' ' Cinema Romantico: Two Men Went To War

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Two Men Went To War

Even in the midst of WWII, people needed dentists. This is never addressed in history texts. It's always RAF this and Winston Churchill that but, hey, as a character puts it, "If you can't bite, you can't fight." Peter King (Kenneth Cranham) is a Sgt. in the Royal Army Dental Corps who has yearned his whole military career for honest-to-goodness action on the front lines. Yet again, he is denied. Thus, when he happens upon eager Pvt. Leslie Cuthbertson (Leo Bill) in a supply room pretending to hurl a real life grenade as if it's a party favor, passionate in his own naive way to trade in the periodontal probe for a rifle, he knows he's found his man.

Sgt. King gathers up Pvt. Cuthbertson one quiet morning and the two men shove off by train to catch a bus to hop a junky old boat to the shores of occupied France, determined to conduct their own invasion - their own invasion, it should be noted, two full years before the real invasion.

"Two Men Went To War" (2002), directed by John Henderson, is not at all interested in the realities of war, the toll it takes, and even though technically death looms around the corner when the two make landfall - a scene which nicely places a reversal on top of a reversal - the lighthearted tone means we are never seriously concerned for their well being. That adversely affects a couple of the scenes going for suspense, sure, but also adds to the overall impression for which the film strives.

Aside from one traditional sleeping under the stars confessional, very little backstory is presented regarding King and Cuthbertson. Instead we are left to glean who they are from how they act and what others say. An officer back at the base describes King as "barking mad." Cuthbertson seems as concerned with meals - the way he keeps carrying around those sacks of biscuits is quite endearing - as with the possibility that they are, you know, gallivanting about in enemy territory. It brought to mind the line in Werner Herzog's documentary "Grizzly Man" in which the late Timothy Treadwell, the man who spent his summers alone in Alaska with the grizzlies, was described by one interviewee as acting as if those grizzlies were people in bear costumes. Generally the Nazi soldiers in "Two Men Went To War" feel like, well, actors in replica Nazi uniforms.

But not every war film is intended to be "Saving Private Ryan." Based on a true story, "Two Men Went To War" follows most of the main facts but makes its own detours and embellishments - especially in relation to King and Cutherbertson's target of a radar station - and, in the end, is not so much about two men going to war as it is about two men who share a dream and decide to seek it out even if that means going AWOL.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you reviewed this movie. I really liked it, and I rarely see it mentioned. I agree that it didn't really stand up to other war films. But for what it was, I thought it was a good movie. I think Leo Bill is a talented character actor.

Nick Prigge said...

You know, I first read the tiniest of blurbs about this one all the way back when it was released and made a mental note of it. I put it in my Netflix queue quite a long time ago but then it was "unavailable" until it just recently. And even when it BECAME "available" it was still a "long wait." And THEN they had to ship it from a different Netflix center because it wasn't available at a Netflix center in my area. AND the disc was scratched to hell. I suspect they don't have many discs of this one.

All of which is a long way of saying it was quite an adventure to finally get to see it.