THE WAR LOVER (1962)
The film is set in Britain during World War Two and focuses on the relationship between a hot-shot bomber pilot named Buzz Rickson (Steve McQueen) and his co-pilot Ed Bolland (Robert Wagner). Rickson loves war and chases women when the opportunity presents itself. Bolland is bent on doing his duty first and foremost, and is a basically decent guy. He meets and falls in love with Daphne Caldwell, an English girl played by British beauty (a former Miss London) Shirley Anne Field.
Steve McQueen & Robert Wagner in The War Lover (1962)
McQueen’s role was turned down by first choice actor Warren Beatty for personal reasons. It was Beatty’s intimate affair with Natalie Wood that resulted in her recent break-up with Wagner. Consequently, Beatty and Wagner were not on speaking terms. Far from it. Indeed, Wagner has since been quoted regarding their affair thus: ‘I wanted to kill the son of a bitch…I was hanging around outside his house with a gun, hoping he would walk out. I not only wanted to kill him, I was prepared to kill him.’ Miss Field’s name has been linked privately with Wagner’s and it appears they may have been an item for a while when making this movie. In his memoirs he named her as one of his numerous affairs.
Only three Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses were used in the picture, but clever camera angles, editing cuts, and the use of real wartime footage gave the illusion of mass bomber attacks on Fortress Europe. One of the three aircraft was flown by Martin Caidin, who would later write the novels on which the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man and the film Marooned were based. Tragedy struck the production when stuntman Michael Reilly (doubling for Wagner) was killed in a parachuting accident when he bailed out from 2000 feet.
Shirley Anne Field
The War Lover has been unfavorably compared to 1949’s Twelve O’clock High which, given that film’s iconic status as a genuine World War Two classic, is probably a bit unfair. Certainly, the array of characters in the earlier picture were given greater depth and diversity, whereas the 1962 production was mainly directed at the Rickson character’s decidedly unlikeable personality. Greg Peck was sensational in the first film, a truly heroic individual; whereas McQueen came across as a thoroughly nasty piece of work. As for Wagner, one felt his part could have been given more impetus. Instead he seemed to be in the picture as an object to be drooled over by the fairer sex, if indeed they ‘drooled’ back in the sixties.
THE CUP (2011)
I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I have never been a great fan of Australian-made movies, nor of those made outside my country, in which Australians are depicted. Far too often I am compelled to cringe as my countrymen (and women) are shown as loud-mouthed, basically ignorant, braggarts, totally devoid of style and class. Of course, there have been exceptions. There usually are. The wonderful Sunday, Too Far Away (1975), starring Jack Thompson, demonstrated that Aussies could be presented intelligently, whilst still embracing their uniqueness. Like people from every country on the planet, we do have a uniqueness that, if handled properly, can provide great entertainment. That uniqueness has again been captured with The Cup.
Dennis Quaid (slouch hat and all) in The Right Stuff (1983)
I think what gripes me primarily about the way Australians have been depicted on the screen previously, is the relentless marrying of the tune ‘Waltzing Matilda’ to almost every scene in which they appear. Do Americans simply believe that is the only tune we Aussies know? In On the Beach (1959) chunks of that bloody tune were inserted every time an Aussie appeared. In The Right Stuff (1983), not only was this repeated, but Dennis Quaid even donned a slouch hat for his scene in Western Australia! Other than Australian soldiers, no Australian bloke would ever wear a slouch hat in public. They belong to the military, and rightly so. For Quaid to don one as a kind of sixties fashion statement, almost bordered on sacrilegious. Perhaps, American film producers felt that, unless they combined ‘Waltzing Matilda’ with slouch hats, American audiences would be unable to realize they were watching action from ‘Down Under’. US movie producers, it appears, have always treated their viewing public as basically in need of spoon-feeding.
Stephen Curry as Damien Oliver
Having made my sentiments reasonably clear regarding the depiction of Aussies in films, therefore, I am pleased to state that I recently viewed the 2011 feature film The Cup and was greatly moved by it. It contained none of the cliché-ridden rubbish at all. Focusing on the real life trials and tribulations of champion Australian jockey Damien Oliver and his family during the year 2002, in which he rode Irish horse Media Puzzle in the Melbourne Cup, the movie (in my book) ticked every box and placed itself several classes above the average Aussie fare. The acting was first-rate (especially that of Stephen Curry (Damien) and Brendan Gleeson (Dermot Weld), both of whom were ably supported by the likes of Tom Burlinson, Colleen Hewett, Daniel MacPherson, Jodi Gordon and Alice Parkinson. The story might easily have descended into a maudlin tear-jerker, but the screenplay and direction by Simon Wincer ensured that did not happen.
The picture cost $15 million to make, yet it only grossed a paltry two and a half million at the box-office. In other words it was virtually ignored, which must have been most frustrating for the cast and crew who had worked so hard to turn out what, in my opinion, was a terrific film. Personally, I am not ashamed to admit that I was moved to tears at the picture’s conclusion, something I have rarely done through literally thousands of films. I take my hat off to The Cup and to all those involved in its making. The Melbourne Cup is an annual event that literally stops the nation for a half-hour or so each year. Even Federal Parliament stops during its running. I cannot help but think that this movie must have been poorly promoted (or perhaps not promoted at all), for it truly deserved recognition, particularly in a nation that so reveres its sporting champions, such as Damien Oliver. An opportunity missed, I fear.