Architects in Movies 05 – The Monuments Men

Friday night is “pizza and a movie” night in the Bowman/nee-Gardner/McComiskey house, and usually we watch something that Liam would find entertaining. But this Friday past Liam was at his very first school dance, which freed me up to continue my series of reviews of movies in which the protagonist is an architect. As a reminder, I have settled on a model popular with many architecture professors, which goes like this:

  1. Develop a set of categories specific to the project
  2. Rigorously apply numerical rubric based on satisfaction of program, interaction with context and relative strength of the work with respect to precedent set by similar projects
  3. Disregard numbers, assign arbitrary grade

In this way, the grades are equally meaningless for everyone which imparts a kind of perverse fairness.

Here are the categories and points scored by The Monuments Men, released in 2014, rated PG-13 for “historical smoking”. It stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, and everyone you might imagine would be in a classier version of The Expendables.  Frank Stokes (Clooney) gets permission from the Army to build a dream team of art lovers tasked with finding and returning all the art that the Nazis have been stealing. With the Fuhrer on the run, time is running out to rescue these priceless works before they’re spitefully destroyed in the collapse of the Third Reich. Will time run out? Are these guys too old to hack it? Will closed-minded generals be accepting of their silly, artsy goals? Will the Russians show up out of nowhere at the end and ruin everything? Find out in The Monuments Men.

Clooney Monologue #1 (note: Clooney’s speeches are based on a 10-point Toastmaster scale named for toasted items, where 1 is Soggy Bread and 10 is French Toast): 4 (Moist Crouton)

White architectural model: +RGB: 255, 255, 255


Foreshadowing quote: “your lives are more important than a piece of art”. Time to lock in your bets for who will die for their art!

mm_02-campbell  Richard “Soup Man” Campbell: 10:1

mm_03-stokes  Frank “The Silver Fox” Stokes: 6:1

mm_04-granger  James “The Lone Granger” Granger: 9:2

mm_05-epstein  Sam “The German Dude” Epstein: 4:1

mm_06-clermont  Jean Claude “The French Dude” Clermont: 3:1

mm_07-savitz  Preston “Private Smalleyes” Savitz: 2:1

mm_08-garfield  Walter “I Hate Mondays” Garfield: 2:1

mm_09-jeffries  Donald “The Drunk” Jeffries: 3:2

Clooney Monologue #2: 5 (Stale Slice)

Hat size for berets, for telling when a character is French: 7-3/8


#ThatMomentWhen you think Cate Blanchett could steal this movie: +vingt-et-un


Cigarettes “historically smoked” per scene, average: +1.8


Bicycles used for wartime transportation: +10 speed


Sniper scene stolen from Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket: -2001

Hitler raises the stakes by signing “Nero Decree”: +68 AD

Clooney Monologue #3: 6 (Buttered Biscuit)

#ThatMomentWhen Cate Blanchett officially steals the movie: +deux cents quatre-vingt-douze


“The army may not care about art, but they sure as shit care about gold”. +24 karat

Architect trusted to design a landmine-thwarting device: +C4

Architect trusted to build a landmine-thwarting device: -100


Your architectural model after a bad critique: -$2,912.79 in time and material


Garfield looks like the giant frog in Spelunky: +8 HP


Clooney Monologue #4: 9 (Avocado Toast)

Wait, now that the Nazis have surrendered, what’s the conflict? Oh right, the Russians that were mentioned once a long time ago: -5 year plan

Clooney Monologue #5: 7 (Bagel w/ Lox)

Total Score: 526

Much like my review for Firewall, this movie stretches my definition of having the “protagonist” be an architect. The architect is a secondary character in a large cast, but Bill Murray makes the most of his screen time; his rapport with “Private Smalleyes” and the way it evolves over the course of the narrative is one of the strongest subplots in the film. He is well-respected by his peers, but his opinions are mostly ignored by anyone with any power, just like a real architect! Bottom line: this movie is well-crafted, nice to look at, and based on a solid original idea, but is ultimately sprawling, unfocused and unsatisfying. In other words, it’s exactly like every architecture project I did in college, so I’m giving it the exact grade I got on every architecture project in college.

Final Grade: C

One last fun thing before I go: I looked at the scene from when we first meet Richard Campbell, presumably at a site meeting for a building that he has designed.


Based on that photo, it looks like the building that he was supposedly working on was the Carbide & Carbon Building. I used Google Maps to re-create the shot as best I could, with 35 East Wacker in the foreground and the Merchandise Mart beyond (both of which were completed before the Carbide & Carbon Building).


I bet I could get a better angle, but it’s hard to make small moves using the Google Maps mouse controls. The Carbide & Carbon Building was designed in Art Deco style by the Burnham Brothers and completed in 1929. The buildings on the left side of the picture don’t have a whole ton of relation to what exists now, and probably never existed at all; it would be surprising if those high-rise buildings were demolished in favor of the primarily low-rise buildings that currently exist in that location. In the background, though, you can see a building that resembles the Trustees System Service Building (now known as Century Tower) under construction (note the crane), and in approximately the correct location:



That building was completed in 1930, so the timeline with respect to Campbell’s building is correct; the Carbon & Carbide building would have been nearly complete while the Trustees would have had a ways to go yet. However, the timeline with respect to the events of The Monuments Men would then be about 15 years off. Indeed, I find it hard to believe that there was any non-military construction happening at all, given the need to conserve resources for the war effort. Thus concludes my nerdy forensic investigation into a shot that’s on the screen for less than 10 seconds.

All images from the film are used under fair use for parody and criticism.


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