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Guts and Glory

Guts and Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film

Lawrence H. Suid
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 768
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  • Book Info
    Guts and Glory
    Book Description:

    Guts and Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Filmis the definitive study of the symbiotic relationship between the film industry and the United States armed services. Since the first edition was published nearly two decades ago, the nation has experienced several wars, both on the battlefield and in movie theatres and living rooms at home. Now, author Lawrence Suid has extensively revised and expanded his classic history of the mutual exploitation of the film industry and the military, exploring how Hollywood has reflected and effected changes in America's image of its armed services. He offers in-depth looks at such classic films asWings, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, The Longest Day, Patton, Top Gun, An Officer and a Gentleman, and Saving Private Ryan, as well as the controversial war moviesThe Green Berets, M*A*S*H, the Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket,andBorn on the Fourth of July.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5808-2
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Charles Champlin

    In the preface to the first edition ofGuts & Glory,Lawrence Suid wrote, “The book is not a definitive history of the relationship between the film industry and the armed forces.” Perhaps not. But for the first time, a scholar had documented the curious and intriguing story of how Hollywood and the armed services, working from different perspectives and with different goals, cooperated to create stories about the U.S. military in war and peace. These movies became the source of most people’s knowledge of the American fighting men and women and the wars in which they fought to protect...

  6. 1 Hollywood and War
    (pp. 1-11)

    Why war movies? Why military movies? Why the attraction of war to the American people? Gen. George Patton, through his film reincarnation George C. Scott, provided perhaps the quintessential explanation of the nation’s continuing fascination with things military. Standing beneath a huge U.S. flag, Patton-Scott addressed his unpictured audience, the troops, and, implicitly, the nation: “Men, all this stuff you’ve heard about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of horse dung. Americans traditionally love to fight. All real Americans love the sting of battle. When you were kids, you all admired...

  7. 2 Beginnings
    (pp. 12-23)

    At best, war films can only create the illusion of the emotions Herr described. Nevertheless, the continuing popularity of movies about men in combat attests to Hollywood’s ability to capture the ambience of battle, usually with the help of one or another of the armed services. Only in the few years following a major war has the motion picture industry avoided using the armed forces and combat as subjects for its cameras. The symbiotic relationship between filmmakers and the military began almost as soon as the new medium itself became part of American life.

    The armed forces quickly realized that...

  8. 3 A Standard for the Future
    (pp. 24-41)

    The combat films which recreated the glorious American successes in World War I became the focus of Hollywood’s portrayals of the military during the mid-1920s. King Vidor, a young, promising director, originally predicted that it “would take ten years to evolve a true War Picture. Propaganda and the passions of the struggle blind the participants from seeing it sanely; then satiety and a cynical reaction follow, no less blinding or distorting.” Vidor considered war “a very human thing, and in the ten years’ perspective the human values take predominance and the rest sinks into insignificance.”¹

    By 1924, however, the director...

  9. 4 The Golden Age of Military Movies
    (pp. 42-63)

    Unlike the Army, the Army air Corps, and the Marines, the Navy had participated in no major battles during World War I and so offered Hollywood only convoy duty as a subject for cinematic combat. However, ships and sailors and the distant locales to which they sailed did provide opportunities for peacetime stories of romance, comedy, and drama. Since so many Americans lived far from oceans, movies about the Navy also provided audiences with new vistas of a previously unseen and often mysterious world. As a result, these noncombat Navy films returned a profit to the studios and became a...

  10. 5 World War II: Fantasy
    (pp. 64-78)

    Despite the vociferous criticism from the isolationists inside and outside Congress, Hollywood had continued to put military-preparedness films into production up to December 7. After Pearl Harbor, the studios simply added an appropriate opening and closing message to the completed movies, calling on the nation to win the war. Even so, the 1942To the Shores of Tripoli,the first color Marine movie, remained a peacetime romantic fantasy, albeit one filled with Marines marching and drilling at the Recruit Depot in San Diego and training at Camp Pendleton. The war intrudes only in the opening dedication and the closing comments....

  11. 6 World War II: Pseudo-Reality
    (pp. 79-96)

    By the end of 1943, the Allies had not yet assured themselves of victory. Nevertheless, the tide had turned. The Doolittle raid on Japan in April 1942 had done relatively little damage, but it had demonstrated to Japan that it could no longer consider its home islands inviolate. The combined Navy—Air Force operation showed both the Japanese military and the American people that the U.S. fleet had rebounded from its losses at Pearl Harbor and could carry the war to all parts of the Pacific. The subsequent American defeat of a vastly superior Japanese armada at Midway, Allied successes...

  12. 7 World War II: First Reflections
    (pp. 97-115)

    By the time Wellman’s film appeared, however, the war had ended and people wanted to get on with their lives, not think about the recent horrors or seek ways to eliminate future carnage. The motion picture industry had long anticipated the disinterest audiences would have in revisiting the conflict and had begun to cut back on the number of combat stories in production once battlefield successes in Europe and the Pacific assured imminent Allied victory. LikeG.I. Joe, They Were ExpendableandWalk in the Sunappeared after the Japanese surrender and, validating Hollywood’s business acumen, languished at the box...

  13. 8 The Image of the Marines and John Wayne
    (pp. 116-135)

    The men who helped remind the American people that the trip remained necessary—actors such as Gary Cooper, Van Johnson, George Murphy, James Whitmore, and Gregory Peck—portrayed traditional Hollywood servicemen, whom screenwriters synthesized from their research and experiences and to whom directors gave life. However well they performed their roles, the actors remained only actors, soon moving on to other characterizations. Throughout the history of Hollywood war movies, few actors have created a military presence that carried beyond the immediate film in which they appeared.

    Victor McLaglen developed his role of Captain Flagg inWhat Price Glory?into a...

  14. 9 A Different Image
    (pp. 136-160)

    If none of the successors toSands of Iwo Jimaproduced a hero figure to equal John Wayne, the failure did not result from lack of effort. Following the lead of the successful filmmakers, every Hollywood studio began cranking out its own versions of the war. In addition to the Marine Corps movies,Operation Pacific(1951),Above and Beyond(1952), andTake the High Ground(1953) attempted to duplicate the box-office appeal of the cycle-initiating movies. As often happens, however, the imitators lacked the clarity and insights into war and men in combat that distinguished the original films. They relied...

  15. 10 The Most Ambitious Undertaking
    (pp. 161-187)

    The rehabilitation of the former enemies, which had begun before World War II ended, continued unabated into the 1960s. In the 1948Fighter Squadron,a German pilot does shoot at Edmund O’Brien as he parachutes to earth. However, one of his men promptly shoots down the enemy plane with only the comment:“Burn, you crumb, burn.” No recriminations, no reference to Hitler or the Third Reich. Even that portrayal remained an aberration.

    The novelTwelve O'Clock Highcontained a similar scene, based on an actual event. General Savage’s B-17 suffers fatal damage on the climactic mission over Germany, and he finally...

  16. 11 A Marriage Ends
    (pp. 188-209)

    The Longest Dayserved as the model for all subsequent combat spectaculars. Like Zanuck’s film,Battle of the Bulge(1965),Bridge at Remagen(1969),Tora! Tora! Tora!(1970),Midway(1976), andA Bridge Too Far(1977), among others, told the story of great battles of World War II from the viewpoints of the combatants on both sides. These movies traced the events leading up to a particular battle, with the participants speaking in their own tongues as they did inThe Longest Day.

    However well each motion picture recreated history, the narrative served only as a framework for the film’s...

  17. 12 The Bomb as Friend and Enemy
    (pp. 210-246)

    Until the civil war in Vietnam escalated and became an American quagmire, antiwar messages like the ones thatThe Americanization of Emilyespoused had little chance of changing people’s views on patriotism and the ability of the armed services to protect the nation from all threats. Ever since August 6,1945, the atomic bomb had provided that protection, ensuring that the United States could destroy any nation that dared to launch an attack against its sovereignty. Hollywood helped create the perception that the nation had the ultimate weapon and the men to deliver it to the far corners of the earth....

  18. 13 John Wayne, The Green Berets, and Other Heroes
    (pp. 247-277)

    Despite the powerful antibomb, antiwar message inDr. Strangelove, Fail Safe, and The Bedford Incident,in 1965 most Americans still held the armed forces in high esteem, and the military continued to win World War II in such films asIn Harm’s WayandThe Battle of the Bulge.The fighting in Vietnam was just beginning to draw attention, and the war had not yet become controversial. It did, however, attract the interest of John Wayne, who had always stood for and symbolized the “My Country Right or Wrong” school of patriotism. If he had a goal in his movies,...

  19. 14 Illusion and Reality of War
    (pp. 278-294)

    WHATEVER ITS MESSAGE, AUDIENCES PERCEIVEDPattonas a film about war and, more specifically, as a biography of a single man in war. Most people also perceived thatM*A*S*H andCatch-22portrayed men in battle, or at least men’s relationship to battle. Although both films comment on relationships in society, neither actually looks at men in combat, external appearances notwithstanding. In contrast,Toral Tora! Tora!does look at combat, more precisely, the failure of the United States to prepare adequately for battle. However, the film’s dramatic and visual shortcomings negate much of the impact of its conscious effort to...

  20. 15 Changing Images
    (pp. 295-314)

    Although Hollywood turned away from the production of “conventional” military movies after 1970, the American people did not lack visualizations of combat. Vintage war movies appeared regularly on late-night television, and the evening television news broadcasts continued to saturate the nation with combat footage from Vietnam until the final American withdrawal in 1973. Unlike Hollywood's re-creations, the network cameramen had no difficulty capturing on film all the authentic details of war—firefights, gunships spewing their rounds blindly into jungle foliage, body counts, medical helicopters evacuating wounded G.I.s, planes spreading agent orange over forests and fields, and children on fire fleeing...

  21. 16 The Home Front, Vietnam, and the Victims of War
    (pp. 315-331)

    The Last DetailandCinderella Libertyhad demonstrated that Hollywood was going to have a hard time obtaining assistance from the Pentagon if it wanted to portray the contemporary peacetime military. Filmmakers would find even more difficulty making a movie about the war in Vietnam or showing the impact the conflict had had on the American people. Col. Arthur Brill, head of the Information Branch at Marine Headquarters, put it most succinctly when he acknowledged that his office would have had difficulty providing help to any filmmaker except Walt Disney during the 1970s. Nevertheless, the armed services continued to have...

  22. 17 Apocalypse When?
    (pp. 332-351)

    By focusing on the home front, filmmakers were able to comment on the impact that Vietnam had on the American people while avoiding the blood and gore of combat. However, movies about physical and personal loss did lack the excitement inherent in all stories about men in war, regardless of their setting. Even after American participation in the war had officially ended, the film industry questioned whether people would pay money to see a reprise of combat which television had so long brought into homes in living color on the evening news. Nevertheless, Hollywood took its first halting steps toward...

  23. 18 The Deer Hunter, Hair, and Finally Apocalypse Now
    (pp. 352-368)

    Not until the release ofThe Deer Hunterin early 1979, following its one-week screening in December 1978 to qualify it for the Academy Awards, did Vietnam become a financially rewarding subject for filmmakers. The two men who developed the original story had a much more limited goal—simply to come up with a marketable screenplay. They did not even plan, at first, to set their film within the context of the American experience in Vietnam. Quinn Redeker recalls that the initial concept came to him one night in 1971, while sitting with his wife looking for a hook on...

  24. 19 The Marines Search for a New Identity
    (pp. 369-382)

    Whatever its ultimate flaws or virtues,Apocalypse Nowhad initiated Hollywood’s interest in portraying the American experience in Vietnam. Along withThe Deer HunterandHair,released earlier in 1979, Coppola’s film legitimized the war in Southeast Asia as a cinematic subject. But no portrayal of the war could offer a happy ending with the United States attaining a victory over the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. The evil foe of government propaganda had won the war, if not on the battle field, then in the political arena. By the end of the decade, Americans were beginning to see the...

  25. 20 The Search Continued: Two Non-Vietnam Case Studies
    (pp. 383-401)

    In reality,Born on the Fourth of JulyandRumor of Warshared credit withThe Great Santiniin forcing the Marines to reconsider their policies on how to portray its few good men. When it arrived in Marine Headquarters, Kovic’s story became an immediate catalyst in moving the Public Affairs Office to develop new and more appropriate guidelines on dealing with Hollywood. However, the Marines had already been wrestling with the matter in a more leisurely way for two years before Oliver Stone’s screenplay came into the Pentagon. On March 9,1976, the director of information had received a letter...

  26. 21 The Navy’s Search for Normalcy
    (pp. 402-423)

    Unlike the Marine Corps and the Army, the Navy had not broken its relationship with the film industry during the Vietnam War. Instead, as it had done throughout the Cold War, the service continued to use motion pictures in its ongoing competition with the Air Force for appropriations to acquire nuclear weapons delivery systems. In contrast to long-range bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, which its sister service sought, the Navy wanted to acquire nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines. To this end, the service wanted to assist movies that portrayed the efficacy of its military hardware in order to sell its...

  27. 22 New Images Despite Themselves
    (pp. 424-439)

    If the public affairs officers of each of the military services ultimately resigned themselves to Hollywood’s revamped images of the military, they did not abdicate their authority to determine which films would receive support. More important, even in the changed climate of the early 1980s, the services still worked to ensure that as few warts as possible would appear on the nation’s movie or television screens. What constituted a wart, however, often became a matter of dispute. A portrayal that one service found offensive, another service might accept routinely. Even the same service might approve it later on. In particular,...

  28. 23 The Air Force Seeks a Better Image
    (pp. 440-454)

    In the decade after the end of the Vietnam War, the Air Force was to contribute little to this rehabilitation. In Vietnam, the Air Force had dropped more bombs on a tiny agricultural land than all the tonnage the United States had dropped on Germany and Japan during all of World War II. To some extent, the impersonality and detachment with which the service carried out its mission muted the reality of the destructiveness of its military actions in Vietnam. Air Force personnel usually had little contact with the war on the ground. Unless a flier was shot down, he...

  29. 24 Vietnam: A More Moderate Approach
    (pp. 455-484)

    By the timeCall to Glory wasmaking patriotism an acceptable emotion, Vietnam was beginning to appear regularly on theater screens, either explicitly or by implication. How to create appropriate images of the war remained unclear to filmmakers. AlthoughThe Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Nowhad enjoyed box-office success, the epic scope of each movie had provided the unique appeal to audiences. Moreover, as the culmination of the first cycle of Vietnam movies that began withLimbo,the two films had, at least temporarily, seemed to sate people’s interest in epic re-creations of the American experience in Vietnam. Hollywood had...

  30. 25 Rehabilitation Completed
    (pp. 485-502)

    An Officer and a Gentlemanconvinced Hollywood that audiences were ready for peacetime military stories of the old kind. Like the pre-Vietnam Navy films, it created a setting for romance and adventure. It made it clear that the armed services remained necessary for the security of the nation. It also showed how the military was training its now gender-integrated officer Corps to become consummate professionals. These new cinematic warriors may have suffered from identity problems, self-doubts, and even rebelliousness. But they did not harbor the hatreds or ambivalences toward their nation or their service that their counterparts in the Vietnam...

  31. 26 Vietnam: Full Color with All the Warts
    (pp. 503-535)

    Vietnam was to remain a difficult subject for the Pentagon even afterTop Gunhelped return the Hollywood-military relationship to normality. The Marines and the Navy had provided assistance to the 1984Purple Hearts,which simply used the Vietnam War and combat as the stage on which to tell a traditional love story, in this case between a Navy doctor and nurse. If the conflict temporarily interrupted their relationship, the scenario remained no different from love stories set in all other American wars. Given this approach and the lack of any political rhetoric or criticism of the military, the services...

  32. 27 Vietnam: Balanced Portrayals
    (pp. 536-555)

    Could a comedy set in the war zone make a comment about the American experience in Vietnam? By the late 1980s, had enough time passed for people to be willing or able to find humor in the midst of death and destruction? Should filmmakers even consider injecting laughter into war. To be sure, asGardens of Stoneshowed, gallows humor became necessary for the survival of members of the burial units at Arlington National Cemetery. However,Good Morning, Vietnamtook an entirely different approach to the war: the filmmakers intended to use Vietnam simply as a stage on which Robin...

  33. 28 The Cold War Ends on the Motion Picture Screen
    (pp. 556-579)

    Flight of the Intruder provided the only significant images of the Vietnam War during the 1990s. The few other films that contained any portrayals of the American involvement in Southeast Asia used the war only as the springboard for the advancement of their stories. The end of the Vietnam war movies also marked the conclusion of the fifty-year cinematic confrontation between Capitalism and Communism. Except for combat in the Korean and Vietnam war films, that confrontation had rarely turned hot, and then only in some brief firefight such as Clint Eastwood’sFirefox,or the climactic apocalypses inDr. Strangelove, Fail...

  34. 29 The Search for New Enemies
    (pp. 580-616)

    Following the rehabilitation of the military withTop Gun,the end of the Cold War, and the overwhelming victory in the Gulf War, Hollywood produced a plethora of movies during the 1990s about the armed services or which used their personnel or facilities as incidental locales. Although the relationship between Hollywood and the Pentagon again assumed a comfortable normality, the Pentagon no longer easily approved cooperation as it had before Vietnam and not all films which received assistance contained completely positive images. Non-military dramas requiring only a brief presence by one or another of the services, which previously had obtained...

  35. 30 World War II: One More Time
    (pp. 617-644)

    Hollywood had not forgotten about World War II even during the height of the negative portrayals of the military following the end of the Vietnam War.Midwayhad become a major box-office success in 1976, andThe Big Red Onehad enjoyed critical acclaim in 1980, with audiences cheering in all the right places. Although not a film about combat,The Last Days of Pattonin 1986 presented Patton as a great war hero and created sympathy for the man after his automobile accident and painful death. Nominally set in World War II, Day One and Fat Man and Little...

  36. 31 Pearl Harbor: Bombed Again
    (pp. 645-668)

    During the 1990s, Hollywood had focused its attention on finding new enemies and revisiting World War II. Having examined Vietnam so thoroughly during the 1970s and 1980s, filmmakers showed less interest in the war in the 1990s, especially afterFlight of the Intruderfailed at the box office.Forrest Gumpused combat in Vietnam, but only to propel Gump’s life forward, not to make a comment about the war. The 1995 OperationDumbo Dropprovided one of the few positive portrayals of the American military in the war, with soldiers bringing an elephant—rather than candy—to a Vietnam village...

  37. Epilogue
    (pp. 669-673)

    The armed forces had failed to prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor despite the promises contained in the Hollywood preparedness movies from 1939 to 1941. However, working together, the armed services and filmmakers immediately began to repair the damage, to show how the nation would fight back from adversity and defeat its vile enemies. Films likeWake Island, Bataan, Air Force, Destination Tokyo, Guadalcanal Diary,andThirty Seconds Over Tokyoall conveyed the message that President Roosevelt had delivered to the nation on December 8,1941: “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American...

  38. Appendix A: Films Cited
    (pp. 674-678)
  39. Appendix B: Interviews
    (pp. 679-684)
  40. Note on Sources
    (pp. 685-690)
  41. Notes
    (pp. 691-737)
  42. Index
    (pp. 738-750)