This week we look at War Films. This is, understandably, a fertile source of inspiration for movie makers but, given the subject matter, rarely well delivered. We have bounced from 480BC through WWII into Vietnam and beyond. Seems that we never stop fighting eh! One of the recurring messages through the history of war films is that war is a right old waste of time.
10. The Wild Geese – 1978
The Wild Geese is arguably not a war movie. The story of a group of mercenaries employed by a wealthy banker to overthrow and African regime, The Wild Geese rather glorifies mercenaries. Sadly they tend to be a pretty lot in real life. The twist is fine as the bad guy gets his just deserts but this was never going to be an Oscar winner. The action moves along and the emotional bits kind of bring it in. A watch but not a repeat viewer.
9. Von Ryan’s Express – 1965
Frank Sinatra pulls off one of his acting roles extremely well in this long but never dull action adventure escape movie. Trevor Howard provides the British interest as a bunch of escaped POWs commandeer a train to get across Germany. The Germans, of course, have other ideas. If there is a downside to this movie, it’s that the characters are never really allowed to develop. Nevertheless it’s a thoroughly good watch.
8. 12 O’Clock High – 1948
The 918th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Eighth Air Force was based in England and flew long range bombing missions into Germany during WWII. The movie, however, was mainly shot in Los Angeles! This is, essentially, a story about leadership and how a commander has to work with what he’s got. Both the combat and off duty scenes are well done and the movie is a nice examination of war from a differnent angle.
7. Morituri – 1965
Marlon Brando and Yul Bryner take on a complex, dark and tense war movie that looks at the idea of pacifism in WWII. It was filmed in black and white, unusual by 1965, which adds a depth to the atmosphere. The on-board ship sequences are sufficiently realistic to make you queasy just watching it! It is not clear whether Brando really wanted to make this movie. But his enduring contract with Fox forced him into it. The end result is good.
6. The 300 Spartans – 1962
Set in 480BC, the 300 Spartans is the story of how a handful of men help off and invading army of 250,000 Persians. Richard Egan and Ralph Richardson deliver an older/younger man relationship brilliantly and the backdrop landscape (although we can only ever guess what it was like) is perfect. History this old can never be sourced from documents so deliver a movie like 300 Spartans as well as they do is a triumph.
5. Uncommon Valor – 1983
Is this a precursor to Rambo? Hard to tell. Rambo’s foray into the jungles of Vietnam came long after his problems back home. But the theme is the same. A group of Vets go into Laos in search of missing soldiers. Unlike Rambo and his bow and arrow, this is an entirely realistic film which the prisoners are particularly well played. The presence of the French Vietnam is often under estimated; Uncommon Valor doesn’t make that mistake.
4. We Were Soldiers – 2002
The first American battle of the Vietnam war was fought by the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Calvary Division’s fight against overwhelming odds in the La Drang valley in 1965. Mel Gibson stars in a powerful and emotional portrayal of the futility of war; especially when the war is managed by politicians and not the men on the ground. The 1st of the 7th was, of course, the same that Custer lead into the ill fated stand at Little Big Horn. Perhaps the ultimate irony is that Mel Gibson is Australian and Australia were very present in Vietnam. But rarely mentioned.
3. Tora! Tora! Tora! – 1970
Never likely to stop at a small blunder, the Americans treated themselves with a whole series of catastrophic mistakes that lead to the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the US entry into WWII. For it’s time, the special effects employed in Tora! Tora! Tora! are excellent (they won an Oscar) and the Jerry Goldsmith score is a classic. The title of the movie derives from the first syllables of Totsugeki (meaning attack) and Raigeki (for “torpedo attack”).
2. The Longest Day – 1962
A double Oscar winner, The Longest Day purportedly looks at the D Day landings from both the Allies and German points of view. Having said that, it’s actually pure American propaganda from a huge cast. Many of the big names on the posters have minimal cameo roles which are rather distracting. And it’s missing the gritty reality of the much later Saving Private Ryan. However, it’s non-stop action and a worthwhile watch.
1. The Bridge On The River Kwai – 1957
A 7 Oscar winning film, The Bridge On The River Kwai is the story of a completely misguided colonel and the building of bridge on the Burma-Siam railway. In his mind, the bridge is a monument to British prisoners defiance of their Japanese captors. In reality it’s a monument to his obsessive ego. Directed by David Lean, the cinematography was way ahead of it’s time such that it still looks like a recent film today. This another message from film makers about the futility of war.