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NOT TOO BORA! BORA! BORA!

After Otto Premingers In Harms Way but before the trashy miniseries Pearl and Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor there was Tora! Tora! Tora!, a reserved seat attraction that had no drawing power built in—the outcome a reminder every December since 1941, and though there were reasonably well-known actors playing the parts of the famous, no one in it had a marquee value that would make legit the hard ticket prices. It was, for all unspoken purposes, a picture giving employment to actors (and hardly any actresses) who had been hanging out at the 20th Century Fox commissary, with its austerity menu, for too long. As study of the Japanese machinations to deliver a brazen attack on Washington via an aerial bombardment of Pearl Harbor to push the sleeping giant into war, the movie has its after intermission success. The American side of the story, comprising part one, is mundane, perfunctory, even a little embarrassing; we look like flabby, lazy fools-in-waiting. A considerable number of people, including Pauline Kael, walked out at half time and missed the much stronger Japanese takeover of part two. Its view is iconic—the faces (many from previous Asian stereotype performances) are emblems of a cultural inscrutability we supposedly still dont understand and the Imperial Naval officers are dressed in formal black attire; they look ready and disciplined for the mission, and the Jap pilots rah-rah enthusiastic. The obvious contrast of the two cultures is what the picture wants to be about, though the Academy Award-winning special effects used for the bombings are probably what most of the non-veteran audience came to see anyway. (One very effective moment comes when an American fighter plane is destroyed and its propeller cascades over the tarmac.) If we have come to believe that Washington knew an attack was imminent, the sheer gall of the daylight aggression remains nevertheless a thundering astonishment. With tiresomely American Jason Robards (who claimed to be at Pearl Harbor the day it was attacked), Joseph Cotton, E.G. Marshall, Wesley Addy, Martin Balsam, George Macready, Richard Anderson, Edward Andrews, Neville Brand and Leon Ames; with Soh Yamamura, Takahiro Tamura, Eijiro Tono, Tatsuya Mihashi, Shogo Shimada and Koreya Senda as the inscrutables. Some of the footage of the harbor bombing shows up in Pearl. Oscar-nominated for cinematography, art-set direction, sound, film editing. American side directed by Richard Fleischer, Japanese side by Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasuku. Filmed in Panavision.

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ralphbenner@nowreviewing.com 

Text COPYRIGHT © 2002 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.