BR: Kings Go Forth (1958)

February 19, 2016 | By

KingsGoForth_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released: December 8, 2015

Genre:  Drama / WWII

Synopsis: Two G.I.s have eyes on the same pretty girl while stationed in the lovely-deadly French Riviera during the final phase of WWII.

Special Features: Isolated Mono Music Track with some sound effects / Theatrical Trailer / 8 page booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.

 


 

Review:

After winning an Oscar for his work in the WWII drama From Here to Eternity (1954), Frank Sinatra headlined 11 major films before Kings Go Forth, the first of his two war dramas in 1958, followed by Some Came Running. There were still more war-themed pictures to follow – Never So Few (1959), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Von Ryan’s Express (1965), and None But the Brave (1965), which he also directed – but Kings certainly ranks among his best performances because it’s a fairly simple tale of two guys in love with the same gal, but told with a unique balance of melodrama, social commentary, and bits of action to keep the pace brisk.

Sinatra is Lt. Loggins, a blue collar New Yorker who’s worked hard to achieve his rank and the respect of his men, and has little patience for pretty boy Cpl. Harris (Tony Curtis), a spoiled brat with a playboy past who nevertheless redeems himself among the men and (eventually) Loggins for daring acts of bravery. Harris has nothing to lose – heroism means nothing to him – and he may well be risking death for kicks, since the playboy life has become rather dry and predictable, but for a while he treats Loggins as a respectful superior officer and rare friend.

Loggins and his men are soon stationed to the French Riviera, a surreal world that’s picturesque by the bay (and oddly quaint in this film for lacking modern hotels and traffic chaos) but partially free from Germans who still control sections of a valley. When not on furlough, the men guard a pillbox and take close hits from German canons that also seem trained to annoy and prolong the war, giving both sides something to do, rather than blow the Yanks to bits and regain ground lost.

There’s a weird aura of ennui that permeates the Americans and the unseen Germans, with gunfire killing boredom and the occasional soldier, until something finally gives, as ordered from military brass. During this prolonged standoff, Loggins and Harris escape to the coastal town and fraternize among the grateful locals, and the elder Loggins meets a guarded yet charming French girl, Monique. Natalie Wood’s accent is a bit ornate, but she settles into the role fairly quickly, and director Delmer Daves (The Red House, Demetrius and the Gladiators) tempers a mystery that ultimately leads to the big reveal (kept extra hush-hush in the goofy trailer) which initially pushes Loggins away from Monique.

SPOILER ALERT

 

 

Unlike Pinky (1949), where a biracial woman passes for white, Wood’s identity isn’t kept hidden from characters for too long, and her circumstance – the child of a racially integrated couple who fled the U.S. for the openness of France – also echoes the substantive creative artists – actors, and especially jazz composers & musicians – who found success and a more colour (and Hollywood Blacklist) blind society in urbane sectors of France. Whether it’s Josephine Baker from the 1920s or the multitude of jazzmen who recorded classic albums when the film was made, the message of tolerance was designed to be provocative to fifties audiences still seeing African Americans as maids, bartenders, and doormen in studio productions.

Monique’s late father is never seen in pictures, but his nobility and success in France is recounted and seen via the palatial estate where daughter and mother (Some Came Running’s Leora Dana) still live.

And yet Kings is a time capsule, because when Wood performs the big reveal to Sinatra, it does have a slightly bathetic tenor, as Monique becomes hysterical and bolts out to the ornate garden estate. But her embarrassment also introduces a more interesting series of conflicts: internally, Loggins weighs his own prejudices against genuine love, but because of a lingering hesitation to commit, he steps aside like a good friend when Harris and Monique fall fast for each other.

Is Harris genuine in his plans to woo and respectfully wed Monique, or is he a cad, trying a ‘mulatto’ for kicks?

 

 

SPOILER OVER

The finale brings out the truth and sets up the ideal resolution, and it’s handled, like the rest of the film, with a firm and balanced mix of melodrama and action as two rivals may have to sacrifice their lives for the good of their men and the newly liberated French town. Loggins’ physical condition at the end certainly ratchets the melodrama, but Sinatra plays it straight and honest, and when Loggins decides to stop wallowing in self-pity and attempt a reunion, it’s noble and sweet, especially since Monique is completely unfazed by his war injuries.

The screenplay by Merle Miller (The Rains of Ranchipur) is solid and beautifully organized, and arguably harkens back to his live teleplays; Kings has scope and action, but one could easily strip away the widescreen visuals and pyrotechnics and be left with a solid play, as distilled from Joe David Brown’s novel.

Daves had recently escaped exotica (Bird of Paradise) and slowed down making westerns (Broken Arrow, Jubal, 3:10 to Yuma), and Kings may be one of his last great dramas before he embarked on a series of hugely successful melodramas involving young love, romance, and disapproving parents, of which the debut and apex remains A Summer Place (1960) – quiet different from his other much revered tearjerker for grownups, An Affair to Remember (1959).

Elmer Bernstein’s score fits the drama and its archetypal characters to a T, and he would be retained for Sinatra’s second WWII-era drama of 1958, Some Came Running, writing a very different type of score for a story in which a war vet returns to his home town, and being the family black sheep, stirs up eddies of trouble.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray features a lovely transfer and an isolated score track of Bernstein’s music in ‘fat mono’ (the bass has really nice oomph). The cover art is rather amusing, using character images where Wood looks a little Jennifer Jonesy, and Curtis is captured playing the trumpet in one of the film’s semi-intentional funny moments where playboy Harris is encouraged by the audience to play trumpet with the house band (which happens to include unbilled jazz greats Pete Candoli, Mel Lewis, and Red Norvo).

Julie Kirgo’s liner notes laud the film’s key personnel, giving an expectedly deserved nod to Sinatra, but also director Daves who may not be as regaled as much as his fellow studio directors, but is no less worthy for making important pictures with social commentary derived from character interactions rather than moments of blatant moral finger-waving to audiences. Melodrama may have been inherent to his work, but he could write and direct good stories during a career that spanned 1943-1965.

Joe David Brown’s novel Paper Moon was made into a film in 1973 by Peter Bogdanovich, and followed by a short-lived, spin-off TV series.

 

 

© 2016 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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