Thursday, June 6, 2013

On The QT About "PT"

This post finds me in a most peculiar position because I had DVR-ed PT 109, believing that, based on its cast, color cinematography, year of issue and subject matter, it would be perfect fodder for examination in The Underworld and yet when I actually got down to watching this 140-minute 1963 movie, I found myself eventually losing interest to the point where I began “checking out” right as it was ostensibly beginning to get exciting, and I like war movies! (I have to admit that in reviewing it later, I wasn't as bored as I was upon initial viewing.  Maybe I was tired!)

Thus, I'm still going to take a look at PT 109, but primarily I'm only going to focus on that which truly held my attention, which, in this case, was the men! (Actually, certain men.  Apart from one cheesecake illustration pasted inside a cabinet door, no females appear in this movie whatsoever!)

To back pedal for a moment, PT 109 was based on the exploits of a young naval lieutenant during WWII who, because of his personal health and family connections, easily could have ridden out the war comfortably at home, but who instead opted to see action in the Pacific, ultimately emerging as a hero to his men and others. The lieutenant? John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a man who later became a U.S. Senator and eventually President of The United States of America.

Despite a bad back, he convinced his superiors to let him work in the Pacific theater and even command a small, more easily-maneuverable-than-bulkier-vessels, boat: PT 109. The ship had seen hard action and needed to be repaired and restored, but he and his small crew did so, eventually putting the vessel back into service where it could be used in rescues, cover, distractions and so forth.

The beginning of PT 109 focuses on young Kennedy (as portrayed by Cliff Robertson) coming to the islands and requesting command of the boat. Then, after the assemblage of his crew, he's shown working on getting it put back together again properly and ready for action.
Among his motley crew are none other than Robert Blake and Norman Fell! Blake, a child star who segued into adult roles with success, including In Cold Blood (1967) and Electra Glide in Blue (1973), would enjoy fame as TV's Baretta (1975-1978), though his biggest notoriety came when he was accused of killing his wife! He was acquitted in the murder trial, but found guilty in a separate civil case and wound up in career and financial oblivion (his acting career had come to a close a half a decade prior to the killing.)

Fell was a longstanding character actor best known for playing the persnickety, nosy landlord Mr. Roper on Three's Company (1977-1979) and its short-lived spin-off The Ropers (1979-1980.)

There is also a row of sailors shown showering with makeshift tanks and nozzles amusingly labeled with the names of various alcohol types. It's a brief sequence, but the location pops up twice (the second time during an air raid, which sends the presumably nude – but obscured - men scampering for cover.)
The man Robertson reports to is played by the beautiful Grant Williams (best known as The Incredible Shrinking Man, 1957), who makes a rather unforgettable entrance in the movie. Robertson enters his tent to find him stretched out (in wide-screen Panavision!) asleep on a cot with just a t-shirt and some skimpy boxer shorts.
Let me say that again and offer a closer look... Dreamy Grant Williams asleep on a cot!
After being roused by Robertson's arrival, Williams turns over onto his stomach and arches his back, pushing his butt up slightly (which ought to be standard operating procedure in my armed forces rule book! Ha!)
Sadly, it becomes obvious that Williams is wearing some sort of very tight, compressive briefs under his boxers (I spit on you, costumer Alexis Davidoff!!), but nevertheless Williams is looking terrific in body and face. (I especially like his hair mussed like this, versus neatly combed.)

In a true gift to moviegoers everywhere (especially ones who like beefcake!), Ty Hardin (of TV's Bronco) was hired to play Robertson's second-in-command, a tall, strapping, tan, white-blonde god with a curious mustache and goatee combo.
If for no other reason, fans of hunky Hardin owe it to themselves to sit through (or perhaps skim through) PT 109 just to see him alternately lumbering and high-tailing it around. He's GORGEOUS (and very amiable, reliable, loyal, etc... as well.)
Hardin was typically very fit, but lean, and in this movie he is far more bulked up than most fans are probably used to. His burly, solid frame and chiseled features make him look like the type of sailor that would make even notorious artist Tom of Finland standup and take notice!
I have no clue what caused Hardin to adopt this platinum hair and accompanying facial hair (I am not aware of a crew-member on the real boat looking like this, though I'm certainly no expert), but it's incredibly striking.
The first time I saw it, I nearly burst out laughing, but trust me, when you see him in action, it grows on you...
Solid, ever-curmudgeonly character actor James Gregory appears throughout as Robertson's cranky, but caring commander.
Showing up rather late in the proceedings is Robert Culp as an old buddy of Robertson's who winds up serving on the boat with him. He brings a certain level of confidence and swagger that by this point in the movie is most welcome.

Culp had been in TV since the mid-'50s, but 1963 was the year he debuted in films, with this, Sunday in New York and The Raiders offering a triple play in that arena. He would soon star in I Spy (1965-1968) before hitting a movie milestone in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice in 1969, with many more roles on the big and small screen to follow.

Publicity at the time heralded the presence of three second-generation celebrities working on the picture. Tony Hope (son of Bob) was an associate producer while David Whorf (son of a film producer) and William Douglas (son of a Supreme Court justice) had featured roles as seamen. Whorf, a busy actor as a youth, later went on to an assistant directing career (including, ironically, A Woman Named Jackie (1991, about President Kennedy's wife) and Marilyn & Bobby: Her Final Affair (1993, about Kennedy's lover and his brother, who was also involved with her!) Douglas' career as an actor was over practically before it began.

The White House was directly involved with several aspects of the making of PT 109. By-then President Kennedy had some stipulations regarding the movie. One was that it be an accurate portrayal of the events (which it was, to a point.) Also, the profits had to be dispersed to the survivors of the doomed boat and their families. He also had the power to veto famed director Raoul Walsh after viewing Marines Let's Go (1961) and loathing it. Veteran director Lewis Milestone was selected instead, who had helmed All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), A Walk in the Sun (1945), Pork Chop Hill (1959) and the recent box office disaster Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), which went grotesquely over-budget and was legendary for the bad behavior of its star, Marlon Brando.

Milestone wanted a better script (and had to be out of his mind to do another picture on the water after Mutiny!), which was not forthcoming, and so he departed and was replaced by Warner Brothers television director Leslie Martinson. Thus, this somewhat expensive production, with glistening and lush cinematography by Robert Surtees, wound up in the hands of a less than brilliant moviemaker. This may explain the curiously uninvolving nature of the film and the sometimes McHale's Navy type of approach to certain scenes.

Kennedy also had final say in the casting. An early contender was Peter Fonda, but he became miffed during a screen test over being asked to replicate Kennedy's Boston accent. Jeffrey Hunter was another option, though Jackie Kennedy was pulling for Warren Beatty.

Probably one of the most apt contenders, at least physically, was Edd Byrnes (shown here), who had the lean, slight build of a young JFK, similar facial characteristics and an unquestionably prominent (and famous) thatch of hair that would have helped put the casting over. However, Byrnes was known as a swaggering sort of novelty character called “Kookie” on 77 Sunset Strip (1958-1963, still on the air at the time) and such a persona was a hurdle to him being taken seriously as a heroic future President.

Finally, Kennedy settled on Robertson, who only vaguely resembled him, was too old for the part, had a very hairy chest and made no attempt at an accent at all! To compensate, he posed for a lot of shots in the film that had him pleasantly smiling beatifically, giving the “character” of Kennedy and sheen of goodness and idealism that was very likely nothing like the rambunctious, confident and highly energetic and competitive young man who made such a mark in the navy and in life! Better things were soon to come, though, when he won an Oscar for Charly (1968.)
Robertson got a major career boost out of this, being photographed with a scale model of the title boat....
...hobnobbing with Rose Kennedy, the famous mother of the person he was portraying...
...and even becoming immortalized at the Movieland Wax Museum in a vignette based on PT 109.
The movie does contain several attack sequences, multiple bits of sea action and a vivid collision between PT 109 and a Japanese destroyer, which turns fiery. Here, the photography is painterly and almost too pretty at times to be appropriate for what is going on, but Hardin sure looks good during it (and is very considerate of a fellow sailor who is badly burned.)
Once the men are shipwrecked on an uninhabited island, they loll around discontentedly while Robertson attempts to find food and help, wondering what on earth they ought to do to pass the long, boring days. This is where I could have given them a few suggestions! Ha!
What would you find to do if you were stranded in the middle of nowhere with a tan, blonde, built Ty Hardin??
Robertson eventually gets help in the form of two native men who take an unripe coconut with a message carved in it to a U.S. Naval station, where a rescue plan is put into place. (Here is where the facts get fuzzy as to who's idea it really was to use that famous coconut and also regarding the fact that in the movie the navy keeps looking for the men of PT 109, but in real life they were presumed dead and a memorial service was even held!)
You know I rarely miss the chance to highlight any bulge potential (even in a movie with bilge!), so now I give you the unconscious Robertson lying on deck after the PT 109 collision.
Throughout the movie you can spot Robertson dressed left in his khaki uniform. In this sequence, in particular, it's more noticeable than in some others.
Listen, as well-meaning as this movie was (and it became even more of a reverential tribute to JFK after the fact of his assassination five months after its release), it could be less than dazzling to sit through certain stretches of it, so we have to find our entertainment in it any way we can!  Take what good you can find and like it.

8 comments:

dickson said...

Grant Williams was much better than he was ever given credit for.

NotFelixUnger said...

Please give me a slice of Ty Hardin. In this movie he looks just like the Green Arrow character I remember from comic books as a child. I always wanted Green Arrow in a bad kinda way. This post just brought back those memories floating back.

joel65913 said...

I have to agree with your assessment of the film. Being a history buff I watched it thinking it would be interesting and found it a chore to get through. The ample supply of male shirtlessness was a balm but it was still tedious.

Narciso Duran said...

Hail Poseidon for making interesting reading out of a not-so-intersting movie. Never ceases to amaze me...

NotFelix, you said it best, "Please give a slice if Ty Hardin." And with a generous side helping of Grant Williams for a chaser, if you don't mind. Breathtaking...

But Joel65913 nailed it in two words: "chore" and "balm."

And Dickson, you are right Grant Williams was a very sensitive and interesting actor. And Oh! would I like to have been on that island with him.

I had watched the film on re-run television, many, many years ago in a politically split household, with my Irish (D) relatives faulting the film for historical inaccuracies and the WASP (R) side rolling their eyes claiming it was all fabricated anyway. Ha! All I know is that Ty and Grant would get my vote any day.

Great eye, Poseidon; Ty does have that Tom of Finland quality about him in these photos.

Poseidon3 said...

Dickson, needless to say, I agree with you completely about Grant Williams.

NotFelix, I loved Green Arrow, too!! I read Justice League of America primarily to see him and his girlfriend Black Canary, who I was obsessed with. Green Arrow was one of just a smattering of heroes with a beard (and I don't mean Black Canary! lol) Usually more villains had them.

I'm relieved to see that others agree with my take on this movie. I was worried that I was somehow missing some great epic as I began to doze off here and there. Maybe I placed too much anticipation on the promise of shipwrecked sailors in the south Pacific! ha!

NotFelixUnger said...

OT, but only slightly. Since we were talking about Green Arrow and beards (the facial kind)... The new Superman, Henry Cavill, has both a beard in certain scenes and also a rather hairy chest. No Clint Walker to be sure, but this makes me think the times they-are-a-changing.

ohsohappy said...

Thanks for adding the photo of James Gregory. All these years and I didn't even know his name.

Xav said...

Let's not forget Ty Hardin as Joan Crawford's leading man in the circus-set horror film, Berserk. If the old-man/young-woman dynamic in Entrapment creeped you out, the age difference gender-reversal in this film would might cleanse the palate. He was smokin' and ya gotta hand it to Joan for taking him for herself, plausibility be damned.