Saturday Art: Essential Movies (War Movies)
I’ve been holding off on this post for a few weeks but decided that maybe I can sneak it in without too much fear.
I detest the thought of war yet find that there are a surprisingly large number of war related movies that I enjoy watching multiple times. War is not at all funny yet there are a bunch of comedies on this list (albeit some where the phrase black comedy applies). As always, I would advise folks not to watch the movies, even those based on history, and expect them to always conform to the facts but to watch them as a tale told well.
I’m going to start the listing with some bio pics I’ve enjoyed. The first two “celebrate” (for lack of a better term) two people that I’ve always considered as heroes. Sergeant York is the story of World War I proclaimed pacifist and Medal of Honor winner Sergeant Alvin York with Gary Cooper in the lead role. To Hell and Back starred Audie Murphy as – Audie Murphy. Also a Medal of Honor winner, Murphy was the most decorated US soldier during World War II yet looked young enough ten years after the end of the war to play himself. It wasn’t until I saw the movie Patton that I became a bit familiar with the career of George S. Patton. Had I ever toured the Patton Museum at Fort Knox, I might have learned a bit more about the man but the one time I can recall visiting Fort Knox during my high school days, we didn’t do a tour of the museum. The Wings of Eagles is the story of Frank “Spig” Wead, a Naval aviator and playwright with John Wayne as Wead. The Long Gray Line was as much a story of West Point as it was the story of Martin “Marty” Maher. . . .
I was stationed at Hickam AFB, HI for four years while I was in the USAF. Each day, as I walked up the steps to the Accounting Office, I saw holes in the metal where Japanese rounds had gone through. The building I worked in had been an Army Air Corp barracks at the time and all the bullet scars were left as reminders of Pearl Harbor. Tora! Tora! Tora! was partly filmed on Hickam and at Pearl Harbor but I was never able to tell exactly where the camera angles had been located. In Harm’s Way starts on “December 6, 1941” then continues on into the war. While not dealing with the attack itself, Go For Broke is the story of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, comprised of Nisei – American born sons of Japanese immigrants, approximately two-thirds of whom came from Hawaii. The folks I met in Hawaii were very proud of the 442nd (though I was cautioned that the racial slur used in the movie was not recommended for a haole to use by the time I was there).
Prison movies have long been a staple of the movie industry, and just because the main category is war, doesn’t mean there aren’t prison movies. I’ll start here with The Bridge On the River Kwai. I will now embarrass myself by telling the tale of when I was in the Boy Scouts and we would use the Col Bogey March from this movie with faces painted onto our stomachs, pull our shirts over our heads, turn around to face the crowd and move our stomachs to the tune. While not a prison directly, Empire of the Sun, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring a young Christian Bale, was set at a Japanese detainment camp.
Films set in German prison camps that I enjoy include Stalag 17 (I have a vague recollection of reading somewhere that this film was also the “inspiration” for Hogan’s Heroes but can’t claim this is fact). Von Ryan’s Express stars Frank Sinatra as an American Colonel leading mostly British prisoners in an escape but The Great Escape is probably the best of all the POW movies.
The Dirty Dozen combines both prison and behind the lines/commando action which leads to the behind the lines movies such as The Guns of Navarone, Force 10 from Navarone, and Where Eagles Dare all have allied commando teams going behind German lines while The Eagle Has Landed has the German commando team going into England.
There are a couple of Vietnam War movies I do enjoy re-watching – Apocalypse Now (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning”) and Full Metal Jacket. While I enjoyed Platoon and Hamburger Hill the first time I saw them, it was not enough to make me want to see them over and over.
I mentioned the seemingly contradictory war comedies at the top of this and here they are. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Catch 22, and M*A*S*H all fit the definition of black comedy. Operation Petticoat and Father Goose, both starring Cary Grant, each have some dramatic elements but far more comedy than drama as does The Secret War of Harry Frigg, a Paul Newman bit of fluff. Stripes, Private Benjamin, and Buck Privates just all go for the comedy.
And because I can: