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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Appealing movies with Military Themes / Backgrounds

My mom and dad and I always were partial to movies which were placed in a war or military setting. Some of these movies are serious, some frivolous, some a combination of both - but here were some favorites:

Stalag 17: Starring William Holden - first a stage play on Broadway, then translated to screen and directed by Billy Wilder. It's set in a German prisoner of War camp for US non-coms. Otto Preminger plays the commandant. This film has the best mixture of serious plot, with broad touches of humor. The Germans have placed an informer in the camp. The ever cynical Bill Holden gets to the bottom of it - but not first without being himself accused and beaten up. Watching Holden figure out who the guilty party really is -- and then trying to figure out how to trap and punish the same is riveting. It's one of those movies where every time you watch it you see something you didn't notice before.

The clip above is a little under 3 minutes long. It's the "Mouse Race" scene - one of the lighter moments.

Casablanca: Round up the Usual Suspects. Of all the gin-joints in the world....

The Great Escape: Based on true story of Mass escape from German prisoner of War camp. International cast. A true classic and fine performances.

Patton: The opening speech alone is a favorite. You can see it here. (Longish at 6 minutes, you can use to download if you have dial-up.) This movie covers from when Patton took over command of US forces in Africa, and covers through the end of WWII. A real tour de force. Patton's ego's bigger than all of Texas and Alaska combined ... but what's not to like about a prima donna who admits it?

The Longest Day: All about D-Day - multinational cast with some fine performances all around. I especially enjoyed the light relief moment when the English Chaplain loses his Mass kit when his team landed off course in waist deep water. They managed to find it. Everyone from Hank Fonda, Richard Burton, Peter Lawford and a similar cornucopia of talent....

The D.I. - With Jack Webb as a Marine Drill Instructor at Parris Island. He's got 79 "headaches" the biggest one a quitter whose brothers and father were honored vets. Turns out his mom doesn't want a little boy either - but expects her youngest son to finally come through. You can see the opening 5 minutes here.

From Here to Eternity: About the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The beach romance scene is often parodied. Not for the youngest kids, but teens and up can enjoy it.

Tora! Tora! Tora! -- here's what you do if you want to get your country nuked. About Pearl Harbor - some historic film footage used.

Mr. Roberts: XO Hank Fonda vs. tyrant Capt. played by James Cagney. Fonda plays Roberts, who is the chief reason why his ship has such a great record keeping the front line troops supplied with material goods. Roberts is not happy being out of the action, and continually tries to get the Captain to release him for combat duty. The Captain, knows Roberts does the work most likely to get the Captain an increase in rank, so he refuses a transfer. The captain denies port liberty to the men, and Roberts is blackmailed to get liberty for the men by shutting about about wanting a transfer. He is not to comply. On VE day, he HAS it though, having "missed the war" and he fears he'll never get to fight. He throws the captain's prized palm tree overboard, and it comes out that Roberts, far from "playing ball" with the old man, has sacrificed so the men could have liberty. The whole crew has a "Captain's name signing contest" to forge the captain's approval for transfer. Roberts gets his wish - and his destiny. Jack Lennon is in it too. Hero worships Doug - but is personally afraid of the captain. The scene where the laundry blows up is not to be missed. If you can find the original book, it's wonderful. You can see about 7 minutes of the "liberty" scene here.

Operation Petticoat: Cary Grant, Tony Curtis. Cary takes over a recently repaired submarine and Tony is a playboy wheeler dealer assigned to him. Tony's motto is "Where there's confusion, there's a profit to be made." The guys, while in port are hosting Navy Nurses for a holiday meal, while they are surfaced. They are strafed and have to clear the decks and get out of there - they have to take the nurses - and the expected hilarity ensues. Terrifically fun movie - and you can show it to 10 year olds too. Lord knows the Hollywood of today wouldn't know how to keep it "family."

Father Goose: Cary Grant is shang-hied into being a Pacific Coast watcher in a danger zone. He gets sent to rescue another coast watcher; but ends up with the stranded Leslie Caron, and her 7 boarding school children. Predictably "Goody Two shoes" falls in love with "The Filthy Beast." Great fun all the same. This was one of my favorites growing up. And I can remember mom walking me "uptown" to see it at one of the fine old long-gone movie palaces in Allentown shortly after it opened.

Kelly's Heroes: Screwball comedy - some Germans got a stash of gold, and these renegades are going to get some of it. Donald Sutherland and Don Rickles and a cast of zillions.

Von Ryan's Express: Men released from an Italian prisoner of War camp end up commandeering a German train and have to make it through Germany and into Switzerland. One of the best scenes is the Anglican chaplain having to fake being a German officer. Multinational cast.

Bridge on the River Kwai: Pride, baby, pride. Show of hands here: How many of you know the parody song sung to the theme song? It involves "Comet" and "Vomit." Do 10 year olds change much?

Yanks: About US troops in the UK before D-Day. Three romances, with different outcomes. Very enjoyable to see the interaction of cultures. A few brief scenes not suitable for younger children.

Mrs. Miniver: About the effects of WWII on an English family. Done during the early years of WWII. It shows the English at their stiff upper lift best. Was a book first.

Enchantment: David Niven. Teresa Wright. An orphan girl comes to live with an English family, and a budding romance between Niven and Wright is shortcut by conniving sister. Wright marries another, but the Niven (now a retired general) has his American great niece come to visit him during WWII. Wright's Canadian grandson meets the niece - and these two fall in love. Lots of flashbacks. Very endearing. One of Niven's best performances - as a young officer, and as an old general.

Hope and Glory -- I think this is terrific. About the British home front during WWII - a more recent vintage, but superb performances. A few scenes are not appropriate for younger children. War scene through the eyes of a young boy and his family. My mother and I particularly enjoyed Alec Guiness as the curmudgeonly grandfather.

Canterville Ghost: Charles Laughton as a 17th century ghost. Lady of the manor played by youngster Margaret O'Brien ... Americans (including Robert Taylor) are billeted in an English manor, inhabited by a Ghost - who is not allowed his final rest because he was a coward in keeping up the family honor. A "kinsman" must avenge and the family before the Ghost can rest. Turns out Robert Taylor is a distant relative, as evidenced by the family birthmark - and the young Lady and her ghost relative are counting on Cuffy not to be a coward. At first he fails in battle, but later redeems himself. Quite fun.

The Patriot: Okay, you British readers can skip this one. Loosely based on US Marion Francis and British Dragoon Tavistock. Mel Gibson's family drawn into Revolutionary War. Dad was a hero of the French and Indian War - but we don't find out until later why. Many good performances. Story line a little pat and idealistic. But it "works for me."

The Crossing: Excellent movie regards George Washington's crossing the Delaware with his troops to fight the Battle of Trenton. The US forces were at its lowest ebb. And attacked the German held garrison town and won a great victory - prompting the colonies to stay with the fight, rather than throw it in. Great performances, and shows Washington as a forceful character. Too often Americans think of Washington as that weakly looking gentleman on the dollar bill - but this movie probably gives a true to life performance of what the real man was like. Exceedingly tall and fit, and an expert horseman who exhibited leadership and had a disregard for personal safety time and again.

Secret of Santa Vittoria: The Italians have a stash of millions of bottles of wine. The Germans are approaching. They hide it. Anthony Quinn is the mayor - who, infuriatingly won't give up the secret of where the wine is hidden. Even as the Germans are pulling out and the commander threatens to kill him. The German commander threatens him in front of the whole gathered village: "Isn't anyone going to tell me? Not even the priest? You'd rather see him DIE? -- What kind of people ARE you?" They leave in disgust - the secret being kept. There's a tense moment with all in town looking at Quinn - he at them -- then Quinn mocks the commander "What kind of people are you?" Everyone breaks up into laughter.

Gone with the Wind: Not a war movie per se, but set in that backdrop. How can any red-blooded woman fail to go weak in the knees at what Rhett Butler says to Scarlett before he kisses her for the first time? How could the stomach not sink at the famous pull back shot of the wounded in the Atlanta train yard? Who doesn't get a lump in the throat at the dying boy dictating a letter to his mother in the hospital? Who doesn't hear the heartbreak when all the names are announced at those lost at Gettysburg? Who can't feel for Melly and Ashley when he makes his way up the driveway after the war? Who doesn't see the poignancy of the old soldier slinging the young soldier over his shoulders and carrying him as if carrying a child in the retreat?
Who can fail to admire Melanie Wilkes for picking up a sword in her weakened state, to come to the aid of Scarlett, not realizing at first it was Scarlett who killed the marauding stray Union soldier and not the other way around? You can see 8 minutes of Rhett and Scarlett getting out of Atlanta - followed by THE movie kiss of all time here. Sharp eyed viewers will catch the fact that though Rhett threw his hat on the ground before the kiss, it was conveniently on the fence post after the kiss. Maybe the horse kicked it up there. First "continuity" flub I ever caught at age 10. It was a big deal to be taken to a theatre re-release with a friend and I and our moms.

Gallipoli: Australian, starring Mel Gibson and it has a great cast. Austrailian boys join up with the ANZAC forces in Turkey. Very compelling in its directness and vivid performances. The first time I saw this I suddenly realized that at least one of the main characters was bound to come to a tragic end - the question was which one? Or both? Also a good mix of a drama with many funny and toucing moments.

Trivia question: In which movie above was Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind parodied?

These are my personal top films in this category. I know there are other movies, many of recent vintage, that others may like -- feel free to add your favorites.

Trivia answer: The movie was Stalag 17. Two downed airmen get thrown in the jug, and one of them does imitations. In this case: "Now see here, Scarlett, I give you kisses for lunch, and kisses for dinner, but now I find you've been eating out."


On the side of the angels said...

try some korean war films :
The brotherhood &
welcome to dongmakgol.
[available on youtube]

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Casablanca (1942) IS my favourite !

I love Bogart in almost anything, but for me the greatest characters in this picture are :

Claud Rains as the suave, womanising, corrupt Chief of Police
Conradt Veidt as the menacing Major Strasser "of the Third Reich".

Smoking, drinking, gambling, spying, plotting, black marketeering, and it's all done with such old fashioned black-and-white elegance.

For light relief, I would say yes to the hapless Cary Grant in "Father Goose", surrounded by schoolgirls and hostile Japanese.

I have to give a mention to "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" (1957), with U.S. Marine (Robert Mitchum) and Catholic nun (Debrorah Kerr) stranded on a Pacific island, with more hostile Japanese.

Don't know the answer to the "trivia" question.

Peter from England

gemoftheocean said...

Dr. Peter: Ah HA!!! Thanks for the title "Heaven knows, Mr. Allison" -- I have seen that and was hoping someone would mention it - all I remembered about it was the nun stuck with the hard-bitten character.

OTSOTA -- thanks for the tips. Have heard of the former but not the latter.

swissmiss said...

Once again, Alex, this is not my category! I've seen Mr. Roberts a few times, parts of Casablanca and Gone with the Wind.

Other war movie I saw was Midway when it come out in the theaters in Dolby. Dad made me go with him.

African Queen? Does that count in some way?

gemoftheocean said...

Swissmiss- by definition anything with Bogey counts. MIDWAY! There's one I don't think I've seen. Sounds like a GREAT choice. *especially* if it is something your dad made you see -- the man had the "the right stuff."


Anonymous said...

The Great Escape...

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Hey !!

That's rather perceptive of Swiss Miss.

The whole point about "African Queen" is that the drunken slob in his old boat (Bogart), and the prim missionary (Katherine Hepburn) are stranded in hostile German territory during World War I.

I hadn't really thought of it as a picture with a war theme, but in a sense it is.

An afterthought :

I know it's frightfully British and all that, but I couldn't leave off my list "The Cruel Sea" (1952).

My father, who served in the Royal Navy, never shut up about the heavy seas in the North Atlantic, U-boats, etc.

I don't know how they'd have managed without him.

Peter from England

EC Gefroh said...

Good list! I don't know the answer to your GWTW question but I do know I loved the parody/comedy skit about it on the Carol Burnette Show.

gemoftheocean said...

Jackie, I love that movie's on the list -- That's in my top 3 wartime movies. I love every character in it.

Peter - Great choice, isn't there another called "IN WHICH WE SERVE?" Noel Coward, Niven et al?
a friend of mine's dad was a veteran of the D-Day landings -- apparently from what he told his kids the guys were happy to get off the LSTs onto the beaches -- too many guys throwing up in their helmets on the crossing. Ditto on the Atlantic on the way over there. His lasting memory was of the huge vomit barrels on deck. Dr. Pete - my mom and I swore that one day we'd send dad to see all the "victory at sea" places. Sadly that never happened.

I like the little vignette in IF IT'S TUESDAY THIS MUST BE BELGIUM. There's an American guy describing a battle to his wife on the battle ground -- where he was, how they ran uphill charging ... a German, from the top of the hill was VIVIDLY doing the same thing for *his* wife -- as he described the battle for her, he started running downhill. They charged past each other with! Classic.

Esther - I love that Carol Burnett parody -- you can get it from youtube. Try "Carol Burnett" and "Gone with the Wind" or "Went with the Wind."

Fr. Erik Richtsteig said...

Try We Were Soldiers (2002) and The Hanoi Hilton (1987) for the best Vietnam military flicks

gemoftheocean said...

Oh, thanks for those Fr. Erik. And I can't believe I forgot two others:
SGT YORK and of course Diary of Anne Frank has to backdrop of the War. Don't know how I missed those.

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