Friday, July 21, 2017

On the Eve of War

On the eve of any armed conflict, there is that almost surreal will–they–or–won't–they kind of period when the people whose lives (most of them, anyway) will be shattered by decisions they do not make and actions they do not take are cast into limbo. And they wait to see if, well, they will or they won't.

Then the inevitable happens, and they must adapt to the new situation. Sometimes it requires them to shift their attitudes and their beliefs.

"One Minute to Zero," which made its debut on this day in 1952, was about such a time in the early days of the Korean War.

Ann Blyth, who was 23 at the time, played an idealistic United Nations worker in Korea just before the outbreak of the war — a pacifist who rejected all the evidence around her that a war was imminent. Like all of us, her character was shaped by its experiences, and she had lost her husband in World War II. Like many others she believed the U.N. was the legacy of the Allies' victory in World War II and that its mission was to prevent violent conflict around the world. She mistakenly believed it would do so in Korea.

I don't recall if her character's age was mentioned in the movie, but it is likely that Blyth was playing a character at least a few years older. Blyth was about 16 when World War II ended.

Robert Mitchum played a career military man who had risen to the rank of colonel. Experience had made him more pragmatic about the situation, and Blyth's character ultimately acquiesced.

Not to take a position in this, but it seemed to me that Blyth's character was eager to switch sides, perhaps a bit too eager. But that was in keeping with the rest of the movie, I thought. And it was in keeping with the times and the perceived woman's role in relationships, I suppose.

While I can think of several movies that managed to combine a good war story with a good love story in which characters didn't have to sacrifice principle, "One Minute to Zero" seemed to do little more than string together cliches from the better movies of its type — and the relationship between Blyth's character and Mitchum's character was a little too formulaic for my taste.

By and large, the females in the movies of that time yielded to the men in their lives on most things. I'm not suggesting that female leads in movies should arbitrarily take positions that are opposite of their significant others' simply to establish their independence. But neither should they go so far to the other extreme.

Perhaps that is something that was learned in that era — but is not always practiced today.

Early in the movie Blyth's character clearly had principles, but it didn't take much for her to shift to Mitchum's more pragmatic position that one had to fight fire with fire.

I learned long ago that you really can't reach a conclusion based strictly on Academy Award nominations — and the class of 1952 is a good example of that — but they can provide some insight into the quality of a movie.

And "One Minute to Zero" received no Oscar nominations.

Take from that what you will.