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Was 'The Monuments Men' Inspired by 1963 Antiwar Drama 'The Victors'?

Thompson on Hollywood By Joe Leydon | Thompson on Hollywood February 10, 2014 at 11:16AM

A few reviewers have described "The Monuments Men" as an old-fashioned wartime adventure, and I wouldn’t disagree with that appraisal. Keep in mind, though, that there’s more than one fashion that’s old. While some may liken it to a Hollywood crowd-pleaser of 1940s vintage, I thought Clooney's movie was structured and paced more like some episodic, star-studded international co-production of the 1950s or ‘60s. Oddly enough, there were times when it reminded me a lot of Carl Foreman’s 1963 anti-war drama "The Victors"
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'Monuments Men'
'Monuments Men'

According to the latest aggregation of opinions on Rotten Tomatoes, George Cloone's "The Monuments Men" hasn’t fared very well with most of my critical brethren. But I find myself inclined to give it an appreciative thumb’s up, if not a full-throated roar of approval. And not just because, as a minor-league history buff, I am reflexively fascinated by accounts of efforts to retrieve art masterpieces plundered by Adolf Hitler's minions during World War II.

Clooney's movie -- which really makes me want to take another look at the documentaries "The Rape of Europa" and "The Architecture of Doom" -- is an intelligent and entertaining mix of stranger-than-fiction fact and respectfully plausible invention, adapted by Clooney and co-scriptwriter Grant Heslov from Robert M. Edsel’s "The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, And the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History." It’s a tale of unlikely heroes -- art experts, most of them middle-aged American guys, charged with locating and saving stolen artworks even as war rages in Europe -- and while it rarely crackles with suspense, it never fails to engross. 

As director, Clooney displays uncommon generosity and conspicuous good taste, giving most of the juicy scenes and colorful dialogue to his co-stars -- Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett are among the notables performing far beyond the call of duty -- and providing carefully calibrated comedic touches without ever undermining the seriousness of his true-life drama.

A few reviewers have described "The Monuments Men" as an old-fashioned wartime adventure, and I wouldn’t disagree with that appraisal. Keep in mind, though, that there’s more than one fashion that’s old. While some may liken it to a Hollywood crowd-pleaser of 1940s vintage, I thought Clooney's movie was structured and paced more like some episodic, star-studded international co-production of the 1950s or '60s. Oddly enough, there were times when it reminded me a lot of Carl Foreman's 1963 anti-war drama "The Victors" -- particularly when, as though taking his cue from Foreman’s film, Clooney makes potently ironic use of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Not that that's such a bad thing, you understand.

By the way: Just in case you’re interested, here (at the 3:45 mark) is how Foreman did it.

This article is related to: Monuments Men, George Clooney, News


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.