Latest Posts

On horror, mystery, fantasy, and science fiction “experts”

by Gary A. Braunbeck

My pet peeve for the day is people who claim to be an “expert” on horror, or science fiction, or mysteries, or any other literary genre because they’ve read absolutely everything by just a single famous author in that genre … and smugly refuse to read anything else.

Odds are, you’ve met someone who’s this type of “expert”. You’ve probably had to endure their homilizing endlessly about their extensive knowledge of the field based on having read only Stephen King or Clive Barker or Robert Heinlein or Robert Jordan or Agatha Christie or Or OR … (not slamming these writers, get it? Got it? Good.)

And you have undoubtedly heard these “experts” dismiss out of hand any writer who isn’t King or Rice or Barker or Or OR… because these “experts” don’t want to expand their understanding and appreciation of the rich diversity of fiction offered elsewhere because to do so would be to admit (to themselves and others) that they don’t really have the slightest goddamn idea what they’re talking about.

For someone to claim they’re an “expert” on horror or fantasy or mysteries or science fiction based solely on having read everything written by a single author is tantamount to my claiming to be an “expert” on automobile mechanics because I’ve read the owner’s manual that’s stuffed in the glove compartment of my wife’s Toyota.

Try this little experiment: the next time you find yourself confronted by one of these “experts”, politely interrupt them and ask them how they feel about, say, the influence M.R. James’ or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work might have had on King or Rice or Barker or Or OR … and see how quickly that stops their lecture mid-sentence.

And if they can’t answer because it’s obvious they’ve never read (or, in most cases, even heard of) James or Hawthorne or Matheson or Blackwood Or Or OR… tell them to shut the fuck up, then go have an intelligent conversation with someone who has the brains to admit they don’t know everything.

In the meantime: read, people. Read lots. And for God’s sake, read outside your genre.

Movie Review: The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood

reviewed by Gary A. Braunbeck

This is a low-budget, sleazy, but high-spirited dirty movie from 1980 that has aged less well than many of the B-grade actors who starred in it. Adam West (Batman from the old TV series) is the most recognizable star, appearing as Lionel Lamely. The movie is supposed to show how the first “Happy Hooker” movie got made in Hollywood and is mainly a string of party sequences.

While it’s pretty awful to the modern moviegoing eye, it does have a few amusing bits.

My favorite moment happens when Richard Deacon (you might remember him better as Mel, the befuddled producer on The Dick Van Dyke Show) in the role of a shifty Hollywood producer, is negotiating with a certain female author for the rights to film her book; the author tells him that she wants to make sure the essence of her book is captured by the filmmakers, and to this Deacon replies:

“Books, schmooks! Who do you know who reads books? Books are made for coffee tables or for something to look at while you’re sitting on the toilet…but movies! Movies are for people with vision!”

I found it funny the first time I heard it, and I find it sharply perceptive now, something you’d never expect from a nervous-Nelly soft-core porno movie.

Movie Info

Rating: R
Alternate Title: Hollywood Blue
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Alan Roberts
Writer: Devin Goldberg

Martine Beswick: Xaviera Hollander
Chris Lemmon: Robby Rottman
Adam West: Lionel Lamely
Richard Deacon: Joseph
Phil Silvers: Warkoff
Charles Green: Lawyer George
Lisa London: Laurie

Dumb things people say to horror writers at SF conventions

by Gary A. Braunbeck

I’ve been to a lot of science fiction conventions, and while there are always perfectly intelligent, pleasant, courteous, well-read people at such gatherings, you inevitably run into those skiffy fans who are missing a lot in the way of clue.

Here’s a list of things these folks have actually said to me at conventions, plus the responses I sometimes wished I’d given:

  1. Q: “You’re a horror writer?” *smirks* “So tell me a scary story.”
    A: There once was a writer who killed several innocent people in a hotel lobby because one person too many asked him to tell them something scary and he just snapped….
  2. Q: “What’s your name again? Hmm … never heard of you.”
    A: And what do you do for a living? … Really? You actually made a conscious decision to make that your life’s work? For the love of God, man, WHY?
  3. Q: “So you, like, write that Friday the 13th stuff, huh?”
    A: So you, like, have a reasonable dental deductible, right?
  4. Q: “Do you know Stephen King? What’s he really like?”
    A: So you, like, have a reasonable dental deductible, right?
  5. Q: “You write horror? Ew!”
    A: Phuck-u barada nikto.
  6. Q: “I can’t write, but I’ve got a great idea for a book; you can write it and we’ll split the money, okay?”
    A: Oh, MAY I? How long have I dreamed of this moment, when a selfless soul such as yourself would deem me worthy to WRITE SOMETHING FOR THEM while they sit on their ass and do nothing? How long have I prayed for yet ANOTHER person who isn’t me to make money off my efforts while I work 3 jobs, turn insomnia into an art form, and eat macaroni & cheese four times a week? BLESS YOU, SELFLESS ONE! BLESS YOU!
  7. Q: “Why are you openly weeping?”
    (Usually asked after forty-seven minutes of sitting at an autograph table where the only person to approach you is an overweight drunk from the NASCAR convention sharing the hotel that weekend asking for directions to the “sh*thouse”.)
    A: I want my mommy; my mommy reads all my books.
  8. Q: “Oh, I don’t read books.”
    A: Then WHAT are you doing here? Oh, you’re a hooker? Here’s a fifty — there’s a guy over at the autograph table who’s openly weeping; go cheer him up, would you?

Movie Review: Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia

by Gary A. Braunbeck

Early on in Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, one secondary character remarks: “Be content with your lot in life, no matter how poor it may be. Only then can you expect mercy.”

No other American director has understood or been able to capture the Mexican “culture of poverty” as unflinchingly as Peckinpah. Though Garcia may not be Peckinpah’s best film (it continues to appear on several “All Time Worst” lists), it is without a doubt his most personal. From its lovely opening image (a young pregnant Mexican woman resting by a river, sunning herself) to its harrowing closing shot (a smoking Gatling gun), Garcia is unique, for no other film of Peckinpah’s has so seamlessly managed to contain every element this often-brilliant director was obsessed with exploring: love, betrayal, desperation, tenderness in the face of brutality, loneliness, helplessness, anger, the struggle of integrity vs. conformity, friendship, and, of course, the futility of violence.

Peckinpah was accused throughout his career of glorifying violence, but he insisted he was doing the direct opposite: showing how repulsive it was by dwelling on it so much — and on no film was he more accused of glorifying the violence he claimed to disdain than in Garcia.

The basic story goes like this: The beautiful daughter of a wealthy and powerful Mexican land baron is seduced, impregnated, and abandoned by one Alfredo Garcia, a shameless gambler/drunkard/womanizer. The land baron, El Jefe, assembles his soldiers and declares his outrage at the loss of his daughter’s (and subsequently the lessening of his own) honor, and shouts: “Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia!” And like the Knights of the Round Table questing for the Holy Grail, El Jefe’s army is off and running.

Into this scenario enters an American expatriate named Bennie (Warren Oates) who is biding his time playing piano in a sleazy Mexico City bar. He is approached by two gangsters he often works for as a bagman (Robert Webber and Gig Young) who have been authorized to offer him a substantial piece of change if he’ll hunt down and decapitate Alfredo Garcia. Bennie, despite many indecent instincts he’s been trying to kill, accepts the offer, telling them he can use the money to take himself and his girlfriend, Elita (Isela Vega, who remains the strongest female character to appear in a Peckinpah movie) somewhere far away and begin a new life.

Along the twisted way, Bennie proposes to Elita in what is arguably the most heartfelt and sadly moving scene Peckinpah ever filmed. The two run into and overcome several obstacles in their way (yes, I’m being deliberately vague here) before they find themselves at a rotting, neglected graveyard where the careless Garcia, shot by a gambling partner, is now buried.

The first half of this film has the loose narrative structure of an obscure European import; in fact, in places, it gets downright eccentric — but I still say this film was condemned only because it came from Peckinpah; had it come from a director from New Zealand or France, critics would have drowned it in praise.

“Why does he think of this as a horror movie?” I hear you ask.

Because from the moment Bennie and Elita enter that wretched graveyard in the middle of the night, Garcia employs not only the classic visual elements of old horror movies (circling bats, wolves howling in the distance, misshapen shadows skulking in the background) but its heart and soul surrender to the horrific as well. The shadow-drenched grave robbing sequence is truly nightmarish, and from that scene on, the film begins a fast descent through all nine circles of Dante’s Hell as Bennie makes his way across country with Garcia’s decomposing head inside a wet burlap bag that is perpetually swarming with flies.

“Just you and me, Al, baby!” says Bennie, who spends the second half of the film slowly going insane. Warren Oates (who was infuriatingly underrated for most of his career) gives a fabulous performance as Bennie, making the man at once repulsive, sympathetic, heroic, romantic, and tragic. His fascinating and complex characterization was easily the best American film performance of 1974, yet was ignored by virtually everyone when it came time to hand out those overrated golden statuettes.

Bennie’s “relationship” with Garcia’s head gets so creepy by the film’s end that I refuse to spoil it for you by going into any more details; suffice it to say that Bennie not only talks to Al, but often stops in the middle of a sentence to listen as Al gives him advice. (And that’s not even the weird part.)

I am convinced that John McNaughton drew some of his visual and thematic inspiration for Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer from the second half of Garcia. Watch both films back-to-back and you might think you’ve just watched then first two movies in an uncompleted trilogy.

Movie Information

Rating: R
Release Year: 1974
Running Time: 112 minutes
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Writers: Gordon T. Dawson, Frank Kowalski, Sam Peckinpah
Main Cast:

Warren Oates: Bennie
Isela Vega: Elita
Robert Webber: Sappensly
Gig Young: Quill
Helmut Dantine: Max
Emilio Fernandez: El Jefe
Kris Kristofferson: Paco

Writing horror: the devil’s in the details

by Gary A. Braunbeck

A writer friend of mine was busy making final revisions on a story he was planning to submit to an anthology. He asked me if I wold look at his story and offer suggestions and opinions. I read the story over, and while a full 75% of it was rock-solid, the final sequence seemed to me to fall victim to over-ripe melodrama.

Now, instead of just saying outright that the finale was over-baked (and a bit nonsensical), I instead pointed out to him what I saw as the place where the story wandered off the highway. It had to do specifically with the nature of a central character’s physical and spiritual metamorphosis mid-way through on which the rest of the story’s events were hinged. The precise nature of this metamorphosis, and what the character intended to accomplish with it, were unclear and — I felt — because of their nebulousness, robbed the story of any impact; instead, they had chosen to finish things off with a (figurative) loud and histrionic display of horrific fireworks.

I began asking him specific questions about the precise nature of this character’s physical and spiritual metamorphosis: what exact physical change was taking place, how it affected the character’s ultimate goal, and what that ultimate goal was supposed to be.

“What exactly is the nature of this change?” I asked.

“It’s a supernatural transformation,” was his reply.

“But a supernatural transformation into what, exactly?”

“I don’t know…it’s just a supernatural transformation,” he again said.

“That’s not good enough,” I replied. “In order for you to get from the mid-point of the story to a more logical, chilling, and less cartoonish ending, you have to know exactly the nature of this transformation, how it affects the character’s psychological and spiritual make-up, and what the character’s ultimate goal is once this transformation has been completed.”

Now, I thought this was a fairly clear, concise, and thoughtful piece of criticism. My writer friend, after throwing up his hands and sighing loudly in frustration, looked me right in the eyes and said: “Dude, it’s just horror! It’s not like science fiction where these kinds of specific details matter!”

No, I did not kill him, but I did make it clear that they had not only just insulted and trivialized the horror genre, but also (intentionally or not) my life’s work.

I don’t know anyone who would enjoy hearing their life’s work reduced to a triviality, do you?

Now, in my writer friend’s defense, he was dealing with a story that had been giving them problems for a while; so much so that it had been put away and only recently approached again.

I would also add that this writer has not written or read as much horror as he have science fiction and fantasy.

I would also add that he had been having a really, really bad couple of weeks personally, and as a result felt like I was attacking them.

That said (and, yes, he apologized later when he realized the remark — however off-hand — had offended me), his comment encapsulated for me, with disturbingly and depressingly crystal clarity, why it is that a lot of horror stories and novels being published are of an at-best journeyman quality.

It’s because too many writers think, Dude, it’s just horror! Too many writers think that it’s okay to just say “…it’s a supernatural transformation”, and leave it at that, because once you’ve let the demon out, you don’t really need to think about the Hows and Whys and How-Comes; once the Boogeyman is boogying, the details don’t matter, just so long as it’s exciting or suspenseful or horrific.


It is exactly when the Glop is slurping victims left and right that you most need to think about the details. Every story — no matter how believable or outrageous its premise — must follow its own internal logic; it must establish the rules for its own microcosmic universe and then adhere to those rules. Fairly basic stuff, unless you think it isn’t necessary to bother establishing those rules in the first place.

Let me give you an example: the first Jeepers Creepers movie. Throughout the story, all we know about the Creeper is: he’s a demon (and even that much is left for us to infer, rather than directly established). Nowhere in the first film does the writer bother establishing the Creeper’s precise nature; we don’t know where it came from, what it wants, why it wants it, or what, exactly, the Creeper plans to accomplish through its actions. As a result of the Creeper’s nature and powers never being established, the story leaves it wide open for it to behave however it needs to in order to keep the story suspsenseful.

That’s not necessarily a good thing; yes, because neither the audience nor the characters in the film know the Creeper’s precise nature, it is impossible to predict what it will do next, and by default that should have generated more suspense…but it doesn’t quite work. It’s the very unpredictability of the Creeper’s actions that works against the second half of the film, preventing it from reaching the dizzying levels of suspense that mark the first forty minutes; if we, the audience, had been given some vague idea of the Creeper’s nature, had we been given just a few rules, had just a few details been established, then we wouldn’t have felt so much that the writer was simply pulling things out of his ying-yang in order to make the next scene SPOOOOOOOKY.

It’s sloppy storytelling, pure and simple.

Conversely, the reason Jeepers Creepers 2 was a much better-written movie was because the writer took the time to painstakingly establish the background elements lacking in the first film; because we did know the Creeper’s nature, what it wanted, why, and — an old trick that always works — that it was functioning under a time limit, the second film generated and maintained a high level of suspense that was both intense and followed the internal logic set down by the ground rules. No, it ain’t Lawrence of Arabia, but on terms of storytelling, it’s light-years ahead of the first movie.

If you think I’m making a tempest in a teapot here, consider this: Stephen King went back and revised the first four Dark Tower books so that they better followed the internal logic and ground rules that emerged as he wrote the last three novels in the series; he did this because the details are important; he did this because, as a writer, he was not content to simply let gaffes in continuity remain uncorrected.

He did this because he takes his work very seriously, and part of taking it seriously means that you think about the details, you follow your own ground rules, and you (as the late Theodore Sturgeon so eloquently phrased it) ask the next questions: What is the true nature of the beast? Why does this happen? What does he or she want? What brought them here? Etc.

No, you don’t have to offer these answers outright during the course of the story, but you, as the writer, have to know these answers yourself, for if you start your novel, novella, or short story with all the answers already in mind, you’d be surprised at how quickly and clearly your story will follow a logical course of events wherein these answers are shown to the reader through the actions of the characters or the progression of events.

The details are important, folks. They are vital. They are not to be dismissed off-handedly, because it ain’t just horror: it’s a question of careful storytelling, because it’s only through genuine craftsmanship that we can offer readers a much richer and rewarding reading experience than just tossing the details out the window and just being SPOOOOOOOKY.

Book Review: Ghosts of Yesterday by Jack Cady

reviewed by Gary A. Braunbeck

Ghosts of Yesterday by Jack Cady
Night Shade Books, 2003
ISBN: 1892389487

Ghosts of Yesterday coverEarly in 2003, Night Shade Books released a stellar collection of 12 short stories and essays from the superb (and now deceased, sadly) Jack Cady that any serious readers of fantasy or horror should have on their shelves.

Ghosts of Yesterday is the best single-author collection I’ve read in five years. It’s composed of 30,000 words of entirely new fiction, plus pieces that hadn’t been in collections before.

Ghosts contains one of the best short stories I’ve ever read in any genre, “The Lady With The Blind Dog.” The story — like the collection itself — is by turns thoughtful, sad, frightening, tragic, and, in the end, majestically chilling. You’d also do well to pay close attention to the essay “On Writing The Ghost Story” and the novella “The Time That Time Forgot.”

Cady knows how to do it right, and makes the work produced by most of us look like high-school level attempts at Lit-rah-chure. Get it and read it. Do it now. The man’s memory deserves nothing less from us.

Book Review: Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon

reviewed by Gary A. Braunbeck

nightbird coverI immersed myself in Robert McCammon’s Speaks the Nightbird for days. I first read it in 2002 when it was released in hardback by River City Publishing (Pocket Books put out the paperback version in 2003). It had been over a decade since McCammon last produced a novel; Nightbird reads astonishingly quickly for its near 700-page length, and McCammon’s prose is as smooth, poetic, and unselfconscious as it has ever been.

Writing a period piece like this is never an easy task, but McCammon manages to make the dialogue spoken by the characters ring true in modern-day readers’ ears, and his narrative passages easily rank alongside anything written by the Bronte Sisters or Jane Austen; yes, there’s a certain–and necessary–austere quality to the language, but McCammon never once gets bogged down by the challenges of this particular brand of prose.

His characterization is crystalline; from the major players to even the smallest supporting roles, not one person who populates this book rings a false note–and considering the size of Nightbird ‘s cast (were David Lean still alive, he might well be planning this novel for his next gargantuan production), that is no small feat.

The overriding triumph of this genuinely magnificent novel is the utter believability of its core love story (and it should be noted here that, despite the death, hopelessness, and violence that surrounds the cast, there are several different types of love stories that run through this novel, one that easily takes it place in the classical Romantic tradition of Jane Eyre or Silas Marner).

It would have been easy–and arguably justified–to present the love story between Matthew and Rachel in an overly-passionate, smoldering, Sturm-und-Drang manner, playing its inherently tragic aspects to the hilt in the tradition of Victorian drama or grand opera, but McCammon has a much more subtle and affecting way of playing out the romance between his two central characters. They come together because of a mutual alienation with their fellow human beings, and because each is, at their core, a painfully lonely person who each have come to believe they will exit this life without ever having truly loved or been loved, without touching another person, without moving another human being, and in each the other finds a a hard, gem-like flame of hope amidst the madness and squalor of the times in which they are trapped.

You also cannot help but shake your head in wonder at the staggering amount of research that McCammon put into this novel, and in the way he makes this research necessary to the story’s unfolding–not just as some expositional dump that screams, "Hey, lookit me! I done did all this here research and I’m gonna cram every last bit of it down your throat!" McCammon doesn’t do that here–doesn’t even come close. The historical accuracy present in these pages is not only impressive but vital to the deeper levels of the narrative. Plus it’s all damned interesting, if at times blackly depressing.

Finishing this novel left me saddened–not because of the final outcome of the story, which is both inevitable and moving and therefore as satisfying as you could hope for, given the subject matter; no, it saddened me because, as McCammon has said, this does not signal his return to writing. In an interview I recently read, McCammon stated that one of the reasons he left the horror field was because it had become a literature that (his exact words following) "…celebrates death," and he no longer wishes to be a part of that.

Speaks the Nightbird is filled with death, but ultimately celebrates life and the possibilities offered to even the most despondent soul by love and faith. Finishing this novel made me wish McCammon would consider the contradiction at the center of his reasoning: yes, maybe horror/dark fantasy/whatever in the hell they’re calling it this month…maybe it had been reduced to a literature that celebrated death, but the tide is turning, and now, more than ever, the field needs McCammon’s skill and humanity to become what he himself once referred to as "…the supreme mythic literature of our time."

But let’s face it; as much as we as readers (and myself as a writer for whom McCammon’s craft and skill served as a strong influence) might bemoan the absence of further McCammon books, we are lucky to have this one. And the happiness of no readership–regardless how large or feverishly dedicated that readership may be–is worth any writer’s peace of mind and happiness. Maybe McCammon will return to the field one day, and maybe not: I, for one, thank him regardless, for he has given me so many wonderful tales to remember and to which I can return anytime I choose. Like this one.

Speaks the Nightbird, aside from being probably the best novel you’ll read this year, proves that, in hands like McCammon’s, horror (in all its facets and forms, not just the traditional, boring, pale tropes), could very well fulfill that promise that he himself so eloquently foresaw. It’s just a pity that the field let him down and we lost a man who was easily the most passionate and humane dark fantasist of his time. Speaks the Nightbird will leave you hoping, as it did me, that the much-missed Mr. McCammon will someday come back to us–or, rather, allow us to join back with him.


reviewed by Gary A. Braunbeck

images posterIf you enjoy truly disturbing and mind-warping films, check out Robert Altman’s 1972 film Images. It’s an often horrific study of a children’s author (played by Susannah York) and her rapid descent into genuine schizophrenia and paranoia.

The movie is just amazing, beautifully shot and directed to keep you off-balance. It also features a very interesting, pre-Star Wars score by John Williams.

Images is available on MGM DVD for about 10 bucks and should be seen by any and all fans of serious psychological horror.

Movie Information

Running Time: 101 minutes
Rating: R
Director: Robert Altman
Cinematographer: Vilmos Zsigmond (who was later director of photography for Close Encounters of the Third Kind)
Writers: Robert Altman, Susannah York


Susannah York: Cathryn
Rene Auberjonois: Hugh
Marcel Bozzuffi: Rene
Hugh Millais: Marcel
Cathryn Harrison: Susannah
John Morley: Old Man

There will never be another you

An excerpt from the story “The Sisterhood of Plain-Faced Women” by Gary A. Braunbeck

This is our last dance together,
Tonight soon will be long ago.
And in our moment of parting,
This is all I want you to know…

I remember my mother used to love this one old 1943 Nat King Cole record. It was the only one she owned, as far as I know. She played a song called “There Will Never Be Another You” all the time; it was written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. It was one of the sappiest songs I ever heard. I never understood why she liked it so much. But she loved it.

Our house was always immaculately clean when I was growing up. But give my mom even the simplest task–washing a few dishes or something like that–and she’d take about three times longer to get it done than almost anybody else. I used to think it was just her way of avoiding having to listen to my Dad complain about things, but the older I got, the more I began to notice that she didn’t really do anything else with her days. She got up, made breakfast, then set about her tasks.

There will be many other nights like this,
And I’ll be standing here with someone new.
There will be other songs to sing,
Another fall…another spring…
But there will never be another you.

I remember she used to have a few shots of whiskey after my dad went to bed, then she’d play that record over and over, until she got this dreamy look on her face, sitting there in her chair and listening to that song and pretending she wasn’t who she was. Sometimes I could see it in her face, that wish. She was someone else and the song wasn’t on a record, it was being sung to her by some handsome lover come to court her, to ask for her hand and take her away to a better life than the one she had.

There will be other lips that I may kiss,
But they won’t thrill me,
Like yours used to do.
Yes, I may dream a million dreams,
But how can they come true,
If there will never, ever be another you?

I used to sneak downstairs and watch her do this, and I’d laugh to myself, you know? I’d laugh at her because I knew that my life was going to turn out differently. I’d never be so stupid as to wind up marrying a man who didn’t really love me like a husband should but I stayed with him anyway because that’s what the Church told me I was supposed to do. I’d never do that.

I’d never spend my days working around the house, doing the dishes and the laundry and the dusting, having no life of my own, no hobbies, no interests. I’d never spend half the afternoon fixing dinner, then half the evening cleaning up afterward, only finding time for myself after everyone went to bed so I could sip my whiskey and play a goddamn record by Nat King Cole about there never being another me.

I mean, I was eight, I was just a kid in grade school, and even though Mom was only thirty-seven she seemed old and used-up and kind of funny at those times.

But now it’s twenty-five years later and here I am. I don’t know if my husband still loves me; all I’ve got now is my work. Instead of whiskey and Nat King Cole I have two weak cocktails on Friday night after work and Jane Eyre or well-thumbed collections of poetry or a ton of videotapes, most of them romantic comedies.

She had no real life, except the one she found in her shot of whiskey and listening to that song, and I realized all of this way too late. All she had was this one little dream of some imaginary lover singing a sappy love song to her, and she spent the entire day anticipating it. That’s why she took so long to get her work done; looking forward to her fantasy, to this dream she knew in her heart could never be, it was all she really had for herself.

She’s gone now, but here I am, just like her.

Yes, I may dream a million dreams,
But how can they come true,
If there will never, ever be…
Another you?

Italicized lyrics © 1943 by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon

Pride of the Marines

a review by Gary A. Braunbeck

Pride of the Marines is a 1945 war drama starring John Garfield as the tormented marine Al Schmid. It’s based on a novel by Roger Butterfield. This was one of the first movies to step away from the unconditional rah-rah nationalism of earlier WWII films and to portray the brutal nature of the conflict and terrible cost paid by the men who fought. In many ways, the movie was ahead of its time.

This movie contains one of the most terrifying and nerve-wracking sequences I’ve ever seen. Garfield and three of his buddies are trapped in a foxhole in a swamp, and the jungle surrounding them is swarming with Japanese soldiers. You never see the enemy soldiers, though early on you hear them yelling, “Marines, tonight you die!”.

The marines can only see five feet in front of them because of the mist and fog, and one by one the guys are picked off by snipers (who take on the feeling of phantoms). Every once in a while you catch the glimpse of a shadow or hear the snapping of a twig…but that’s it. As each of them falls to a sniper, the others become even more frightened and paranoid, until, near the end of the sequence (it’s a good 10 – 12 minutes long, with no music, just sound effects and silence to build the unbearable tension), Garfield finally snaps and grabs the machine gun and begins firing blindily into the fog…

More would be a spoiler. It remains one of the most nerve-shatteringly suspenseful sequences I’ve seen.

Overall, the film is beautifully acted and it is one of Garfield’s best performances. It’s a pity it’s not available on DVD, though you can very rarely find it shown on cable TV.

Movie Information

Rating: PG (were it re-released on DVD)
Running Time: 119 minutes
Director: Delmer Daves
Writer: Marvin Borowsky, Roger Butterfield, Delmer Daves
Score: Franz Waxman
Cinematographer: J. Peverell Marley

John Garfield: Al Schmid
Eleanor Parker: Ruth Hartley
Dane Clark: Lee Diamond
John Ridgely: Jim Merchant
Rosemary DeCamp: Virginia Pfeiffer
Ann Doran: Ella Mae Merchant
Ann E. Todd: Loretta Merchant
Warren Douglas: Kebabian