What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called The World War II Blog-A-Thon, which is being hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and Cinema Essentials. The fact they tolerate my non-sense in these blog-a-thons; classic film fans across the blog-o-sphere should be following both of these pages.
You can see all the contributions to this blog-a-thon here:
This is a lesser known film, but it is a classic example of what I call “boilerplate American Post-War Cinema.” That means this movie is so cheesy it should come with wine and crackers. Call it what you will, but I’m a sucker for that stuff because I grew up on the “afternoon movie/movie for a rained-out ballgame.” Set on a U.S. Army Air Corps base in England in 1943, this movie has everything required of the “cheesy war movie” genre.
First, it has all the needed characters; including the host of minor players all designed to steal scenes. It has the conniving, womanizing, comic relief con-man in Sergeant Dolan (played by Tom D’Andrea). It has the number-crunching automaton commander in General M. Gilbert (played by Shepperd Strudwick). And no war movie of this type would war movie would be complete without the maverick main character who is forced into a transformation when burden of command is laid on him; in this case that is Colonel Ed Hardin (played by Edmund O’Brien).
Next, “Fighter Squadron” contains the needed layers of conflict. Obviously, it’s World War II, so you have the Americans versus the Germans. But you also have the internal conflict between Hardin the Maverick and Gilbert the automaton. But best of all, you have Hardin the Maverick against Hardin the Commander which is made possible by Hardin’s promotion.
The hallmark of Hardin’s internal struggle is rooted in the fact the “Maverick” becomes a strict enforcer of the rules. This includes a dictate about forbidding pilots to marry. Hardin keeps the ban in place which creates a problem with his friend and wing-man Captain Stu Hamilton (played by Robert Stack). As a result, Hamilton defiantly marries his girlfriend and returns hoping to persuade Hardin to overlook his transgression. Hardin refuses to let him back into the squadron, but does weaken enough to let him fly one last mission. Predictably, Hamilton gets shot down and admits over the radio to Hardin that in combat he was distracted by thoughts of his wife.
The film ends on an ironic twist in which Hardin begs for the chance to finish his tour after being promoted to a staff job. Just like Hamilton, Hardin is predictably shot down, the viewer not knowing his fate as the last view of him is his plane trailing smoke arcing toward the ground, but we never get to know Hardin’s ultimate fate.
One last tidbit: Keep your eyes peeled for an unaccredited Rock Hudson as one of the pilots.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Legendary Minnesota Vikings’ head coach Bud Grant was a “Colonel Hardin”-type; he was at the same time a maverick and a stickler for discipline. The “maverick” Grant engineered a previously unheard of trade between the Canadian Football League and the National Football League which brought Joe Kapp (who can be seen in 1974’s “The Longest Yard”) from the British Columbia Lions to the Vikings.
The “stickler” Grant believed that football was all about emotions and how well you control them, which is why every picture of him looks like a granite face clad in purple. He believed that a team would not follow a coach who lost his poise during the a game. To that end, Grant did things like requiring outdoor practices during the winter to get players used to the cold weather. To maintain that acclimation, he banned heaters on the sidelines during games. Keep in mind that winter in Minnesota can be “freeze the balls off a polar bear” cold…we’re not talking about “uncomfortably chilly;” think more like “chiseling your jock-strap off with an ice-pick.” What else would you expect from a guy who showed up to be the honorary coin-flipper at the start of a Viking play-off game held in -6º F degree weather a few years back wearing a golf shirt while everybody around him looks like they came straight from the Shackleton expedition?
We’re talking about a guy who not only mandated his team to stand at attention in a straight line during the entire national anthem, he even held practices for properly standing in a straight line. While that may seem a bit ridiculous, especially by today’s standards, it’s not the oddest thing Grant ever did.
Much like Ed Hardin’s ban on married men in his squadron, Bud Grant notoriously banned his players from engaging in sexual activity the night before games. There’s a ton of theories as to why he did that; feel free to argue them amongst yourselves. I’d rather look into the stunning career similarities between Hardin and Grant.
Granted, Bud Grant took the Vikings to the last NFL Championship not determined by the Super Bowl, but nobody remembers that because the Vikings lost the last “exhibition-only” Super Bowl to the last American Football League champion Kansas City Chiefs. It only makes sense that if you’re going to be a Hall-of-Fame football coach, you had to have more than a few successes. It also only makes sense that if you are military officer who rises to the rank of Colonel, you’ve done a few things right.
Besides the 1969 NFL Championship, Grant led the Minnesota Vikings to a divisional championship in only his second year after taking the reins from Norm Van Brocklin. All tolled, Grant retired as the eighth most successful coach in NFL history with an overall record of 161 wins, 99 losses, and 5 ties. He led the Vikings to one league championship, three conference championships, and eleven division titles. He got into the Hall of Fame by being the first coach to take a to four Super Bowls. But he never won one.
In other words, Grant didn’t get to the top of the mountain for a Super Bowl-era head coach. For Ed Hardin, he made it to Colonel, and he get within a sniff of becoming a staff officer which is the key to being promoted to General…the top of the mountain for a military officer. But “Fighter Squadron” leaves us with the impression that Hardin meets his maker at the end.
That leaves us with the old joke…who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?
Colonel Ed Hardin.
The Moral of the Story:
Rules exist for a reason. Sometimes the reasons aren’t good.
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