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Ed Driscoll

Tora…Tora…M*A*S*H?

December 7th, 2012 - 10:59 am

To commemorate Pearl Harbor Day, Rick McGinnis looks back at the 1970 20th Century Fox production of Tora! Tora! Tora! and writes:

It was made barely thirty years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but everyone involved – many of whom probably fought in the war – thought it a fine idea to ask the Japanese to get involved, and even direct the scenes showing their part of the attack themselves, in a way that gives them actual dignity and human culpability. Next to the Marshall Plan, it might just have been one of the most magnanimous gestures a victor has shown the defeated.

After praising the film, 1/72nd scale Airfix airplane and ship models and all, McGinnis writes:

It was made barely thirty years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but everyone involved – many of whom probably fought in the war – thought it a fine idea to ask the Japanese to get involved, and even direct the scenes showing their part of the attack themselves, in a way that gives them actual dignity and human culpability. Next to the Marshall Plan, it might just have been one of the most magnanimous gestures a victor has shown the defeated.

Along with Patton and The World At War, Tora! Tora! Tora! taught me nearly everything I knew about the war my father and his brothers fought in, at least until I was allowed into the adult half of the library. We knew how it was going to end, but we still watched it with the hope that, maybe, someone would pick up the phone or get the telegram in time or figure out what that big signature on the radar screen was, but every time it ended with So Yamamura as Admiral Yamamoto intoning his grave fear that maybe they’d bit off more than they could chew, while the camera dissolved to the Pacific Fleet in flames (in miniature.)

I know I’m not the only person who’s complained that popular culture – and movies in particular – have gotten much worse in the course of my lifetime, but when you’re asked to give an example, it’s almost as if there are too many.

McGinnis asks, “There’s a part of me that wonders, as I try to figure out why the movies – and the culture – have gotten so much worse, whether it’s just the people who make the culture who are to blame. Maybe, just maybe, it’s also the people who watch them.”

As I said earlier this week, it’s a combined Red Queen’s Race.

Even as 20th Century Fox was producing Tora3, the new left’s conquest of Hollywood was well under way, as Peter Biskind memorably plotted in his 1999 book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. In 1970, 20th Century Fox made three war movies that year: Tora3, Patton, and Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H. Guess which one, particularly thanks to the TV series it inspired, which ran throughout the entire 1970s, permanently changed how Hollywood looked at war? McGinnis compares the summer of 2001 Michael Bay production of Pearl Harbor to Tora3.

In the years since Patton and Tora3 was made, George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotten, and Jason Robards would leave the building — along the way, leaving their A-list movie status, and Alan Alda’s sensitive and solipsistic Hawkeye Pierce would become the standard for the Hollywood leading man. Which helps to explain why, when the Imperial Japan attacked in 1941 2001, there was only one man left who could bring the fight to them

Update: Oh, and speaking about Pearl Harbor and solipsism.

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