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.