As a kid, I watched a lot of war movies. I would spend an entire Sunday afternoon watching The Longest Day, or as a friend calls it: “The Longest Movie.” One time, my dad and I were at his friend’s house and the film was on televison. My dad’s friend was in the army during the invasion of Normandy, but in a different part of Europe. While we watched the film, he would talk about his experiences, and the stories people who survived told him. I wish I could remember all he said.
To be honest, I was never really a fan of the war movies that John Wayne starred in; I much prefered his cowboy pictures. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it was because I saw him more as a cowboy than a soldier. Or maybe it’s that a lot of his war films came across as moral boosters at best. Then there is the Vietnam era movie The Green Berets. I actually liked that movie, but I haven’t seen it in at least thirty years, and I am not sure I want to.
There are a lot of war movies with “bridge” in the title, and one of my favorites is A Bridge Too Far. It’s the opposite of a propaganda film in that the story is about how the Allied Forces over-reached their grasp. It may be the first war movie I saw in which the good guys didn’t succeed.
In the late Nineties, a friend recommended The Bridge at Remagen, starring George Segal. I had never even heard of this film, but I enjoyed it. There are lot’s of cool explosions for those of you who like that sort of thing.
For some reason, I have always been partial to prison camp movies. Maybe it was all those Hogan’s Heroes reruns as a kid. My favorite is The Great Escape, which is another war film with a less than happy ending. A lot of these movies that end on a down note are based on true stories, which says something about the nature of war.
British comedian Eddie Izzard has made numerous references to The Great Escape over the years. One question he raises is: How the hell did Steve McQueen make his way to Switzerland from Poland so quickly? I guess the answer is: Because he’s Steve McQueen. In another bit, Izzard discusses cats and drilling. Just trust me.
In my opinon, the two masterpiece prisoner of war films are: David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Jean Renoir’s The Grand Illusion; the latter being the granddaddy of p.o.w. films. The Grand Illusion, set in World War I, is one of those films that once you see it, you realize how many other films were influenced by it.
The Eighties brought forth a number of films about the Vietnam War, which were a far cry from The Green Berets. That film was pro-war at a time when the general consensus was that Vietnam was a lost cause.
Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and the underrated Hamburger Hill, were films about the banality of Vietnam, and of war itself. These were not the type of war film I grew up on, but these were the ones I needed to see. This was not a war, this was something else.