Force of Arms (1951) with William Holden

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The most beautiful love story ever told!

There are still unknown gems in the back catalogue, at today we look at what some may consider one of them, 1951’s Force of Arms, starring William Holden and directed by the legendary Michael Curtiz.  Unfortunately, outside of the two legends and great cinematography from Ted McCord what are we left with?

A movie which could have been better, but also could have been far worse.  The 1943 Italian campaign of World War II stands in metaphorically for the then current Korean police action.  William Holden is a Sergeant whose platoon is pinned down in heavy action at the start of the film.  After several casualties, Pete (William Holden, who somehow looks like a “Pete”), takes over command and the remaining platoon members save the day.

Interspliced throughout the combat scenes (and the later liberation of Rome) are clips from actual combat, which are not overly noticeable (a nice touch).

On R&R William Holden meet Army Nurse Lt. Eleanor MacKay, played by a particularly bland Nancy Olson, who initially spurns Holden’s amorous advances.  Of course she changes her mind and they are married shortly before he returns to action.  Back in action, William Holden is presumed killed by the Germans.

Michael Curtiz does his usual outstanding job, handling both the combat and more heartfelt scenes with equal skill.  William Holden comes on strong in what perhaps is a bit of foreboding of his future career in The Bridges of Toko-Ri and other similar films.  He already has the on screen magnetism which made him a star (and of course this wasn’t his first feature).

What truly hampers this film from the next level is the complete lack of a supporting cast.  Holden must not only hold back the Germans but also prop up his co-stars!  Particularly the female lead, Nancy Olson, leave a lot to be desired.

There was a great potential to create some of those great sidekicks we’ve seen in so many films like this where every ethnic, religious, and other quirky persuasion usually has its own representative.  Granted, this is before much of that political correctness crept into society, but the opportunity still exists.  Unfortunately, Michael Curtiz is far to utilitarian a director for such distracting fluff.

Of slight importance also is the rather strong dichotomy of the two halves of this picture.  The first half is primarily action oriented and the second carries the romantic side of the story.  This has been done successfully in other films, but it doesn’t quite seem to have been pulled off here.  Again, it might come back to Ms. Olson.

Strangely for ages not available on anything but VHS (gasp!), this came out last year via our friend at WAC. Get it at The WB Shop.  Somehow I find that it took that long pretty surprising for as much as I am down on Ms. Olson I am equally up on Michael Curtiz and William Holden, who are phenomenal.

If you get the opportunity to get this one I would suggest it.

It isn’t the most beautiful love story ever told, but it is a pretty good story nonetheless.

No review copy provided.

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