Stars and Stripes on Screen: A Comprehensive Guide to Portrayals of American Military on Film

By Lawrence, John Shelton | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), March 2006 | Go to article overview

Stars and Stripes on Screen: A Comprehensive Guide to Portrayals of American Military on Film


Lawrence, John Shelton, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Stars and Stripes on Screen: A Comprehensive Guide to Portrayals of American Military on Film Lawrence H. Suid and Dolores A. Haverstick. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2005.

Lawrence Suid's comprehensive studies of US war-related films have earned critical praise. Given such a large domain, an author could only attain eminence through selectivity and rigor. For his distinctive contributions, Suid has chosen to be less a film historian than a military historian. Central to his writings are questions of historical accuracy in depicting Americans at war and the complex relationships between the War Department (a quaintly forthright name used between 1789 and 1947), its successor the Department of Defense, and Hollywood studios. His investigations encompass archival documents (military policy and studio correspondence) enriched by interviews with producers, directors, actors, and Pentagon public relations officers. The latter exercise control over scripts, technical details, equipment, and military personnel. Guts and Glory (1978, 2002) and Sailing on the Silver Screen (1996) are Suid's most important studies to date. This latest book, co-authored with Dolores Haverstick, is a US military filmography that treats 1,000+ feature films, 100 made-for-TV films, and 175 documentaries.

How does Stars and Stripes compare with other single-volume filmographies such as Halliwell's Film Guide (23,000+ entries) or Leonard Maltin's annual Movie and Video Guide (18,000 +)? First, Suid and Haverstick's decision to include a film is not affected by its availability in video; titles extend back to 1898 and include ones that have disappeared entirely or that can be seen only at film archives. second, Stars and Stripes consistently comments on historical accuracy, informing us for example, that John Wayne's lonely pro-Vietnam War The Green Berets (1968) the Pentagon compelled a script change so that the mission occurred in South rather than North Vietnam. As it was official policy to deny such incursions, this alteration was the concession extracted for military assistance to the film's production. Narrative characterizations of this kind often run to several paragraphs in the case of a major film like Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). Third, this filmography is meticulous regarding production company names and release dates, indicating when films were reviewed by both Variety or the New York Times. Recognizing that some war films have salient political contexts, precise dating helps us gauge audience background knowledge and the immediate emotional impact of theatrical showing. For example, The Green Berets was released just 3 months after the My Lai Massacre. However, the film had disappeared from theaters by the time the public began to learn of the scandal late in 1969. (VCRs did not become a consumer technology until the 1970s.) Fourth, Haverstock and Suid characterize the type of supportive relationship that existed between the service branches and the studios in a film's production. Seven categories are employed, ranging from Full (requested and granted) to Deny (requested and not granted). Such facts help us understand the surreal character of Apocalypse Now (1979, Deny) or the exuberant militarism of Top Gun (1986, Full), which they contend, "completed the rehabilitation of the military image. …

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