The Gold Standard: How the movies -- past and present -- changed our lives

Fond of war films as a kid, Thomas found himself “transfixed as an eighth-grader” with the World War II film “The Enemy Below,” directed by Dick Powell in 1957. Years later, he went on to write “John Paul Jones” and the current bestselling war-naval tome “Sea of Thunder” as well as many cover stories for Newsweek, where Thomas is assistant managing editor.

“The special effects of those 1950s war movies are crude by today’s standards,” he says, “but in the case of ‘The Enemy Below,’ they used the human drama: The two captains, Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens, captured the incredible loneliness and frightful responsibility of being a naval commander — no one in the world, not the king of England, had more responsibility than a naval commander — and the film pitted them against each other.” Thomas actually felt a twinge of kinship with Mitchum and Jurgens when, at age 13, he used to sail the Long Island Sound with a crew of one or two on a 13-foot Blue Jay

The writer-editor also gives high marks to “Patton,” “Das Boot,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Master and Commander,” which, he says, contains only one small inaccuracy: “It’s where Russell Crowe hangs from the bow chains. The last thing a captain would do is hang from the bow chains, because that is where the crew went to the bathroom.”

At present, Thomas finds a striking similarity between “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” and his own “Sea of Thunder.”

“What I like about Clint Eastwood’s movies is that he made a serious and honest attempt to humanize the war — on both sides,” he says. “During the war, the Japanese and Americans demonized each other as animals and insects. After the war, we tried to glamorize the whole thing. Eastwood is trying to do in his movies what I tried to do in my book — capture the confusion and banality of war as well as the heroism and pathos.”

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