Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Best WWII Movies You Haven't Seen!

Happy belated Veterans' Day! I have a couple of posts in the works and things just haven't seemed to calm down over here. But in honor of Veterans' Day here is a special post!

When my maternal grandfather died earlier this year, a veterans' group came to perform part of the graveside service- 21 gun salute and taps. The whole bit. They mentioned how more and more World War II veterans are passing on and that we are seeing an end to that generation of veterans. I'd heard this before and knew it, but it really didn't sink in until I was at my grandfather's graveside service seeing the coffin. By twenty years' time, we will probably say goodbye to the last World War II veteran.

The passing of "the greatest generation" is inevitable and part of life, but we will never forget World War II and the lasting impression that it has made on humanity. One great way to remember World War II is to watch a good movie. And guess what, there are a lot of great movies out there besides Saving Private Ryan, The Great Escape, and Schindler's List (which are awesome movies, but this post is dedicated to movies you probably haven't seen.) I am leaving Bridge Over the River Kwai off because I just could not get into it after the first half. (I know, boo- hiss from some of you classic manly movies fans.) And Pearl Harbor (a.k.a. Twilight without vampires set in Hawaii in December 1941) is not on this list for obvious reasons.

Why have you probably never heard of these movies? Most of these are older movies, many of them concern the war with Japan in the Pacific arena, something Americans are very uncomfortable with delving into.

So first, here are the dramas.

Empire of the Sun- 1987, PG-13. Before Steven Spielberg did Schindler's List and before Christian Bale played Bruce Wayne, they both worked on Empire of the Sun. I honestly can't say enough good things about this movie. It's one of my top 10 favorites of all time. I think the reason this hasn't gained as much popularity as Spielberg's other WWII films is that it deals with life as a European citizen in Japanese occupied China. Every nation has something to be ashamed of, and Japan has the imprisonment of European citizens in poverty stricken and disease ridden internment camps. (Interesting bit of trivia for those of you who have seen Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddel, the Christian runner who refused to run on Sunday in the Olympics, actually perished in one of these camps. He and his family were Christian missionaries in China when the Japanese took over. Liddel sent his wife and daughters away in time, but felt that he should stay and help others as best as he could. He took care of the elderly and taught Bible classes and science to children in the camps. He died of an inoperable brain tumor, probably hastened by malnourishment and overwork, five months before liberation.) Christian Bale plays a twelve year old boy who is accidentally separated from his parents as the family tries to flee the Japanese forces. He comes of age in an internment camp, helping others and even befriends a Japanese boy. The music, the cinematography, and the performances are all superb (a special award was actually created for Christian Bale for his outstanding performance). If you watch closely, you can even see Ben Stiller in a bit part as an American interred in the camp- one of the first screen performances of his career.

A Bridge to the Sun- 1961, PG. This is movie based on the memoirs of Gwen Terasaki, an American who married a Japanese diplomat before the war. When Japan and America go to war, her husband is sent back to Japan and Gwen follows him along their daughter. The movie follows Gwen's experiences living among the Japanese and her husband's tireless efforts to bring about peace between Japan and America. This is a tear-jerker, but it is an absolutely beautiful love story, and I think is a good introduction for Americans to what life was like in WWII Japan. Seriously, you have to see it.

Sayonara- 1957, PG. Oh boy. This is the tear jerkiest of all the movies I'm going to recommend. The end will have you bawling. And it's not actually about WWII, but takes place during the Korean War. But really, you should see this. Marlon Brando (in one of the few roles I can stand) plays a GI in love with a Japanese woman, Red Buttons plays a GI married to a Japanese woman he dearly loves, and Patricia Owens plays the daughter of an American diplomat who strikes up a deep friendship with a Japanese Kabuki  actor. At the time, this movie was considered very progressive because it openly discussed and sympathized with interracial marriage. Now, many scholars argue that it's just another racist relic from the '50's because the women aren't portrayed as being feminist enough. I think it's a beautiful and tragic love story that makes you think.

The Memphis Belle- 1990, PG-13. This is a dramatization of the story of the crew of the Memphis Belle- bomber squadron who actually managed to fulfill all their bombing missions with no losses in the days before bomber escorts. (See my post on the story of the Memphis Belle.) This isn't a documentary or a complete factual account, but rather is meant to show what it was like to be on a bomber crew (pretty much a suicide mission) during the first part of WWII. Ladies, you may not be as interested in this as A Bridge to the Sun or Sayonara, but I think the gents out there might find it an engaging and action-packed ride through the skies over Europe.

There are actually some really great comedies set in World War II as well. Most of them seem to take place on ships in the Pacific or involve Cary Grant.

Mister Roberts- 1955, probably PG. This film stars Henry Fonda and several other '50's legends. The title character is a sailor on board the Navy's most boring cargo ship in the Pacific with a slacker crew and tyrannical captain (with a pet palm tree) who refuses to sign transfers so Roberts can get on a real ship with real action. The movie follows the misadventures of the crew and their battles with the captain. And trust me- you will never get more satisfaction from seeing a small tree be thrown overboard.

Operation Petticoat- 1959, PG. This movie is hilarious! Seriously! (Seriously hilarious, that's an oxymoron.) Cary Grant plays the captain of an unfortunate submarine that limps its way around the Philipines coast after being seriously damaged in a Japanese air raid. As the crew tries to make repairs, they find that they don't have enough red or white paint to serve as an undercoat- and no time to put on an overcoat. So they mix the two and voila!- the pinkest submarine in the Navy. Along the way, they take on stranded and accident-prone Army nurses, expectant Filipino women and children, and a goat (the children need milk.) Tony Curtis plays the supply officer who is adept at getting anything the sub needs- through the use of theft, poaching, trading favors, and an illegal casino.

Father Goose- 1964, PG. Well, we started with one of my top ten favorites and we're going to end with one of my top ten favorites. I have seen a ton of Cary Grant movies, but this is my favorite role of his. In this movie Grant plays a bum and he does it really, really well. Yes, the suave Mr. Grant does plays an awesome bum. The aforementioned bum is Walter Eckland, an American who has fled to the northern Australian coast wanting nothing more than to escape civilization, live on his boat and drink rum. His plans are interrupted when World War II breaks out and an officer in the Royal Navy blackmails/bribes Eckland to give something to humanity by serving as an aircraft spotter on an isolated island. Walter's life is further complicated when he picks up a French schoolmarm and several little girls who were accidentally stranded on a neighboring island during the evacuation of the foreign embassy in Australia. What ensues is a battle of the sexes for control of the resources of the island. This movie also contains one of the most interesting and exciting wedding scenes I have ever seen in a movie.

So, there you have it. Enjoy!

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