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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/30/00

The Story of G.I. Joe
1945 (2000) - Image Entertainment

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

The Story of G.I. Joe Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/B-

Specs and Features

108 mins, NR, B&W, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, newsreel footage of Ernie Pyle interviewing G.I.s in Italy, gallery of Pyle's actual newspaper columns, biographical liner notes by James Tobin (author of Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness), film-themed menu screens, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 1.0 mono), subtitles: none

The Story of G.I. Joe is based on the real life experiences of a war correspondent named Ernie Pyle. Pyle was in his 40s when he volunteered to ship overseas to cover the Allied invasion of Europe. What made him different, was that while other reporters covered the aviators and the officers, Pyle told the story of the common soldier - the Army G.I.. To accomplish this, Pyle slogged through the mud beside them, crouched in foxholes with them and ducked the same bullets as they did. As a result, they respected him immensely. He told their story vividly, often in their own words, so their loved ones back home would know of the life they led. And back home, people were reading in droves. Pyle's reports made him an unsung hero in the States, and he became one of the most respected correspondents of the war.

His popularity grew to the point that Hollywood decided to make a movie about him, while the war was still far from over. Pyle insisted that the film tell not his story, but that of the men he reported on. A soldier and actor named Burgess Meredith was sprung from the Army to play Pyle (at the order of no less than Army Chief of Staff George Marshall himself). And a young Robert Mitchum was tasked to play the role of a platoon Captain who leads his men across the European front.

The story of this film is surprisingly simple. Pyle (Meredith) simply accompanies the men of Company C into action against the Nazis, from the deserts of North Africa to the hills of Italy. And along the way, we get to know and like these men, feeling some of the emotions of their comrades, as some survive the fighting and others do not. Meredith is perfect as Pyle, a quiet but likable man, there by choice rather than by assignment. And Mitchum is outstanding as the kind-hearted, but war-weary, Captain Walker.

Pyle himself was killed in the Pacific, before the film was completed, while doing what he did best. This film, along with his own newspaper columns, serves as an impressive legacy to not just Pyle, but to the soldiers he stood by through thick and thin. Think of this film as the original Saving Private Ryan, with less impressive special effects perhaps, but no less moving and powerful. It's a simple story, but then war itself is pretty simple - face death because you must, and do what you have to to survive.

On DVD, Image has preserved the B&W, full frame picture nicely. This isn't reference quality video and the print does, at times, show its age. But it looks as good as it needs to. The audio fares a little less well, taking on a rather muffled quality occasionally that makes dialogue hard to discern. But most of the time, the mono track also suffices just fine.

As far as extras, this isn't a loaded disc. But the quality of what you get more than makes up for that. To start with, there's a very good biographical liner notes piece on Pyle on the inside of the Snapper case. There's also an all too brief (less than 2 minutes) clip of newsreel footage of the real Pyle interviewing G.I.s in Italy during the war. But the real treat is a stills gallery featuring about a dozen of Pyle's actual newspaper columns. These detail his experiences in the Pacific theater, and chronicle the invasion of Okinawa, Pyle's encounter with Japanese prisoners of war and the story of a group of Navaho code-talkers. The last few columns were published after his death (he had written them ahead of time). The final story, written by a fellow correspondent, tells of Pyle's death by sniper fire, and of the Major who stood with him and retrieved his body. It's a powerful experience to watch this film, and then to read not only Pyle's last words, but the words of his comrades as well.

When Image Entertainment asked if I'd be interested in reviewing this new DVD, I said, "Sure - why not?" Little did I realize that I was about to discover a true gem - easily one of the best films ever produced about the foot soldier's experience of World War II. Thanks to Image for that, and for releasing this film on DVD. Absolutely don't miss it.

Bill Hunt
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