July 20, 2016

I caught up on a couple of classics recently.

Movie:  The African Queen.  That was not what I was expecting.  I think all I really knew about this was the clips that always get shown of Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart motoring down the river and being curmudgeonly.  (And that the actual boiler from the boat is on display in the lobby of the place I stay at when I go diving in Key Largo. I can’t explain it.)  I guess I expected ninety minutes or so of banter and curmudgeonly-ness.  Turns out, this is a straight-up romance.  The two characters fall madly in love pretty early on and spend the rest of the film cooing at each other like teenagers.  Which was a little weird, with those two particular gruff craggy actors.  And then the last fifteen minutes of the film is blowing up Germans.  Which I was also not expecting.  This is the first time I’ve ever watched a classic film and sort of wished someone would remake it with modern sensibilities and without the rather drippy conventions of 1950’s romance movies.

Book:  On the Beach by Nevil Shute.  I’ve known about this post-apocalyptic classic forever, and finally just now read it.  It’s great, and it hit me hard.  Once again, mostly because of my own weird history.  So, when my dad was flying B-52’s in the early 80’s, I really worried about him.  If the bombs fell I knew I was just dead, that wasn’t an issue.  But if Dad was out flying on a mission when the bombs fell — which was pretty much exactly what his job was, to get his plane in the air before the base got hit — what would happen to him?  Where would he go?  I know they had protocols, they had emergency bases and mid-air refueling and theoretically he would go there and do whatever.  But his home would be gone.  Everything would be gone, and I thought up these horrifying images of him just flying around above a blasted nuclear wasteland until his fuel ran out.  (I’m still coming to understand that those years were maybe a little more stressful than I realized at the time.)

So, anyway, one of the main characters in On the Beach is an American military officer whose submarine is deployed when the bombs drop, and he’s caught away from home.  He ends up in Australia, waiting for the radiation fallout to kill everyone, and he knows his family back home (wife, son and daughter, just like our family!) is dead but he just keeps functioning because he has to.  It wasn’t until the second to the last chapter that I thought, “That’s my dad.”  But boy, when I did, I had to take a break from the book for a few minutes.  It happens every now and then, that I’ll be reading or watching something about war or the military, going along just fine, and then suddenly think “That’s my dad,” and it kicks me in the head just about every time.  I love my dad and it’s just really hard thinking of him in those difficult situations, even if they never happened.  Imagination is a funny thing.  I’m really glad I didn’t read this as a teenager.

The rest of the book, I loved the Australian perspective on the Cold War, that Australia wasn’t going to be dropping nukes itself but would absolutely suffer from radiation and fallout from any kind of nuclear exchange.  It strikes me that this is a big part of the backdrop of the Mad Max movies as well — dealing with a situation they had no part in making.


6 Responses to “classics”

  1. caericarclight Says:

    I didn’t have it that bad in the ’80s. Since my dad kept his feet firmly on the ground, I guess I knew that when the base got hit, we’d go out together.

    It’s weird looking back on those times, especially when we were stationed in Germany, and realizing just how much us kids *expected* something to happen. It was just a question of whether the Commies would nuke us before some local terrorist knuckleheads blew us up.

  2. carriev Says:

    I really only started looking back on those years in my late twenties, while talking to other Gen X types about the possibility of early 80’s nuclear war and I realized they’d had a *very* different experience than I’d had. They had jokes and things. They had plans on how to survive. And I was like, “Yeah, no, I always lived within the blast radius of primary targets.” Heh.

  3. Carbonman Says:

    A 1983 TV movie, “The Day After”, was what really shocked me into realizing there are no possible winners in a nuclear exchange. This was when scientists figured out any significant fallout would generate a nuclear winter and the scientific community began pressuring nuclear powers to make real efforts to stop nuclear proliferation.
    The scene in the show that stunned me was of dozens of Minuteman missiles launched on a sunny day. The rural residents of Kansas had the contrails rising into the Summer sky from silos all around them as their first warning that the last war had begun and they were all doomed.

  4. Carrie, you’re an unusual member of your generation in getting such an intense education in the realities of nuclear warfare. I’m older, and I grew up with air raid drills, bomb shelters, civil defense stashes, and seeing defensive missile batteries being constructed on the periphery of my city.

    I had regular nightmares of nuclear war that lasted till I was in my 20s.

    People wonder why the Boomers started marching for peace and love. Huh. Watch those old civil defense films, folks might get a clue.

    I obsessively read every post-holocaust novel when I was in my teens—I guess I got intensely interested in what my family was convinced would kill us all– and among them was “On the Beach.” I haven’t read it since, but its lack of sensationalism and fundamental decency stood out among the rest. No mutants! No riots! Just people doing their best.

    I read the novel of “The African Queen” before I saw the movie, and it was a downer, too. Allnut wasn’t movie-star Bogie, he was a little working-class Cockney, and romances between the working class and upper middle-class spinsters were forbidden in 1914. He ended up marrying Rose not because they were in love (though they were), but because it was the only way to preserve her reputation after they’d spend weeks on the boat together. Then he enlisted in the army and marched off to die, thus relieving her of any further social embarrassment.

    The movie’s pretty damn great, though.

  5. howardbrazee Says:

    I remember the movie which I saw when it first was released. I was a child but only remember images and the music. I didn’t read the book until this year, and found it to still be very effective.

  6. howardbrazee Says:

    Oops, wasn’t clear. I was responding to On the Beach.

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