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Story of G. I. Joe (1945)

storygijoeBased on the columns of popular war correspondent Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith), Story of G. I. Joe was released in 1945 at the very end of WWII. The movie follows “C” Company of the 18th Infantry as it fights across North Africa and up through Italy, focusing on a handful of ordinary soldiers and the well-liked Lieutenant Walker (Robert Mitchum). Actual veterans of the Italian campaign, waiting on the west coast for deployment to the Pacific, played extras in the movie.

Check out our spotlight of director William Wellman for reviews of his other war movies. You’ll notice his war films avoid unrealistic heroics in favor of poignant stories of ordinary men under hellish circumstances.

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Spotlight: William Wellman and His War Movies

wingsDirector William Wellman served in France during WWI with the Lafayette Flying Corp. He put this experience to good use in the 1927 WWI movie Wings, winner of Best Picture at the very first Academy Awards ceremony.

Wellman’s war movies bring war down to the human level. The battleground1949 movie Battleground tells the story of the Battle of Bulge from the point of view a company of the 101st Airborne. The men are moved around in the snow from unknown point to unknown point, trying to keep warm, scrounging for something to eat, hoping not to lose another friend. They don’t even know for sure what country they are in.

The Scarlet and the Black (1983)

scarletblackGregory Peck plays an Irish Monsignor, who, during WWII, rallies an unlikely group of people to shelter Allied soldiers and Jews in Nazi-occupied Rome. The events in The Scarlet and the Black are inspired by true events, and the character of Monsignor O’Flaherty, inspired by a real Vatican priest. Gregory Peck is brilliant here as the lively and cunning O’Flaherty who goes up against Coronel Herbert Kappler, the head of Nazi operatives in Rome. Kappler, in turn, is deftly played by Christopher Plummer. While cold and ambitious, the colonel is also a dedicated family man—certainly not a one-dimensional character.

Plummer and Peck don’t share too much time on-screen, but when they do it’s a delight. Shot on location in Rome, this beautiful film features great acting and a well-placed plot. A must-see in my book.
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The Flowers of War (2011) R

flowersofwarSet in 1937 Nanjing, China, as the Japanese invade and pillage the city during the Sino-Japanese War, The Flowers of War is a heart wrenching but very emotional story of the evils and atrocities of war. Thrown together as a means of survival, Christian Bale, an American mortician, a group of young Chinese school girls, and a band of courtesans hide in an old Nanjing church. With nothing in common, the three groups learn to pull together as death and destruction surrounds them.

Bravery, romance, and wonderful acting from the entire cast make this Golden Globe nominated movie one not to miss.

Even though this movie is listed as a foreign film, it is primarily in English, with small portions in Mandarin.
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Gallipoli (1981) PG

melgibson_gallipoliDuring WWI, one of the most notorious battles of the war was fought on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the crumbling Ottoman Empire. French, British, Australian, and New Zealand troops suffered a great defeat against the Turks. Gallipoli is the story of two young Australians who join the army for adventure and soon find themselves in a strange land facing overwhelming odds.

The first Australian set half of the movie is full of humor and boyish adventure building to the tense and poignant end. Mel Gibson plays one of the two young soldiers in one of his very early roles.

You can also watch a documentary about the battle in Gallipoli.

Did you know? 100 years ago, on June 28, 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the catalyst that started World War I.
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Grand Illusion

Grand Illusion (1937)
Three French officers are captured and held as prisoners of war by the Germans in World War I. Lt. Marechal was a mechanic before the war; Lt. Rosenthal is from a wealthy banking family; and Capt. De Boeldieu is from an aristocratic military family. The camp commander, Capt. Fon Rauffenstein, feels a great affinity for Boeldieu, but Boeldieu sees that the world of de Boeldieus and von Rauffensteins has passed.

This POW movie has many scenes we have learned to expect: the camp show, digging a tunnel and depositing the dirt in the garden, and unhappy Russians. The beautiful black and white cinematography, the humor, and the poignancy of each of the men’s stories make this a memorable movie. Missing this movie is strictly verboten!

In French with English subtitles.

For more on the film, check out the articles on TCM.com. And for other films set during WWI, check out our recommended movie list.

Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory (1957)
In the French army during World War I, in order to gain promotion, General Mireau orders an impossible attack against the Germans. When the attack fails, Mireau orders the court martial and execution of three men as an example to the rest of the men. Col. Dax (Kirk Douglas) is appalled and determined to give the men an honest defense, but the powers above have already decided the ending to this story. The greatest enemy isn’t always the men in the other trench, but your own officers. Directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Looking for more WWI films? Check out our list of recommended movies.
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Spotlight: Audie Murphy

Spotlight: Audie MurphyAs most of you know, Audie Murphy was America's most decorated soldier of World War II. After the war, Murphy went to Hollywood and began a movie career under the tutelage of James Cagney. Most of the movies he made were westerns.

Indian Prairie has acquired the Audie Murphy Western Collection, which contains four films. Sierra (1950) is the first. Murphy's inexperience as an actor shows in this, his second starring western. And his then wife, Wanda Hendrix, gives him no help due in part to her unusual voice. The film is nevertheless worthwhile because of the spectacular photography, the singing of Burl Ives (who sings a few very beautiful ballads and a very comical song for children), and the appearance in small roles of future superstar, Tony Curtis, and television's most famous western marshal James Arness.

All four films include an introduction by Turner Classic Movies' Ben Mankiewicz. The special features section of each film includes interesting facts. Also, Sierra includes a mini-biography of Murphy. One of the interesting stories about this film is a mock fast draw gunfight between Murphy and Curtis. If you watch the other films in this collection, you will note how much Murphy grew as an actor.

The other films in the collection are Drums Across the River (1954), Ride Clear of Diablo (1954), and Ride a Crooked Trail (1958). They are all solid westerns well worth watching.

In addition, Indian Prairie has three other Audie Murphy films: His autobiographical To Hell and Back (1955); Night Passage (1957), a film I previously reviewed; and No Name on the Bullet (1959). To Hell and Back was Universal Studios' biggest box office hit ever, until it was eclipsed 20 years later by Jaws.
Audie Murphy was good actor, who, unlike most actors, was a genuine hero. He stood 5’5”, had a baby face, but with his genuine humility and his life experiences he brought something special to his films. A friend said at his funeral, "Like the man, the headstone is too small." He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and after John Kennedy, his grave is the most visited gravesite.

The Pacific

The Pacific (2010) TV-MA
This ten part HBO miniseries offers a realistic and horrifying view of World War II in the Pacific. The series is based on the memoirs of two marines who were there, Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge, and the story of Congressional Medal of Honor winner Sgt. John Basilone. Some episodes are devoted almost entirely to specific battles: Guadalcanal, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima. Others show the marines on R&R in Australia, on medical leave, or in basic training.

The producers (who include Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg) purposely used relatively unknown actors so that the viewer wouldn't be distracted by recognizing well-known stars showing up in cameos ala The Longest Day (1962).

Check out the books that served as inspiration:
Did you know? The 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into WWII is Wednesday, December 7.

Changi

Changi (2001)
This Australian miniseries follows the fortunes of six young Australian soldiers who are captured early in the war against the Japanese in WWII and spend over three years in the notorious Singapore POW camp Changi. Each of six episodes focuses on one of the men as 55 years later he prepares for one last meeting with his mates and, through flashbacks, remembers the time they were all together in the camp.

As the series progresses, your attachment to these irreverent and closely united men grows and the poignancy of seeing them both as cocky yet fearful young POWs and elderly men with their lives all behind them becomes almost too much.

The George Segal movie King Rat (1965) is also set at Changi.

Visit the official website for more information about the series and the Changi prison.

Mother of Mine

Mother of Mine (2005)
This Finnish/Swedish film directed by Klaus Härö received good reviews from the Finnish press and several awards internationally.

Mother of Mine is based on a novel by Heikki Hietamies. During the Winter War (which began with a Soviet offensive on November 30, 1939 — three months after the start of World War II) Eero, like many Finnish children, is sent to Sweden as a refugee. He is forever conflicted because he feels his own mother abandoned him and his adoptive mother has a hard time accepting him.

Paradise Road

Paradise Road (1997) R
After Pearl Harbor, European and American women and children try to escape ahead of the invading Japanese. When their evacuation ship is sunk, the women make their way to the coast of Sumatra where they are captured and imprisoned by the Japanese. Two women with musical training (Glenn Close and Pauline Collins) start a voice orchestra and involve other prisoners (including Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Ehle, and Julianna Margulies) in their plan. The prisoners, including Dutch, English, Australian, and American women, squabble but also make friendships across cultural and class lines.

This is a moving film and sometimes hard to watch as many characters we have come to know take the final trip down “Paradise Road,” the name the women have given to death. And the voice orchestra really did exist (check out Song of Survival by Helen Colijn).

The Americanization of Emily

The Americanization of Emily (1964)
Set during World War II in London, Julie Andrews is a war widow. James Garner is the personal assistant to an American admiral played by Melvyn Douglas. His plan is to stay alive. Hers is to get by without getting attached to anyone again. When the two start a relationship, will her ideals come in conflict with his cynicism? This is a thought-provoking movie, surprisingly realistic about relationships between men and women.

Check out the original New York Times review.

Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener

Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener (1947)
This is Michener’s first novel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, inspiration for the musical South Pacific, and a quietly moving story of men and women far from home at a time of war. These tales are connected short stories in which a handful of characters appear. In the background, the invasion of a Japanese held island is being planned, but in the mean time, sailors and nurses fall in love, write letters home, drink, and fraternize with the local population.

Learn more about this ever popular author.

Glory

Glory (1989) R
This is a Civil War film, the story of the first and only black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Cavalry, to actively participate in the bloody business of war. A young white officer from a wealthy Boston family (Matthew Broderick) takes on the grueling job of getting these men ready for battle. He is tough, untried, but idealistically driven to turn these men into soldiers and he does.

This is the heart of the story, watching the unit grow from roughshod to ready, forming bonds of friendship that reveal their own inner problems. The common desire to engage the enemy, thereby breaking down a unique military prejudice, is another absorbing part of the story.

The cast and characters grab your heart and keep it until the final second. A must see.

Also starring Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. Check out reviews at Rotten Tomatoes.