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265: This Week: At Eternity’s Gate, Bonnie and Clyde, USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in At Eternity’s Gate, Bonnie and Clyde, and USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

July 27, 1890. Auvers-sur-Oise, France.

The movie fades up from black to show us a man’s hand clutching his belly. Small amounts of red blood are seeping through his fingers. Behind the man, we can see a blurry mix of trees with different shades of greens and yellows set against a light blue sky.

As the camera pans up, we can see this is Willem Dafoe’s character. He’s walking through the woods with a serious look on his face.

As he walks, we can hear his voiceover explaining what’s going on. He says he has a pain in his stomach. He was dressed like Buffalo Bill.

Then, the camera cuts to the scene he was describing. Willem Dafoe’s character is sitting now. All around him are deep, lush greens. There’s a grey building on either side of the camera’s frame with the green grass in the middle where he’s sitting almost like a natural courtyard. The buildings look like they might’ve been homes at one point, but they’re covered in a huge amount of ivy—which simultaneously makes the buildings look abandoned and unkept while also adding even more greenery to the scene, as if nature is reclaiming the buildings.

Sitting in the foreground is Willem Dafoe’s character, and he’s facing the scene in front of us with an easel and canvas. He’s painting it.

Two boys come running from the direction of one of the buildings. One of them calls to him.

They’re wearing hats, jackets, and as the camera cuts closer to one of the boys we can see he also has a holster with a pistol in it. That must be why we heard him say he was dressed like Buffalo Bill just a moment ago.

Wait…does that mean?

Just as we start to figure out the connection to the boy wearing a gun in his holster and the earlier visuals of the man clutching his stomach with the blood, back in the movie, we can see the boy pulling the pistol out and cocking it. He doesn’t point it directly at Willem Dafoe’s character, but there’s no sound anymore as the two boys struggle with the man…they all fall to the ground.

Just a few seconds later, the two boys get up off the man. The gun is casually being handled as if it were a toy gun.

Then, we see Willem Dafoe’s character walking in the woods again.

A split-second cut back to the struggle and then…a gunshot.

This is how the 2018 movie At Eternity’s Gate depicts an event that happened this week in history when Vincent van Gogh was shot, leading to his death two days later.

As you probably guessed, Van Gogh is played by Willem Dafoe in the movie.

And the way the movie depicts this event happening is…well, we don’t know if it’s entirely true. You see, the exact nature of how Van Gogh died is something that has been debated among historians ever since it happened.

Tell you what, let’s throw in a little clip from episode #193 of Based on a True Story here because in that episode I had a chat with Steven Naifeh, co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography called Van Gogh: The Life.

Oh, and you’ll hear Steven mention Schnabel—he’s talking about Julian Schnabel, the director of At Eternity’s Gate who also co-wrote the film. So, here is what Steven had to say about how well the movie At Eternity’s Gate did in showing how Van Gogh died.

We started our segment today at an hour, 34 minutes, and 37 seconds into the 2018 movie At Eternity’s Gate. And if you want to hear the full interview with Steven Naifeh about the true story behind the movie, scroll back to episode #193 of Based on a True Story.



July 29, 1933. Iowa.

Just like our last movie, this is another scene that starts by fading up from black. But this time it’s black because it was nighttime in the previous scene. And it’s not pitch black, there are a few small lights in the center of the frame.

As the sun comes up, we can see the lights belong to two cars.

The cars are parked in the middle of a field of what looks like a lot of brown and dead grass. On all sides of the clearing are a bunch of trees—many of them look more brown than green, too.

“Surrender!” Someone yells, jerking awake one of the men resting by the car.

The camera quickly cuts to the edge of the clearing where the voice came from, and we can see a man in the distance. His white suit and hat make him stand out from the trees and brush around him.

Back at the cars, the man wakes up the rest of the gang with him and they whisper to get in the cars. It’s time to go!

The man at the edge of the clearing disappears into the woods. Then, a moment later, a gunshot from where he just disappeared.

Then, even more gunshots start from all around the clearing. There must be people all around them now.

Under heavy fire, they manage to make their way into one of the cars. They drive around the clearing, even more shots erupting as they do. Bullets hit the window, breaking it. We can’t see anyone shooting from the trees, but we can see the puffs of smoke as shots are fired. The car drives around in circles a few times as if they’re trying to find new angles to leave the clearing only to be met with more gunfire.

One of the shots hits the driver in the shoulder and we can see him drive the car into a huge log in the middle of the clearing. It’s stuck. They pile out of the car looking for cover. Before they can get to the other car, the men firing on them shoot it up. It’s not going anywhere.

As they destroy the car, that allows some of the gang to escape the clearing and into the woods. But…not all of them. One of the men is left by the log, bleeding out. With him is a woman, crying and screaming at the men with guns who have made their way into the clearing now. They’re holding her back as she’s trying to get back to help the wounded man.

This is how the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde depicts an event that happened this week in history when there was a shootout between Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s gang that left Clyde’s brother, Buck Barrow, dead. That’s the wounded man the woman was trying to get to. The woman, who was captured at this point, was another member of the Barrow gang—Buck’s wife, Blanche Barrow.

The movie does dramatize this quite a bit though.

For example, with the timeline. We see this happening pretty quickly on the heels of another shootout where Buck Barrow gets injured.

In the true story, the Barrow gang hid out at Dexfield Park—which used to be one of the first amusement parks in Iowa when it was built in 1915. It shut down in 1928, though, so by the time the Barrow Gang rolled through it was common for people coming through town to stay there for a while. And that’s what the Barrow Gang did for five days after their big shootout with law enforcement in Missouri. Buck Barrow did really suffer a bad head wound during that shootout, which is why they tried to lay low for a few days. In the movie, though, it certainly doesn’t seem like five days have passed.

In that time frame, Clyde would drive into nearby Dexter, Iowa, to buy food, medicine, and supplies to take back to where they were hiding. It was during the Great Depression, after all, and if someone came into town willing to spend money the businesses didn’t really ask too many questions. On top of that, it’s not like everyone knew what Clyde Barrow looked like. In fact, something we don’t see in the movie at all is that one day, some Girl Scouts who were also staying at Dexfield Park even came across the Barrow Gang. They didn’t realize who they had seen until after the shootout.

But, then again, we’re used to movies making changes like that to speed up the timeline.

The basic idea of the shootout happening, though, is true. And it is also true that this shootout in Iowa resulted in Buck Barrow being killed, Blanche Barrow being captured. Oh, and another thing the movie got wrong was to show C.W. Moss there. He’s a composite character, so not a real person. In the true story it was Bonnie, Clyde, and W.D. Jones who managed to escape the Dexfield Park shootout on July 24th, 1933.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history as it was depicted in the movie, check out the 1967 film simply called Bonnie and Clyde and the shootout sequence starts at about an hour, 24 minutes and 32 seconds. To learn more about the true story, we covered that movie back on episode #195 of Based on a True Story with John Neal Phillips, the outlaw expert who edited Blanche Barrow’s memoir.



July 30, 1945. Phillipine Sea.

The movie has some text on screen telling us it’s zero dark hundred. Midnight.

That explains why the scene in the movie is very dark. We’re on the water and we can see a ship beneath the camera as it’s slicing through the dark waters. The camera cuts to inside and we can see men in American uniforms covered in a red light.

Nicholas Cage’s character, who seems to be the captain of the ship, asks about the visibility.

“Just this side of poor, sir,” is the reply. There’s a fog rolling in.

He decides to stop their zigzagging so they can get through the weather as fast as possible. Full speed ahead.

The camera cuts a Japanese sub while the soundtrack switches to some rather ominous music. The submarine is on the surface of the water, and a few of the sailors are on deck looking through binoculars. One of them spots a ship. Possible enemy contact. The order is given to dive, and in the next shot we can see it slipping beneath the water.

On the ship, some jazz music is playing through the PA. Some of the sailors are arguing about a fight that happened the night before.

Now we can see through the periscope of the Japanese sub as it lines up the target lines on the ship.

The captain says the ship is in sight and orders all tubes ready, which is immediately repeated down the stairs to sailors who rush to action to make it happen.

Meanwhile, back on the ship, the sailors are placing bets and rolling dice. When the dice end up a six and a one, everyone cheers. They seem completely unaware of the enemy who has them in their sights.

Back on the Japanese submarine, range and distance is calculated. Then, we can see torpedoes launch from the front of the submarine. They race through the water toward the ship.

The camera cuts back to the ship where the sailors are still rolling the dice, and then…


Everything shakes. Some of the sailors lose their balance and fall to the ground. We see text on the screen that tells us: “First Torpedo Hits. Zero Dark Fourteen.”

12:14 AM.

The captain orders everyone to general quarters.

Back on the Japanese submarine, another torpedo is launched. Then another.

We don’t really see these traveling through the water, because the camera quickly cuts to the ship as a huge ball of fire explodes. Flames are spreading through the ship and we see some of the men themselves are on fire. Before long, we can see water in the hallway.

In the submarine, the Japanese celebrate the direct hit.

This is just the beginning of how the movie depicts an event that happened this week in history when USS Indianapolis was sunk by Japanese submarine I-58.

Nicholas Cage’s character, Captain Charles McVay, really was the skipper on USS Indianapolis. She had been on a mission to deliver top-secret cargo to Tinian Island: Some of the components for the Little Boy atomic bomb that was later dropped on Hiroshima.

And while I don’t think we’ll ever know the amount of details like what dice were rolled or whether the sailors on Indianapolis were playing a game right when the first torpedo hit, the basic idea is true…although there is more to the true story.

For example, USS Indianapolis was a cruiser who didn’t have sonar to detect submarines. So, it’s likely the movie would be correct to show that most sailors wouldn’t know about the submarine until it was too late.

That’s why usually a cruiser would have a destroyer escort. That’s something Captain McVay had requested for the mission, but it was denied and instead he was ordered to zig zag to avoid submarines. Some people would later say the order was to zig zag at the captain’s discretion.

Four days after successfully delivering the mechanism for Little Boy and about half of the uranium to Tinian—the other half was flown there—Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes on their return journey. Explosions ripped through the cruiser that nearly ripped her in half. She sank in less than 12 minutes. In that time, many of the men on board were killed either by the explosions, pulled into her propeller, or drowned.

Of the 1,195 men on board, about 900 were left stranded after Indianapolis sank beneath them. Little did they know, things were about to get even worse.

Imagine what it must’ve been like.

The remaining sailors were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, left clinging to whatever debris they could find from the ship. The heat of the day. The cold of the night. The lack of food or, more importantly, the lack of drinkable water. All those elements would’ve been bad enough. In the movie, we see Captain McVay ask if a distress signal had been sent out. That is true, an SOS had been sent. On top of that, they were expected at their destination the next day, July 31st.

On the other end, though, through some miscommunication, no report was filed when she didn’t arrive. Of course, the men in the ocean had no idea about that. And without communication, they had no idea when help would be coming.

What did come ended up going down as one of the worst shark attacks in history.

You see, with the men who didn’t survive the initial sinking that meant there were dead bodies in the water. Those bodies attracted sharks from hundreds of miles around. Before long, the sharks shifted from the dead bodies to those who were alive.

In an interview with BBC many years later, one of the surviving seamen named Loel Dean Cox recalled what it was like:

“We were losing three or four each night and day. You were constantly in fear because you’d see ‘em all the time. Every few minutes you’d see their fins. A dozen to two dozen fins in the water. They would come up and bump you. I was bumped a few times. You never know when they are going to attack you.”

Men were dying of dehydration or exposure to the elements. Even more men were being killed by the sharks, leading to constant fear every minute of every hour of every day. That’s what it was like for the next four days…or in some cases, even longer, since not all survivors were picked up in a day.

But it was four days later, on August 2nd, that a plane spotted the men. Help was called, and a life raft and a radio transmitter were dropped. Rescue ships finally came, and 316 survivors were pulled from the water.

Oh, and that brings up something else that the movie seems to have gotten wrong. If you look for posters for the movie USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, some of the variations of the movie poster have text on it that says there were 1,196 men who spent five days on the water and there were 317 survivors.

That doesn’t match the number that I just said, and to be honest, I did find some conflicting sources—some of them did mention 1,196 men and 317 survivors and five days like the movie poster said. However, the numbers I mentioned throughout this segment were ones that I found on the official U.S. Navy’s website, and they mention 1,195 men on board with 316 survivors meaning that 879 were killed. As far as the timeline, the Navy says Indianapolis left Guam on July 28th, 1945. They sank on July 30th, and at 10:25 AM on August 2nd the survivors were spotted—and it wasn’t until August 8th that a 100-mile search radius looking for survivors was completed.

Regardless of how you look at the numbers, though, no one can deny it was one of the worst shark attacks and disasters in U.S. Navy history.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, you can see it depicted in the 2016 movie called USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage. The start of July 30th that we started our segment with today begins at about 35 minutes and 52 seconds into the movie.

And we covered that movie here on the podcast a few years ago, so you can find that episode over at



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