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Five Great WWII Films

by on 2012/11/11

As a child, Remembrance Day was not an option for me. It was a day of respect or, at least, of recognition. The Vietnam War was rarely mentioned outside of pop culture. It seemed not to win the legitimacy afforded the Second World War.

Right or wrong, the fact remains I grew up with most war films focused on the 1940s. Perhaps a function of my age at the time, the conflicts since World War II seemed mined for action purposes mainly, in series such as The A-Team, Rambo, or Universal Soldier.

Even in the earlier subset, one can find many timeless themes, of failure, sacrifice, survival, triumph, or all of the above. The following five selections are all exceptional examples, and grant us several different perspectives, war as seen from the points of view of captured and captors, soldiers and mercenaries, family and exploiters, in- and outsiders, none of whom emerge unchanged should they chance to survive.

All of these are worth seeking out, on this day, or any other.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) on 2010/11/30

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“I’ve heard Alec Guinness originally declined Bridge on the River Kwai, but he clearly won out in accepting it. Fortunately so have I. I braced for an onerous trial, and was instead rewarded well, with fascination, suspense, and excitement.”

Casablanca (1942) on 2010/11/06

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Casablanca as a war story? Wasn’t it a romance?

“This classic makes me love it enough to look again, and in it I see a lot of what’s fair in love and, now, war.”

Flags Of Our Fathers (2006) on 2010/11/14

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Flags Of Our Fathers could hardly be called fun, and yet it’s fast-moving, compelling, and enlightening. Rarely have I seen a war film as fair. Its patriotism is sober, neither blindly gung-ho, nor reactionarily critical. It’s a welcome balance which does as much to serve reality as history.”

The Great Escape (1963) on 2010/11/21

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“The characters are fictionalized, yet The Great Escape tells the true story of an escape from the notorious Stalag Luft III during World War Two . . . . that anyone who gives it a chance will enjoy it is less a miracle than near certainty.”

Saving Private Ryan (1998) on 2010/11/26

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“Despite its sober depiction of freedom’s oft-forgotten costs, Saving Private Ryan leaves me feeling oddly uplifted. As grim as it gets, it’s not without moments of hope . . . Truth and fiction, art and craft, agony and inspiration . . . to this day the movie remains a success for blending them all so well. Every viewing of it leaves me moved to live an appreciative life.”

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