Echoes of War: A Thousand Years of Military History in Popular Culture (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 1, 2003
- pp. 75-76
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Book Reviews | Regular Feature them for the neglect she and her siblings felt after their orphaning . "What some members of our family didn't seem to understand ," she complains in the closing lines, "was, ourparents' deaths didn't weaken our relationships with each other. It strengthened them, because we were now three against the world ifthat's what it took—and sometimes it did. . . the three of us have survived— because Lou and Anne Costello were our parents." Given its unique familial context, then, it should not be surprising that this biography is so careless in ways a conventional biography ought not to be—that, for instance, it establishes only the fuzziest chronology, neverreferencing specific dates andrarely even years; or, for another, that it forgets to introduce or then fails to identify by anything much more than a name Lou's supposedly closest friend and fellow prankster, Bobby Barber; or, most important , that it fails to appraise the distinctive comic accomplishment of Lou Costello in anything other than the broadest commercial terms. Yes, it captures the major stages of Lou's life and career, and it furnishes plenty of interesting if not always germane anecdotes. It mentions Lou's insistent reliance upon recycled successful burlesque routines freshened up by his gag writers (especially John Grant, the author of "Who's on First"), and it touts Lou's marketing sense in conceiving the idea of a military movie (ultimately, their first and perhaps greatest success , BuckPrivates) to appeal to an increasingly mobilizing world at war. But there is nothing more analytical about the special resonance of the team's humor or Lou's persona with the mores of their cultural epoch. Yet they are the quintessential comedy act of the forties, a decade ofno little significance to American culture, marking as it does the country's emergence into military superpower and cultural hegemony. Nor is there any critical appreciation for the seminal work of the team's television series in the early fifties, which anticipated the conventions of such later sitcoms as The Odd Couple and Seinfeld (not to mention the homoerotic curiosities of so much contemporary cultural criticism!). This sort of work remains to be done by some channel-surfing scholar ofthe future who may stumble upon an AMC showing of BuckPrivates Come Home (1947) or who may run across a friend's VHS (and soon DVD!) copy of the television show's "South of Dixie" episode. Thankfully, this may be a more likely development than one would think. A search of the Library of the Congress reveals a 2000 volume by Jeffery S. Miller entitled The Horror Spoofs ofAbbott and Costello: A Critical Assessment of the Comedy Team's Monster Movies. Can their other works— and their lives—be far behind? Let's hope not. Robert Cirasa Kean University Michael C. C. Adams. Echoes of War: A Thousand Years ofMilitary History in Popular Culture. The University Press of Kentucky, 2002. 296 pages; $29.95. Mythological Netherworld? As in many combat situations, a shaky line seems to separate reality from expectation and most of the time, this thin demarcation seems fuzzy. Look at MGM's 1978 post-Watergate, conspiracy film, Brass Target, Here, a battle-hardened American OSS operative, Major Joe DeLucca (John Cassavetes)—frustrated by a peacetime assignment to locate stolen Nazi gold bullion— stared plaintively into the empty air, unable to appreciate the mundane nature ofhis mission. Finally, the sinewy officer, a man who during the hostilities, dynamited Italian tunnels, assassinated Nazi commanders, and rescued trapped Americans vented his anger: ". . . I wish the war had never ended." What happened? Had the major flipped? He wished the warhad never ended? Why does the prospect ofnoncombat seem so unattractive, lackluster orpurposeless? Is there ahidden agenda that makes armed conflict appealing? Are we living in some mythological netherworld where a mainstream population espouses peaceful intentions but subliminally applauds action and violence? Has American culture—plugged into zany electronic equipment—finally accepted global strife as a crowd-pleasing, media-panting, Marine-recruiting, brass-bandbonanza, worthy of everyone's participation? These are some of the questions that Michael C. C. Adams picks apart in his wonderful study, Echoes ofWar: A ThousandYears ofMilitary History...