Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ernie Pyle's "Story of G.I. Joe" The Movie

This BLOG is dedicated to the memory of my father, Chester Nowlen, Sr. My Dad had the opportunity to play as extra in the movie Ernie Pyle's "Story of G.I. Joe". My Dad was one of the many army G.I.'s that were hired as extras to make the movie, but he was one of the few that was seen through out the movie and had various speaking parts.

They had planned to show Dad wounded during the movie, as you can see from one of the pictures below, but that part was cut out.

The movie was unavailable for many years, but is now available on VHS and DVD. I hope you will get a chance to watch the movie and look for the scenes my Dad is in.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Movie Reviews, Posters and Ads

Movie Reviews

  • The Story of G.I. Joe was based on the columns of Scripps-Howard war correspondent Ernie Pyle. Though already past 40, Pyle insists upon marching along with an Army infantry unit during the Italian campaign. He befriends several of the soldiers, including commanding officer Robert Mitchum (his breakthrough role), family man Freddie Steele and would-be romeo Wally Cassell. The "plot" of the film is moved forward by the progression of the war itself; basically, however, G.I. Joe is an anecdotal collection of comic, dramatic and tragic vignettes. Some of the more memorable moments include Freddie Steele's ongoing efforts to listen to a recording of his infant son's voice; Mitchum's casual reactions to his many field promotions; and a wedding ceremony which is "punctuated" by an air raid. Many infantry veterans consider The Story of GI Joe to be the single most realistic Hollywood war film of the 1940s, eschewing big stars, phony heroics and overblown battle sequences in favor of the everyday trials and tribulations of the humble foot soldier. Ironically, Ernie Pyle, who acted as technical adviser (when he wasn't busy on the front), was killed by an enemy sniper shortly before the release of this film. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide War correspondent Ernie Pyle joins Company C, 18th Infantry as this American army unit fights its way across North Africa in World War II. He comes to know the soldiers and finds much human interest material for his readers back in the States. Later, he catches up with the unit in Italy and accompanies it through the battles of San Vittorio and Cassino. He learns from its commanding officer, Lt. (later Capt.) Bill Walker of the loneliness of command, and from the individual G.I.'s of the human capacity to survive drudgery, discomfort, and the terror of combat. Written by Jim Beavers:

  • 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

The Cast and Crew

My Dad, "Pappy" Chester Nowlen, Sr., was one of the Army Soldiers that were hired as extras to made this movie. Pappy Nowlen became close friends and drinking buddies with Robert Mitchum while making this film.

Robert Mitchum is seated in the front and is forth from the left - Burgess Merideth is standing and is fifth from the arrow on the right.

That's my Dad way in the back where the arrow is pointing.

Robert remembered my Dad well enough for him call him on the telephone in the mid-1970's as he was passing through Lake Village, Arkansas. Robert had finished making a movie in Mississippi and was traveling with the cast on a bus and stopped at a roadside diner for burgers. Robert called my Dad from the diner and asked him to come have lunch with him.

I think my Dad could have had a career in Hollywood because he was the rough and tough, John Wayne type. He could trick ride on a horse like Roy Rogers and he could out drink, out cuss, and out fight just about anyone that came his way.

He was not impressed with Hollywood because he felt everything and everyone there were fakes.

Pvt. Archie Connell

Pvt. Archie Connell is one of the many real GI's in Ernie Pyle's "Story of G.I. Joe", Lester Cowan production starring Burgess Meredity. William Wellman Directed.

Shelly Mitchell

Singer Shelly Mitchell's voice was heard in the Ernie Pyle's "Story of GI Joe" but she was not seen in the picture. She played propagandist Axis Sally.

Final Touch

FINAL TOUCH.....Cpl. Chester Nowlen is given a going over by one of the makeup assistants preparatory to beginning a scene for Ernie Pyle's "Story of G.I. Joe," Lester Cowan production. The Corporal is one of may actural "GI's" lent by the Army for the film which stars Burgess Meredith as the celebrated war columnist.
My Dad's wounded scene is actually cut from the movie.

Strange Gift

STRANGE GIFT. . . .Cpl. Chester Nowlen looks with humor at the polka-dot necktie he received at the battle front for a Christmas gift from the folks back home. The Corporal's grinning companion in this scene from Ernie Pyle's "Story of G.I. Joe", Lester Cowan production, is Sgt. Fred Sprague.

In the scene of this movie my Dad holds up the tie and says in a high pitched voice, "Ain't she pretty." Whenever Dad spoke with this high pitched voice he was usually pretty intoxicated.

Pappy Nowlen has to be different in every shot

The cast takes time out for lunch. Pappy Nowlen has to be different in every shot. He's the only one wearing his helmet and notice he's trying to hide from the camera.

When you see the movie you will notice him trying to hide from the camera in the early schene where all the men are riding in trucks.

Dinner Pose

The cast of Ernie Plye's "Story of GI Joe" take time out from their dinner to pose for this shot. Notice Pappy Nowlen is the only one drinking during the shot.

Cadet Nurse, Beulah Tyler

Cadet Nurse, Beulah Tyler, who is seen in Ernie Pyle's "Story of G.I. Joe" is interrupted at lunch by three wolfish GI's who play roles in the Lester Cowan production starring Burgess Meredith as Pyle. The GI's are left to right, Cpl. Pappy Nowlen, Pvt. Fred Ross, and Pvt. Angelo Arena

Note: Cadet Nurse, Beulah Tyler is now 84 years young - click here to see her current pictures along with her Cadet Nurse poster

Real GI's who play roles in Ernie Pyle's "Story of G.I. Joe"

Looks like some of the real GI's who play roles in Ernie Pyle's "Story of G.I. Joe" try to monopolize the girls on the set. The girls in their care are Poster Girl Cadet Nurse Beulah Tyler (sitting in jeep) and Dorothy Coonan who play the role of an army nurse in the picture. The boys are left to right Cpl. Pappy Nowlen, Pvt Fred Ross, Sgt. Kenny Chappel, Pvt. Jim Cosso.

Note: Click here to see current pictures of Cadet Nurse Beulah Tyler and her Cadet Nurse Poster.

GI's Select Axis Sally

Here are the words on the back of the photo:

GI's select Axis Sally. Pretty Shelly Mitchell, former vocalist with Cugat, in the girl who is heard but not seen in Ernie Plye's "Story of G.I. Joe." Shelly, 21, was chosen by Producter Lester Cowan and some real GI's to play Axis Sally, Nazi radio propagandist, because of her seductive, bedroom voice. Shelly, born in Richmond, VA., was chosen only after Cowan and the GI's listened to several hundred voices. The GI's who helped picked Shelly are, left to right, Cpl. Chester Nowlen, Pvt. Charles Rozell and Pvt. Fred Ross.

Hurry Up and Wait!

Hurry Up and Wait is what these Army soldiers are used to. These G.I.'s are part of the Army cast for the movie, Ernie Pyle's "Story of GI Joe", and as you can see, they are resting between action shots in a Hollywood scene that looks like a real war torn village.

The GI Journalist

This is an article about Pyle published in the American Legion Magazine

Click on picture to enlarge

Ernie Pyle and His Family on the Set

This photo is a very rate photo of Ernie Pyle and his family shot on the Hollywood movie set, Ernie Pyle's "Story of G.I. Joe"