Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick [AV 973.382 P; audiobook]
Like Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City, Thunderstruck), Philbrick is a master at unearthing new or hitherto forgotten information and shining new light on people and events in our history. (See also The Last Stand and Bunker Hill.) In Valiant Ambition, he juxtaposes the lives of commander-in-chief Washington with one of his ablest but also most troubled—and eventually traitorous—generals, Benedict Arnold. It’s almost a certainty that Arnold’s delaying tactics on Lake Champlain (1776) and aggressiveness at Saratoga (1777) saved the Revolution. Also true is that he was mistreated by mean-spirited officers and members of Congress. Nevertheless, as Philbrick points out, Arnold had a huge character flaw, namely what was best for Arnold was best for all. He was inspirational but often lacked consideration for others. Washington, who valued Arnold but because of political in-fighting could do little to advance him to the positions he deserved, also comes alive as a flawed but ultimately heroic figure who saved the Revolution. Philbrick contends persuasively that Arnold also saved the nascent nation, first, because of his actions on Lake Champlain and at Saratoga, and, second, because his treason renewed a sense of patriotism when the conflict’s outcome remained in doubt.
A Foreign Affair [AV FEAT DRAMA FOREIGN]
The quality of Austrian-born Billy Wilder’s Hollywood movies was matched by perhaps only a half dozen other directors. His resume includes The Major and the Minor (1942), Five Graves to Cairo (1943), Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945 Best Picture Academy Award), Sunset Blvd. (1950), Ace in the Hole (1951), Stalag 17 (1953), Sabrina (1954), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960 Best Picture Academy Award), and One, Two, Three (1961). Only recently has A Foreign Affair (1948) begun to take its place in Wilder’s canon. The story: Congresswoman Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur) visits postwar Berlin (and it really was postwar as the wrecked city was filmed by Wilder’s crew in 1947) to investigate how things were going in the U.S. zone of occupation. It wasn’t going well, that is, there was widespread graft and corruption. Captain Pringle (John Lund) tries to conceal as much as possible while falling for the Congresswoman even as he makes liaison with German cabaret singer Erika (Marlene Dietrich). The film is a sharp commentary on the military, German guilt, and political machinations—as seen through Wilder’s satirically perceptive eyes.