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War is a young man's game - Why cast older actors?

Discussion in 'WWII Films & TV' started by André7, Mar 7, 2014.

  1. André7

    André7 Active Member

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    I've read that the average age of World war II servicemen was 20 to 25 years of age.
    In Vietnam it was 19.
    Alexander the Great became leader of Macedonia and began his conquests at age 20.

    So almost EVERY war movie I have ever seen has older actors starring. Even my beloved Band Of Brothers cast actors over 30 years old in almost every part.

    George Seagal in "Bridge At Remagen" looks like he is in his late thirties (and Ben Gazzara looks in his 40s).
    James Caan in "A Bridge Too Far"
    Richard Burton in "The Longest Day"
    William Holden in "Stalag 17"
    Woody Harrelson in "The Thin Red Line"
    John Wayne in "The Fighting Seabees"
    John Cassavetes in "The Dirty Dozen"
    Steve McQueen in "The Great escape"

    It seems that there is a long tradition of casting stars who would have been way over the hill in war movies... Any thoughts?
     
  2. green slime

    green slime Member

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    "Way over the hill" comment may be slightly inappropriate. My Grandfather was in the RAAF in the Admiralty Islands, and was 42 at war's end... but I understand what you mean. There is a disproportionate representation in movies, of elder characters in war movies.

    I think part of the package to "seal the deal" with the audience, is the ability of the leading actors to carry the role, and casting a group of 20-year-olds risks a kind of teenage high school movie aura. While the audience wants to suspend belief, it requires a certain level of acting maturity to credibly represent. So it's easier to forgive an elder cast, than to direct a group of hollywood kids, perhaps?
     
  3. Clementine

    Clementine Member

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    Clout, André7.

    I'd take a "way over the hill" John Wayne, Steve McQueen, William Holden, etc. any day....
     
  4. toki2

    toki2 Active Member

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    More mature well known stars would pull the audience in. Who said that Hollywood was realistic? Rambo - say no more!
     
  5. KJ Jr

    KJ Jr Well-Known Member

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    Generally, seasoned actors can play those parts with more success, many of whom you mentioned above. McQueen, Wayne and Cann were, at the time, top of the line actors. It's still about selling tickets to keep your big budget war film from falling into the red. Which, unfortunately, happens. I have always noticed that war films come in waves of popularity. When Private Ryan was released two others followed closely behind, The Thin Red Line and Enemy at the Gates. Not to mention of failed B movies and foreign films that should have received more recognition.
     
  6. André7

    André7 Active Member

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    I agree that seasoned actors carry the roles better in general and that marquee value is important.

    I only brought it up because I noticed that in all the discussions I have read here so far NOT ONCE was this mentioned. Yet every other glaring or not so glaring historical cavil is brought up from inacurate markings on a spitfire, the wrong pips on a uniform, or a misquote in dialog.

    If this was a Shakespeare in film forum someone would make an ironic comment on the fifty year old Leslie Howard as Romeo (1936).

    When I see a world war two movie when a actor is cast in an age appropriate manner, I find it refreshing.

    "Green Slime" I'd be curious to know what rank your grandfather held in the RAAF and if the average age is the same in Australia as in the USA for the same time period. I was of course refering to what I had read about the average in American forces.

    I wonder if in the UK the age might have been slightly older by 1945, given that they had been at war a bit longer.
     
  7. green slime

    green slime Member

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    I think the average age of Australian and New Zealand forces were very similar to that of the USA. Looking at a collection of any war grave site (http://www.cwgc.org/), and you notice the vast majority are clearly 20-22. A few as young as 18, and a likewise to late 20's. Fewer still are in their 30's.

    My grandfather, was originally posted to a training ground, to train the young men to go off and fight, but he tired of sending them off, and demanded an active posting overseas. The Admiralty Islands were a nasty place to be, his role as responsible for airfield security wasn't made easier by contracting various tropical diseases, which ruined his health for years after. (As so many servicemen were in the Pacific TO)

    The service records are scanty, it only shows his rank upon discharge (25th October 1945), as a Warrant Officer, but not his progress since volunteering (13th March 1941). So what rank he held while dodging Nip snipers on Los Negros, I couldn't say. The RAAF wanted him to stay on post Japan, but he'd had his fill.
     
  8. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Staff Sargent Charles Dohun had just turned 32 at the time of Market Garden(IIRC, Ryan gives his age at 31) and james Caan was 37 at the time A Bridge Too Far was made.

    Can't say that a 5-year difference in age is all that great.

    After all, these people are actors, it is how old you appear to be, not how old you actually are.
     
  9. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    True Takao.

    Having 49 year old Henry Fonda play Lt. (jg) Doug Roberts was a bit of a stretch in Mister Roberts as was having a mid-fifties Bogey playing a late 30s Capt. Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. Both did a masterful job in their performances but neither looked anywhere near the age that their characters were. The actors were chosen for their star power, not historical accuracy (even though both movies were fiction).
     
  10. André7

    André7 Active Member

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    Point conceded. An "average" age does not mean there was not an age spread that covers any of these examples.

    As stated, I have read a lot of posts that cover many inconsistencies and odd questions. The attention to detail is mind boggling for me, yet this one things seems to have little importance to many people. Just thought I,d see what some of you had to say. Thanks for your responses.

    P.S. Green Slime, your grand dad sounds like he was a heck of a man. Hope he had a long good life after the war.
     
  11. Clementine

    Clementine Member

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    My grandfather served with the RAF and he was 29 when his plane was shot down.

    Wasn't the average age of a Seabee a little older, mid-30's? At least Wayne was pretty much on-target.
     
  12. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    Acting age and real age...Suppose depends on rank as well..But as an aside...my old man lied about his age...He said he was 60...they didn't believe him and still enlisted him. Good try though.
     
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  13. André7

    André7 Active Member

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    :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:
     
  14. Victor Gomez

    Victor Gomez Ace

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    Even in our current conflicts, I have seen soldiers serving in leadership positions on the front lines down with the younger basic troops and the local press has done a few stories about them.....also some stories of pilots who were quite over the hill but did not want to miss out on using their special skills when needed by our country. In each of these stories their ages put them quite over the hill so to speak but that was not a factor keeping them away.
     
  15. R Leonard

    R Leonard Member

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    My father started the war as a 25 year old (he'd be 26 in January 1942) Lieutenant (JG) and by October 1945 was a 29 year old Commander on the permanent list.
     
  16. André7

    André7 Active Member

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    Just as you would expect producers and directors to try to get the accurate weapons and materials to lend authenticity to a scene and setting, it seems important to me that filmmakers should perhaps be casting within the average age bracket, rather than older more seasoned actors who have mass appeal.

    Of course it makes sense that officers would be a little older and general ranking officers might be much older, perhaps even veterans from the previous war. But here you get into a debate about how closely you want the biographical portrait to be. Was Karl Malden the same age in 1970 that Omar Bradley was in 1944, or at least close? (for "Patton")

    In 1962, how close was John Wayne to general Vandervoort's age in 1944?

    I remember something being written by William Goldman in his The Making of A Bridge Too Far" about Ryan O'Neill as General Gavin. Apparently, the youthful looking O'Neill was exactly the same age as Gavin was in 1944, yet the movie was criticized for casting such a young actor in the part of an American general!

    Was this due to people being conditionned not to care about casting realistically in World War II movies? People had been conned to think that soldiers in World War II were all over 30?

    This seems disrespectful of veterans who gave up so much of their youthful innocence for their countries.
     
  17. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    The average age for the GI in WW2 was 26 from what I've read, and in WW1 it was 21. Getting a lot of well known young actors together in a movie back then (the 50s-70s) would probably be a stretch, and would not come off as believeable to the viewing audience as opposed to the well known older actors. I know it's not a WW2 movie, but it's been mentioned earlier about the average age of the GI in Vietnam was 19. The movie "Platoon" had many young faces in the cast to reflect the 19 year old average age.
     
  18. Owen

    Owen O

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  19. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    the Germans at the front would not talk with the "newcomer" for two weeks. If he survived that period, he would probably live a little longer, usually the newcomers at least for the Germans according to this died either in days´ time or had a chance to be a veteran.

    In the movies I think it´s the name and career that decide if you get to play the leading roles, there are many youngsters who get to die during the movie. All about the money. But at times there are some newcomers who fit perfectly in the movie...
     
  20. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    The tradition of the "grizzled sergeant" is strong in American memory. One reason is that between the wars men would stay in as long as they possibly could and many of the guys who served in WWII had memories of a top kick who seemed to be grandfather material.
     

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