Memphis Belle (1990)

Matthew Modine (Capt. Dearborn), Eric Stoltz (Danny), Tate Donovan (Luke), DB Sweeney (Phil)

Directed by Michael Caton-Jones (Rob Roy)

Summary: The crew of the Memphis Belle, a WWII Flying Fortress, has completed 24 missions. Can they become the first crew to complete mission No. 25 and get to go home? Or will nasty Germans kill a plane full of hot American dudes?

You've come a long way, baby. That's all I kept thinking as I watched this movie for the first time since high school, in that war movies have come a very long way in the last 18 years. I'm not necessarily talking about realism, grittiness, and the overall accuracy, although that does come into play. Watching this Hollywood version of World War II is a bit like watching pre-Daniel Craig James Bond movies. Just a little bit, if not a lot, cheesy.

No, I'm talking specifically about moviemakers and real-life drama. This telling of the saga of the Memphis Belle basically gets two things right: there was once a Flying Fortress called the Memphis Belle, and it successfully completed 25 missions over Europe. However, all of the crew and even the details of their final bombing run were fictionalized.

As I was watching, something didn't ring true. One of the central character dilemmas involved Matthew Modine's Captain Dearborn and Tate Donovan's co-pilot named Luke. Luke resented the captain's straight-laced approach, wishing for the day when he could parlay his military success into a Hollywood career. He contradicted the captain and questioned his judgment out right.

On their 25th mission together.

No copilot who had served his captain for 24 successful missions would contradict him. It was silly. That silliness sent me to Wikipedia to learn the truth, leaving me to wonder: Why make up stuff about a crew who might have been alive and able to tell their story when the movie was being created?

Granted, Band of Brothers is every bit as much a Hollywood production, but it based the drama on the memoirs of real people. The actors felt compelled to "get it right" because they knew they were portraying actual men. There's drama enough in the events that really happened, including inter-personal conflicts, strife, anger, miscommunication, etc. As a result, the conflicts portrayed in Band of Brothers ring true.

In this modern era of war movies, where they skirt as close to documentaries as good storytelling will allow, I'll credit Tom Hanks. His driving passions are the Space Race and World War II, resulting in fantastic projects such as Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, "From the Earth to the Moon," and "Band of Brothers," of which only the characters in Saving Private Ryan were fictionalized. I love that they find such riveting drama in actual events. He and Steven Spielberg are currently at it again, this time to produce a miniseries for HBO very much like "Band of Brothers," but set in the Pacific theater. Can't wait.

Okay, I've seriously lost the plot of this review. Yes, it's cheesier, and yes, some of these production decisions left me a bit baffled, but I was thoroughly entertained. Billy Zane in particular struck my fancy with his Clark Gable mustache--and I don't normally fancy mustaches or Billy Zane. DB Sweeney's character was a bit of a pissant, so he was mostly wasted. But Harry Connick Jr. alone is worth the price of admission. Good flick. Fun. Made me smile.

Actually, with the World War II romances I'm planning to write, this is probably the direction my mind should be thinking. A little bit lighter. More airy and witty. But you know me. I just don't do airy and witty very well. We'll see.

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