The World At War

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You could say I’m a bit of a worrier. And you could say I’ve been a bit of a worrier since I was a child. And you would be right. It’s something I do. I’m good at it.

I have gotten much better at not allowing my worrying to keep me from sleeping. (Most of the time.) When I was a kid, though, I could get to worrying about something and that could make falling asleep difficult. I mostly worried about going back to school after summer vacation, winter or spring break, long weekends. I don’t remember why I would be worried, I just was.

Those occasions of sleeping difficulties would mainly happen on Sunday nights. And if I was feeling as though sleep wouldn’t come, I dreaded a certain sound. And that sound was the closing music of the landmark British World War II television documentary series The World At War (1973-1974).

It was sometime in the mid-1970s that The World At War begin airing on American television and my mother would watch it each Sunday night. It would come on at 11:00 and end at midnight. If I was still awake as the show ended, it would be a difficult night. And I won’t even mention how troubling it would get if I heard the closing theme of The Honeymooners, the show that would follow.

All that is in the past.

Today, I own the DVD set. It contains the entire 26 episodes of the series and a boatload of extras. There are 11 discs in all.

The World At War wasn’t the first TV documentary of the war. There were others before it. On American television, there was NBC’s Victory At Sea (1952-1953). That series also had 26 episodes, however these were half hour shows. And Victory was made closer to the actual events and that may be why it feels much more rah-rah than The World At War.

Victory has no interviews. It consists of archival footage and narration, and a very heroic, flag-waving musical score by Richard Rodgers. The music gets tiring and the series has the feel of pro-America propaganda. It also seems to glamorize war. Not overly so, but the rah-rah quality, the hooray for the Allies (which, yes, hooray for the Allies) attitude makes the series feel like a naval recruitment pitch. No wonder the US Navy was so willing to give full cooperation.

The World At War, other the other hand, is careful to make war look like what it is – ugly. War is horrifying. It’s destruction and devastation. It’s insane. War is hell (you can quote me on that). And The World At War makes that abundantly clear as it chronicles the power-hungry fascist dictators wreaking havoc in Europe, Northern Africa, China, and the Pacific.

The musical score for The World At War was composed by Carl Davis. It’s brilliant. It gives the series the proper seriousness that subject requires, while not glamorizing war in any way.

Also, brilliant is the narration provided by acting legend Sir Laurence Olivier. His narration sets the tone for the series in the cold open of episode one – A New Germany:

“Down this road, on a summer day in 1944, the soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When they had gone, the community, which have lived for a thousand years, was dead.”

That’s heavy. Olivier strikes the perfect note of solemnity. This series is not going to be rah-rah.

Like Victory At Sea, there is lots of archival footage. But, unlike Victory, the World At War has lots of interviews of the people involved. From citizens to journalists to soldiers, sailors, and airmen to generals, admirals, and world leaders. From both sides of the war.

The input of people who were there may be 30 years after the fact (and memory isn’t video tape), but it is tremendously powerful. Quite often we are shown archival footage of the younger versions of those being interviewed. We get to hear from military leaders to get their insights on the decision making and strategies. And there is only one historian, Stephen Ambrose, who is interviewed late in the series.

The most intriguing contributors, for me, are the Germans. We hear from ordinary citizens about how Germany was caught up in a kind of hysteria as Hitler provided victory after victory early in the war. And then how terrifying it was to live under that regime. The series interviews the highest ranking Nazi who was still alive and had served his time in prison: Albert Speer. They even interviewed Hitler’s secretary Traudl Junge, who worked for the Nazi dictator in those last days in the bunker and took down his final statement. Fascinating!

If you haven’t watched this series, seek it out. Some of the episodes are on YouTube. You’ll find the first one here.

Nowadays, when I watch the series, I usually watch it at about the same time of night my mother used to watch it. And, ironically, I’m so familiar with the series I tend to doze off until the closing theme plays. Then I wake up and go to bed.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Punching THE Nazi On This Month’s Great Cover

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In March of 1941, Europe was embroiled in another great war. Many Americans, including many American legislators, wanted nothing to do with it. “Let Europe sort out its own problems.” Pres. Franklin Roosevelt, while maintaining America would remain officially neutral by law, if not at heart, found a way to aid our allies of the First World War. It was called Lend-Lease.

Lend-Lease allowed America to become, as Pres. Roosevelt put it, “the great arsenal of democracy.” The US would supply Great Britain, who at that point was virtually alone in standing against Germany, with tanks, ships, aircraft, weapons, clothing, and food. The tools necessary for Great Britain to sustain its fight against the Nazis and Adolf Hitler.

There were members of Congress who believed Lend-Lease gave the president too much power. The isolationists of America believed Roosevelt was trying to find a way to break our policy of neutrality and get our country involved in another bloody conflict over there. “Hadn’t we lost enough of our boys in getting Europe’s fanny out of the fire already?” That attitude may not have been shared by the majority of Americans, but it had a strong influence on America’s feelings toward another European war.

Timely Comics, however, took a bold stance. Lend-Lease may have put a big crack in the neutrality wall built around the United States, but the official American policy was to not get directly involved. And, yet, Timely made its non-neutral attitude known with one of the most legendary punches in comic book history.

The cover date is March, 1941, but issue number one of Captain America Comics hit the newsstands in December, 1940; three months prior to Lend-Lease becoming law and a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. American isolationists may have been outspoken, but Timely wanted their opinion to be known, as well. So, they created America’s super-soldier.

The cover was done by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, with Simon sketching out the idea and then inking Kirby’s fleshed out pencils, the two artists wanted the world to know that America needed to get involved. Captain America can be seen delivering a powerful smack right in Hitler’s kisser on the cover of this debut issue. Talk about boldly stating their opinion! Not doubt about where they stood. This Hitler guy was an evil force that needed to be stopped, no matter what the we-shouldn’t-get-involved crowd said. A crowd that included some Americans who actually supported the German dictator.

The issue sold very well at close to a million copies and received mostly positive feedback. However, there were some Americans who objected and threats were made to Timely and the book’s creators. Threats that warranted police protection for a time.

The art itself is good, albeit a bit crude. And it delivers its message, along with that punch, loud and clear. It is because of the bold statement being made by Simon, Kirby, publisher Martin Goodman, and Timely Comics that this is a great cover. In fact, it may be one of the greatest cover book covers ever made.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

You Know What’s A Really Good WW2 Tank Movie Starring Humphrey Bogart?

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Columbia Pictures

As far as I know, there is only one film that tells the story of a lone tank and a group of soldiers attempting to survive in the desert of Northern Africa starring the great Humphrey Bogart. It’s called Sahara and it was released in 1943, right in the middle of America’s active involvement in the Second World War. And, because it was released during the war, don’t be surprised when the film gets a little patriotically preachy.

Be warned! There will be slight spoilers ahead, but I’ll try not to give away anything major.

The story begins just after the Americans had gotten their butts kicked by Rommel’s Afrika Korps. We find a lone American tank with a crew of three, whose commander is Sgt. Joe Gunn (Humphrey Bogart). Their tank, named Lulu Belle, has enough fuel and water for a few days, but they’ll need to get to friendly territory soon. They are almost completely surrounded by the Germans and really don’t have much choice but to cross the desert as quickly as they can.

They soon encounter a group of British (and one French) soldiers, who, at first, think it better to stay put. Sgt. Gunn tells them they can do that if they like, but he let’s them know the Germans are on their way and their best chance of survival is to join up with his crew. They see the soundness of the American’s plan and throw in with him.

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Deciding who is in command.

Some early friction between the Allies arises when the men question just who is in command. You see, the Brits have an officer, Capt. Halliday (Richard Nugent) and they takes orders from him. But Gunn is the commander of the tank. Capt. Halliday settles the argument by assuring his men that he and the sergeant will consult with each other, but command of their mission to survive the desert will be given to the American. After all, the captain is a doctor, while Gunn is a combat-hardened tank commander… and the star of the film.

The party is soon joined by a Sudanese national and subject of the British Empire, Sgt. Maj. Tambul (Rex Ingram). Tambul has a prisoner, an Italian soldier played by J. Carrol Naish, whose performance may be a tad on the stereotypical side with the “whatsa matta you” dialog delivery. But it was 1943, so it’s more understandable. In fact, Naish received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this portrayal.

Now more mouths means less water. A hard decision has to be made. Tambul can stay, of course, but the Italian…

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“Please-ah, dona leave-ah me!”

Sgt. Gunn turns out to be a softie and the Italian, despite being an enemy, is allowed to join the group. I know, that’s a little spoiler.

Tambul knows the area and he knows where wells can be found. He cautions that, although he can get them to a well, he can’t guarantee there will be water. And it turns out the first well is dry, but there is another. They have no choice. They have to get to that well.

Along the way, they pick up a prisoner. A German. And this German is depicted as being a true believer of the Nazi cause. (I won’t say how he joins the group. I’ve already spoiled enough of this 75 year old movie.)

They find the well. There is water, but just barely. It’s a trickle from the rocks at the bottom of the otherwise dry well. Tambul takes the duty of collecting as much water as possible. However, the trickle soon stops.

The water helps revive the men, but now the well is dry and they have another problem: A German battalion will arrive soon. Gunn convinces the men to stay and fight. That’s one of the scenes that get a bit patriotically preachy, but it works. Gunn dispatches one of his men, Waco (Bruce Bennett), in a German half-track they acquired at the well to try to reach the Allies for reinforcements, while this small group of soldiers does its best to hold off the Germans.

When the Germans, who overwhelmingly outnumber the good guys, arrive under a flag of truce to negotiate the Allies’ surrender, Gunn refuses and bluffs them into thinking there’s plenty of water. He knows the Germans are desperately thirsty, so he tells them they’ll get water for guns. The Germans will either have to surrender or fight to get any water.

Oooooo, how does it end, eh? Well, I won’t spoil it for you.

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“When you’re shot, you’ll take it and like it!”

The film is well acted and well written. And the cinematography was nominated for an Academy Award. As a war film, I rank it pretty high. It’s well-paced with plenty of good action and suspense. And the characters are likeable, except for the Nazi prisoner. I find it thoroughly entertaining.

Before I sign off, I want to mention one scene that I found surprisingly progressive and tolerant, especially for 1943. Waco, a Texan, heads down into the well to give Tambul a break from the water collecting, but Tambul is content to stay. It’s probably much cooler being in the well than up top in the sun.

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Tambul

The two men strike up a conversation which leads to Tambul explaining the philosophy behind the Islamic tradition of having more than one wife. Tambul explains that the Prophet tells his followers that four wives make for a happy marriage. It’s a strange concept for Waco who is a non-Muslim; however, he learns that his and Tambul’s lives aren’t all that different.

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Waco

What I like about this exchange is that there is no hint of disgust or shock or indignation from Waco when learning about the tradition of multiple wives. The Texan is genuinely curious to learn about a culture different, not better, not worse, than his own. More people today should be like Waco.

I can’t recommend Sahara highly enough.

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Captain America Is Back! And On a Great Cover!

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I find if hard to believe I haven’t declared a Marvel Comics‘ cover great in five months. What’s wrong with me? I might be in danger of losing my MMMS membership. Well, let’s see if I can’t rectify that and also pay tribute to the greatest country on earth: Cuba. No! Um. I mean America. Right. That’s what I mean.

During World War II, superhero comic books were very popular. Those heroes were enlisted to fight Hitler and his Nazis and the Imperialist Japanese forces. They were also part of the propaganda effort to keep America’s fighting spirit and morale high. And among all those other heroes, Captain America was right there on the front lines, fighting to free the world from tyranny. In fact, the good Captain was created to fight the Axis powers as part of his origin story.

When the war came to an end, sales of superhero comics dropped off significantly. With the exception of DC Comics‘ superheroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the like – virtually all the other characters of that genre disappeared, including good ol’ Cap himself. Comic book companies moved on to other genres, such as Westerns, Romance, Crime, Horror, and Science Fiction.

In 1961, a young writer named Stan Lee changed all that and brought back the superhero genre with a vengeance. Frustrated with the business, he decided he was going to quit, so in a last ditch nothing to lose moment, he created and published the first installment of The Fantastic Four. The world of comic books was changed forever.

Next thing he knew, along with artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Stan Lee was creating a whole collection of unique and exciting superheroes. In 1963, it was time for another  superhero group, so Lee and Kirby brought together the newly minted characters Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, and the Hulk to form the supergroup The Avengers.

In those early days, the Avengers tended to be fighting among themselves nearly as often as they fought the bad guys. They needed a dynamic leader. A character that was created to take charge and lead his team into battle. Someone with the rank…say…of captain. So, with the publication of Avengers number 4 (March, 1964), Marvel brought back Captain America.

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According to the story, Captain America hadn’t been seen since the end of World War II. The world assumed he was dead. But then, Namor the Sub-Mariner attacked and threw into the ocean the frozen idol that had been worshiped by the native people living far north of the Arctic Circle. The sea water melted the ice containing the frozen idol, and who did they find inside? Why, it was Captain America! The Avengers rescued the captain and he joined the group.

Classic stuff!

But enough with the background story, let’s look at the cover.

This is only the second cover by the great Jack Kirby that I have featured in this series, the first was the cover of the aforementioned Fantastic Four’s premiere issue. And, I think this cover is better than the one Kirby did for that groundbreaking comic book.

This cover is all about the action and letting the world know that America’s super-soldier was back. And there he is right in front. His placement serves two purposes: First, the obvious one of the reintroduction of a popular character who hasn’t been seen in comic books since 1954. Second, the placement is an indication that the group has a new leader. True, he didn’t assume the mantle immediately, but it didn’t take long.

Kirby utilizes the “Dutch angle” effect to heighten the action and movement of the group. They are moving fast and ready to fight. You better watch out, bad guys! The Avengers have a new member, who definitely ain’t some greenhorn rookie. Oh, no! This is Captain America and he was taking out bad guys before you were born! Well, except for you, Baron Zemo and Red Skull. You were the bad guys he was fighting. But the other Avengers either weren’t born yet or they were in diapers! Except Thor of course…

Anyway, I digress.

Kirby’s anatomy drawing wasn’t great, but that was never his strength. His strength was drawing dynamic and exciting scenes. And this cover delivers.

Eyes front, world! Captain America is back!

Packing Peanuts!

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