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  • 2 Short film - The Rear Gunner, The Tanks Are Coming!

Objective Burma

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . B&W . 136 mins . PG . PAL


Isn’t it odd how the genre of war film has diverged so much from its original humble beginnings? For example, here in Operation: Burma we have a bunch of guys who never complain about being shot at, the enemy are all worthless savages and injuries are worn like uncomfortable pants. You look at a film like We Were Soldiers or Saving Private Ryan and everything is the opposite. Complaints, respect for the enemy and screaming in agony. As it should be to be believable.

War is clean and nicely sanitised in Burma though, with plenty of heroic blood-free death and poignant last words. Whilst the ending leads up to the conclusion with some well shot tension, the intervening two hours is a bit of a dragfest. It goes something like this...

General Joseph Stilwell had to pull out of Burma with his arse on fire. Vowing he’d be back, three years later he’s got his army ready to roll. But, before they can go in, they need to destroy a radar station. Enter Errol Flynn as beloved leader Captain Nelson. He takes his team into the jungle to destroy the station and before you know it, they’re waiting for their ride to take them home. Unfortunately, the Japanese are pissed at their radar works being shut down and get after Nelson and his men. Now, with the risk of the plane being shot down, a hastily concocted plan is made to meet in two days. The two days pass and the guys can’t get back into the area, so Nelson and company must walk two hundred miles to the nearest base.

Now it’s a not only a battle of wills to survive the enemy and attack, but the hot and sweaty jungle that seems intent on closing around them forever.

"I don’t like this... it’s too quiet!"

Errol Flynn does well in the role of Nelson and is genuinely likeable, but for the appalling racism of some of his character’s statements. He isn’t alone in this either – it seems everyone’s got their own personal insult for the Japanese. I can understand that this film was made during 1945 and tempers were still a little frayed, but to a scholar of today they are a little uncomfortable. The story is a fairly good one, but is told just a little bit too Yankee Doodle. I also understand propaganda, and it’s importance during wartime, but it’s laid on pretty thick throughout this film (and just wait until you see the extras!)

George Tobias is used constantly as comic relief in the sweltering jungle atmosphere and by film’s end his ‘witticisms’ sound pretty forced and vaudevillian (and may well have been funny 58 years ago). My old friend Raoul Walsh directs this 136 minute epic (want more of his work? Go here and here) and he does it in his usual heroic stylings. All Americans rock; all enemies suck, basically. This is similar to Battle Cry in that it's long and drawn out, but you can read about that in the abovementioned link/review. An interesting thing to note here as well is that there don’t actually appear to be any Japanese in the film. The enemy seem to be played by Indonesians (who speak Indonesian, not Japanese). I guess it’s the tempers frayed thing again.

Anyway, the film does have its merits, though it is way too long for the story. Passage of time isn’t shown clearly enough and seems to be limited to facial hair growth on the soldiers. The thing is, though, they are all so raggedy and dirty it doesn’t help at all. Trimming 30 minutes from this film would have helped greatly, particularly from early scenes shot in intricate and unnecessary detail. Being black and white and screening for a spoiled modern audience, this may have trouble holding attention for the whole two and a quarter hours. I know I was tested.


Cripes. Possibly shot in the jungle of Burbank in 1945, this thing looks rather like crap. Film artefacts are having a war of their own here and as to the actual stock footage of the war, forget about it. This is the worst quality film stock I’ve ever had to witness on DVD and whilst I’m sure they’ve done their best to clean it up, it looks dreadfully damaged. Whilst still quite viewable, the scratches and shit are just the worst. Still, if we get past the artefact apocalypse, the picture is still quite crisp considering its age.

Delivered in the ratio of 4:3, there’s naturally no widescreen enhancement. There are plenty of jitters and camera shakes aroundabout, with skin tones being a bit of a joke in black and white. There’s sweat all over them and dirt and the ‘Japanese’ look quite dark skinned.


Ah, wartime. How it detracts from all walks of life. Food stamps bring us a delightful Dolby Digital mono soundtrack that is relatively even throughout, but the gunfire will have you jumping for the remote. And there’s surprisingly little of it, compared to the length of the film. It’s one or two octaves above the rest of proceedings, but the dialogue and music are both pretty evenly balanced. Dialogue is well spoken throughout, but the voiceover at the start is one of those annoying solemn affairs they use to highlight how contemptible war is. Yeesh!


This makes the DVD, without question. Herein are just three extras, but wow! They’re mostly propaganda films from World War II, but their unintentional humour and ability to appall is unparalleled. Can it be people were so easily fooled back then? We’re right, they’re wrong and it’s that simple. With the 'War on Terror' so fresh in our minds, I can’t imagine them trying this kind of phony crap on us today, but then perhaps they’re just sneakier about it these days. I dunno.

Anyhow, climbing down, I shall discuss the films.

The first short film is entitled The Rear Gunner and runs for 20:29 in 4:3. This is in black and white and stars Burgess Meredith as a stuttering young fellow who just wants a crack at the enemy. Being of short stature, he is fondly ridiculed by his comrades as ‘PeeWee’, however this obvious character flaw is just what the army want! They need little fellas to act as rear gunners on their tightarsed bombing planes. So Burgess goes to school for five whole weeks to learn about ballistics and such, before ending up under Captain Ronald Reagan in a real mission. Naturally, the short guy shows the most courage and gets a medal and everything’s cool.

I’m off to sign up right now.

Oh, yeah, but I better finish this first. The second short film is much less appealing, though no less appalling. Entitled The Tanks are Coming!, this one screens in colour and is all about Fort Knox Tank School where people go to learn how to drive tanks. George Tobias (from Operation Burma) stars as the dumb taxi driver from New York who brings his taxi to tank school! Haha. Any quips Tobias had left over from Burma have been squeezed in here and the final gag I predicted with crossed fingers for the whole length of the film actually came off and I laughed and laughed.

The propaganda engine was in overdrive in this horror, complete with a beginning that takes root in presidential speeches and footage of the Declaration of Independence. Plus myriad shots of the glorious Stars and Stripes flying aloft forever. Sigh. What’s left?

The trailer. 4:3, black and white with a dodgy voiceover and running for 2:12. Scratched to the Billy-o.


Whilst this is a watchable film with an interesting story of soldiers cut off and surrounded by the enemy, the telling is too long and too laborious. Too many characters aren’t developed well enough for us to feel anything when they die, although it would appear we are supposed to. Being in black and white, everyone looks the same, so this doesn’t help matters much either.

One of the well-used qualities of the film is in the non-combatant role of a middle-aged reporter who must survive alongside the lost platoon. What he thinks will be an interesting little exercise becomes something entirely different as they progress and his relationship with Captain Nelson is well developed.

Any fan of old school war movies will probably find plenty here to keep them entertained for the full 136 minutes, though by the end I was a bit over it. The extras are a treat, particularly in the black and white one where there’s a shot of a flag flying and the voiceover guy goes, ‘The red flag’, as if recognising it and like we can see the colour. There are many other favourites from him too, “He joins the valiant fliers (heading) for a place called ‘Over There’” and “Gunners on wheels, truckin’ on down,” (uttered with genuine affection).

Well, I’m off to enlist. Goodbye DVDnet!

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2969
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      And I quote...
    "War was camouflaged cheaper back when the world was in black and white..."
    - Jules Faber
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