Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cimmerian sighting: Best battle-speeches

I’m no war-monger, nor do I make light of real battles and their terrible cost. But there’s no doubt that mass-combats make for great cinematic drama, especially in their build-up and occasionally in their denouement. Here on the day after Veterans Day, I’m marking the occasion by taking a look back at a film that every battle-aficionado should watch at least once: Henry V.

Many fantasy fans lament the lack of good movies in the genre, myself included. But I will say that you’re missing out if you haven’t given Henry V a chance (I speak here of the Kenneth Branagh 1989 film. I haven’t yet seen the 1944 version with Laurence Olivier). While it’s obviously not fantasy, Henry V has a lot of the trappings of the genre (armored knights, archers, kings, castles, etc.). It’s also got some surprisingly good combat sequences, as well as a few of the most rousing battle-related speeches/sequences ever put to film.

Despite its excellent reputation, I held off watching Henry V for a long time. My reasoning: How good could a Shakespeare film be? Impenetrable? Likely. Boring? Most certainly. Or so I thought.

I admit it; I was wrong.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Cimmerian web site.


Falze said...

Don't know that I can think of a good one right away that you didn't hit, but I can name one of the worst, the most contrived (I love the movie in spite of it), Bill Pullman's speech in Independence Day before the pilots take off for their last stand. Maybe terrible battle speeches is a subject for another day, though :)

Aragorn's was pretty good at the Black Gate, too.

Brian Murphy said...

Courtesy of an e-mailer, here's a bunch more great battle-speeches for your enjoyment. If these don't lift you out of the doldrums, nothing will:

Travis's speech at the Alamo

Patton Battle of the Bulge Prayer

Mel Gibson Braveheart

Final speech from 300

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's speech to mutineers

Stonewall Jackson's speech to the First Virginia

Frenchman is still a Frenchman speech from Hornblower

David J. West said...

Great links Brian-I'm going to get through all of them soon.

Along the lines of Veterans Day-my grandpa didn't like Patton smacking around G.I.s with PTSD but he was in the bulge with Patton and I know that prayer meant a lot to him-being a man of faith as well.

Kent said...

Your enthusiasm for battle is infectious! I urge you to deepen your interest in Henry V by watching Olivier's version. In place of Branagh's exuberant realism you will witness a stylised and surrealistic blurring of behind the scenes, characters on stage and characters in film and the virtuoso set design transitions magically to the galloping fields of France (Ireland). The acting is expert throughout but it won't have the sweaty battle scenes you (and I) enjoy. That said were you not disappointed that Branagh directed archers to fire into a melee apparently neatly picking off foes? He would have been better prepared with some experience of D&D!

Its probably not what you are looking for but in Blackhawk Down I find Eric Bana's one on one mentoring of Josh Hartnett's ranger quietly moving, why he fights and the difference in war between men and boys, however talented. Of course they are public speeches to the young men in the audience.

Brian Murphy said...

Kent: I'm sure I'll watch the Olivier Henry V one of these days. You certainly sold it pretty well. Can you tell I love this stuff?

Yes, the combat at Agincourt, while bloodier and grimmer than I expected from a 1980s film based on a Shakespeare play, was a bit stylized in Henry V.

I did enjoy Blackhawk Down, though I only saw it once, and the Bana speech does not stand out as something I remember. I'll have to see if I can hunt it down on Youtube.

Falze: Good call on Aragorn. I'd also add Sam's speech at the end of The Two Towers--not a battle speech per se, but it is a call to arms of sorts, and he delivers it as the Ents mop up at Isengard and the defenders claim victory at Helm's Deep.

Brian Murphy said...

David: Your grandfather was in The Battle of the Bulge? Amazing. Is he still with us?

Anonymous said...

Cromwell with Richard Harris and Alec Guinness has some interesting speeches of all kind... war... political... before an execution...
Brian and the rest of friends what ios the best film to take contact with Akira Kurosawa...? I has a copy of The seven samurais but Kagemusha sounds interesting and I have heard great things about Ran...
by the way I hardly recommend you Flesh and blood by Paul Verhoeven with Rutger Hauer... condottieri in the Italy of the XVI century... as I read in some place a hardcore version of prince Valiant...
I'm Francisco from Spain...

Brian Murphy said...

Hi Francisco, thanks for stopping by. The only Kurosawa film I have seen is Seven Samurai, which I highly recommend.

Flesh and Blood sounds great. Anything with Rutger Hauer is a must-see in my book. I'll add it to my Netflix queue.