doing this. It gives me something to share with my dad - we're having a great time. Rock On Quint.
June 6, 2008, 3:55 p.m. CST
I meant "one note actor" - why don't I proof red?
June 6, 2008, 7:43 p.m. CST
cmon quint throw in the cheesy b movie for a change.
June 6, 2008, 8:36 p.m. CST
I just can't stand John Wayne. At a scant seven years old I tried to watch his films and soon realized he was the worst actor we have. He's stiff and unrealistic. When other actors are obviously acting they have a style to them. Not John Wayne. He is absolutely stylish. Over the years I've tried to watch John Wayne films only to turn them off part way through. I cannot stand his acting.
June 7, 2008, 5:31 a.m. CST
Just like to pitch in add some more love for this set of columns Quint. There's a ton of movies that I haven't seen too and this list is really getting me interested. I hope it continues, and I'm looking forward to your thoughts on Rio Bravo. Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged women.
June 7, 2008, 10:47 a.m. CST
by Sledge Hammer
...about John Wayne, show them The Shootist. If that film doesn't change your mind about Wayne as an actor, then pretty much nothing will.
June 7, 2008, 10:54 a.m. CST
I know plenty of people whose opinions I regard highly who have said similar things about Wayne. I haven't tried to watch one of his movies in a long time but I've held this opinion for a long time and I'm not sure it's going to change. If I enjoy a John Wayne film I have a feeling it would be despite his performance instead of because of it. <p> Until I started watching the Eastwood/Leoni films I never really liked Westerns. That combo changed my opinion of the genre. I think with the icon actors you mentioned, you either like them or you don't. They pretty much embody the same characteristics from film to film so if one performance leaves you flat so will others. These days an actor can't get buy with cultivating a single persona, I suppose because of the advent of method acting.
June 7, 2008, 11:32 a.m. CST
Have you seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? That's the western that got me into westerns. Spaghetti Westerns have a completely different feel and attitude, so while I loved the Leone movies they didn't bridge me over to Westerns... it took Liberty Valance to do that for me.<BR><BR>But I see what you mean with Wayne... I happen to love the persona, but if you don't then I can see it really driving you crazy with some of these movies...
June 7, 2008, 11:52 a.m. CST
because he started out as an actor who could really transform himself from Taxi Driver to Raging Bull and then, as you mentioned, he decided to play the same character over and over again. It's a real shame. The last film where he was actually trying was Stardust and before that you have to go all the way back to Jackie Brown. <p> With all this urging to see Wayne's movies I think I'm going to have to try a few out. Like I said, it's been a while. I loved Howard Hawks's films with Bogart so the least I can do is watch what Hawks does with John Wayne. <p> And Quint you do have a point that the Spaghetti Western is a different genre than regular Westerns. I really do need to become familiar with the original genre before it morphed.
June 7, 2008, 8:04 p.m. CST
Good idea bringing up older films & discussing. As a young'un, there's alot of great films out there I haven't seen and many I would never even give a chance if they were not recommended. Alot of great films are overshadowed by the handful of 'classics' and modern blockbusters. Such as this one, Sinatra & Monkey shots, I'm sold!
July 5, 2008, 10:53 p.m. CST
July 5, 2008, 10:54 p.m. CST
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