Memorial Day weekend is not an excuse to head down to Ocean City, launch the motorboat or dust off the barbecue grill. Well, OK, it is for those things, but the real meaning of the holiday is to commemorate the wartime sacrifices of U.S. armed forces.
And on television this year, that seems to mean a bombardment of World War II miniseries and movies.
For example, Baltimore independent station WNUV-TV (Channel 54) tomorrow is re-airing in its 10-hour entirety the 1983 ABC miniseries "The Winds of War," beginning at noon.
Four veterans from Parkville Post 183 of the American Legion serve as hosts for the broadcast, appearing in taped segments during commercial breaks. They include Lee Burlage, a veteran of the invasion of Leyte; Lee Mundle, who was at Guam; George Dressel, who flew in the 742nd Squadron and 455th Bomb Group; and Bill Wheat, who participated in the bombing of Tokyo.
Among the most ambitious miniseries ever, "The Winds of War" adapted the Herman Wouk novel, which sought nothing less than to chronicle the history of the war (along with its sequel "War and Remembrance," also an ABC miniseries seen in two segments in 1988 and 1989).
The action switches from the relentless Nazi advance in Europe to the roots of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, with the "day which will live in infamy" providing the climax of the drama.
Writer Wouk himself did the screenplay. And while some critics quarreled with the casting, the historical detail and much on-location filming make the miniseries a compelling work.
Robert Mitchum, as U.S. Navy officer Victor "Pug" Henry, provides the fulcrum of several sub-plots involving his wife (Polly Bergen) and his offspring, including Ben Murphy and Jan Michael Vincent as sons Warren and Byron. Victoria Tennant is an English woman with whom Pug becomes involved.
In a second major plot line, Ali McGraw plays Natalie Jastrow, Byron Henry's Jewish fiance, through whom is told the story of the developing Holocaust. She is caretaker to an aging uncle (John Houseman) living in Italy, where they remain until it is too late to escape the Nazi persecutions.
Some other Memorial Day movies include:
* Basic cable's affiliated TNT and TBS networks devote much of tomorrow and Monday to war movies, including some that have become classics of their genre.
For example, at 8 p.m. tomorrow on TNT, Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven star in "The Guns of Navarone" (1961), the big film adaptation of the Alistair McLean novel. The three uneasy compatriots make a daring commando assault on a pair of German artillery cannon, which must be neutralized before an Allied naval assault in the Greek islands.
Tomorrow's feature on TBS, at 7 p.m., is "Hell in the Pacific" (1969), with Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune. An unusual, revisionist film, made in one of the hottest years of the anti-Vietnam movement, the movie puts an American G.I. and a Japanese soldier together on an island, where they discover they must cooperate to survive. (The movie was more or less remade in 1985, but moved into space, as "Enemy Mine.")
Other notable titles on the twin Turner networks include "The Dirty Dozen" (TNT, 11:30 p.m. tomorrow), "Destination Tokyo" (TNT, 8 p.m. Monday), "Fighter Attack" (TBS, 10:05 a.m. Monday), "The Big Red One" (TBS, 11:35 p.m. Monday),"Where Eagles Dare" (TBS, 1:35 p.m. Monday) and "Kelly's Heroes" (TBS, 4:35 p.m. Monday).
* The basic cable Discovery Channel on Sunday night (at 9) is screening "The Memphis Belle." No, this is not the recent theatrical movie of the same title, but a 1944 documentary film telling the true story of the namesake B-17 bomber.
* Cable's American Movie Classics network (not available on all area cable systems; check your directory) on Monday is also screening two classic propaganda-oriented American films: "Bombardier" (1943) at 7 p.m. and "Flying Leathernecks" (1951) at 9 p.m.