In his memoir-cum-career-retrospective, Time film critic Schickel (Matinee Idylls, 1999, etc.) compares his feelings about war movies he saw as a boy with his take on those flicks today.
The author has re-seen most of those works he first viewed while growing up in small, WASPy, spankingly American Wauwatosa, a city bordering Milwaukee, and his general sense is that war movies lied to him and to the country. Even the most lauded WWII film, Robert E. Sherwood’s and William Wyler’s postwar The Best Years of Our Lives, he finds fake and intractably apolitical. Granted, it showed the trials of three servicemen returning home and adjusting to a bad marriage, a bad job, and a physical disability, but it avoided all ideological thought or discussion and belied its air of reality by timidly resolving into a fantasia of good feelings. The least lie-filled war flicks, in Schickel’s judgment, are Howard Hawks’s Air Force and William A. Wellman’s The Story of G.I. Joe. Diluting the cinema addict’s prime interest, he also surveys other forms of entertainment from his boyhood years and is quite good about the Lux Radio Theater, although his tone here is like Woody Allen’s Radio Days without the jokes. That highlights Schickel’s main failing: he informs, but he does not lift. There’s not a page here one would care to go back to for its wild humors or the pleasures of its language. And when he states that he retains his childhood preference for the service comedies of Abbott and Costello over Chaplin’s films, film buffs can only wince. Schickel was once told by a jaundiced John Gregory Dunne, “Movie reviewing is not something you aim for; it’s a place you end up.” Indeed, the critic asks himself, “Who cares what anyone thinks about old movies? Or, for that matter, last week’s movies?” Readers won’t get any answers here.
Warm but wooden.