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Accuracy in Movies - Does it Matter?

Brian Wolfe

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Lately in the Books and Films section of this forum there have been discussions of the current movie, “Dieppe”, and the inaccuracies found by some of the members.  My first impulse was to make a list if all of the movies that I could remember back to the days of my youth and before where accuracy was obviously not an issue.  I soon realized that most would not relate to such movies as “Lives of the Bengal Lancers”, 1935 staring Gary Cooper; “Gunga Din”, 1939 staring Cary Grant; “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, 1968 with Trevor Howard (one of my favorite movies); or even “Waterloo”, 1970 with Rod Steiger.  Many of these won numerous awards yet are riddled with inaccuracies. 

 

I looked to more resent movies such as “The Blue Max”, though it was in 1966 staring George Peppard.  In one scene of the German trenches it shows the soldiers awaiting the order to go over the top while holding British Number 4 Rifles first produced in the 1930’s equipped with the Number 9 Mk 1 bayonet.  This was the short bladed No, 5 (jungle carbine) bayonet blade welded to a socket similar to the 4 Mk 1 or 2 spike bayonet. These bayonets did not appear until after WWII, possibly around 1950.

 

  “Saving Private Ryan”, 1998 starring Tom Hanks.  A movie many World War Two veterans claimed was the most accurate depiction of conditions on the beach on D-Day.  If you are yet to see this film then do so if for no other reason than the landing scenes.  I suspect that if someone were to put out a remake with double the gun fire the same vets would proclaim it an even more accurate portrayal. Perhaps they would be correct.  I was really getting into this movie until Tom Hanks’ character disabled a German Tiger tank (if my memory serves) by firing his Thompson machine gun into the viewing port of the tank and killing the crew. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!  That must have been the only German tank to be without its very thick protective glass in the viewing port.  I need to research German tanks to see is they were actually using a periscope-style viewing device or not.  Either way, good for you Captain John Miller (Hanks), too bad the rest of the allies didn’t know this trick; could have saved a lot of lives.

 

“Zulu”, 1964 starring Michael Caine, is another of my all time favorite movies.  My biggest complaint about this movie, aside from the medals worn by Colour Sergeant Borne, was the presence of a female in the movie.  What were they trying to accomplish?  Appeal to the female movie viewer?  You could have marched unicorns barfing rainbows and pooping bunnies across the screen and it would have still missed the female market! 

 

“Zulu Dawn”, 1979 featuring Bob Hoskins, Peter O’Toole and Burt Lancaster.  Another of my favorite movies.  I listed Burt Lancaster because if this movie was not flawed enough Burt Lancaster cast as being Irish is an insult.  His Irish accent is so bad it should be recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. His range of emotion is slim to none and slim just left the room.  In one scene there is a line of what appears to be dismounted cavalry or perhaps artillery men using the Martini Henry Carbine.  The problem is that in some cases they are using what would appear to be the Martini-Metford carbine. The Martini-Metford did not appear before the 1890’s and the Battle of Isandlwana took place in 1879.

 

Certainly bad acting has ruined many movies.  Charlton Heston comes to mind in such movies as “55 Days at Peking”, 1963 and “Khartoum”, 1966. Even now I have to remind myself that Moses was at neither location or in the movie.  Heston is another “one trick pony” of an actor in my opinion. 

 

If I were going to nominate resent  movies on bad plot and worse acting the two top would be “Inglourious Basterds”, 2009 and “Fury”, 2014, both starring Brad Pitt; usually one of my favourite action movie actors.  The first one, overlooking the misspelled title, is a romp through some sort of fantasy Nazi-like world with lots of violence.  Better to go watch “Zombieland”, 2009 with Woody Harrelson.  There is just as much adventure and history is not insulted.  Is it true Mr. Harrelson is moving to Canada as soon as we legalize weed? Hmmm.

 

Then there is “Fury”.  One of the best movies showing tanks in action bar none, however after one gets past the great tank scenes the rest is an insult to both the American and German soldiers.  The Germans are shown, in one scene, as marching down a dark road singing a song more like an army of Orks from Lord of the Rings.  Then they decide to destroy a disabled M4 Sherman with mostly small arms rather than the Panzerfaust carried by several soldiers.  Once the German casualty rate keeps going up it looks like the German commanding officer simply turns and walks away. Was he late for Oktoberfest or going to a BYOP party (Bring Your Own Panzerfaust) since the soldiers carrying the panzerfausts seemed to leave before or just after the officer.  Yet the German privates ,poor “basterds” (that was for you, Tarantino) keep attacking the tank with small arms.

 

So the question stands, is accuracy in movies necessary?  Of course it is!  People who make movies and those acting in them are awarded all sorts of acclaim, provided the movie makes a lot of money.  Unless it was one of those Cannes Film Festival Best Foreign Film award things then it is hard to tell what they are trying to say or portray.  I’ll just say it, if I wanted to read sub-titles I would have bought the book. 

 

Let’s look at a book and the movie about the same topic.  “How Can Man Die Better, The Secrets of Isandlwana Revealed” by Lieutenant Colonel Mike Snook verses “Zulu Dawn”, original story and screen play by Cy Enfield.  The book sets out the preliminary history that led up to the battle as does the movie, though less clearly.  Remember the movie had only 113 min. to make its point where the book had 302 pages.  Even so the movie could have been clearer.  All in all after you read the book you have an excellent knowledge of what happened as compared to the movie where you saw a large battle after a long and drawn out succession of scenes that only served to display the actors talents, or lack of talent in the case of a certain American actor trying to talk with an Irish accent (you know who I mean).  The impact of the movie battle was, of course, more poignant than the book due to live action and a sound tract.  Before I go any further it has probably come to you as it has to me that it depends upon what you are looking for in a historical drama.  It is difficult to pit action against the historical accuracy of a well written book. 

 

It is my position that movie producers need to spend more attention to accuracy in story line as well as in the accoutrements that go along with a historically based film.  If all you are going to do is to produce an adventure loosely based on an historical event then you have simply churned out an adventure fantasy.  Even Game of Thrones is based on the War of the Roses, or so I have read; I don’t see it but that’s what I’ve read.  Rather than turn out a flawed historical farce then they should keep making films such as “Avatar”, 2009, staring...oh, who cares, it’s only a dammed fantasy movie anyway.

 

I suppose the greatest benefit to historically based films made today with all of their flaws is to give people like us a challenge to point out all of those flaws.  I’ve been told that others also viewing said move are less than accepting when we voice our disapproval.  Don’t be too concerned, they just lack a need for accuracy and attention to detail.  Best you drive home after the movie, we wouldn’t want them to have to concentrate too hard on the finer details of road safety.

 

Regards

Brian

 

PS: Yes, that mention of “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” earlier was a movie title reference from Tina Fey’s, 2016 movie.  That title is quite appropriate as I wanted to say “WTF” after I watched this time (wasting) bomb.

 

 

 



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Have you seen The Beast, a film about Soviet Armour in Afghanistan............again factually error strewn but a good watch, again begs the question raised!

Simon

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Hi Simon,

Yes I have seen that movie and enjoyed it. I suppose we just have to resign ourselves that movies will never reach the accuracy level we would like to see and just enjoy them for what they are.  But keep looking for errors...it's a great sport.;)

 

Regards

Brian

 

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Brian : I am an old searcher of innacuracies or anacronisms in movies .And i had viewed all the War themed movies at my disposition . Well , nearly all movies contains some type of innacuracy . The Blue Max , not only the British rifles and bayonets . The German pilots appears as if all of them were Uhlans . or as if the uniform of the German Luftstreitkraft,was normalized in a Uhlan like one . The more recent Red Baron , contains various innacuracies . Von Richthofen , flies an Albatros thats correct but Lanoe Hawker was not a thick bearded guy and Major Hawker was killed piloting a Dh2 . As Dhs were the majority of the British fighters in service during the Bloody April , Other mistake is the General receiving Richthofen in informal attire or Hindenburg in civilian clothes going to Palace . The cars appearing in the movie were not all contemporaries. Exists some movies with a high degree of Accuracy but not Perfects . Uomini contro , a italian movie about the ww1 in the Italian Front is a good one . The first All quiet in the western front tht of Lewis Milestone , another good movie .also Westfront 1918 , The Dino de Laurentis produced Fraulein Doktor movie is a mixture of Accuracies and mistakes , but generally speaking a good spectacle with the Germans attacking with poison gas , flamethrowers and Cavalry , riders and horses protected against the gas . I think that the complete accuracy is near impossible not ever for budget reasons or lack of skilled advicers . Is another cause , the adecuation of the historic facts to the ideas of the directors and their point of view . To finish : War Horse . With great budget Spielberg constructed a historic falsification  

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Hi Bayern,

Thank you for your comments. I often wonder if all of these inaccuracies have any lasting effects on the younger viewers or if they really don't care about such details.  Even period dramas such as Downton Abbey were the interior shots are filled with what could be considered antiques today matter to some of us; but is that important to younger viewers.  Perhaps I should have used the term "normal" viewers? :rolleyes:

Thanks again for your response.

Regards

Brian

 

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Brian : My pleasure , I think that the younger viewers are more interested than one could think , in the ambientation and details My daughter 21 y o viewed Downton Abbey with great attention to the details of women vestiment and its variation along the years .

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A difficult call..... I would say, at the end of the day there needs to be balance.... if we insist they dont have any errors, then the movie may become too expensive to make.... so as long as I see they have made an effort, and the stuff is "OK" at a glance with no howling errors... I am happy.

Some guys get overly nerdy "Did you see that??? Movie takes place in 1940... those chest eagles were only worn on the M44 jacket!!!"

 

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For any film, not just war movies, but especially in war films and in fantasy and science fiction films where the setting is important, some amount of accuracy or at least verisimilitude (wow! that's hard to spell) is necessary. This is necessary for the so-called "willing suspension of disbelief" - you know you are watching something that is not real so you need a certain attention to detail to accept this fictional world. 

For a war movie, especially one based on actual events such as "Dieppe" and not just a fictional story like "Kelly's Heroes" or "M*A*S*H", I would think a higher level of attention to detail would be necessary. Depending on the conflict, you might have viewers who actually experienced the events in question or a large amount of actual documentation of the events. As Brian noted, "Saving Private Ryan" received a lot of praise from D-Day veterans for its portrayal of the landings, but I can't remember how many posts I read criticizing other aspects of the film on military history and military collector forums. As I recall, many WAF posters were especially critical of the movie using SS soldiers at a time when Waffen SS units had yet to arrive in Normandy. Even a relatively minor detail such as the haircuts was criticized - Spielberg's Germans had buzz-cuts more like modern neo-Nazis rather than the longer hair far more common among 1940s German young men. Compare the 1993 German film "Stalingrad" which got that detail, as well as many others, correct. 

Many people simply have a higher or different threshold for the "willing suspension of disbelief", so their expectations might probably never be satisfied, even in a documentary (and plenty of documentaries are quite bad themselves in their attention to detail, and often worse, since they do not have the budget of a major film). One man's "howling error" might be another's "eh, who cares".  

For example, just noting what I mentioned above, I was not bothered by the use of the Waffen-SS in SPR, because I've become used to Hollywood's portrayals of German soldiers. But the haircut thing bothered me, because it took me out of the film and made me think of the many caricatures of Germans in Spielberg films.  For that matter, many the Americans in SPR were typical war-movie caricatures (e.g., tough-talking Brooklynite, quiet crack-shot farmboy).  "Band of Brothers" had some problems, but it was definitely a huge improvement and the benchmark against which many war movies are now measured.

The thresholds in many cases are simply different, not "higher" or "lower". As Chris notes, one person might note uniform details that would mean nothing to me, much less to the average viewer. Others might note equipment details and be indifferent to uniforms, because weapons or gear is their thing. There was a TV-movie about the WW1 Lost Battalion that as I recall received praise for the accuracy of the weapons for the unit and time period, showing the US soldiers with Enfields, Chauchats and M1911s (rather than M1911A1s). I couldn't tell you the difference between an M1911 and an M1911A1, but I did notice that a German officer was wearing his EK1 closer to man-boob level rather than on the lower chest. 

With regard to another movie Brian mentions, "55 Days at Peking", it was at the time rather notorious for its budget, which went overboard in recreating downtown Peking in giant sets which still exist as a housing development near Madrid. Bad acting notwithstanding (and I think Ava Gardner was much worse than Heston), it still gets some credit from me for being pretty much the only Western movie ever made about the Boxer Rebellion and the Western response.  Today, the movie is probably more notorious for its stereotypical Chinese characters (especially the British actors playing Chinese characters). 

I will conclude with a shout-out to "Kelly's Heroes". Here was a 1970 anti-war comedy, yet in many areas the attention to detail was far ahead of even serious films of the period such as 1970's "Patton". The Tiger tanks were visually modified Yugoslav T-34/85s, so the dimensions were off, but there was not a lot more you could have done there with the budgets of the time. But the detail that always sticks in my head was a comment by the hippy tank commander played by Donald Sutherland, noting that his men had placed pipes over the barrels of their Sherman tanks so the Germans would think they had a larger gun than the normal Sherman. This line of dialog had no relevance to the plot of the movie. It was apparently only included to appease nit-pickers, since the Shermans in the movie were actually M36 tank destroyers, Shermans upgraded with 90mm guns, provided by the US to Yugoslavia in the late-1940s.  For its battle scenes, the big-budget "Patton" did little more than slap a black cross on Spanish Army M-47s, which seems pretty sad compared to the efforts made by the lower budget comedy. 

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