Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Torah! Torah! Torah!

The heartrending story of three Hawaiian Hasidic Hebrew (3H) boys whose talmudic studies are interrupted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We follow the Jaunty Jews as they form their own kosher unit of the Marines and battle their way from island to island (but never on Shabat!) on their way to a showdown over Tokyo Bay, where … wait a minute. That was a typo up there. Sorry. Let’s start over …

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) These days, of course, they could reconstruct the whole harbor and the entire Pacific Fleet down to the last rivet in a computer, as well as ten thousand CGI sailors and hundreds of airplanes that look completely real. (They did do a CGI version in 2001, the really awful Pearl Harbor.) But in 1970 you had to do it all in real life, in real time, and brother, that took some ingenuity and some balls. They made dozens of fiberglass mock-ups of P-40s and PBYs and did some very good model work for the battleships. The story is ponderous and solemn, nothing but a history lesson (though it was something new—and controversial—to show both the American and Japanese sides). But oh, my, those stunts! At the time they were some of the best ever filmed, and they still look good today. Better, in fact, at least to me, than a CGI extravaganza, where you know it’s all phony. These dudes were risking their lives, and maybe it’s sick of me, but it just really makes a difference in putting you on the edge of your seat. I have a lot of respect for stunt men, having met many of them on the set of Millennium, including one who broke his leg quite badly. We had to take up a collection for him, since in his line of work he couldn’t get insurance.

They must have employed every stunt flyer and performer in six states to do all this. They wrecked a real B-17 when one of the landing gear wouldn’t come down, and they used that footage, too. They tricked up American trainers to look very much like Japanese torpedo bombers, none of which had survived the war, since the Divine Wind pilots flew all of them into American warships or the drink (I hope) in the last year. There was one stunt that went spectacularly wrong, and it’s easy to spot. A mock-up P-40 that was fitted out with a real engine was being run by remote control. It was specifically designed not to fly but you can’t keep a good bird down. The sonofabitch started to take off, the right wing lifted, and suddenly it was plowing into a line of fake planes and stunt men much sooner than it was supposed to. Those guys you see running away and trying to find something to hide behind really were running for their lives. Happily, no one was hurt, and it all looked damn good in the film.