Monday, 22 August 2011

Top Ten Lists - Favourite War Movies

It's been awhile since I've done a Top Ten Movie list. I was looking at my various lists from days gone by and I figured it's time for the War movies. As a kid I loved going to war movies and then my buddies and I would spend days with our toy guns re-enacting these self-same movies. Funny how 7 or 8 guys could relive the Battle of the Bulge or the D-Day invasion, but we were able to do so. Funny thing is, that even though we enjoyed playing with guns back then, I think for the most part we ended up pretty sane, normal adults. Anyway, that was a bit of a self-righteous digression. Not only did we enjoy war movies, we bought war comics, like Sgt Rock and Sgt Fury and The Haunted Tank and played with GI Joes. What fun!

I can think of so many books I read that also struck a chord; Leon Uris' Battle Cry, which was about the US Marines during WWII; Torpedo Run by Robb White (from my public school days), On The Beach (almost anti-war or at least nuclear bombs, by Nevil Shute), Fail-Safe by Eugene Burdick, amongst others.

But anyway, this was supposed to be a Blog about war movies. I haven't watched so many recently, unless I see them on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) so the list may be somewhat dated; more movies from my childhood and early teens, than recent movies. So bear with me. Maybe there are some movies you haven't seen that you might find worth watching. I hope so.

So on with the list. (You'll note many movies that are left out that other folks would put in, such as Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private Ryan, Das Boot, etc. But the list is of course, very personal, some I've watched many, many times or others that have hit close to the heart, even if only watched once, and a couple are movies I remember as a youngster, from my time at Saturday matinees with my best friends) Anyway, once again, on with the list!

Number Ten - This is one of those movies from my Saturday matinees, 55 Days at Peking. It was a movie about the Boxer Rebellion in China and the siege of the Foreign Embassy compound in Peking; with a heroic defence led by Charlton Heston as the head of the US Marine Corps detachment. I recall this being a very exciting, sit on the edge of your seat movie; the threat of the Boxers, the efforts to protect the foreigners until help can arrive.

I don't think I've ever seen since that Saturday matinee at the Base Theater in Chatham, N.B., unless I caught it on an afternoon spent on the couch watching old movies. But it is one that I always remember.

Number 9 -  Oddly enough, this is another movie with Charlton Heston in the starring role; this time a British officer, Sir Charles 'Chinese' Gordon in Khartoum. Released in 1966, the movie revolves around the siege of the city of Khartoum by the Mahdi, played by Sir Laurence Olivier. Gordon is sent to the Sudan as a token by the British government but in the movie, disobeys his orders and begins a defence of the besieged city of Khartoum, ultimately with tragic results. It's an intense interesting movie, very dramatic and well-acted by Heston, even playing a British officer.

As a side note, I received an interesting book from my daughter and her boyfriend for my 55th birthday, War Made New by Max Boot, which discusses various battles and weaponry that have made the modern world and one of those is the battle between the relief soldiers sent to the Sudan after the siege of Khartoum; quite interesting.

Number 8 - Two movies based on books by Cornelius Ryan have made my Top Ten list; the first is about Operation Market Garden, the assault by Allied Air Forces, during World War II on the Netherlands. The movie is A Bridge Too Far, directed by Richard Attenborough and with as fantastic a cast of actors as you'll see today; Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Ryan O'Neal, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, James Caan, Colin Farrell, etc.

It's one of those epic war movies, great scope, great action, great actors. The aim of the Operation was to seize the bridges of the Netherlands before the German armies could destroy them, thereby easing the follow-on invasion of Germany and achieving a quick end to WWII. Great in scope, it also focuses on smaller more intimate actions taking place; that of Anthony Hopkins small group of paratroopers trying to hold a particular bridge and Gene Hackman's failed drop into the area with his Polish troops, only to be massacred by waiting German forces. It's an excellent movie, covering a key battle of WWII.

Number 7 - This next movie is based on a classic novel by Alistair MacLean, The Guns of Navarone. the book was written in 1957 and is about an Allied commando team dropped onto the fictitious island of Navarone in the Aegean Sea with the mission of destroying the impregnable Nazi fortress that threatens Allied shipping in the area.

The movie was released in 1961 and stars David Niven, Anthony Quinn and Gregory Peck amongst a great cast. As with most Alistair MacLean stories (one of my favourite authors of the time), there is much intrigue as the small group of commandos makes its way across the island to find and destroy the Nazi fortress.

This was a great book and a great movie, both interesting in their own right and well worth watching and/ or reading.

Number 6 - This next movie features Stanley Kubrick's foray into the Cold War, with a classic anti-war movie, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The film was released in 1964 and features the great Peter Sellers as three characters; Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, a RAF liaison officer trapped with a mad US BGen on a Strategic Air Command base; as flustered US President Merkin Muffley, trying to stop a nuclear war and deal with his insane staff in the War Room, and as the wheel-chair bound, Dr Strangelove, a science advisor, also located in the war room.

This is a fantastic black comedy, with many excellent roles, George C. Scott, as Gen Buck Turgidson, Slim Pickens as Maj 'King' Kong, a SAC bomber pilot leading his aircraft on an erroneous bombing mission into Russia. A very funny movie, but also very topical at the time as the US was in the midst of the Cold War with the USSR and the US public (well, the whole world, actually) was trying to live with the constant threat of nuclear war.

Number 5 - The next selection is based on a 1952 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny. The book was excellent, tense, exciting and so well-written. The movie was released two years later, starring Humphrey Bogart as Lt Cmdr Queeg, Van Johnson as Lt Steve Maryk and Fred MacMurray as the ship's doctor, Lt Tom Keefer.

The story/ movie follows the USS Caine during WWII as it takes part in various actions. During their cruise, Van Johnson and other members of the crew become increasingly aware that Lt Cmdr Queeg is mad and in the end take over the ship, relieving him of this command. The remainder of the movie revolves around the Court Martial hearing into the 'mutiny' of the crew as charged by Queeg.

This is a fascinating movie, great character studies and leaving us with the question to answer; was it mutiny or a justified ethical decision by Van Johnson to take over the ship.

Number 4 - I've only ever been able to watch this next movie once and don't think I could watch again. It's one of those 'must-see' films, intense, powerful and covering an area of WWII that speaks of the 'evil' that took place. Based on the novel by Thomas Keneally, the movie was released in 1993 and is probably Stephen Spielberg's most powerful directorial effort.

The book was also powerful and a page-turner, one that you couldn't put down; describing the efforts of Oscar Schindler to save over 1200 Jews from concentration camps in Poland and Germany.

The movie was a tour de force for Spielberg; intense, powerful, even terrifying, with excellent acting roles for Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes, to name just a few of the excellent actors that were in this movie. As I stated at the beginning, this is a must-see movie, if you want a portrayal of a time in history that must never be forgotten, but be aware how powerful this movie is.

Number 3 - This next movie is a David Lean epic from 1957, starring Alex Guinness as Col Nicholson, leading a band of British and American P.O.W's in a Japanese P.O.W camp. The movie is based on a French novel, written in 1952, by Pierre Boulle, one that I remember reading in high school.

This movie features a powerful piece of acting by Sir Alex Guinness, as the Colonel who must assist the Japanese in building a railroad bridge of the River Kwai. The movie is a battle of wits between Guinness and the Japanese Col, Sessue Hayawaka, as Guinness strives to ensure his officers are not treated as slave labour and as he gradually takes over the construction of the bridge, not realizing that the Allies have a plot to destroy this same bridge.

This is very much a psychological movie, as Guinness strives to maintain morale, his ethics and standards in this battle with the Japanese Colonel. Excellent, powerful, lovingly filmed movie.

Number 2 - This is the second movie based on a Cornelius Ryan novel, epic in scope and fascinating; The Longest Day. Once again, this movie is grand in scale, with a cast that rivals any movie you might ever see. Every actor of the time is in it, John Wayne, Eddie Albert, Sal Mineo, Richard Burton, etc....

The movie is about the D-Day invasion; the planning for it, the waiting for the weather to clear so it could take place, the initial invasion and the struggle to establish and maintain the beachhead and then to movie inland.

So well filmed, so dramatic and just excellent to watch. The action keeps you on the edge of your seat, the humour is great and the cast making the movie one of the best ever. Released in 1962,this is a true classic and one I've watched many times.

OK, now on to the one you've been waiting for, my favourite all-time war movie -

Number 1 - I can't think how many times I've watched this movie. I can catch it in the middle and still enjoy and I've never tired of watching it from beginning to end. The Great Escape was released in 1963, directed by John Sturges. It was based on a novel of the same name by Australian writer and member of the RAAF, who was in Stalag III and participated in the planning of the Great Escape. Due to claustrophobia he did not do any of the tunnelling nor did he try to escape through the tunnels.

The movie stars Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, to name just a few and is based on a true attempt by Allied aircrews to conduct a major escape from a German POW camp and thereby cause German forces to waste time trying to capture them.

The movie is fascinating, the planning for the escape, the work conducted to dig the tunnels, deceive the warders of the activities, dispose of the dirt, prepare false papers and cloths for the escapees and then the actions of the actual escape.

Amazing story, amazing movie and one I most highly recommend if you've never seen. Just to watch Steve McQueen on his motorcycle chase across the country or James Coburn as he slowly makes his way across Germany and France. Excellent through and through!

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