Memphis Belle (1990)

(On TV, May 2018) I saw bits and pieces of Memphis Belle back in high school, but sitting through from beginning to end doesn’t really change my opinion of the film: This is as basic a movie as it’s possible to make about WW2 bomber crews. It’s willfully schematic, reusing plenty of familiar wartime movie tropes in order to comfort its audience. It’s the story of a single bombing mission, supercharged with dramatic intensity (if they come back from their fiftieth mission, they can go home!) and every single incident of interest that may have happened at any point in WW2. It does work in that while Memphis Belle is familiar, it’s not really boring: there’s enough going on to keep watching the film without effort, and the familiarity ensures that the film will still make perfect sense once you come back from a kitchen snack visit. Don’t try to go read up on the film’s historical accuracy—it’s safe to say that most of what’s on the screen happened, but certainly not all at once. There is some additional interest in the cast, given that many of the young men in the Memphis Belle crew have gone on to other things: Most notably Billy Zane, Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, Sean Astin and Harry Connick Jr., with special mention of David Strathairn and John Lithgow in ground support roles. Much of the film was shot practically, making the rather jarring special effects stand out more—nowadays, much of the film would be a pure CGI spectacle, although whether this would be an improvement would depend on the director—see Red Tails for an example of going too far. The nice thing about Memphis Belle is that you get almost exactly what it says on the plot summary. Nothing transcendent, but nothing terrible either.

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