The Story of Ernie Pyle and his Friends
Whilst not a war movie fanatic I have watched my fair share and have seen some which declare to tell the true story of what it was like to be a solider in the trenches. But having watched "Story of G.I. Joe" for the first time very few come close to what to me feels like an authentic look at a soldier's life during WWII. Now I say that having had no military experience and can't say for sure if it is authentic but it has a feel of being almost documentary like with a restrained yet still powerful dramatic style so it never feels like an action movie yet still has moments of action. It makes me feel like that this is a movie which whilst impressive is even more impressive for those who were G.I.'s in WWII and who can truly appreciate how authentic it is.
So what we have in "Story of G.I. Joe" is basically what war correspondent Ernie Pyle observed as he spent time with the infantry men during WWII in particular the men of C Company, 18th Infantry. It is through walking the walk with these men through rain and wind over rocky terrain and through water as well as into combat he got to really see what these men went through, the relentless misery of fighting the battle on land. At the same time through Pyle's observations we see how friendships form between the men as well as between him and those he came to closely know and we witness how they attempted to keep moral up in such horrid conditions. And it is worth mentioning out of respect to Ernie Pyle that whilst he assisted in the making of "Story of G.I. Joe" he would sadly die before its release killed in the fighting on Okinawa.
So what does that mean well in a way you could say that "Story of G.I. Joe" has a familiar feel because like many war movies it includes a variety of regular scenarios. We see the men marching in all sorts of weather forced to take cover when enemy planes fly over, there is a battle with Nazi snipers in a bombed Italian town and there are some lighter moments thrown in such as an Italian soldier from Brooklyn chatting up a pretty Italian he meets.
But then we have the big difference because whilst this means we have some typical action the movie is never about the men bringing down a sniper or waiting in out in caves till a Monastery is bombed. Instead what "Story of G.I. Joe" is about is the men and what they did, how they got on, how war affected them from seeing their first killing to being dead on their feet from days of no sleep. It makes it feel almost documentary like because of the focus on the characters doing enough to establish the varied bunch of unwashed soldiers as individuals so whilst we may not remember their names we know who they are. Talking of which we have one character who has insurance forms to fill out as to who gets the payout if he dies in action, we watch as with no relatives he puts the names of his fellow soldiers, their children and loved ones. It really does a fantastic job of making him feel real and it is the same through out so whilst you will get a terrific action scene it is always on how each individual soldier deals with it.
Now whilst many of the soldiers we follow end up being memorable but in a strange way nameless despite names being used the two characters you do remember are of course the big two. Now Burgess Meredith is first rate as Ernie Pyle, I mean that in that he plays a character who becomes one of the men but one who knows he isn't, he is a friend and an ally but not one to express opinion or tell them what to do. It is a very good performance from Meredith and one which is equalled by Robert Mitchum as Lt. Walker strong silent but commanding, friendly but often with the look of the weight of the world on his shoulders.
What this all boils down to is that "Story of G.I. Joe" is still a first rate war movie which whilst featuring many familiar elements and even characters feels more authentic because it is never about the action but the men and how they coped with war. So don't watch "Story of G.I. Joe" expecting just another war movie and embrace the different tone which focuses on the men rather than heroics and killing the enemy.