Midway – The original

In June of 1976, just over 42 years after the actual Battle of Midway, the movie Midway was released. It was a summer hit and went on to be 10th highest grossing film of that year. Now, more than four decades later, Roland Emmerich is bringing a new Midway to theaters. It opens on November 8, 2019 which happens to be Veterans Day weekend this year.

The fact that the 1976 film was the second of the four feature films to use Sensurround to enhance the viewing/auditory experience in the theaters helped make it a hit. I guess I am showing my age by confessing that I got to enjoy that Sensurround experience in a large theater in Los Angeles when it opened.

The very talented cast also contributed to the movie’s success. Charlton Heston and Cliff Robertson were already Oscar winners. Henry Fonda and James Coburn would go on to win Oscars later in their careers. Others in the cast included Hal Holbrook, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, Toshiro Mifune, Pat Morita and many others had roles in the film. So did a young Tom Selleck and Erik Estrada.

While the audiences enjoyed the movie, the critics were less forgiving. Roger Ebert gave it 2.5 out of 4, criticizing the performance of Charlton Heston as the fictional character “Matt Garth” in scenes with Edward Albert. Albert was portraying Garth’s son, also a naval aviator. Perhaps the best description of critical reaction at the time is found in the header of Vincent Canby’s review in the New York Times. “On film, the battle of ‘Midway’ is lost.”

Edward Albert and Charlton Heston in Midway (1976)

In the era where disaster films were big, the pyrotechnics of the battle scenes were given their full due. That most of the actors are portraying real-life people shouldn’t limit what they did with their portrayal of the real people. I never had the privilege of meeting any of the naval officers involved in the Battle of Midway but from what I’ve read, Robert Mitchum did a fine job as then Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey. Halsey was the last man to hold the rank of Fleet Admiral in our nation’s history.

I watched Midway again a few month ago. Not the overly long made for TV version that added over 40 minutes of superfluous screen time, thank goodness. There are some historical inaccuracies, but none that will matter to anyone who is not an ardent student of military history. The best moments of the movie are found in the actual attacks by propeller-driven airplanes on the large aircraft carriers. It is not a spoiler to reveal that in the Battle of Midway, all four of the Japanese carriers were sunk, along with a heavy cruiser. The U.S. lost the carrier Yorktown and a destroyer.

I’m curious about and looking forward to seeing Mr. Emmerich’s take on this important time in our history.

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