1940's. 1950's

8

I realize now how very short life is, because I’ve got to be considered to be in the home stretch. But I won’t waste time on recriminations and regrets. And the same goes for my shortcomings and my own failures.

Eldred Gregory Peck (April 5th, 1916 - June 12th, 2003)

I could use some more blogs to follow! So if you post anything listed below, like or reblog this and I’ll check out your blog!

- world war 1
- world war 2
- 1900′s to 1950′s
- movies about either world war (f.e. ‘saving private ryan’ or ‘war horse’)
- tv series about either world war (f.e. ‘band of brothers’ or ‘the crimson field’)
- books about either world war (f.e. ‘the book thief’ or ‘the first casualty’)
- history (preferably focused on the 20th century)
- retro/vintage things

3

Otto Skorzeny and The Paladin Group

If any real life historical figure could be a Bond villain, Otto Skorzeny would definitely be a leading candidate. A former Nazi SS commando, stalwart fascist, and Cold War soldier of fortune, Skorzeny was the stereotypical cloak and dagger “bad guy” from any dime store spy novel, complete with a gnarly facial scar. Seriously, he could be a villain straight off of “The Blacklist”. During World War II he was an SS colonel, commando leader, and Hitler’s favorite soldier. He was best known for the daring rescue mission of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who was captured by Allied forces after the surrender of Italy.  He also commanded a special infiltration unit composed of English speaking German soldiers who wore American uniforms and infiltrated American units behind enemy lines. Throughout the war Skorzeny would become one of Germany’s most highly decorated soldiers, participating in and commanding several commando missions.

After World War II Skorzeny was prosecuted for war crimes, but was released when British MI6 decided not to use their evidence against him as it would expose their intelligence networks.  A man without official citizenship with any country, he first lived in Ireland, then Spain after gaining the support of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. He was eventually granted a passport by his home country, Austria, and Spain, but Skorzeny wasn’t the sort of man who needed a passport to travel across the world. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s he was a member of ODESSA, a clandestine group which smuggled ex-Nazi’s out of Europe to avoid war crime tribunals.  He founded a large fascist political network in Spain, which printed and destributed fascist propaganda and created branch organizations throughout Europe and Latin America.  He also served as advisor to Argentinian President Juan Peron and bodyguard to his wife Eva.

In the early 1950’s Skorzeny began to organize a mercenary group mostly composed of German SS, Gestapo, and Wehrmacht veterans.  The goal of the group was to support fascist regimes and right wing extremist movements across the globe. This was mostly in the form of training, especially guerilla groups, but also by providing crack commando troops and boots on the ground. In 1960 his mercenary group was officially incorporated as “The Paladin Group”, co-founded by a rogue American CIA Special Operations officer and ODESSA member named Col. James Sanders. If there was a conflict that occured in Europe, Africa, Latin America, or Asia during the 1950’s to mid 1970’s, you can bet your bottom dollar The Paladin Group (or it’s nameless predecessor organization) had some role in it. The roots of The Paladin Group can be traced back to 1952 when Skorzeny was recruited by CIA man and former WWII German General Reinhard Gehlen for operations in Egypt. At the time Egypt’s monarch, King Farouk (CIA codename “Fat Fucker”) had been overthrown in a military coup, and Egypt was led by President Gen. Muhammed Naguib.  Naguib used Skorzeny and his men to train the newly modernized Egyptian Army and various commando units in preparation for a possible plan to oust British forces from the Suez Canal. Skorzeny would later become advisor to Naguib’s successor, President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

For the most part, The Paladin Group supported fascist/dictatorial regimes or right wing extremist guerilla/partisan movements and vehemently opposed left wing or communist movements.  However, Skorzeny often took jobs that either suited his needs or put a lot of cash in his wallet. A perfect example would be in the mid 1950’s when he was contracted by both the Israeli’s and Palestinians.  Among his most famous (or infamous) clients was PLO leader Yassir Arafat, and Skorzeny planned Palestinian raids into the Gaza Strip in 1953 and 1954.

Throughout the 60’s The Paladin Group served a wide variety of clients. The Spanish Government hired them to fight a clandestine war against the Basque Nationalist Group ETA, they were hired by the South African Bureau of State Security, there were even rumors in the Soviet KGB that Skorzeny was training Green Berets for secret operations in Cambodia and Thailand. One of Skorzeny’s biggest clients was the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddaffi, who hired The Paladin Group to help plan and execute the coup which put Gaddaffi in power, then to train the Libyan Army.

Between 1967 and 1974 The Paladin Group also took part in the organizing and execution of a series of military coups in Greece, leading to a civil war in which the Greek monarch, King Constantine II, was ousted from power and replaced with a military dictatorship.

The Paladin Group came to an end in 1975 with two major events.  First, Otto Skorzeny died of lung cancer.  Second, Francisco Franco likewise passed away.  With Franco gone a new democratic government came to power, one which had little tolerance for fascist organizations.  The Paladin Group was expelled from Spain.  Without a home and the leadership of Skorzeny, The Paladin Group was disbanded.  Peashooter hopes that producers make a retro James Bond movie with Otto Skorzeny as the bad guy. That would be so awesome!

5

Last night I watched All That Heaven Allows  (Douglas Sirk, 1955) for the first time. It’s stars Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman have never seemed interesting to me, other than Hudson as the quintessential gay movie star in the closet, and I’ve avoided it as well as Magnificent Obsession, their first outing together. But, you know, I was very surprised and very moved by this film. It is what you’d expect, a glossy soapy 1940′s-1950′s melodrama, but it is also a surprisingly sharp critique of American suburban culture at mid-century.

First impression, of course, is that it is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever looked at, and it’s beauty is all completely artificial, created on the Universal lot with vibrant painted back drops and ingenious matte paintings for the landscape. I don’t know that I’ve seen Technicolor used more effectively to convey mood and support the plot. The performances are surprisingly effective, too - and by effective I mean that I was sobbing by the end of the film - and demonstrate once again how much passion can be communicated through the eyes and through physical restraint (think of Brief Encounter, for instance).

Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven (2002) was an updating and a critique of the older film but in the updating it eliminates the humanity of All That Heaven Allows. And it famously changes a dead husband for a living gay one, and for the central conflict makes the gardener a black man rather than a younger man who reads Thoreau. Julianne Moore’s best friend in Far From Heaven deserts her, and Dennis Haysbert’s community turns against him so that the two lovers must face their future alone. It is a rather bleak ending with just enough hope to suggest a possible future for them somewhere else. In All That Heaven Allows, best friend Agnes Moorehead is supportive, realistic and understanding (and wears fabulous clothes) and Jane Wyman is welcomed into a new community of people, friends of Rock Hudson, who have turned their backs on the rat race for a simpler, more fulfilling style of life. The ending is hopeful and emotionally satisfying.

There has been a re-examination of Douglas Sirk’s work by critics and academics since the early 1990′s. But ignoring the various theories of irony and displacement, it can be simply enjoyed, on its own terms, as a love story. It’s a beautiful, engrossing, deeply humane film that I would recommend to anyone.