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Film: A Midnight Clear
"Nobody in the army ever admits that someone on our side is killed. They're either lost, like Christopher Robin, hit, as in a batter hit by a pitched ball, or they get "it", like in hide and go seek. Or maybe they get it, as with an ambiguous joke."
Will Knott.

A Midnight Clear is a 1992 war film staring Ethan Hawke and Gary Sinise, amongst others. A clever little take on the genre that manages to be both heartwarming and heartwrenching at the same time. It is based on the eponymous 1982 novel by William Wharton.

During the War, a US Army Intelligence Squad commanded by Will Knott is sent on a reconnaissance patrol in the Ardennes. They encounter a German platoon recently returned from the fighting in Russia, whom have no wish to die in the upcoming offensive. After some bonding over Christmas, they hatch up a scheme to take the Germans prisoner, in the meantime acquiring a medal for one of the soldiers, Vance "Mother Wilkins", whom is suffering from a breakdown. They hope the medal will get him a safe job off the lines.

The film has a major Hey, It's That Guy! cast with a heavy dash of Retroactive Recognition. Although it has was released to critical acclaim and eventually carved a niche for itself as a Cult Classic amongst war movie fans, it suffered from being released between the fad of anti-Vietnam War movies and the surge of World War II movies.


This film provides examples of:

  • All Germans Are Nazis: Completely Averted.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Subverted. Mother comes the rescue of the squad when they are "pinned down" by the "enemy". The plan was to take the Germans prisoner, but fake a battle to make it look like they didn't surrender without a fight. Unfortunately, no one told Mother, whom promptly shows up and shoots several German soldiers, leading to the entire German platoon being wiped out and the deaths of Father Mundy and Stan Shutzer.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The four survivors of Intelligence never make contact again when the war ends, with the exception of Mother sending a lone $10 dollar bill to Will every Christmas, to pay off a bet.
  • Body Horror: Eddie, whom loses his left arm and suffers horrific facial wounds during an ill-fated patrol. This happened before the events of the movie, it is shown in flashback.
  • Celibate Hero: Father Mundy, who wants to be a priest.
  • Dirty Coward: Major Griffin doesn't seem to want to spend much time near the front, let alone at it.
  • Dreaming of a White Christmas: Justified, the film is set during the fighting in the Ardennes, where it was snowing to the point that trench foot was a major problem amongst combatants.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The very first scene is Mother having a nervous breakdown and Will reassuring him.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Mother Wilkins and Father Mundy.
  • Fatal Family Photo: One of the Germans looks at a photo of his wife and kids before the fake "battle". When it goes horribly right, he and his buddies are killed.
  • A Father to His Men: Will and the older German soldier are these (respectively).
  • Friendly Enemy
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: The whole point of the movie. The Americans and Germans celebrate Christmas together, singing carols and getting in a snowball fight.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The squad wants to get Mother a medal so he can get of the lines. When they feign a battle with the Germans, the completely uninformed Mother shows up and promptly shoots down the Germans. This causes a full-on firefight.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong
  • Heroic BSOD: Mother spends the entire movie in one.
  • Hoist By Their Own Petard
  • Instant Death Bullet: Averted for Father Mundy and Stan Shultzer. Played straight for the German soldiers, except one.
  • Jerkass: Oh god, Major Griffin.
  • Literal-Minded: Lieutenant Ware, who requisitioned for the Intelligence Squad, well, intelligent people. A.K.A the soldiers who scored the highest on testing.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Mother. Leads to tragedy.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Invoked by Will, Mel, Stan and Eddie who look to lose their virginity before shipping overseas. They succeed.
  • Mood Whiplash. The fake "battle". The soldiers are grinning, enjoying themselves not actually fighting for once. Then Mother shows up and starts dropping the Germans.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Mother blames himself for Father's death (Father was running to warn Mother when he opened fire on the Germans). Defied by the squad, who don't tell Mother about the plan to keep him from completely breaking down.
  • Noble Bigot: The Germans may be Punch Clock Villains, but they still seem to display some predujice towards the Jewish Stan Shutzer.
  • Not So Different: Like the Americans, the Germans are mostly draftees who just want to go home safe. It is implied that they are both recon units.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Keeping Mother Locked Out of the Loop lead to full-fledged fight with German soldiers and ended with all of them dead. After taking Father and Stan with them.
  • Punch Clock Villain: The Germans.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Lieutenant Ware, especially when contrasted to Major Griffin.
  • Spanner in the Works: Nobody thinks to tell Mother of the plan. So he shows up and starts dropping Germans. A completely unintentional example.
  • Snowball Fight: The Americans and Germans have one.
  • Soldiers at the Rear: Major Griffin.
  • Team Mom: Played straight by Will Knott and Father Mundy. Subverted with "Mother" Wilkins, he got the nickname because of his constant hounding of the squad for being unkempt, messy and litterbugs, but he spends most of the movie in a Heroic BSOD. Kind of hard to be a mother figure when you're too busy breaking down.
  • True Companions: The entire squad.
  • War Is Hell: A brilliant example of this trope without many war scenes. Shows the psychological effect on soldiers and how war is fought mostly between Punch Clock Villains.
  • We Have Reserves: Major Griffin loves this trope, but then again, he is an asshole.
    Will: Griffin was a mortician in civilian life. His main passion now seems to be generating business for his army counterparts.
  • Who Are You Calling Names?:
    Bud Miller: You trust these Nazis, Stan?
    Older German Soldier: (In German) Who are you calling Nazis? We're not Nazis! We're the German Army!
MidwayMilitary and Warfare FilmsMister Roberts

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