Being a big fan of the war movie genre, I had been wanting from long to day a Memorial Day special post on my blog. I did not want to do a Top 10,20 kind of post, the last thing I want is people squabbling over what should be there, what should not be there. So what I decided to do is to publish in a single post, the reviews of the war movies I had posted over the years on my blog.
So here is a compilation of war movie reviews on my blog, and it includes even reviews posted by others as part of blogathons I had organized on my blog. Most of the movie reviews I have compiled are of World War II movies with couple of Vietnam and Civil War movies too.
There have been movies on the Holocaust, in recent times, most notable Spielberg’s Schindlers List, Roman Polanski’s The Pianist and The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. A vast majority of these movies, generally look at the period through the view point of the victims, the ones who were sent to the gas chambers and concentration camps. But what of the men, who actually signed the orders? The judges who ran those Kangaroo courts? The ones who ordered the Jewish deportations? Were they merely doing their “duty” or did they felt anything was fine in the name of the country.
While I did hear of the U Boats, and the famous Wolf Packs, that traveled the Atlantic, my first exposure to them, was Alistair Maclean’s novel HMS Ulysses( his first and to date his best one too). The book deals with the story of a British naval convoy and how it has to fight its way through the U Boats. And that’s when I could manage to get some more material on U Boats. U Boat is the short form of Unterseeboot, meaning “Under Sea Boat” in German. Though used for military operations, their main aim was to cause economic blockades of the allied nations, by sinking merchant ships. U-Boats gained fame with the sinking of the commercial liner Lusitania in 1920, and they would be a part of military folklore during the Battle of Atlantic in the Second World War.
Though the Americans ultimately won the battle, they had to overcome 35 days of fierce resistance from Japanese, and loss of more than 6000 soldiers. The movie starts off with Japanese archaelogists exploring the tunnels built on island of Iwo Jima and finding a series of letters. And cuts into flashback mode to the year 1944. The movie tells the battle from perspective of Private Saigo( Japanese pop music star Kazunari Ninomiya ), a baker who has been conscripted into the Japanese Imperial Army, and he is grudgingly digging trenches on the island. As he curses for digging the trenches, and wonders why they dont hand it over to the Americans, he is beaten up by his overseer for making unpatriotic speeches. Fortunately the arrival of Lt.Gen Tadamichi Kuribayashi( Ken Watanabe), who fortunately does not believe in the rough neck methods of his fellow Japanese officers saves his life.
On Feb 23,1945, 5 US Marines and a Navy corpsman, raised the American flag on Mt.Suribachi, on the island of Iwo Jima, in the pacific. The photograph of this event, taken by Joe Rosenthal, an American photographer, who later won the Pulitzer Prize for this, would become an iconic image among American public.This photograph would take its place among other photographs like that of Che Guevera, and the Vietnam War survivor, as one of the most famous 20th century pictures. It became a symbol of American victory during the War. And this photograph would also be the basis for the USMC War Memorial sculpture in Washington DC.
But even in the middle of such inhumanity, 1100 Jews were saved by one man. He was a German industrialist, a profiteer, a womanizer and a wheeler dealer, a very unlikely hero. But history would record the fact that when people choose to look the other way, he put everything on the line to save people whose only fault was that they did not conform to the perfect vision of a megalomaniac dictator. The man was Oskar Schindler. Based on the book Schindlers Ark by Thomas Kennealy, Schindlers List directed by Steven Spielberg is one of the most powerful and disturbing movies made on the Holocaust.
And in that line comes the 1970 movie Patton , a true story of Gen George Patton , one of the most controversial and remarkable characters of World War II . Along with Douglas Mc Arthur, James Doolittle he would be regarded as one of the greatest American war heroes. Making a movie on Patton would never be an easy task. For he was one of the most complex, controversial, larger than life character in real life. As a war hero, he was one of the greatest, he led the Allied Forces to victory in key battles in N.Africa, Sicily and Germany . Yet this man was a bundle of contradictions. He was a scholar, and well versed in military history, he devoured books on Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Alexander , and studied their battles in depth.
Well many questions still left unanswered, and there have been many attempts to answer them. Not many movies are there on this event. Spielberg’s 1941 , was more of a comedy about the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, while the 1953 classic From Here to Eternity was about the relationships between characters at that place. But if you want to really know the reasons behind Pearl Harbor , and the assault, then the best movie I would recommend is the 1970 movie Tora, Tora, Tora. Though Tora means tiger in Japanese, in reality, the words are derived from the Japanese code word totsugeki raigeki , which means a torpedo attack. “Climb Mt. Nitaka” the title of my review, is the Japanese code for this operation. Now coming to some of the questions, this movie, does provide some very clear and plausible answers.
With the advent of D-Day, the US Army has come up with a plan to interrupt German chain of command. Raid a secluded mansion where most of the high ranking Nazi officers come to party with their mistresses and kill every one there. It’s a suicidal operation, and so the army decides to make use of convicted criminals who are either on death row or facing life imprisonment. It’s a win win situation, if they die, they would have the honour of dying on the battle field, it they survive, their life sentence would be commuted.Gen Worden( Ernest Borgine) the operation in charge chooses Maj John Reisman( Lee Marvin) for this thankless job. There is a hidden agenda here, Reisman has never been liked in the Army for his I care a damn attitude, and he is assigned this job, ostensibly to get rid of him.
One of the best war movies to come out has been the 1960’s movie The Guns of Navaronne. Now hold it, Guns is not a WW2 classic in the league of Bridge on River Kwai, Saving Private Ryan and Paths of Glory. Nor is it a holocaust epic like Schindlers List or The Pianist. The Guns is more a straight forward tale of “guys lets get together and conduct an operation”. It was a very popular genre in the 60’s especially, when you had movies like Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes, The Train to name a few. The formula was simple, get in some big shot names, come up with a story of a derring do plot on a Nazi base, show them as idiotic, brainless goofs and add in the obligatory female company. In that aspect The Guns of Navaronne is no different, but where it strikes out, is the movie has a sensible script, good enough twists, strong character development and enthralling action sequences.
Quite often when i go through some of the best anti war movies that have been made, i can’t help noticing one thing, in a vast majority of the cases, the anti war movies come out after the actual war is over. I take a look at some of the more well known anti Vietnam war flicks, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and then i see that all these movies have been released after the end of the war, post 1975. Even when anti Vietnam war protests were raging across the US, and many Hollywood stars voiced their opposition to the war, there were actually no significant anti Vietnam war dramas comming out from Hollywood. The only Vietnam war drama released around the time was John Wayne’s propagandist The Green Berets, which tried to drum up public support in favor of the war. Is it due to the fact that Hollywood was afraid of adverse audience reactions, some kinda backlash?
The Civil War in the US was fought between the Union( comprising the Northern and Midwest) and the Confederates(South and Southwest) over the issue of slavery. The Civil War had its own heroes like Gen Thomas Stonewall Jackson, Gen Robert Lee( Confederate) and Ulysees Grant, William Sherman(Union). However one of the most significant features of the Civil War was the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment. Along with the Ist South Carolina Volunteers Regiment, this was one of the first professional Army Regiment made up entirely of Black Soldiers. And this regiment gained prominence when it mounted an attack on the strategic Fort Wagner located in South Carolina. This was also the first instance of Black Soldiers taking part in full scale combat.The Great Escape
One such all time favorite of mine is 1963’s The Great Escape, based on the real life story of the escape of Allied Air Force Prisoners from Stalag Luft III in 1944, a high security POW Camp built in such a way, that tunnels could not be built easily n.The movie begins with the prisoners arriving at the camp to the tune of Elmer Bernstein’s wonderful background score. The camp is manned by Col Von Luger( Hannes Messemer) which he claims to be escape proof and that none can escape from there. Most of these POW’s have a reputation of being escape artists, and the most dangerous of them all is Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett( Sir Richard Attenborough), on whom the Gestapo have put a shoot to kill, if he is found escaping
As the world observes the 60th anniversary of the release of Auschwitz,I thought it to be appropriate to review one of the finest movies related to the Holocaust, The Pianist . I think along with Schindlers List this is one of the best movies related to that topic. But there are differences while Schindlers List dealt with the attempts of one man to save Jews from extermination, The Pianist deals with the struggle for survival of a Jewish man in Warsaw.The movie is the real life story of celebrated Polish pianist Wladsylaw Spilzman who recorded his experiences of survival during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw.