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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Story of G. I. Joe (1945)


Starring: Burgess Meredith and Robert Mitchum
Distributor: Signature Entertainment
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: PG
Release Date: 03 June 2013

Ernie Pyle was unique amongst correspondents in the Second World War, travelling with the infantry he wrote, not about generals or great battles, but about the day to day war experiences of the ordinary American infantrymen. Following them through many campaigns he humanised the war, even using soldier’s real names. For his trouble he won a Pulitzer Prize and a bullet through the temple...

The Story of G.I. Joe (B&W - 1945 - 1 hr, 44 min, 43 sec) is an unusual war movie, directed by William A. Wellman (A Star Is Born 1937), unusual because it places the focus almost purely on the lives of the soldiers, rather than the part they played in the bigger conflict. The film was nominated for four OSCARS and won two other prestigious awards.

At the beginning of the film you’re not even sure where the infantry company are advancing to. You know they are off to fight Germans, but the terrain might just as well be generic, it doesn’t matter where they are, only that they are there to fight.

Robert Mitchum, in an early role, plays Lt. Walker, who takes a squabbling group of young men, and moulds them into a lean fighting machine, through both defeats and victories. His soldiers start out as a pretty generic bunch; you have the wise cracker, the lover, and the one (if the film had been in colour) that is obviously wearing a red shirt.

Accompanying them is Ernie Pyle - Scripps-Howard War Correspondent, played by Burgess Meredith, a diminutive figure amongst the hulking frames of the soldiers. These two characters meet and re-meet as the infantry fight their way through North Africa and into the Italian campaign.

For a modern audience the film plays very much like Saving Private Ryan (1998) with the same resonance of character, although Mitchum plays a more war weary leader. Nevertheless his compassion for his troops wins their loyalty. It’s a gritty portrayal of war, in fact, a number of the cast were G.I.s so there’s no doubting the authenticity of the piece. Nor is the film willing to shy away from the truth about the war, early on we see the G.I.s getting their collective arses handed to them on a plate, courtesy of the Germans.

By about half way through the film, it was looking like the DVD was going to score a very reasonable seven out of ten, then the audio track started to go out of synch with the picture, this became gradually worse until the whole thing was pretty much unwatchable. Why go to all the trouble of restoring a film only to completely mess up the encoding?

The DVD comes with no extras.


Charles Packer

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