History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Tora!" movie informs, "Final Countdown" brings us sci-fi

I remember a scene in "Tora! Tora! Tora!" that I thought was Hollywood taking dramatic license. This movie was the story of Pearl Harbor. It was a 1960s movie that required the real equipment to be deployed on the screen. No CGI.
A military band is on a ship playing the Star Spangled Banner. It's simply routine on this sleepy Sunday morning. The United States was still largely an observer of the brewing world conflicts. Tanks, bombs and grenades: what a time.
America was clinging to its non-involvement. "America Firsters" held rallies that were most fervent. Pearl Harbor resulted in what many observers felt was inevitable. Those "Jap" planes rolled into Pearl Harbor as the band plays our anthem. A bomb explodes. Something is amiss.
You'd think the band would immediately disband, as it were. "Tora! Tora! Tora!" shows them speeding up the tempo, so as to end the tune, then to disband. It seemed a bit laughable, as if the band would actually be obligated to finish the anthem.
The anthem tells about "bombs bursting in air." Well, the scene around Pearl was about to become a conflagration of exploding bombs, immediately signaling that the U.S. would plunge into WWII with no reservations. Certainly the band wouldn't behave like that, I reasoned. Hollywood's dramatic license, right? Years later I would read in a book about the attack that it actually happened - the band "speeding up."
Indeed, musicians are pretty committed people, as the Sarlette family of Sarlettes Music in Morris would readily attest. Think of how committed the musicians were on the Titanic. "The band played on." (One of the movies about Titanic had brass players in the group but there were no brass.)
I consider "Tora! Tora! Tora!" to still be the definitive movie about Pearl Harbor. It's a shame we choose to be entertained by a flick about a major U.S. setback or defeat. But it's hardly unusual coming from Hollywood, another example being "A Bridge Too Far." A Who's Who of actors was in "A Bridge Too Far" which was a 1970s movie. That makes sense considering how bleak and defeatist the decade of the 1970s was.
The Jimmy Carter presidency marked the last portion of that disco decade. In what direction would America go? Would we stick with the Democrats for the highest office in the land? I was a college student then and we were highly left wing-oriented. The "New Left" was a force. My old boss Jim Morrison would way many years later that "The New Left is now the Old Left."
The New Left ended up on the scrapheap along with the America Firsters. The year 1980 was pivotal as we re-thought the principles of Barry Goldwater. Hey, there was more merit there than we thought. It wasn't a fringe outlook after all.
My generation had reservations, but the nation indeed charted a new course with Ronald Reagan. Goldwater was in the wings smiling. As an elder statesman he often gave us doses of humor. 
 
1980 brought us "The Final Countdown"
The year 1980 was also when an interesting and imaginative Pearl Harbor movie came out. As America pondered its "malaise" cited by President Carter, we greeted the movie "The Final Countdown." The U.S. military cooperated totally with this Pearl Harbor-themed movie. So much so, it was utilized as an official recruiting tool.
We're in awe of contemporary U.S. military might in this movie. How do the contemporary tools work in with the 1940s attack in Hawaii? Presto, it's through time travel! This is a time travel movie, one of my favorite genres.
I took a liking to this movie which for some might be an acquired taste. It enlists Kirk Douglas for the role of wise, inspiring "Captain Matthew Yelland."
"The Final Countdown" is an escapist movie and it got mixed reviews at the time of release. The U.S. Navy sponsored the film's premiere. Roger Ebert felt "the military hardware" was the "real star." The grand aircraft carrier is front and center. Kirk Douglas is joined by Martin Sheen, James Farentino, Katherine Ross and Charles Durning.
The aircraft carrier is no plain Jane, it's the USS Nimitz supercarrier.
The movie had moderate success at the box office. Later it took on sort of a cult status. Like I said, it's an acquired taste.
Ebert once wrote about the fundamental problem with time travel movies, that they inescapably present problems of logic. He also suggested the best time travel movies may be those that approach the concept with humor. One of the "Star Trek" movies had a light tone, incorporating time travel, and conformed to what Ebert was talking about.
I have always liked serious time travel movies. I liked the movie "Timeline" based on the Michael Crichton book. "Timeline" got negative reviews which puzzled me. I'd enjoy watching it again. It's available at our Morris Public Library on DVD.

"Countdown" story unfolds
In "The Final Countdown," the grand Nimitz takes on a civilian observer, played by Sheen, on the direction of his employer who is shrouded in mystery. That employer designed much of the ship.
The Nimitz is about to leave Pearl Harbor for a training mission in the Pacific. The sci-fi element greets us as a strange storm-like vortex appears. The ship passes through. Kirk Douglas ("Captain Yelland") sends out reconnaissance aircraft. We're in awe of the state of the art military hardware. The pilots discover the U.S. battleship fleet at Pearl Harbor.
An F-14 Tomcat patrol spots a yacht being attacked by Japanese "Zeros." The F-14s are ordered to draw off the Zeros, then the Zeros head straight toward the carrier which shoots them down.
The yacht survivors, a man and woman, are rescued along with a "Jap" pilot. "Commander Owens" of the Nimitz (James Farentino) recognizes one of the survivors as Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning), who I believed for a long time was a real person. He is presented as a prominent U.S. Senator who disappeared shortly before Pearl Harbor. He could have been FDR's runningmate, we are led to believe. Only now am I discovering this is fiction.
A Grumman E-2 Hawkeye discovers the Japanese fleet ready to launch the attack. It has dawned on everyone that a fluke time disruption event has happened. That mysterious "vortex" did something.
Kirk Douglas (Capt. Yelland) has to decide: "should we attack?" Realizing his duty and "going by the book," bound to protect America, he gives the thumbs-up.
The Japanese pilot rescued from the yacht incident causes a disruption, as he grabs a gun, kills his guards and holds the other survivors. He demands a radio.
"Commander Owens" (Farentino) disturbs the "Jap" by discussing war history. The Marines descend on the Japanese man and kill him. The civilians (yacht survivors) are now aware of the imminent attack. Senator Chapman wants to radio Pearl Harbor. 
 
"If I could turn back time. . ."
Michael Crichton in his classic analytic way wrote that changing the events of times past, by going back in time, isn't as easy as you'd think. You can't just go back in time, wildly waving your arms and screaming "look out!" or "don't do this!"
Crichton asserted that the major forces of history are too powerful to be affected like this.
The Charles Durning character gets his radio and frantically puts out an alert, but is dismissed as a hoaxster. He identifies himself as on board the Nimitz. He is not aware of the time wrinkle, or is in denial or confusion about it. He thinks he's aboard an advanced top-secret vessel and is upset he has not been made aware of such things. (Dianne Feinstein isn't the only one to complain!)
Since Nimitz was a living American military official in 1941, Chapman's claim is dismissed out of hand.
The Katherine Ross character is "Laurel," the personal assistant to Senator Chapman. She and "Commander Owens" begin getting romantically attracted. Yelland sends the civilians with supplies to an isolated Hawaiian island. "Commander Owens" goes with, and the aroused and angry Senator Chapman tries to hijack the helicopter with a flare gun. The helicopter is destroyed and Chapman is killed.
Owens, identified as CAG for "Commander, air group," and the woman are stranded on the island. She finally gets the revelation about the time travel element. She realizes Owens is from the future. Meanwhile the Nimitz sends out its strike force. However, that mysterious "vortex"  (electromagnetic storm) returns and Yelland has to recall his fliers. He can't change history after all.
 
A "dog movie" (not quite)
We're back in the year 1980. A dog charms us. It's from the yacht, and we're always happy when animals survive! He's "Charlie," a collie. "Charlie" dashes out to a vehicle, and the dignified man in the back seat rolls down the window. It's the much older "Owens," of course, with "Laurel" his wife who I imagine owned the dog. Owens is now "Mr. Tideman," CEO of Tideman Enterprises and designer of much of that magnificent carrier. He invites "Laskey" (Sheen) in for a ride (with the dog too I presume).
"We have a lot to talk about." (That's a signature line.)
I say "whew" upon finishing the plot description, as it's involved. Ebert noticed the same and used the word "mess." He concluded that the carrier was the chief "star" of the movie. (I'm reminded of a review of the WWII movie "The Bridge at Remagen" that stated the bridge was the main star.)
Perhaps "The Final Countdown" attracted new recruits to America's armed forces. As a movie I found it more than mildly entertaining.
Movies broaden our sphere of knowledge even with a sci-fi twist. "The Final Countdown" is sci-fi fare worthy of digesting and evaluating, whereas "Tora! Tora! Tora!" is probably the best true-to-life depiction of that fateful day in December of 1941.
Signature lines from "Tora! Tora! Tora!":
"You must mean the Philippines."
"No, it's Pearl!"
 
We pray such an event never happens again. That's what our military is for.
On the home front the news of Pearl Harbor brought everything to a halt as we all pondered what's next. Here's now Ruth Domingo, a Stevens County resident, remembered:
 
Early Monday morning, December 8, 1941. I turned on the radio to listen to the usual news hour. Unbelievable! What was I hearing? The newscaster blared out details of the Pearl Harbor devastation! I stood stock still, petrified with fear, forgetting how tight I was holding our six-month-old son, until he cried. Fear and weakness overcame me as I sank into a chair to hear more.
My husband had been out doing the barnyard chores. When he came back to the house, he didn't believe what I was trying to tell him. We sat listening to the news all day. By evening we had a clear mental picture. Our country was at war!
 
This reminiscence is from the Stevens County Historical Society book "The '40s: a time for war and a time for peace."
It would be four long and trying years before the U.S. would emerge triumphant. We then got the prosperous post-WWII years in America. We got the "baby boom" and that's how I got here!
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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