Failure at Fourth Isonzo

Civici Musei di Storia e Arte di Trieste, via Itinerari Grande Guerra 
Civici Musei di Storia e Arte di Trieste, via Itinerari Grande Guerra 

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 209th installment in the series. 

November 10-11, 1915: Failure at Fourth Isonzo 

The Third Battle of the Isonzo had scarcely ended in defeat on November 4, 1915 when Italian chief of the general staff Luigi Cadorna ordered another frontal assault on Habsburg defenses in the Fourth Battle of the Isonzo from November 10-December 2 – using the same tactics in the same place, with the same objective (the town of Gorizia), predictably producing the same results. 

After the Italians came close to a breakthrough at the end of the Third Battle of the Isonzo, Cadorna received two dozen battalions of recently mobilized troops – but this was a mixed blessing, as these fresh troops were also green and inexperienced. Furthermore artillery shells were running low, meaning the all-important opening bombardment would have to be shortened. Meanwhile the Austro-Hungarian defenders of the Habsburg Fifth Army used the weeklong pause to frantically dig new trenches, sometimes using dynamite to blast holes in the solid rock, and bring up ammunition and supplies. 

Following a brief bombardment on November 10, 1915, the Italian Second and Third Armies launched infantry assaults against the same Habsburg defensive positions on the slopes of Mounts San Michele, Mrzli, Podgora and Sabotino. Once again the attackers ran into a hail of machine gun fire as they tried to pierce the wide, deep barbed wire entanglements in front of the Habsburg trenches, almost always without success. 

Even worse (for both sides) winter was arriving in the mountains, with the first snow falling on the foothills of the Julian Alps on November 16. The snow quickly blocked narrow, winding mountain roads, disrupting supply lines and leaving troops in the frontline trenches without food for days at a time. Thousands of troops on both sides suffered frostbitten feet and hands, making them useless for combat. In places where the snow melted or the autumn rains lingered it turned the hillsides into cascades of mud; after several days in this environment one commander described his men as “walking shapes of mud.”

Despite all this, on November 26 the Italians once again almost succeeded in breaking through the Habsburg lines near the crest of Mount Mrzli – but once again Austrian reinforcements arrived just in time to plug the gap and force the Italians back. This time the scare was bad enough that Austro-Hungarian chief of the general staff Conrad von Hotzendorf swallowed his pride and asked Austria-Hungary’s contemptuous ally, Germany, for help on the Italian front. 

There was one bright spot for Italy: on November 23 the Italian First Army, facing the Habsburg Tirol force, captured the town of Rovereto in the Trentino during a diversionary attack. On the other hand on November 18 the Italians suffered a self-inflicted propaganda defeat with Cadorna’s decision to shell Gorizia, a beautiful city known as the “Nice of the Alps” inhabited by ethnic Italians, whom they were supposedly trying to “liberate.” 

By the time fighting ended in early December, the Fourth Battle of the Isonzo had cost the Italians around 50,000 casualties, including 7,500 dead, compared to around 32,000 Habsburg casualties, with 4,000 dead. 

British Advance on Baghdad 

A thousand miles to the east, the British Indian Expeditionary Force under Sir Charles Townshend was ready to resume its march on Baghdad, the capital of Ottoman Mesopotamia. 

At this point Townshend’s army seemed invincible: the mixed Anglo-Indian force had defeated the Turks at Shaiba and then captured Qurna and Amara almost effortlessly (the conquest of Amara was carried out by bluff, as Townshend arrived with a handful of troops and convinced the much larger Turkish garrison his reinforcements were just a few hours away). Another victory over the Turks at Nasiriya on the Euphrates in July secured the British left flank, clearing the way for Townshend to advance to Kut-al-Amara, which fell on September 28, 1915. 

From Kut-al-Amara Baghdad lay tantalizingly close – just 75 miles north on the Tigris River – and the string of easy victories seemed to confirm the belief of Townshend’s commanding general Sir John Nixon that the Turkish army in Mesopotamia was demoralized and nearing collapse. Thus on November 11 the IEF started on its fateful march towards Baghdad, its officers confidently expecting to be touring the bazaars of the legendary city within a few weeks. By November 20 they had occupied Lajj, about 25 miles southeast of Baghdad. 

However the British were disastrously wrong about the state of Turkish defenses in Mesopotamia. Far from collapsing, the defenders had received substantial reinforcements in the form of the Ottoman Fifth Army now based in Baghdad, soon to be under the veteran elderly German General Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz, for a decade the head of the German military mission to Turkey, who was venerated by the Turks as “Goltz Pasha.” 

The first sign of stiffening resistance came at Ctesiphon, the ruined ancient capital of the Parthian Empire, just 15 miles southeast of Baghdad. At the Battle of Ctesiphon, from November 22-24 four heavily entrenched Turkish and Arab divisions under the Fifth Army’s soon to be ex-commander, Colonel Nureddin, fought the Anglo-Indian force to a draw, inflicting heavy casualties on Townshend’s small force (above, Townshend at Ctesiphon). Townshend decided to lead his outnumbered troops back to Kut-al-Amara to receive new supplies and reinforcements – a fateful mistake. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

12 Facts About Revenge of the Nerds For Its 35th Anniversary

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

In the summer of 1984, nerds were mainly perceived as guys who wore pocket protectors and had tape on their glasses. But in Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs was inventing the type of nerd culture we’re familiar with today. Decades later, nerds rule the world.

Revenge of the Nerds starred then-unknowns Anthony Edwards, Robert Carradine, Curtis Armstrong, James Cromwell, Larry B. Scott, John Goodman, and Timothy Busfield. In the movie, the jock-filled Alpha Beta fraternity bullies the geeks on the campus of Adams College, so to fight back, they form a frat chapter under black fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda (Tri-Lambs), and take down the jocks. The movie’s plot and title come from a magazine article published around that time about Silicon Valley innovators—who just happened to be nerds.

The film, which was budgeted at $6 million, only opened on 364 screens (it eventually expanded to 877). Somehow the movie had legs and grossed $40,874,452 at the box office and ranked as the 16th highest-grossing film of 1984. It was successful enough to spawn three sequels, none of which were as popular as the original. To celebrate Revenge of the Nerds' 35th anniversary, here are some geeky facts about the underdog comedy.

1. Greek officials at the University of Arizona objected to the movie being filmed on their campus.

The movie filmed at the University of Arizona, and involved the college’s Greek system. The Greek officials didn’t want the movie to be another Animal House, so they threatened to halt production. “We meet with the sororities, and we’re worried we’re about to deal with a bunch of feminists who are pissed because this is a fairly sexist movie,” the film’s director, Jeff Kanew, told the Arizona Daily Star. “I just say to them, ‘Look, I have kids, and I’ll tell you now, I’d let them see this movie. It’s about the triumph of the underdog, not judging a book by its cover. This is a good movie.’” The filmmakers won, and the Greeks allowed them to film there.

2. The set was one big party.

Ted McGinley—who played Alpha Beta honcho Stan Gable—told The A.V. Club: “I was so embarrassed to say Revenge Of The Nerds.” Kanew cast him because he saw him on the cover of a Men of USC calendar, sold at the University of Arizona bookstore. His good looks attracted “hot girls” from the UofA campus to watch the dailies with the cast and crew. “They had beer and pizza and sandwiches,” McGinley said. “I mean, you just don’t do that on movie sets. It was just so much fun, and I thought, ‘It can’t be better than this!’”

3. Curtis Armstrong knew it would be a good movie, even though his character wasn't fully fleshed out.

Curtis Armstrong filmed Risky Business but then was unemployed for a year before he got Revenge of the Nerds. “You have to realize the character of Booger in the original script was non-existent almost,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “What was there was just, ‘We’ve got b*sh!’ and ‘Mother’s little d**chebag’—those kinds of lines. I was looking at it and thinking, ‘How do I take this and even begin to make it likeable or accessible?’”

With its strong cast, writers, and director, Armstrong said, “It has to be a good movie. But I wasn’t sure how it was going to be taken as opposed to Risky Business, which was sort of an art-house-type movie. This was very much broader and very much cruder, but it had a message that went beyond sex jokes.”

4. The scenes between Booger and Takashi were improvised.

The actors would bring ideas to the director and vice versa, creating a lot of improvisation in the movie. In one scene, Booger and Takashi (Brian Tochi) engage in a friendly game of cards. But unbeknownst to Takashi, Booger tricks him. “We ran and got our cots, and Brian and I were next to each other,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “It wasn’t planned that we would be next to each other. It just happened that way.”

The production asked the guys to “come up with something” for them to film. “We had nothing at all!” Armstrong said. “We went to the prop people, and they had a deck of cards. And that’s where that scene [and Booger’s whole bit about taking money from Takashi] came from. And they liked it so much that, every time Takashi and I were in the room together, we would have to come up with something else.”

5. Lambda Lambda Lambda exists in real life.

On January 15, 2006, the University of Connecticut founded the co-ed social fraternity. It’s “unaffiliated with Greek Life” and is “dedicated to the enjoyment and enrichment of pop culture and to the brotherhood of its members. Tri-Lambs does not discriminate based on race, gender, religion, class, ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

6. Booger's belch came from a camel.

In one of the film's more memorable scenes, Booger and Ogre compete in a belching contest. Booger takes a swig of beer and lets out a robust seven-second belch and wins the contest. But the effects were added in post-production. “I can’t even belch on command,” Armstrong told USA Today. “If you said to me, ‘Can you belch now?' I couldn’t do it.”

To make up for Armstrong’s dearth of gas, “They wound up finding a recording of a camel having an orgasm,” Armstrong said. “They took this sound and blended it in with a human belch.”

7. Curtis Armstrong wrote a bio for Booger, but it turned out to be about himself.

Because his character wasn’t fully developed, Armstrong wrote a one-page bio for Booger. Years later he re-read the bio and realized he and Booger had similarities. “I’d basically retold my life as Booger without even being aware of it,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “[One detail] was that [Booger] used nose-picking and belching as a defense mechanism because [he’s] insecure. Now, mind you, I did not pick my nose and belch because I was insecure. However, I was insecure growing up. I didn’t have dates or anything like that; I was not good around girls. But I had other ways of defending myself other than being crude and picking my nose. When I look at it now with some distance, I realize all I was doing was writing about myself.”

8. A Dallas test screening almost killed Revenge of the Nerds.

The film tested well in Las Vegas—an 85—but when the Fox executives took the movie to Dallas, the number dipped. “You’re gonna send us to Dallas to screen a movie that celebrates nerds and in which the black guys intimidate the white football players?!” director Kanew told the Arizona Daily Star. The movie scored in the 60s, which caused Fox to cut marketing for the film and only release it on 364 screens. “I don’t really understand what happened, but it hung around and grew and grew and grew,” Kanew said.

9. Poindexter was originally named after a prop guy.

When Timothy Busfield auditioned for the movie, his character didn’t have many lines, so he had to read Lamar’s lines. At the time, the character was named Lipschultz, after the prop guy. All that was written for the character description was “a violin-playing Henry Kissinger.”

“There was one line Lipschultz had in the original, but our prop guy was named Lipschultz, and he didn’t like the fact that there was a nerd named Lipschultz, so they changed it to Poindexter,” Busfield said during a San Francisco Sketchfest Nerds reunion. Busfield found Poindexter’s costume at a thrift store and showed up to the audition with his hair parted, and danced to “Beat It.”

10. The sequel to Revenge of the Nerds afforded Anythony Edwards a pool.

Anthony Edwards told The A.V. Club that he didn’t want to appear in Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, but acquiesced because the producers talked him into it. He’s hardly in the film, but the money he earned afforded him a simple luxury. “I ended up with a pool in my backyard that I called the Revenge of the Nerds II pool,” Edwards said. “Not that I’m complaining, but they seriously overpaid me for my weeks of work on the film, so I used it to put in a pool.”

11. A remake (thankfully) got shut down.

After two weeks of filming in the fall of 2006, a Revenge of the Nerds remake stopped production. Emory University in Atlanta pulled out of filming, but according to Variety, the real reason was because a Fox Atomic executive “was not completely satisfied with the dailies.” The cast included Adam Brody and Jenna Dewan.

12. Revenge of the Nerds pushed nerdom into the mainstream.

“I’m not going to say Revenge of the Nerds was responsible for everything in nerd culture, but I do think you could make an argument that that attitude began with the last scene in Revenge,” Armstrong told HuffPost. “The last scene—the scene I probably love above all in that movie—we’re at the pep rally and come out in front of everybody as nerds, and encourage these people of different generations to join them in their nerdness. I get teary thinking about it, and you could certainly make an argument that that was the beginning of embracing nerd culture by everybody.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

The Office Star Ellie Kemper Wants to Do a Reunion Episode

NBC - NBCUniversal Media
NBC - NBCUniversal Media

While rumors of The Office getting a reboot have been swirling around for years, the outlook on that happening any time soon doesn't look good. But a reunion episode might just be possible.

Ellie Kemper, who played Erin Hannon in the beloved series, recently stopped by Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen to dish about the sitcom and her thoughts on whether it might be making a return to the small screen: "I would love there to be a reboot, but I don't think there will be. So, that's a sad answer," Kemper admitted. "But maybe like a reunion episode? That would be fun."

E! News reports that Kemper isn’t the only cast member that wants to get the band back together. Jenna Fischer, who played Pam Beesly, also thinks a reunion episode would be a hit. “I think it's a great idea," Fischer said in 2018. "I would be honored to come back in any way that I'm able to.”

A key player in the series' success, however, is not so enthusiastic about the idea. Steve Carell, who played the infamous Michael Scott, doesn’t think a revival would be well-received. "The climate's different," Carell told Esquire back in 2018. "I mean, the whole idea of that character, Michael Scott, so much of it was predicated on inappropriate behavior. I mean, he's certainly not a model boss. A lot of what is depicted on that show is completely wrong-minded. That's the point, you know? But I just don't know how that would fly now.”

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