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Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss

This is the third and latest short film that I’ve either written or co-written with Juan Carlos Hernandez for his production company, Popcorn Sky Productions. It’s a comedy about a politically-divided family in New York City during the Trump era.

As Denise Longrie says in her review:

This amusing and enjoyable short depicts the fireworks that erupt when the Ronderos’ son Jerry (Anthony James Hernandez) comes home from college for a visit. Mom Veronica (“Ronnie”), played by Adria K. Woomer-Hernandez, lays down the law to her husband Guillermo (Juan Carlos Hernandez): no talking, not even whispering, about politics.

Although Juan was gracious enough to give me the sole writing credit for Ronnie, the truth is that much of the finished film was based on on-the-spot rewrites by the cast and crew in New York. I was asked to go to the Big Apple to be on hand, but I couldn’t afford the cost of an airline ticket plus a long extended stay at a hotel. So even though I was consulted, Juan, Adria, and Anthony had to rework the story and script to make Ronnie work well as a comedy with some serious commentary about the divisiveness in Trump-era America.

The film is 22 minutes long, but it’s a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. I think it’s both hilarious and relevant.

If you have not watched it yet, here it is, in all its YouTube glory.

Old Gamers Never Die: From ‘Red Storm Rising’ to ‘Cold Waters’

Screenshot from a session of Cold Waters. Here we see a Sturgeon-class boat at periscope depth. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games.

Back in the 1990s, when I first bought my first MS-DOS-based personal computer, I used to play many military-themed simulations and strategy games. Most of them were designed and published by MicroProse Software of Hunt Valley, MD, which was founded by Sid Meier and William “Wild Bill” Stealey in 1982.

Although Sid Meier’s Civilization is perhaps MicroProse’s best-known game – it spawned a still-ongoing franchise that includes the latest entry in the series, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI – the company’s original focus was on military simulation games such as Hellcat Ace, Spitfire Ace, the F-15 Strike Eagle trilogy, the F-19/F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter duology, M-1 Tank Platoon,the World War II submarines Silent Service duology, and Gunship.

(C) 1988 MicroProse Software

One of my favorite MicroProse games was 1988’s Red Storm Rising, a game based on Tom Clancy’s eponymous novel about a conventional World War III in which the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact invade West Germany some time in the (then) near-future.

At its core, Clancy’s novel was a look at what a Third Battle of the Atlantic would be like in an era of missile-armed ships, planes, and subs, and how such a naval struggle would affect the battles on the ground and in the air in Central Europe and on Iceland.

Accordingly, MicroProse’s Red Storm Rising was a simulation of nuclear submarine warfare that allowed players to take command of an American boat – one could choose one from various classes, ranging from the Permit class that first entered service during the Kennedy Administration to the Seawolf class, which had not yet been introduced to the fleet when the game was published – and fight a campaign in the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic.

Screenshots from Red Storm Rising. Note the late-1980s graphics style and the “status bar” showing the war’s progress on Day Six of World War III. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software.

Although versions for specific PC types (such as IBM PCs, Commodore 64, and Amiga) were programmed by different personnel, the basic game was designed by Sid Meier, the company’s co-founder and the designer of Silent Service. As a result, Red Storm Rising gave players different options to play the game, including Training Scenarios to familiarize new “skippers” with their boats and how to play the game, and Single Battles that depicted different scenarios, such as a one-on-one duel with a Soviet sub, a sub attack on a Red Fleet aircraft carrier, or an interception of a Soviet amphibious group made up of transports, landing ships, and escorting warships.

The capstone of Red Storm Rising was the Campaign. Here, the player took command of a sub (the classes available varied depending on what year was chosen as the setting; one could choose 1984, 1988, 1992, or 1996) and played through Tom Clancy’s World War III from start to end.

Glub. Glub. Glub. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software

For obvious reasons, the game is only loosely based on the novel, but it allowed players to try to influence the outcome of the war by carrying out various missions in a nuclear attack sub. If the player’s sub completed a mission successfully and survived encounters with the enemy, the news reports and status maps would reflect the battles’ outcomes. Conversely, if the player failed to achieve several missions and lost too many boats in battle, then the war ended in a Warsaw Pact victory.

Red Storm Rising was one of my favorite games back in the day, so when I could no longer play it because its MS-DOS programming was no longer compatible with newer Windows-based operating systems, I was not happy.

Sure, the graphics were already looking a bit dated by the time I bought my first DOS-based PC (I owned an Apple IIe before that, and Red Storm Rising did not have a version published for it, which was a factor in my decision to go DOS), but it was still a great game and I missed playing it.

The closest game to Red Storm Rising that I played for a few years was Simon & Schuster Interactive/Virtus Corp./Clancy Interactive Entertainment’s Tom Clancy’s SSN. Published for Windows 1995 in 1996, SSN was more of an arcade-like game than a simulation and traded in Soviet Union adversaries for ones from the People’s Republic of China. To win, you played through a series of 15 linked missions in a “closed” script that centered on a Chinese takeover of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

I didn’t like SSN as much as I did Red Storm Rising, but I still enjoyed its use of simulated news reports and cool “seen from outside the sub” graphics. I played it for only about a year or so; when I upgraded my PC sometime in 1998 so I could have a computer with a DVD-ROM drive, I had to buy a computer with Windows 98, an operating system that was not compatible with SSN.

For the longest time, I did not have any modern counterpart to Red Storm Rising in my modest collection of computer games. I have Silent Service II back, thanks to Tommo’s Retroism brand, which owns the licenses to many of MicroProse’s classic games; I bought it last year from Steam, so at least I have a World War II sub sim that I was already familiar with.

Screenshot of the main title scene from Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Earlier this week, I received an email from Steam letting me know that several titles on my Wishlist were on sale. One, Fleet Defender: The F-14 Tomcat Simulation, was selling for $1.37 (ironic, because I purchased the GOLD edition in 1995 for $40 but could never get it to run, even though I had a PC with the required amount of RAM and the proper software). I bought it, even though the graphics are nowhere as good as any 21st Century flight sim’s.

Another title which was at a low price was Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3-D, a game for which I have the manual, so I bought it, too, just to have an arcade-like Star Wars game in my collection.

(C) 2017 Killerfish Games

The third game that was included in the sale was pricier ($19.99), but that’s because it’s a newer (2017) game. I had been keeping an eye on it for about a year or so, but I didn’t want to shell out $39.99 for a game that I’ll only play when I’m not writing. I am, after all, a writer first and a gamer second, and sub simulations do require some investment of time and commitment if you’re going to play them at all.

Here’s the sales pitch, from the Killerfish Games website, that drew me to Cold Waters:

After tracking a Soviet landing force bound for Iceland it is time to plan your attack. Do you silently close in to torpedo the landing ships and escape during the resulting chaos? Or strike with long-range missiles but risk counterattack from the enemy escorts? Have you detected them all, could another submarine be out there listening for you? Has the hunter become the hunted? Will you survive the Cold Waters?

Inspired by the 1988 classic “Red Storm Rising”, command a nuclear submarine in a desperate attempt to prevent “mutually assured destruction” when the Cold War gets hot and WWIII begins.

You will be tasked with intercepting convoys, amphibious landings, insertion missions and battling it out with enemy warships, submarines and aircraft. Thankfully, an arsenal of wire-guided torpedoes, anti-ship and cruise missiles and the occasional SEAL team are on board to keep the Iron Curtain at bay.

This is not a promotional cut scene or a main title shot. This is a periscope view screenshot that I captured while playing a training mission (Basic Torpedoes) in Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

So far I have only completed a couple of training missions, but I am impressed by what I’ve seen of Cold Waters so far. The graphics are stunning and realistic, and I like that it has voice actors that portray your unseen but ever-present command crew.

A screenshot taken at the end of Wire-Guided Torpedoes,where you see three hit-and-sunk Soviet fleet auxiliary vessels and a Mk.48 torpedo in the map display. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

It’s not as easy to learn as Red Storm Rising; the thing that I miss most about buying games that come in boxes and physical data storage is the manuals and Quick Reference Cards. Instead, the game has Training Missions with pop-up “cards” and prompts that help new players learn how to operate – and fight – their boats.

Dosvidanya, Rodina! (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

So far, I’ve completed three training missions (Basic Torpedoes, Wire-Guided Torpedoes, and Missiles), although I still have a long way to go before I feel comfortable to take on a Combat Mission. There are several other skills I need to master, such as Navigation, Target Motion Analysis, Sensors & Masts and Tactics & Damage.

Still, this looks like an exciting and fun sub simulation and a worthy heir to the classic Red Storm Rising.

Random Thoughts & Musings for July 2, 2020, or: Finding Bits of Bliss in Troubled Times

The box cover art of Fleet Defender: The F-14 Tomcat Simulation. (C) 1994 Microprose Software.

Well, here we are on July 2, 2020, a few short days before the Fourth of July weekend and the fifth – or is it sixth?- month of the global pandemic caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. And because we live in a troubled and extremely divisive period exacerbated by Donald Trump’s woeful Presidency, I find it difficult to feel in any way like celebrating my country’s 243rd birthday.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown, once and for all, the high price that all Americans, no matter what their beliefs – political, religious, or cultural – may be, are paying for the dark aftermath of the Vietnam/Watergate years. The conservative drift to the far right that began with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 (which itself was a reaction to the way that Richard Nixon was forced to resign as a result of the Watergate scandal) has led us to the brink of a precipice, Trump and his enablers in and out of Congress are taking the nation into a path that will lead to a right-wing dictatorship where freedom of the press is stifled, opposition voices will be shouted down by the so-called “deplorables” who seem intent in creating a Christian theocracy straight out of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and don’t care if Vladimir Putin’s favorite puppet installs a one-party regime that benefits only Russia and the misbegotten Trump family.

Consider, for instance, the fact that the wearing of masks and following “social distancing” measures that are intended to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus have become a politically divisive issue rather than being universally embraced in order to flatten the curve.

While millions of Americans conscientiously buy or make their own masks and wear them whenever they go out to buy groceries and run essential errands, there are those (mostly conservative and totally idiotic) individuals who flat-out refuse to take prophylactic measures to stem the spread of the dangerous and contagious virus-borne disease.

In my home state of Florida, we are seeing a surge of new cases of COVID-19, most of them caused by (a) Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ refusal to issue statewide “mandatory mask use” orders and “reopening” the state in the middle of what is only the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and (b) selfish, thoughtless, and reckless fools who will not wear masks or stop their pre-pandemic behaviors.

Many Floridians (mostly liberals like me) have criticized DeSantis, Trump, and Republicans in general for their mishandling of one of the worst public health crises in world history, but ordinary citizens who are only interested in themselves are contributing to the spikes in COVID-19 cases.

As I wrote in a comment on an NBC News story about the sudden (but not unexpected) upsurge in new coronavirus cases in Florida and elsewhere:

 We’re also in this because many – not all, but enough – Americans are acting like irresponsible children who think that the virus is not as dangerous as it is and put their own selfish desires ahead of the general welfare. It’s “Oh, I don’t care about other people’s health/safety. I want to get a haircut/see a movie/have drinks at a bar/go around without a face mask.” No,…the governors are NOT causing the worst economic crisis in the history of the planet. People besotted by the notion that “this is a free country and I’ll do as I please” are.

Does this look like COVID-19 is going away any time soon? (Screenshot of the Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 Dashboard)

But the pandemic will continue to have a negative effect on the United States so long as there are “COVID-19 Minimizers” who say idiotic things like “It’s no different then the flu- if your [sic] worried stay home, I’m going to continue living my life like the majority of people I know and see everyday.  I’m not living in fear. It’s a virus and viruses spread. We are going to continue living just like before. My dad is 70 and works everything, my mother is 68 retired and working part-time at dollar tree. Her part-time went from 3 days to 6 because there’s people who don’t want to work. My sisters, my kids, my nieces and nephews, ect. We are all out living our lives, and not stressing out. People should turn off their tv and love their neighbors, things would be much better then I’m sure. We don’t hide in the house or close the country for the flu so why now? I could understand at first because we didn’t have that much information but now we have the numbers and it’s a 98% per recovery rate and I’m sorry but I don’t feel the need to panic over that.”

Gaming Keeps Me Sane in an Insane World

MicroProse’s 1994 Fleet Defender: The F-14 Tomcat Simulation

So, yeah. in these weird and scary times, you have to find ways to stay sane and relatively content. Otherwise….

Although I prefer to be productive and write on a daily basis, I also like to relieve stress by playing computer games, especially those with aviation or military themes. (I do have a couple of Star Wars games, but I don’t play those as much.)

Today I saw that Steam had a sale for some games that I’d added to my Wishlist last year. I didn’t buy them then because one (Cold Waters) was still too “new” and – at $39.99 – too pricey for my taste, and the other one – Fleet Defender: The F-14 Tomcat Simulation – is a flight sim that might be a bit more complex than the ones I’m used to. (Well, that, and the fact that even though Tommo’s Retroism brand has made it compatible with Windows 10, the graphics are dated by today’s standards.) Well, the prices dropped just enough to justify the expense of using my credit card, so I ordered three games:

(C) 2017 Killerfish Games
  • 2017’s Cold Waters, Killerfish Games’ spiritual heir to MicroProse’s 1989 nuclear submarine warfare sim Red Storm Rising.
  • 1994’s Fleet Defender: The F-14 Tomcat Simulation
  • 1998’s Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3-D

As I’ve explained before, I can’t be online during the day unless the other people who live here don’t have to study or work remotely from home (which is why my weekday posts are usually published after 5 PM my time). So if I’m not in the mood to read books or listen to music on my Amazon Music app, I game. Not every day or even every week, but I do enjoy this pastime.

(C) 1994 MicroProse Software

Oddly enough, Fleet Defender is one of the last games I bought in the 1990s at the Babbage’s store in the Miami International Mall. It was also a game that I never got to play; the two times that I tried installing it into my compatible MS-DOS-based PCs, it never worked. I followed all of the instructions in the manual’s section on installation and system requirements, but it just never booted up.

I have not tried flying a mission yet because I need to read the manual. But at least I set up my pilot in the VF-14 squadron roster.

Maybe it was the memory of that frustration that kept me from buying it when it was priced at $6.99 – I originally paid $39.99 for the GOLD edition back in 1995 – but when I saw it was available for $1.97 I finally caved in and ordered it from Steam.

I used to have all my manuals to my MS-DOS and Windows-based games, but I threw most of them away after my last move. I thought I would not need them again; most of the installation disks were the 3.5 floppy diskettes, including the ones for Fleet Defender, and because I don’t have a PC with floppy drives, they just took up valuable shelfspace.

(Oddly enough, the one game that I kept the manual for is Rogue Squadron 3-D, which was a factor in my decision to get it. I also still have the CD-ROM for that game, which I received as a parting gift many years ago when my friend and former neighbor Geno left Miami for a new life in New York City.)

A screenshot from Rogue Squadron 3D.

I’m not going to play with those games today; I have to read the manuals to at least learn how to play them before I attempt to command a nuclear sub, fly an F-14 Tomcat, and tangle with Imperial TIE Fighters and probe droids with my fellow Rogue Squadron pilots. But I now have something else to distract me on those rare days when writing alone does not suffice to maintain my sanity.

Music Album Review: ‘Superman: The Movie – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack’

(C) 1978, 2000 Warner Bros. Records & Rhino Entertainment Company

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Hi, there, Constant Reader!

Well, here we are on the first day of July 2020, and in my corner of Florida all is tranquil at home on a hot early summer afternoon. Presently, the temperature outside is a sizzling 94˚F; with humidity at 56% and a westerly breeze of 11 mph, the heat index is 107˚F. That’s hot, so I’m glad that I don’t have to be traipsing out there on this partly sunny afternoon.

So, yeah. Right now I’m just chilling here at my desk and listening to the digital edition of Superman: The Movie – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack on my Amazon Music app, which I purchased late last year so I don’t have to play my Superman The Movie: 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition CDs too often.

(C) 2000 Warner Bros. Records and Rhino Entertainment Company

This album was released as a 2-CD set on February 15, 2000 by Warner Bros. Records and Rhino Entertainment under the Warner Archives label. Produced by the late Nick Redman and soundtrack restoration maven Michael Matessino, this incarnation of Superman: The Movie – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was the first commercial release of composer John Williams’ complete score for the 1978 feature film based on the iconic DC Comics character.

Digitally remastered in “RhinoPhonic Authentic Sound” and carefully restored for this album, Superman: The Movie: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack features John Williams’ complete score performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, rearranged to match the chronology of Richard Donner’s film.

Furthermore, producers Matessino and Redman include alternate versions of various cues, including the more familiar concert hall arrangement of Main Title March (Theme From “Superman”), an unused version of The Planet Krypton, and several different takes on Can You Read My Mind, including the track The Flying Sequence/Can You Read My Mind (the LSO/Margot Kidder vocal) as heard in the ’78 album and a 1970s-style instrumental/voiceover mix which was recorded but not used in the finished version of Superman: The Movie.

The reverse side of the album’s slipcover. (C) 2000 Warner Bros. Records & Rhino Entertainment Company.

Track List

Disc One

(C) 2000 Warner Bros. Records & Rhino Entertainment Company

No. Title      Length
1. “Prelude and Main Title March**” 5:30
2. “The Planet Krypton**” 6:40
3. “Destruction of Krypton**” 7:52
4. “Star Ship Escapes*” 2:21
5. “The Trip to Earth” 2:29
6. “Growing Up**” 2:35
7. “Death of Jonathan Kent*” 3:24
8. “Leaving Home” 4:52
9. “The Fortress of Solitude**” 9:18
10. “Welcome to Metropolis*” 2:12
11. “Lex Luthor’s Lair**” 4:48
12. “The Big Rescue*” 5:55
13. “Super Crime Fighter**” 3:20
14. “Super Rescues**” 2:14
15. “Luthor’s Luau (Source)*” 2:48
16. “The Planet Krypton (Alternate)**” 4:25
17. “Main Title March (Alternate)”

Disc Two
No. Title Length
1. “Superman March (Alternate)**” 3:49
2. “The March of the Villains” 3:36
3. “The Terrace*” 1:34
4. “The Flying Sequence” 8:14
5. “Lois and Clark*” 0:50
6. “Crime of the Century*” 3:24
7. “Sonic Greeting*” 2:22
8. “Misguided Missiles and Kryptonite*” 3:27
9. “Chasing Rockets**” 4:55
10. “Superfeats**” 4:53
11. “Super Dam and Finding Lois**” 5:11
12. “Turning Back the World” 2:07
13. “Finale and End Title March**” 5:42
14. “Love Theme from Superman” 5:06
15. “Can You Read My Mind (Alternate)*” 2:58
16. “The Flying Sequence / Can You Read My Mind” 8:10
17. “Can You Read My Mind (Alternate Instrumental)*” 2:57
18. “Theme from Superman (Concert Version)” 4:24
* Previously unreleased selection
** Contains previously unreleased material

Even though it seems inevitable that John Williams would compose the score to the first (and best) of the modern era’s Superman films, he wasn’t director Richard Donner’s first choice for the gig. Originally, Academy Award-winning composer Jerry Goldsmith was hired – he had worked with Donner in 1976’s The Omen.

However, Goldsmith ran into scheduling problems, so Alexander and Ilya Salkind approached Williams, who had just won his third Best Score Oscar for Star Wars to compose the music for their film. After reading the screenplay and noticing that the movie was full of tongue-in-cheek humor and comic book-style heroics, he agreed to serve as his friend Goldsmith’s replacement.

Because Superman was made in Shepperton Studios in London, Maestro Williams teamed up again with the London Symphony Orchestra, the same ensemble with which he had recorded the Star Wars score a year and a half earlier. Inspired by the then-40-year-old Superman character’s iconography and the need to give the film a score that matched the epic scale that the Salkinds and director Richard Donner were aiming for, Williams composed some of his best-known (and most popular!) film themes, including:

  • Prelude and Main Title March
  • The Planet Krypton
  • The Trip to Earth
  • Growing Up
  • Leaving Home
  • The Big Rescue
  • The Flying Sequence
  • The March of the Villains
  • Love Theme from “Superman”
  • Chasing Rockets
  • Finale and End Title March

For nearly 20 years, this was my favorite version of the Superman score as composed and conducted by Maestro Williams. Until I bought the 3-CD Superman The Movie: 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition set, I considered this to be the ultimate recording of one of my most listened to non-Star Wars film scores composed by the man that many consider the Dean of Modern Film Music.

And even though I do think that the 2019 Limited Edition 40th Anniversary album from La La Land Records is the best edition I own, the Warner Archives/Rhino Records album from 2000 is the one I listen to regularly, especially when I’m at my PC and can listen to it on my Amazon Music app without having to play my 20-year-old CDs or break out the newer La La Land Records set.

This version of Superman: The Movie – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is, incidentally, easier to buy and less expensive than the newer version, plus it’s still available on Amazon Music as a digital album. So if you are in the mood to hear the soaring and thrilling themes that made 1978 audiences believe a man could fly, check it out. Maybe you, like me, will say the music is super, man.

Home Media Comparison: ‘A Bridge Too Far’ DVD vs. Blu-ray

Theatrical release poster for A Bridge Too Far. (C) 1977 United Artists (now MGM/United Artists)

A Bridge Too Far on Home Media

A fan-made trailer for A Bridge Too Far.

When producer Joseph E. Levine’s $25 million adaptation of Cornelius Ryan’s non-fiction book A Bridge Too Far landed in theaters on June 15, 1977, home media as we know it today was in its infancy. Videocassette recorders existed, of course, but they were still mostly used by the television industry or by wealthy individuals. Prices of VCRs were beginning to drop, but even then most people did not own one. Thus, when A Bridge Too Far’s theatrical run ended in late July of 1977, the only way that the movie’s fans could hope to see it was on broadcast television – NBC aired it over two nights in 1979 – or on premium pay-TV channels such as HBO.

I don’t recall when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists (MGM-UA) finally released A Bridge Too Far on VHS videotape. I do remember I bought the two-tape set sometime in the early 1990s; it was one of the first home videos I owned that presented a theatrical release in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio (or close to it) instead of the horrid pan-and-scan “fullscreen” format that was the standard for analog television sets in the 1980s and early 1990s.  

MGM-UA Home Video’s VHS edition of A Bridge Too Far allowed me to relive the experience of going to the theater (twice!) to watch director Richard Attenborough’s nearly three-hour-long recreation of Operation Market-Garden, the star-crossed attempt by the Allies to outflank Nazi Germany’s Westwall defensive line by using paratroopers and elements of the British Second Army to seize a series of bridges – “with thunderclap surprise” – in German-occupied Holland and gain a bridgehead over the Lower Rhine River (Neder Rijn in Dutch).

Of course, the TV I had in my bedroom wasn’t large – if I recall correctly, it was a 17” portable color set which Mom gave me as a high school graduation present in June of 1983, but at least I could watch A Bridge Too Far at my leisure rather than wait for a cable channel such as Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to broadcast it. And for the most part, I was happy with it, even though it had several issues that bothered me.

The first problem was that when MGM-UA Home Video transferred the 176-minute film to videotape, the people responsible for the job deleted the “place identifier” tags superimposed on screen to help the viewer know where in the large Market-Garden battlefield the action took place. I remembered those superimposed titles from my previous three viewings of A Bridge Too Far, so even though I had the book and was quite familiar with the battle, I hated the deletion of those informative “objects.”

The other thing that bugged me to no end with the VHS set was this: During one of the film’s set-up “pointer scenes,” the German high command in the West is mulling over the Allies’ possible next moves in that theater. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (Wolfgang Preiss) turns to Army Group B commander Field Marshal Walther Model (Walter Kohut) and asks, “Who do you think is going to lead the attack? Montgomery? Or Patton?”  Model replies, “Patton. He is their best.” Von Rundstedt chuckles and says “I agree. I would prefer Montgomery, but even Eisenhower isn’t that stupid.”

I don’t remember in which of those lines the name Patton appeared as Patten. But it did, and it bothered me not only as a former copy editor but also as a World War II buff. (I mean, seriously. George S. Patton, Jr. is one of America’s most famous generals, and a large corporate entity such as MGM can’t spell the man’s name right? The mistake recurred in the 1998 DVD, but apparently not in the 2005 Collector’s Edition reissue.)

But, on the whole, that VHS set, which presented A Bridge Too Far in two tapes due to the storage limits of the magnetic tape format, served me well until my VCR gave up the ghost some time before I bought my first DVD player in February of 2000.

(C) 1998 MGM Home Entertainment

The 2005 “Collector’s Edition” DVD

In the 2000s, I replaced my collection of movies on VHS tape – around 125 in all – with DVD versions on 1:1 basis. As part of this project, I bought the 1998 DVD edition of A Bridge Too Far early on, even though it was one of those double-sided discs that present a movie in two formats: full screen and widescreen.

This first version of A Bridge Too Far was decent but not spectacular; it had better sound and video quality than the 1990s-era VHS tape did, but the only “extra feature” it offered was the 1977 theatrical trailer. In the packaging, MGM included a booklet with a few behind-the-scenes factoids and a photo still delineating the difference between widescreen and full screen. But other than that, it was a barebones release, with no audio commentary track or a “making-of” featurette, which are extras that I, as both screenwriter and reviewer, always appreciate.

It’s been a decade since I have seen that particular DVD; when I saw the 2005 2-DVD Collector’s Edition was available at Amazon, I ordered it right away and gave the older one to my older half-sister Victoria.  

The cover art for the 2005 Collector”s Edition 2-DVD set. (C) 2005 MGM and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Released on October 25, 2005, the Collector’s Edition of A Bridge Too Far is a two-disc set that comes in a slipcover/standard DVD case with new cover art and – yes – extra features not found in the 1998 DVD,

This version of A Bridge Too Far is an improvement over its 1998 precursor. The first disc not only presents the 1977 in its original “as seen in theaters” version, with the documentary-style “location” names superimposed where they originally appeared, but Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which partnered with the financially-troubled MGM, added several extra features not present in the ’98 DVD. These are:

  • Audio commentary with screenwriter William Goldman and key crew members
  • A feature-length trivia track

Disc Two contains the supplementary material that a movie like this deserves:

  • A Bridge Too Far: Heroes from the Sky, a documentary originally produced for the History channel
  • A Distant Battle: Memories of Operation Market-Garden, a 60th Anniversary featurette. One of the old veterans is William “Bill” Guarnere, whose story was part of the dramatization of Stephen E. Ambrose’s Band of Brothers
  • Richard Attenborough: A Filmmaker Remembers, another featurette about the making of A Bridge Too Far

Here are the A/V technical specs for the 2005 Collector’s Edition:

Video

  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • Encoding format: 16:9
  • Resolution: 480i (NTSC)
  • Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1

Audio

  • English: Dolby Digital 2.0
  • French: Dolby Digital Mono

Subtitles

English, French

Discs

  • DVD
  • Two-disc set (2 DVD)

Playback

  • Region 1

The 2008 Blu-ray

(C) 2008 MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

On June 3, 2008, MGM and its new distribution partner 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released A Bridge Too Far on the then-new high definition Blu-ray format. It is a one-disc set that presents the film in 1080p high definition, which gives viewers a sharper video image, more subtitle options (English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Korean), but not much else.

In the disc’s onscreen menu, there’s an “Extra Features” option, but the only extra is the promotional trailer for A Bridge Too Far.  That’s it. No making-of featurettes, no trivia track, no audio commentary.

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a “Trailers” option for three trailers, specifically the ones for Platoon, Flyboys, and Windtalkers.  

The Blu-ray’s smart menu has a loop of scenes from the film with bits of John Addison’s Theme from A Bridge Too Far as underscore. Other than that, nothing to write home about, to be honest.

Here are the specs for the 2008 single Blu-ray release of A Bridge Too Far:

Video

  • Codec: MPEG-2 (24.78 Mbps)
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect ratio: 2.34:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1

Audio

  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • English: Dolby Digital 4.0
  • French: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono

Subtitles

  • English, English SDH, Spanish, Cantonese, Korean

Discs

  • Blu-ray Disc
  • Single disc (1 BD-50)

Playback

  • Region A

My Take

I was surprised, to say the least, when I bought my Blu-ray copy of A Bridge Too Far several years ago and saw that – at least as far as supplementary material went, anyway – the 2005 Collector’s Edition DVD is superior to the 2008 Blu-ray release.

The official trailer to A Bridge Too Far

Certainly, A Bridge Too Far itself looks great in high definition, and its 5.1 DTS HD audio track clearly outclasses the DVD’s Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, so in that regard, the 2008 Blu-ray outshines its standard definition sibling,

But I can’t understand why MGM, which has been saddled with financial issues for years, couldn’t be bothered to port the extra features from the DVD onto the Blu-ray. Most of MGM’s competitors, including 20th Century Fox – before its sale to the Walt Disney Company in 2019 – and Paramount Pictures, either create new “extras” or port existing ones from one format to another.

Granted, A Bridge Too Far was never a huge hit in the United States. Most of its fans seem to be Cornelius Ryan fans or World War II buffs, but it’s not as well-known as The Longest Day, which is also based on a book by Ryan. It’s more popular in the United Kingdom, where the Battle of Arnhem is almost as legendary as the Alamo is to Texans. And for obvious reasons, A Bridge Too Far has many Dutch fans.

Still, just because A Bridge Too Far was not a big hit when it was released, it is still a good movie and deserved a better suite of extras for its Blu-ray version.

Movie Review: ‘A Bridge Too Far’

A still image from A Bridge Too Far, with (from left to right) Gene Hackman, Edward Fox, Dirk Bogarde, Ryan O’Neal, and Michael Caine. Photo Credit and (C) 1977: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

 

Lt. Gen. Horrocks: [briefing his XXX Corps officers on Operation Market Garden] Gentlemen, this is a story that you shall tell your grandchildren, and mightily bored they’ll be. [the officers laugh] The plan is called “Operation Market Garden”. “Market” is the airborne element, and “Garden”, the ground forces. That’s us. [points to a map behind him of Holland, showing the positions of the Allied forces, and the path the Corps will take] Now, this is our position on the Belgian border, here. Tomorrow, three airborne divisions will begin landing in Holland. 35,000 men taking off from 24 airfields in troop-carrying planes or towed in gliders. The American 101st, here, around Eindhoven, the American 82nd, here, south of Nijmegen, and our own 1st Airborne boys, and a Polish brigade, here, at Arnhem, 64 miles behind enemy lines. Now, their job is to take and hold all the bridges in these three areas. Our job is to punch a hole through the German front line, here, and then drive like hell up this road, linking up with each airborne division on the way. Speed is the vital factor. The plan is to reach Eindhoven in two to three hours, and Arnhem in two to three days. That, gentlemen, is the prize – the bridge over the Rhine, the last bridge between us and Germany. Kickoff will be at 1435 hours tomorrow afternoon. The Irish Guards under the command of Colonel Vandeleur, will take the lead.

A screenshot from the prologue of A Bridge Too Far. This is a U.S. M-3 Stuart light tank advancing through France in the summer of 1944.

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Directed by: Richard Attenborough

Written by: William Goldman, based on the book by Cornelius Ryan

Starring: Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Hardy Kruger, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O’Neal, Robert Redford, Maximillian Schell, Liv Ullmann

“I’ve always thought we tried to go a bridge too far….”

On June 15, 1977, United Artists released A Bridge Too Far, an epic recreation of 1944’s Operation Market-Garden, the ill-fated attempt by Allied forces to capture a bridgehead over the Lower Rhine River in Nazi-occupied Holland in a bid to end the war by Christmas of 1944. Based on Cornelius Ryan’s eponymous book (his last), A Bridge Too Far was adapted for the screen by  the Academy Award-winning writer William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride) and directed by actor-director Richard Attenborough (Gandhi, Chaplin).

Producer Joseph E. Levine purchased the film rights to Ryan’s book before its publication in the summer of 1974; the best-selling author was dying from cancer and agreed to let Levine and his brother Richard to adapt A Bridge Too Far as an unofficial sequel to 1962’s The Longest Day, which was also based on a Cornelius Ryan book. Levine, who was determined to have the film open close to the 33rd anniversary of D-Day, spent $25 million ($105,773,102 in today’s dollars) on the film, which featured an all-star international cast, on-location shoots in the Netherlands and in England, and the use of real military vehicles and aircraft, some of which were of authentic WWII vintage.

Mad Tuesday, or Dolle Dinstag as depicted in A Bridge Too Far.

Despite the formidable creative forces and good intentions behind A Bridge Too Far, the film earned mixed reviews from critics and indifference from moviegoers. The film opened just two years after the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War, and by the time of its release, American audiences were not interested in war epics, much less one that recreated a defeat for the Allies during the last months of World War II. It was a box office flop in the United States[1], earning only $50 million worldwide ($211,546,204.62).

“It’s all a question of bridges….”

A Bridge Too Far opens with a prologue that consists of a voiceover by actress Liv Ullmann, who plays Kate Ter Horst in the film, and documentary footage intended to set the stage for the main narrative. In a slickly edited montage created by Antony Gibbs, late 1970s-era audiences saw and heard this:

[Film opens with montage footage of a World War II-era bomber dropping ordinances. Suddenly, the footage freezes, and we hear a woman speaking]

Kate Ter Horst: It’s hard to remember now, but Europe was like this in 1944.

[The video resumes, showing footage of the fighting while the narrator continues on with the introduction]

Kate Ter Horst: The Second World War was in its fifth year and still going Hitler’s way.[2] German troops controlled most of Europe. D-Day changed all that.

[The archive footage cuts to the invasion of Normandy and the liberation of Paris]

Kate Ter Horst: D-Day, June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces, under their commander, General Eisenhower, landed on the northern coast of France. By July, they were able to begin their own offensive. By August, Paris was liberated. Everywhere the Germans retreated.

[We then see archive footage showing the Allied advance through northern France]

Kate Ter Horst: But with the Allied victories came problems. Supplies still had to be driven from Normandy, over 400 miles away and became dangerously short. The Allied advance began to come to a halt.

[The archive footage then goes to video of General Eisenhower, General Patton, and Field Marshal Montgomery]

Kate Ter Horst: Another problem facing Eisenhower was this. His two most famous generals – Patton, who was in the south, and Montgomery in the north – disliked each other intensely. Their long-standing rivalry had never been more fierce. There simply were not enough supplies for both armies. Each wanted to be the one to defeat the Germans. Each wanted to beat the other to Berlin.

[We now see footage of the planning stages of “Operation Market-Garden” as well as hear background music as the woman continues with the introduction]

Kate Ter Horst: In September 1944, Montgomery devised a new and spectacular plan code-named “Market-Garden”. Eisenhower, under great pressure from his superiors, finally sided with Montgomery, and “Operation Market-Garden” became a reality. The plan, like so many plans in so many wars before it, was meant to end the fighting by Christmas and bring the boys back home.

[We see the archive footage freeze, and watch it zoom in on General Eisenhower before fading to black]

 The film’s main narrative resumes after a main title sequence that features a list of the major cast members and a deceptively optimistic score by composer John Addison. In a montage of scenes reminiscent of Darryl F. Zanuck’s The Longest Day, we see vignettes of occupied Holland in the days shortly before Market-Garden’s D-Day (September 17, 1944), starting with the panicked exodus of German troops – some of them accompanied by their Dutch girlfriends and other collaborationists – on starting on Tuesday, September 4, a date known in the Netherlands as Dolle Dinsdag – Mad Tuesday – and the days leading up to the operation.

A Bridge Too Far’s first act switches back and forth between the England-based headquarters of  Lt. Gen. Frederick “Boy” Browning (Dirk Bogarde), Holland, and the German Army’s Western Front HQ in western Germany. As in The Longest Day, this expository section of the film serves to introduce some of the characters (most of them historical figures, although some are composite characters or, in the case of Brian Urquhart, a real person given a fictitious name – “Major Fuller” – to prevent confusion or simplify the story’s narrative) and summarize the grand strategies from both the Allied and German perspectives.

Even early on in A Bridge Too Far, Goldman and Attenborough foreshadow the film’s not-too-happy ending by giving viewers hints that all’s not as rosy as Field Marshal Montgomery – an off-screen character whose overconfidence is reflected by “Boy” Browning’s own – thinks.

In one of A Bridge Too Far’s several “pointer scenes,” Browning makes it seem as though Market-Garden’s success is inevitable. His tone throughout the “meeting of the generals” sequence is cocky and airily dismissive of any possible doubts from his subordinates.

Anthony Hopkins (right) plays Lt. Col. John Frost in A Bridge Too Far. Photo Credit: MGM/United Artists. (C) 1977 MGM-UA.

After he has given the various division commanders their assignments and explained that “it’s all a question of bridges” that have to be taken “with thunderclap surprise,” Browning is confronted by Polish Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski (Gene Hackman):

Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning: Only the weather can stop us now.

Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski: Weather! Christus! General Browning, what of the Germans? Don’t you think that if we know Arnhem is so critical to their safety that they might know it too?

Lt. General Frederick Browning: Now, look here. The few troops in the area are second class. They’re not frontline caliber, not at all, do you understand? I think you ought to have a little more faith in Montgomery’s intelligence reports, you know. He’s done pretty well for us in last three or four years.

Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski: I will tell you the extent of my faith. I am thinking of asking for a letter from you stating that I was forced to act under your orders in case my men are massacred.

Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning: I see… I do see. Do you wish such a letter?

Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski: No… No, of course not. In the case of massacre, what difference will it make?

C-47s in “invasion” paint scheme from 1944.

And although the young new commander of the American 82nd Airborne Division, Brig. Gen. James Gavin (Ryan O’Neal) is more confident than the worried Polish general, he, too, points out the complexities of Market-Garden:

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: Why the emergency meeting?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Just keeping me abreast of the little changes.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: How big are the little changes?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: I’ll answer with typical British understatement: gigantic. For example, they can’t get us all in at once. Too many men, too much equipment, not enough planes. It’s gonna take three days to get the men into Arnhem, Poles and the British.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: Well, what about us?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: We’ll be all right. Aside from the fact that we’re parachuting in daylight, we have nothing to worry about.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: Daylight? Has it ever been tried before?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Not in a major drop.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: You think there might be a reason for that?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Let’s hope not.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: What do you think?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: It’ll be all right. It’s a no-moon period anyway. We have to go in daylight. It doesn’t matter. Just so they get us over the target area. Half a mile away, three quarters of a mile, I’ll settle for that–

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: I don’t want to hear anything else. Is there anything else?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Well, you’re my Dutch adviser, Harry.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: I forgot to tell you something?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Only that the Germans first tried to take Nijmegen bridge themselves back in 1940 and got slaughtered.

There are other hints that the largest airborne operation ever mounted will run into unexpected problems, including a pointer scene – this time on the German side – showing the impromptu decision by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (Wolfgang Priess) to move a SS Panzer force – the II SS Panzer Corps[3] from the front lines to a “quiet sector” near Arnhem.

But grand strategy isn’t the focus of either Ryan’s book or Goldman’s screenplay; it’s the story of the rank-and-file junior officers and enlisted men that capture their attention. Thus, there are many scenes that showcase the soldiers at the “pointy end of the spear” of Market-Garden.

Early in the movie, we are introduced to Sgt. Eddie Dohun (James Caan)[4] and Capt. Glass,[5] Dohun’s young company commander, who tries to cope with his fear of dying by drinking too much whiskey on the eve of the operation:

Capt. Glass: My problem is, I’m not totally crazy about the prospect of dying.

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: So don’t die. Drinking that garbage isn’t gonna keep you alive, is it?

Capt. Glass: What is?

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: What is? Well, not gettin’ shot.

Capt. Glass: What can guarantee that?

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: Nothing, for sure.

Capt. Glass: You will.

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: I will what?

Capt. Glass: You tell me, Eddie. You tell me I won’t die.

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: Alright, you won’t die.

Capt. Glass: No, no. Guarantee me. I want you to guarantee me I won’t die.

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: [seriously] I guarantee you.

“Flatten Arnhem….”

The second act of A Bridge Too Far opens with a spectacular set-piece sequence that recreates the first “lift” of airborne and glider troops from England to their drop zones in German-occupied Holland. Here, viewers will see that producer Joseph E. Levine spared no expense to re-enact the massive airlift and parachute drops of Sunday, September 17, 1944.  Every available C-47 Skytrain/Dakota plane that could be wrangled was repainted in wartime U.S. Army Air Force or Royal Air Force colors, and several mockups of Horsa gliders – none had survived the war – were also built to portray the glider force.  

And even though editor Antony Gibbs and production designer had to use movie trickery to make it look as though there were thousands of planes in the airborne armada, the movie pulls off the illusion that the audience is witnessing Operation Market-Garden by using actual military parachutists in a mass jump and filming it with cameras mounted on a plane and by parachute cameraman John Partington-Smith.

In this portion of the film, we see Operation Market-Garden’s chances of success start to diminish, even though the Allies have the advantage of tactical surprise. Even Field Marshal Walther Model (Walter Kohut) is caught by surprise when paratroopers from the 1st British Airborne Division land three miles away from his Army Group B headquarters in Oosterbeek:

Generalfeldmarschall Model’s aide: Field Marshal, pardon me for interrupting, but … British paratroops have apparently landed … three kilometres from here.

Generalfeldmarschall Walther Model: Why should they do that? There is nothing valuable here. … Me! I am valuable here. They have all come just to capture me. [stands from his lunch and moves to the door] Get my driver and car.

Generalfeldmarschall Model’s aide: Yes, Herr Marshal!

Generalfeldmarschall Walther Model: Evacuate my headquarters!

Generalfeldmarschall Model’s aide: Yes, sir!

Generalfeldmarschall Walther Model: [pops back in and shouts] And don’t forget my cigars!

But as the day goes on, Model and the forces under his command find ways to stymie the Allied bid to capture the bridges in the target zone for Market-Garden. In the American sector, German engineers blow up the bridge over a canal near Son, while Jim Gavin’s 82nd Airborne fails to capture the Nijmegen bridge on the first day of the operation.

And at Arnhem, Major General Roy Urquhart (Sean Connery) is frustrated in his efforts to capture the bridge over the Lower Rhine by the loss of gliders with jeeps that were supposed to dash from the drop zones – which, at eight miles’ distance, were too far away from Arnhem – to the main bridge over the Neder Rijn, bad radios, and a shortage of troops with which to carry out his mission. Only one battalion led by Lt. Col. John Frost (Anthony Hopkins) reaches the northern end of the bridge, but fails to capture the heavily defended southern half:

Corp. Hancock: Sir

[Offers mug of tea]

Maj. Gen. Urquhart: Hancock. I’ve got lunatics laughing at me from the woods. My original plan has been scuppered now that the jeeps haven’t arrived. My communications are completely broken down. Do you really believe any of that can be helped by a cup of tea?

Corp. Hancock: Couldn’t hurt, sir.

[Urquhart accepts his mug of tea]

As in Ryan’s book, screenwriter Goldman and director Attenborough lay out a tragic scenario of American and British soldiers striving desperately to make Operation Market-Garden work against all odds. There are plenty of moments when it looks as the mission – which was planned and mounted in haste – might just work,  but it’s all an illusion.

For instance, after the Paras under Frost’s command repulse a German reconnaissance unit’s reckless attempt to retake the “British” end of Arnhem bridge – another brilliant set-piece scene shot by Geoffrey Unsworth, who would later be known for his work on Superman: The Movie –Obergruppenführer Bittrich (Maximillian Schell) brings in heavy panzers and SS troops to eradicate the stubborn “Red Devils” from their perimeter. But – perhaps knowing that Germany might win this battle but still lose the war – Bittrich tries to avoid a showdown by asking the British to surrender.

Maximillian Schell as Obergruppenführer Bittrich. Photo Credit: MGM. (C) 1977 MGM/United Artists.

[an SS officer is approaching under a white flag]

Maj. Harry Carlyle: Rather interesting development, sir. [to the German] That’s far enough! We can hear you from there!

SS Panzer Officer: My general says there is no point in continuing this fighting! He is willing to discuss a surrender!

[Short pause; the German waits for an answer, Frost thinks]

Lt. Col. John Frost: Tell him to go to hell.

Maj. Harry Carlyle: We haven’t the proper facilities to take you all prisoner! Sorry!

SS Panzer Officer: [confused] What?

Maj. Harry Carlyle: We’d like to, but we can’t accept your surrender! Was there anything else?

[German officer walks off silently]

Lt. Col. John Frost: Right.

[the officer returns to Obergruppenführer Bittrich – they converse in German]

SS Panzer Officer: They rejected our surrender offer. What are your orders, Herr General?

Obergruppenführer Bittrich: Flatten Arnhem.

My Take

Another poster promoting A Bridge Too Far. (C) 1977 MGM/United Artists

I saw A Bridge Too Far not long after it hit theaters in my hometown of Miami in June of 1977. I’d read parts of Cornelius Ryan’s book when they were featured in the “Book” section of Reader’s Digest in 1974, so I was eager to see a movie version. School was out for summer vacation, so I asked my mother to take me and a friend from my neighborhood, Patrick Blanchard, to see it.

(C) 1974 Simon & Schuster.

Mom did not want to watch A Bridge Too Far – she had other plans that day[6] and wasn’t in the mood to  see a nearly three-hour war movie – but she drove Patrick and me to the Dadeland Twin Theatres, which was the closest venue to our house in Westchester.  

I was expecting long lines to get in to see A Bridge Too Far, but to my surprise, there weren’t. There was a huge one for the other movie being shown in the other screening room, a space fantasy film called Star Wars. I’d watched the TV promo for it the night before and, frankly, I wasn’t impressed. My friend Patrick had probably heard of it and might have mentioned it to me on the car ride to the theater, but he also wanted to see A Bridge Too Far, so he never said anything like “Hey, forget A Bridge Too Far, let’s go see Star Wars instead!” [7]

As a World War II buff from an early age and a fan of The Longest Day, I was impressed by A Bridge Too Far. Oddly for me, I remember feeling extremely sad when Patrick and I exited the screening room after the end credits had finished rolling on the movie screen. First, I’d forgotten how the book ended – I’d only read the excerpts from Ryan’s best-seller in Reader’s Digest three years earlier and, as a kid, had a lot of other stuff on my mind, including the end of the relationship with my first girlfriend, school-related activities (including singing in our elementary school’s first choir), and my grandfather’s recent death. Second, I had not yet read the complete book.

Blu-ray artwork for the 2008 BD release. (C) 2008 MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The most impressive scenes in the film, both then and now, are the ones that depict the airborne jump on September 17, 1944, the building of the Bailey bridge over the Son canal 36 hours later, and the daring attempt by Major Julian Cook (Robert Redford) and two companies of paratroopers to cross the Waal River on collapsible canvas sided boats to capture the Nijmegen Bridge from both ends,

Brig. Gen. Gavin: What’s the best way to take a bridge?

Maj. Julian Cook: Both ends at once.

Brig. Gen. Gavin: I’m sending two companies across the river by boat. I need a man with very special qualities to lead.

Maj. Julian Cook: Go on, sir.

Brig. Gen. Gavin: He’s got to be tough enough to do it and he’s got to be experienced enough to do it. Plus one more thing. He’s got to be dumb enough to do it… Start getting ready.

U.S. captain: What was all that about, Major?

Maj. Julian Cook: Well, someone’s come up with a real nightmare. Real nightmare.

 I was also impressed by how accurate everything looked in the film, even though now I know that the realism is more illusory than I was aware as a young boy in 1977. Much of the equipment shown in A Bridge Too Far Is really vintage stuff from World War II or reasonably well-done mock-ups; some of the M-4 Shermans seen on screen are actually fiberglass shells placed atop smaller vehicles to augment the small numbers of real tanks in the film.  However, the parachutes and jump boots used by the paratroopers in the film were from the 1960s, as there were only a few usable 1944 vintage chutes and no WWII jump boots were available for the filmmakers to use or replicate.

On the whole, William Goldman did a decent job of adapting Cornelius Ryan’s non-fiction book to the screen. Some contemporary reviewers hated A Bridge Too Far for being too repetitive or being an expensive movie with strong visuals but too long, boring, and non-epic, but I think much of that is just a sign of the post-Vietnam War cynicism that permeated the culture in 1977. It’s not, like The Longest Day, a war film about a victory. Goldman is on record[8]as saying, “This was our chance to say, ‘War sucks.’”

I am a big fan of movie scores, and John Addison’s music for A Bridge Too Far is definitely among my Top 10 Favorite Scores Not Composed by John Williams. That was one of the elements that grabbed me the most the two times that I saw it in theaters, and when I saw a CD edition of it at a Camelot Music store in the Miami International Mall back in September 1999, I bought it. Its classic Overture (aka “A Bridge Too Far March”) is a brilliant composition in that it’s a jaunty march that represents the optimism felt by the Allies – at every level of command – shortly before Operation Market-Garden. Its almost triumphal tones provide a tragically ironic undertone to the film’s beginning.

Of course, as the film progresses, Addison’s score grows more ominous and somber. His Arnhem theme – which recurs in different sequences in various shadings and variations – underscores the courage and the suffering of the Dutch civilians caught in the crossfire of Market-Garden. Another cue, March of the Paratroopers, is presented in a jaunty, almost comical style as the 101st Airborne paratroopers led by Col. Bobby Stout[9] rush to the Son canal bridge – then gets more tense as the Germans blow that span up right in front of their faces.

Is A Bridge Too Far a perfect World War II movie? No, it has unavoidable anachronisms that show up on screen despite the filmmakers’ best efforts to avoid them. In a few shots, you can see 1970s era cars in the background, and the German tanks – all of which were 1970s era Leopard tanks altered visually to resemble their WWII-era Panther ancestors – are painted gray and have the wrong markings on hulls and turrets. Some of the actors who portray officers either wear their insignia incorrectly or – like actor Robert Redford – wear their hair longer than 1944 Army regulations would have allowed.

And, as in most movies that are complex and involve so many people but have to be made by a certain deadline, there are quite a few continuity and geographical errors. For instance, the Son Canal is depicted as being wide and in open countryside, whilst the real one is near Son, has buildings on both sides, and is relatively narrow. In another scene, you can see the pyrotechnic device on a German antitank gun on screen before it “fires.”

Still, Joseph E. Levine’s heart and $25 million were in the right place, even if 1977 America was not ready for his movie about one of the great military blunders of World War II. The script is nicely balanced between moments of gallantry and stupidity, humor and tragedy, and, as the old promo for ABC’s Wide World of Sports famously said, “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.

Attenborough, who served in World War II with the British armed forces, chose his international cast well. A Bridge Too Far is full of 1970s-era A-list actors from different countries, including Britain’s Dirk Bogarde (a veteran of Market-Garden in real life), Denholm Elliott,  Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, Lawrence Olivier, and Edward Fox.

Hollywood stars who had noticeable roles include Robert Redford, James Caan, Elliott Gould, Ryan O’Neal,  Gene Hackman (who unfortunately hammed it up as a Polish general). Nicholas Campbell, and future Cheers co-star John Ratzenberger.

[Stout and Vanderleur are discussing how to get the Bailey bridge through town]

Lt. Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur: When you refer to Bailey crap I take it you mean that glorious, precision-made, British-built bridge which is the envy of the civilized world?

[looks at the crowd of Dutch civilians]

Lt. Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur: I don’t know how you’re going to get it through this crowd.

Col. Robert Stout: No sweat. I got a back way staked out that will avoid all this. American ingenuity.

Lt. Colonel. J.O.E. Vanderleur: Really?

Col. Robert Stout: Actually, I was born in Yugoslavia, but what the hell.

(C) 1977 MGM-United Artists

Dutch, German, and Scandinavian actors in A Bridge Too Far include Siem Vroom, Marlies van Alcmaer, Eric van’t Wout, Josephine Peeper, Wolfgang Preiss[10], Hardy Kruger, Maximillian Schell, and Liv Ullmann (a favorite muse of director Ingmar Bergman).  As an ensemble movie,  the performances are similar to those in The Longest Day in that not one actor carries the entire story. The actors all have their small vignettes, most of them based on events in Ryan’s book, although Goldman clearly invented a few scenes for dramatic effect or to add a bit of humor here and there. The performances are good, though, and the European cast members add authenticity to the film by speaking in German and Dutch (with English subtitles), thus giving A Bridge Too Far a semi-documentary feel.

At nearly three hours in length, A Bridge Too Far is longer than the average feature film. However, it is tightly written, well-paced, and is riveting enough so that it doesn’t drag or seem boring. Attenborough has good directorial instincts and as an actor himself, he had a good rapport with the cast. (The only exception, sadly, was with Dirk Bogarde, whose overconfident and even arrogant portrayal of Market-Garden’s overall commander was criticized by friends and relatives of the real “Boy” Browning. The flak Bogarde received from those critics caused a rift between Attenborough and himself.)  It’s a movie worth watching, even though it is about a battle that could not be won.


[1] Unsurprisingly, A Bridge Too Far was more successful in Great Britain and the Netherlands, the nations that are more attuned to the history of Operation Market-Garden. It did well enough in British and Dutch theaters that Joseph E. Levine Productions earned its original $25 million investment back.

[2] Actually, William Goldman gets his history wrong here. By 1944, the war was not going “Hitler’s way.” The German Navy had lost the Battle of the Atlantic, the Axis had been driven out of North Africa, and although the Mediterranean was by then a sideshow, Allied armies had invaded Italy and knocked her out of the war. On the Eastern front, Hitler had lost several important battles – Moscow, Stalingrad, and Kursk – and his armies were  decimated by the Red Army. And in the air, the Third Reich was being bombed “around the clock,” with American bombers striking targets in German-occupied territory by day, and British bombers by night.

[3] The II SS Panzer Corps is misidentified onscreen as the II SS Panzer Division. The corps actually consisted of elements of two SS Panzer divisions – the 9 SS Panzer and the 10th SS Panzer. Though badly mauled in Normandy and nowhere near their full strength, these two German armored units were at the right place at the right time to intervene in Operation Market-Garden.

[4] In real life, Caan’s character was named Charles Dohun.

[5] Real name: Captain LeGrand “Legs” Johnson

[6] I don’t recall exactly what my mother’s plans were, but just by the date alone I can safely speculate that it was an errand regarding the upcoming sale of our Westchester house. My grandmother, who we all called Tata, was in Miami at the time in an attempt to cope with the grief over my grandfather’s recent death. It was Tata who had convinced Mom to go look at a new condominium community called East Wind Lake Village, which was under construction as a part of the larger Fontainebleau Park development. I’d been told only a few days before going to see A Bridge Too Far that we might move to a new house before school started; I was hoping that it wasn’t true, as I liked the house in Westchester and my neighborhood and had no desire to move.  

[7] And if he did say that I don’t remember.

[8] In the “making of” featurette and in the audio commentary of the 2004 Collector’s Editon DVD set from MGM-UA Home Entertainment.

[9] Yet another fictitious character, Bobby Stout is clearly based on Robert F. Sink, the commanding officer of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Interestingly, Sink was portrayed under his real name by actor Dale Dye in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.

[10] Wolfgang Preiss and Sean Connery also had parts in The Longest Day; in that film, Preiss played Maj. Gen. Max Pemsel, the German Seventh Army’s chief of staff, while Connery played the too-comical Irish soldier Private Flanagan.

Book Review: ‘The Last Battle’

(C) 1966 Simon & Schuster

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

All art, no matter what the medium might be, is a product of the times in which it is created. A 1950s-era novel like Elliott Arnold’s Flight from Ashiya, for instance, will resonate with readers or movie buffs who remember director Michael Anderson’s 1964 adaptation, but it will still reflect the concerns and issues of the late Fifties.

Likewise, a film such as Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) or Andrew Davis’ The Package (1989) will be easily identified as artifacts from the late stages of the Cold War, not just because they were made in the last years of the late and unlamented Soviet Union’s existence, but also because they addressed the angst and paranoia that many Americans and Russians felt shortly before and after the Berlin Wall came down in November of 1989.

Military histories, especially popular ones such as those written by non-academic (or, if you prefer, amateur) historians like John Toland and Cornelius Ryan, are not exempt from this rule, and I can think of no better example of that than 1966’s The Last Battle, Ryan’s narrative account of the Battle of Berlin.

Published seven years after Ryan’s phenomenal bestseller The Longest Day: June 6, 1944, the second book in what many Ryan fans call the “World War II Trilogy” tells the story of how the war in Europe came to a climactic conclusion in early 1945 with the siege and capture of the Third Reich’s capital by the Soviet army. Told from the perspectives of the American, British, German, and Russian participants – both military and civilian, The Last Battle not only chronicles the downfall of Nazi Germany and the deaths of Adolf Hitler and other top Nazis, but it also delves into the genesis of the then-ongoing Cold War and the growing tensions between the Anglo-American Allies and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s Russia over the postwar fate of Berlin and Eastern Europe.

Author Cornelius Ryan was already working on The Last Battle when he posed for this photo at Pointe du Hoc, France, on June 5, 1964. (Paul Slade; courtesy Paris Match via Getty Images)


Using the same techniques he employed in The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far, Ryan interweaves personal accounts from military and civilian participants from both the Axis and the Allied camps with a sprawling yet fascinating “big picture” account of the last battle in the European Theater of Operations. In The Last Battle, Ryan vividly describes the dramatic advances of the Anglo-American forces across Germany after the stunning capture of the bridge at Remagen in early March, the daily lives of ordinary Berliners, and the surreal atmosphere inside Hitler’s underground bunker,-where the 56-year-old Nazi dictator issues orders for the “scorched earth” policy of denying any factory, power station, water plant, or food warehouse to either the Western Allies or the hated “subhuman” Soviets…thereby condemning the German people to death. As Ryan writes in the Foreword, “…it is not a military report. Rather, it is the story of ordinary people, both soldiers and civilians, who were caught up in the despair, frustration, terror and rape of the defeat and the victory.” 

The 1975 New American Library paperback edition.

The book is divided into five parts:

  • The City
  • The General
  • The Objective
  • The Decision
  • The Battle

And as in his previous works, Ryan includes a “Where Are They Now?” section that lists the many individuals who were interviewed or sent in filled out questionnaires to Ryan or the various Reader’s Digest bureaus that assisted the author during the research and pre-publication phase of the making of The Last Battle.

Ryan had been a young war correspondent for London’s Daily Telegraph during the battles for Northwest Europe before transferring to the Pacific to cover the last months of the war and the surrender of Japan there, and although he was not an “academic” historian, he was a meticulous researcher and a keen observer of cotidian details that make his histories so compelling to the general reader.

This, for instance, is how he opens The Last Battle:

In the northern latitudes the dawn comes early. Even as the bombers were turning away from the city, the first rays of light were coming up in the east. In the stillness of the morning, great pillars of black smoke towered over the districts of Pankow, Weissensee and Lichtenberg. On the low clouds it was difficult to separate the soft glow of daylight from the reflections of the fires that blazed in bomb-battered Berlin.

As the smoke drifted slowly across the ruins, Germany’s most bombed city stood out in stark, macabre splendor. It was blackened by soot, pockmarked by thousands of craters and laced by the twisted girders of ruined buildings. Whole blocks of apartment houses were gone, and in the very heart of the capital entire neighborhoods had vanished. In these wastelands what had once been broad roads and streets were now pitted trails that snaked through mountains of rubble. Everywhere, covering acre after acre, gutted, windowless, roofless buildings gaped up at the sky.

In the aftermath of the raid, a fine residue of soot and ash rained down, powdering the wreckage, and in the great canyons of smashed brick and tortured steel nothing moved but the eddying dust. It swirled along the broad expanse of the Unter den Linden, the famous trees bare now, the leaf buds seared on the branches. Few of the banks, libraries and elegant shops lining the renowned boulevard were undamaged. But at the western end of the avenue, Berlin’s most famous landmark, the eight-story-high Brandenburg Gate, though gashed and chipped, still straddled the via triumphalis on its twelve massive Doric columns.

On the nearby Wilhelmstrasse, lined by government buildings and former palaces, shards of glass from thousands of windows glittered in the debris. At No. 73, the beautiful little palace that had been the official residence of German presidents in the days before the Third Reich had been gutted by a raging fire. Once it had been described as a miniature Versailles; now sea nymphs from the ornate fountain in the forecourt lay shattered against the colonnaded front entrance, and along the roof line, chipped and gouged by flying fragments, the twin statues of Rhine maidens leaned headless over the littered courtyard.

A block away, No. 77 was scarred but intact. Piles of rubble lay all around the three-story, L-shaped building. Its yellowish-brown exterior was scabrous, and the garish golden eagles above each entrance, garlanded swastikas in their claws, were pitted and deeply scored. Jutting out above was the imposing balcony from which the world had been harangued with many a frenzied speech. The Reichskanzlei, Chancellery of Adolf Hitler, still remained.

At the top of the battered Kurfürstendamm, Berlin’s Fifth Avenue, bulked the deformed skeleton of the once fashionable Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church. The hands on the charred clock face were stopped at exactly 7:30; they had been that way since 1943 when bombs wiped out one thousand acres of the city on a single November evening.

One hundred yards away was the jungle of wreckage that had been the internationally famed Berlin Zoo. The aquarium was completely destroyed. The reptile, hippopotamus, kangaroo, tiger and elephant houses, along with scores of other buildings, were severely damaged. The surrounding Tiergarten, the renowned 630-acre park, was a no man’s land of room-sized craters, rubble-filled lakes and partly demolished embassy buildings. Once the park had been a natural forest of luxuriant trees. Now most of them were burned and ugly stumps.

In the northeast corner of the Tiergarten stood Berlin’s most spectacular ruin, destroyed not by Allied bombs but by German politics. The huge Reichstag, seat of parliament, had been deliberately set ablaze by the Nazis in 1933 — and the fire had been blamed on the Communists, thus providing Hitler with an excuse to seize full dictatorial power. On the crumbling portico above its six-columned entrance, overlooking the sea of wreckage that almost engulfed the building, were the chiseled, blackened words, “Dem Deutschen Volke” — To the German People.

The 1995 Touchstone edition uses the same photograph on the front cover as the 1966 hardcover edition.

My Take

For the most part, the follow-up to The Longest Day is a fine example of good research, a reporter’s dogged determination to get access to sources no previous author could acquire easily, and an almost novelistic approach to narrating a complex series of events that still resonated – often painfully – not just with the author but with the readers of the 1960s.

The Last Battle, unfortunately, is also a good example of what happens when an author, either consciously or not, writes a book about an event – in this case, the Battle of Berlin – with judgment clouded not just by one’s emotions but also by the political currents at the time in which the book is being created.

According to the notes by Rick Atkinson in the Library of America’s edition of The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, Cornelius Ryan began working on The Last Battle in 1961, the same year that the Berlin Wall was erected by the Soviet-backed East German Communist regime. Like President John F. Kennedy, who was a fan of The Longest Day, Ryan was an Irish-American Catholic (he moved to the United States in 1947 and became a citizen) who was deeply troubled about the sad fate of the divided city.

In a classic case of an author wearing his heart on his sleeve, Ryan telegraphs his intentions in the book’ dedication:

THIS BOOK IS FOR THE MEMORY OF A BOY WHO WAS BORN IN BERLIN DURING THE LAST MONTHS OF THE WAR. HIS NAME WAS PETER FECHTER. IN 1962 HE WAS MACHINE-GUNNED BY HIS OWN PEOPLE AND LEFT TO BLEED TO DEATH BY THE SIDE OF THE MOST TRAGIC MEMORIAL TO THE ALLIED VICTORY – THE BERLIN WALL.

Peter Fechter, the young East German bricklayer shot by East German border guards on August 17, 1962 near Checkpoint Charlie. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The Last Battle is, on the surface, a journalistic narrative based on a combination of sources, including official histories, memoirs, and hundreds of personal interviews of civilian and military participants. It covers roughly the last two months of the Battle of Germany, starting some time after the Western Allies cross the Rhine River (March 1945) and advance toward the Elbe River, the geographic feature that the four Allied powers – France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States – chose as the dividing line between East and West in negotiations that took place in 1944.

And for the most part, much of the story, including the then-surprising reveal that the Germans’ discovery of the Allied decision to divide Germany into three (later four) zones of occupation actually hardened Nazi resistance and might have prolonged the war, rings true. Ryan accurately reconstructs the scenes and moods in the warring camps as the Anglo-American armies advance toward the demarcation line at the Elbe, whilst the Soviet juggernaut pushes relentlessly across western Poland and East Prussia to the Oder River, the last major natural barrier between the Red Army and Berlin.

Clearly, Ryan does not radically change any of the accounts of Hitler’s final days or the vivid details of the battle for the city itself. The Soviets – who had uncharacteristically given the author unprecedented access to Russian archives and even allowed him to interview almost every surviving Soviet general officer who led forces during “the last battle” (except for Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who was out of favor with the Communist regime at the time) – were not happy with the book due to its documentation of rapes and murders of German civilians during the final days of the Reich.

That having been said, Ryan’s trustworthiness as a dispassionate observer goes out the window in the sections “The Objective” and “The Decision.” In those portions of The Last Battle, the author – bolstered by statements from Gen. William H. Simpson, the commander of the U.S. Ninth Army, in which he claimed that his troops could have done it – states that the Western Allies should have captured Berlin before the Red Army.

Ryan lays a foundation for this notion – which has been debunked by historians such as Stephen E. Ambrose and Antony Beevor – by devoting a lot of space to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s insistence that the U.S. should occupy the northern part of Germany as well as Berlin at war’s end. Ryan cannily explains why this was not logistically possible, as it would have required a change in the embarkation ports used by U.S. forces in the British Isles, as well as a shift in the invasion beaches so that the Americans would land on the “left” or easternmost flank (on a north-to-south axis) and the Anglo-Canadian forces on the “right” or western side.

However, the way that Ryan tells the story of why the U.S. was assigned to occupy the south of Germany (albeit with control of two northern German ports, including Bremen), the reader gets a feeling that Ryan is saying, subconsciously, “Gee, FDR should have stood firm on his idea of including Berlin in the U.S. zone.”

That’s bad enough, but it’s understandable if you keep in mind that The Last Battle was written at a time when the status of Berlin was a source of geopolitical and military tension between the Soviet Union and the Western Alliance.

What diminishes Ryan’s authorial credibility in The Last Battle – and Pulitzer-winning historian Rick Atkinson pointed it out when he edited the Library of America hardcover edition of Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far – is the assertion that the Soviet leadership, in the person of Josef Stalin, tricked a politically naive Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower into not sending American and British forces to capture Berlin before the Red Army got there.

I’m not going to delve too much into that subject here; this is a book review and not a dissertation on the genesis of the Cold War. Suffice it to say, however, that Ryan’s thesis, while popular with large segments of the British and American audience who were strongly anti-Communist, is poppycock.

First, General Eisenhower was not chosen as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force (AEF) for his skills as a battlefield commander. Ike, unlike his former boss Gen. Douglas MacArthur, had never seen combat. As a young officer, he had commanded small units in the infantry branch, but by and large his duties as a field grade officer were in operations and planning. As such, Ike was a skilled organizer and a man who knew how to motivate others in such a way that they wanted to please him. Eisenhower, in short, was perfect for the job of theater command not because he was a hell-for-leather battle captain like his friend and subordinate George S. Patton, Jr., but because he was a politically adept general.

Second, considering how successful Eisenhower’s two terms in the White House as the 34th President of the United States were, to accuse him of being politically inept as a five-star general in 1945 is not only false, but also insulting. (Eisenhower, by the way, was not thrilled with The Last Battle, calling Ryan’s version of his decision to abide by the inter-Allied agreement to stop at the Elbe “stupid.”)

Ryan also seems to dismiss the possibility that an Anglo-American dash for Berlin at the last minute would have been catastrophic. Yes, the Allies would have prevailed against the Nazi capital’s defenders, but at what cost? The Soviets suffered heavy casualties during the 16-day battle for Berlin, including 81,000 dead, 280,000 injured or incapacitated by illness, and close to 2,000 tanks and self-propelled guns.

I can’t imagine that many GIs wanted to fight their way in to Hitler’s capital city against die-hard SS and Wehrmacht troops fighting tooth and nail for their Fuehrer as long as he lived and urged them to keep fighting to the last man. Eisenhower certainly didn’t think Berlin was worth the price in Allied blood, especially if the Americans and British would have to “let the other fellow” take it over in accordance to arrangements made many months before any Allied soldiers had entered Germany.

On top of that, the Red Army would not have stood idly by and watched their Allies-of-convenience traipse into its allocated zone of occupation, which had been designated as far back as the fall of 1944, without objection. The Soviets would have fired warning volleys at the approaching American and British columns, and if that did not deter the encroaching Westerners, then there would have been armed clashes between East and West, much to Hitler’s delight.

The Last Battle is still worth a read, though. Just understand that, in this book at least, Cornelius Ryan allowed his emotions and the politics of the early to mid-1960s to cloud his judgment.

Life in the Time of COVID-19: Rugged Individualism or Self-Centeredness? or: Why America Can’t Flatten the Curve

Screenshot of Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 Dashboard.

So what’s next? Ban wearing the color of blue? Or black or red? No more stripes? Plaid only Tuesdays? Why do we have politicians that do not understand what the constitution is. Some sheep are all for this. Give me a ticket and I am suing for violations of my constitutional rights. – Jennifer W., conservative

Well, here we are at the beginning of our COVID-19 summer, and even after nearly four months of partial or even total lockdowns throughout the nation, the United States of America is still the No. 1 country for coronavirus infections and deaths in the world.

As of 1:33:54 PM Eastern Daylight Time, this is where we are:

  • 9,679,764 confirmed cases throughout the world
  • 491,095 confirmed deaths throughout the world
  • 2,444,483 confirmed cases in the U.S.
  • 124,732 confirmed deaths in the U.S.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Now, you’d figure that the “greatest nation in the world” would have figured out a way to combat the novel COVID-19 virus with the same “can-do” spirit that helped previous generations cope with a Great Depression, fight a global war against two formidable militaristic regimes, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan (and a not so formidable one in Italy), put astronauts on the Moon not once but seven times, and “won” a Cold War against the repressive and morally bankrupt Soviet Union.

But no. America is saddled with the burden of an Administration that seems intent in tearing down the nation in every way possible, including the steady dismantling of existing international mechanisms (the relationship with our NATO alliances being one) that have, for the most part, kept a third world war at bay since 1945.

President Donald J. Trump’s response to the pandemic has been disastrously inept. Yes, he did ban travel from the People’s Republic of China on January 31, but, as Vox chronicles it in a timeline it published on June 8:

January 31: Trump suspends entry to the US for many — but not all — categories of people traveling from China, a move which some epidemiologists warned at the time was “more of an emotional or political reaction” than a public health decision. The Department of Health and Human Services declares the coronavirus a public health emergency.

Since then, Trump has wobbled from position to position, first claiming that it would only affect a few people and that it would go away, then coming up with the twisted notion that the pandemic was a hoax cooked up by the Democratic Party and the “mainstream media”:

February 26: The first instance of community spread in the US is confirmed by the CDC.

February 26: Trump appoints Pence to lead the coronavirus task force; during the same press conference, he again downplays the virus.

And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.

@realDonaldTrump, February 26, 2020

February 28: Trump refers to the coronavirus as the Democrats’ “new hoax” at a rally in South Carolina.

The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus… One of my people came up to me and said “Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia, that didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax that was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything, they tried it over and over, they’ve been doing it since you got in… And this is their new hoax.”

President Donald Trump, February 28, 2020

I could go on and on about the Administration’s pitiful and embarrassing response to a pandemic that has killed over 120,000 Americans in just over four months. I don’t have the time to do that; I’d end up with a list as long as Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

But Trump’s maladroit handling of the COVID-19 crisis is not the only reason why America can’t “flatten the curve” the way, say, New Zealand has. The lethargic reaction at the federal (and in cases where Republicans control legislatures and/or governors’ mansions, state) level is merely the reflection of the recklessly self-centered reaction to common-sense steps to combat a global epidemic.

There are far too many facets to what I call COVID-19 Denialism, ranging from such false equivalences as this one:

If we have ~56,000 people die a year from the flu / flu like symptoms According to the CDC why is it that the W.H.O. Does not Declare this a pandemic? Just asking and questioning ?

…to a self-centered refusal to wear face masks in public venues, even when local governments make it mandatory, as reflected in these comments on Facebook:

Hey guess what this isn’t a socialist nation dude. I pay for medical services. Do you? Or do you get that for free. So if I get sick which I am pretty sure I already had this mon event of a super flu back in dec. but hey who cares about the fact that the masks don’t work and you are all a bunch of suckers who didn’t bother to look at what works and doesn’t. You just go ahead and put that mask on. If I ordered you to wear a hat everyday will you? Let’s say it’s because we don’t want your sensitive head to get burned but you aren’t smart enough to know that so we’re gonna require it. Would you? – Jennifer W.

Here’s an exchange between a Concerned Citizen and a No Mask COVIDiot:

Concerned Citizen: Which constitutional right is being violated by being told to wear a mask in public? I’ll wait.

No Mask COVIDiot: Freedom of expression and due process.

Concerned Citizen: There is no right to “expression.” As for due process? What? Which process? It’s also illegal to drive in public without a driver’s license. Same thing.

No Mask COVIDiot: Freedom of expression falls under the 1st Amendment.
Also, emergency orders aren’t laws. They cannot legally be enforced.

Concerned Citizen: Then you have the right to express NOT wearing pants in public as well?

No Mask COVIDiot: You’re being crude, asinine, and indecent. No class.

No Mask COVIDiot: You’re sick.

Concerned Citizen:  You are right, no one can MAKE you wear a mask, BUT you CAN be refused service anywhere without one. So, if emergency orders can’t be legally enforced then we all can go to the airplane with our guns strapped on because we have concealed weapons permits, RIGHT?? As long as I don’t get on the plane its fine, they can’t arrest me.

No Mask COVIDiot: So if I owned a business, I could refuse you service for being pro LGBTQ, right? 😏

In the meantime, my home state of Florida has seen a surge in new COVID-19 cases – nearly 9,000 in one day.

I’m a big believer in the Great American Experiment and love my country. So much so that I don’t identify as a Colombian-American or exercise my right to have dual citizenship. In fact, this was one of the issues that divided my half-sister and me; she was born in Argentina – her father was the doctor attached to the Colombian Embassy in Buenos Aires – but always was “more Colombian than a Colombian born in Colombia,” while I consider myself an American – born in Florida – of Colombian heritage.

That having been said, I don’t have patience for the myth of American exceptionalism or the blind worship of rugged individualism, especially that version spouted by COVID deniers and “rebels against the Mask of Oppression.”

The extreme conservative take on masks. Source: Facebook

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we aren’t flattening the COVID-19 curve.

Sources:

CBS MIAMI Facebook post: Better Wear That Mask

Vox.com: Timeline of Trump’s Failed Response

‘Star Wars’ Collectibles & Toys Review: Hasbro Star Wars The Black Series Sith Jet Trooper 6-inch Scale Action Figure

Promotional photo of Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series’ Sith Jet Trooper 6-inch scale action figure. (C) 2019 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Limited via Gamestop

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Soldier of the Final Order

Protecting the skies over Exegol as the Sith Fleet launches are elite airborne soldiers, the next step beyond the standard jetpack-equipped stormtrooper. With intense training and advanced gear, the Sith jet trooper is an intelligent airborne projectile capable of devastating rapid strikes – Pablo Hidalgo, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – The Visual Dictionary  

Promotional image of Sith Jet Trooper. Photo Credit; Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Introduced on May 15, 2020, five months after the theatrical release of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series Sith Jet Trooper is an impressive 6-inch scale action figure based on the crimson-armored soldiers of the 109th Battalion of the Sith Eternal army’s aerial infantry.

Sith Jet Troopers wear red armor over a black body glove, both of which are based on the First Order’s aerial infantry combat gear, except that the Sith variants’ armor is crimson, in homage to Emperor Palpatine’s Imperial Royal Guard and the late Supreme Leader Snoke’s Praetorian Guard.  Sith Jet Troopers use NJP-900 jetpacks and wield F-11ABA heavy blaster cannon to overwhelm their enemies with deadly firepower.

Sith Jet Troopers of Lanrovak, Parang, and Warblade Squads saw action at the Battle of Exegol. They inflicted heavy casualties on the Resistance forces attacking the Final Order’s Star Destroyer Steadfast. They were destroyed, however, when Resistance fighters led by Finn and Jannah used a hot-wired laser cannon to destroy the Steadfast’s command deck and caused the Star Destroyer to crash onto Exegol’s surface.

The Figure

Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Released in May of 2020, Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series Sith Jet Trooper 6-inch action figure depicts one of the intimidating red clad warriors seen in the ninth and final Episode of the Skywalker Saga. It is the 106th figure in Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series line, and even though it’s not based on a “major character” along the lines of Rey, Jannah, or Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, it’s still an awesome figure.

In its ultimate push toward galactic conquest, the First Order readies an army of elite soldiers that draw inspiration from a dark and ancient legacy! – Hasbro Star Wars The Black Series Sith Jet Trooper package blurb

The figure represents the resurrected Emperor Palpatine’s Final Order’s most advanced “ground pounder,”  which unlike its First Order counterpart, is clad in blood-red armor, with a yellow specialist’s insignia – a stylized rendition of thrust cones – stenciled on the left breastplate and on the jetpack itself.

Promotional photo of Sith Jet Trooper from Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series. Photo Credit: Hasbro via Amazon. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The Sith Jet Trooper is a striking figure; its sculpt and paint job accurately replicate such details as the aileron finlets on the trooper’s boots, the black sensor-lined full-seal body glove, the glare-reducing slit visor on the helmet’s face, and the jetpack’s turbine air-scoop inlet and filter. The contours of this trooper’s armor are more streamlined than those of the basic Sith trooper in order to reduce drag during flight.

Sith Jet Trooper comes with a single accessory: a replica of the amplified F-11ABA heavy blaster cannon. Like the trooper figure, the blaster cannon is rendered in red-and-black, a palette chosen by the evil Palpatine’s Sith Eternal cult to strike fear against any opposition to the emerging Final Order.

The 6-inch scale Black Series figure is detailed to look like the Sith Jet Trooper character from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, featuring premium detail and multiple points of articulation. – Hasbro promotional blurb.

As is the case with Hasbro’s “human” or “humanoid” character figures from Star Wars The Black Series, Sith Jet Trooper has multiple points of articulation (POAs) that allow fans and collectors alike to place their figure in lifelike poses. Whereas the original Kenner 3.75-inch action figures from the late 1970s and early 1980s had, at most, five POAs, Sith Jet Trooper has at least 12.   

Promotional photo of Sith Jet Trooper from Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series. Photo Credit: Hasbro via Amazon. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

My Take

I bought this Star Wars The Black Series action figure during one of my infrequent trips to Amazon to add a few new figures to a collection that, by necessity, has to be a limited rather than a completist effort. Figures aren’t exactly cheap; the average price for Black Series figures – as set by Hasbro – runs between $19.99 and $24.99, with “deluxe” figures falling into the higher price range. (Interestingly, the cost is not a result of Hasbro jacking up prices to squeeze collectors or fans out of their hard-earned money; if inflation wasn’t a “thing” and the dollar’s buying ability in 2020 was the same as in 1978, today’s figures would probably cost between $1.98 and $4.99. Alas, inflation exists.)

I also don’t have an entire house or apartment all to myself, so my ability to display or store my collectibles is limited. (I could, in theory, buy every Star Wars The Black Series figure if I had the resources, but most of them would end up in bins tucked away either in my closet or the attic.

I got this figure because I realized that although I have a few variants of Kylo Ren and one Supreme Leader Snoke, I really don’t have many First/Final Order characters in my collection. I also wanted to make sure I had a “villain” figure from each Episode, and Sith Jet Trooper was perhaps the most striking of the ones I saw on Amazon. So, I ordered him.

Photo Credit: Hasbro via Amazon. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

As I said earlier, Hasbro’s Sith Jet Trooper is eye-catching, even in its black-and-red packaging. Every detail is accurately replicated; I compared the figure to the image in DK Books’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – The Visual Dictionary, a canonical reference book by Lucasfilm Story Group member Pablo Hidalgo.  

Due to the limited amount of shelf space and my desire to keep the figure and its accessory in pristine condition, chances are that Sith Jet Trooper will stay in its distinctive red-and-black Star Wars The Black Series box. I can still put it on one of my Billy bookcases from Ikea and still be sure that it won’t get dusty, be exposed to extreme sunlight, or lose its F-11ABA heavy blaster.

This is definitely a cool-looking Star Wars collectible, especially for fans of the Galactic Empire and its successor regimes, the First Order and the Sith Eternal.

As always, I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as I enjoyed writing it. And until next time, May the Force be with you.

Thoughts & Musings: June 25, 2020

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

Thunderin’ Thursday

Hi, there! Thank you for stopping by! As I write this, it’s mid-afternoon here in my corner of Florida on a hot, muggy, and stormy Thursday. Right now – this won’t go live till after 5 PM my time – the temperature outside is 96˚ F; with 51% humidity, almost calm winds of 4 MPH, and under thunderstorm conditions, the heat index Is 106˚ F in the shade. We have dark clouds overhead, so even though my study has a window, it’s dimly lit. There haven’t been too many lightning strikes so far, but that’s bound to change as the big, mean, and dangerous storm cells get closer to my neighborhood.

As you can see, I didn’t write a review today, either. I woke up thinking that I’d have something in mind at least by noon – I usually have an item (be it a movie, book, TV show season set, or Star Wars action figure) chosen in the morning, but sometimes I don’t have an aha! moment until 12 PM or even later.

Well, noon came and went, and I had nothing.

One o’clock came and went…same thing. Zilch ideas for reviews.

Now it’s just past four, and still no review ideas.

And with bad weather overhead, I’m not going to sit here spinning my wheels uselessly while I wait for inspiration to fire up my brain before my PC gets fried by a lightning strike.

Ah, well. Maybe tomorrow.

On the Good News Front

Not everything is Sturm und Drang here, though.

I got a text message from Best Buy earlier this afternoon. It was to let me know that the package with my 4K UHD Blu-ray sets of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Solo: A Star Wars Story are on their way – via USPS – and will arrive on Saturday. The original estimated date of delivery was Monday the 29th, but apparently the Force is with me.

The cover art for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s 4K UHD/Blu-ray/Digital Copy set. (C) 2017 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd.
The cover art for the Solo: A Star Wars Story 4K UHD/Blu-ray/Digital Copy set (C) 2018 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

I still wish Best Buy had the steelbook editions – I have the nine main Skywalker Saga films in that type of packaging, but not the two Anthology movies – but at least I’ll have all of the existing Star Wars films on 4K UHD. (I still won’t be able to watch the new format BDs until the TV and Blu-ray player I bought nearly three years ago are connected – and functioning properly, but…baby steps, guys. Baby steps.)

And…even better news, at least for today: the thunderstorm has cleared the area and now it’s both cooler outside (85˚F, but it’s still humid out there, so the feels-like in the shade is 91˚F, 94˚F if you’re out in the open) and cloudier. But no lightning!

Well, that’s about it for today, Dear Reader. So until next time, stay safe, be healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.      

Thoughts & Musings for Mid-Week: June 24, 2020

My mom in 2009, about a year before her health issues prevented her from going to Publix. (Photo by the author.)

Musings for Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Well, it’s midafternoon here in my tranquil corner of Florida on this, the 24th day of June 2020. It is hot and sunny outside, with temperatures in the neighborhood of 95˚ F  but with a heat index of 100˚ or more.

Now, I know what you’re going to say: “It’s summer, and you live in Florida. Of course it’s going to be hot. It’s the subtropics!”

Yes, it is summer here in the Sunshine State, and yes, I know that this is not exactly the Arctic Circle. But aside from a six-year stay in Colombia between the ages of three and nine and a three-month-long study abroad stint in Seville Spain almost 32 years ago, I’ve lived in Florida all of my life. I’ve experienced all sorts of weather events – from the day it snowed in Miami (January 20, 1977) to a long chain of hurricanes, tropical storms, and even no-name storms – and I can honestly say: until the mid-2000s, it didn’t get this hot so early in the season. 

Highs in the 90s (with heat indexes of 100+ degrees) are common in late July all the way to mid-September. Or at least they used to be. My late mother, in the last years of her life, even commented that she used to hold off turning on the air conditioning till mid-June up until 2003 or so.

Incidentally, I used to dread the coming of summer between 2010 and 2015; Mom was mostly confined to a hospital-type bed in what used to be the guest room in our small townhouse in the Fountainbleau Park area of Miami-Dade County after having back surgery in June of 2010. As her primary caregiver, I fretted about such things as power outages, heat waves, and hurricanes, not so much for the house or even for my own survival, but because Mom insisted that she would rather die at home rather than be evacuated or – worse – go to my half-sister’s apartment.

Indeed, there was one day – I can’t remember the year, but it must have been either in 2013 or 2014 – when we had a power outage shortly after noon on a hot July day. I had help that day; one of the respite aides from Easter Seals was there when the lights, the TV in Mom’s room, my laptop (I was writing a piece for Examiner), and the air conditioning went out, and later my half-sister Victoria dropped by as well.

But my mother’s room had a large window that faced due west, and even though we had some shade from the lychee tree my grandmother planted in the backyard in 1979, sunlight still streamed in starting around one o’clock in the afternoon and didn’t let up till after seven or so in the evening. So that room was unbearably hot in the summertime, and even though Florida Power & Light (FP&L) sent out a repair team as soon as they could, Mom was drenched in sweat and her room felt as hot as an oven.

Vicky and the Easter Seals respite worker did their best to coax Mom into drinking cool liquids, and eventually the power was restored and, with it, the fan in her bedroom and the house’s air conditioner. Mom took it like a trouper on that occasion and didn’t complain much, but there would be other occasions when we’d have what FP&L called “main line power outages” or a transformer would literally explode, and the power would be out for half the day and well into the night. I could cope with the heat by going out for brief walks while the home health aide or my half-sister watched over my mother. Mom, who was bedridden because she’d lost the will to walk sometime in the summer of 2012, could not.

A short time before she died in July of 2015, even though her memory was not terribly reliable due to the effects of dementia, Mom remarked, “Is it me, or are summers getting hotter?”

Odds and Ends

I had hoped to write a review today, but I stayed up too late trying to watch a movie out in our Florida room. I had to wait until somebody else finished watching  America’s Got Talent  – a talent show that I don’t care for, to be honest  – so I could use the TV and the Blu-ray player. I had a hard time choosing what to watch, so rather than doing the wise thing – reading a book might have been a better idea – I ended up watching Star Wars (aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) for the nth time.

I tried watching it with the “archival audio commentary track” on the Blu-ray disc from the “international region-free” Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga box set I bought for “regular use” so that I don’t have to handle the more expensive Best Buy Exclusive set with the 4K UHD discs, at least not until we can finish the protracted process of setting up the UHD TV set and its Blu-ray player. I’ve listened to the other audio commentary tracks for the Original Trilogy films in the 2004 DVD set and the 2011 Blu-ray set many times over the past 16 years, but I can’t say the same about the “archival” audio tracks, which are edited from various sources, including 1970s era interviews by the late Charles Lippincott – Lucasfilm’s first vice president for public relations – and the audio track from Kevin Burns’ Empire of Dreams: The Making of the Star Wars Trilogy.

I think I managed to watch about half of A New Hope before I finally got sleepy, ejected the disc, put it in its storage compartment, turned off the TV and Blu-ray player, and shuffled quietly to bed. I’m not sure what time it was when I went to sleep, but it must have been past one in the morning. I managed to wake up early, but I didn’t have it in me to think of something to review or write something topical.

Oh, and speaking of 4K UHD Blu-rays and Star Wars:  I had Rewards Points in my Best Buy account, but they were due to expire on July 4, so I had to choose between using them or losing them. I’d earned lots of points when I ordered the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga box set In March and a couple of other things in April, but I had let most of them lapse. I only had a $5 certificate left in my Best Buy account, but I wasn’t going to let that lapse, too.

(C) 2017 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)
(C) 2018 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

So, Dear Reader, I decided to get the 4K UHD discs of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Solo: A Star Wars Story. I really wanted the steel book ones, but I think Target, not Best Buy, sells those. And rather than let my hard-earned $5 credit go to waste, I applied it to my order. If all goes well – and in these COVID-19 times, there’s always a chance that something may not go well – I’ll have my 12th and 13th 4K UHD Blu-rays in my collection by Monday of next week.

Well, that’s all I have to report today. So, until next time, Dear Reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.