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.
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.