By Whitney Scott Bain
With the recent release of Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” a selection of classic and unknown, courageous World War II films to accompany the film’s success makes for great catch-up viewing
- “Dunkirk” 1958. Director Leslie Norman. Stars John Mills, Richard Attenborough, Bernard Lee and Lionel Jefferies. The first movie to deal with the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) about the evacuation and its top marks all the way in story and acting showing the strength and determination of the British people against adversity against all odds.
- “Overlord” 1975. Director Stuart Cooper. Stars Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries and Nicholas Bell. An overlooked masterpiece of cinema. Stirner plays Tom who goes through the trials and tribulations of basic training before the invasion of Normandy beach on D-Day. Harries as his buddy, Jack, turns in and outstanding performance. Impressive cinematography by John Alcott (who was Stanley Kubrick’s DP.) blends archival footage from the Imperial War Museum seamlessly. David Glass’ impressive music adds to the dynamics of this film especially his haunting score, “Premonition.” Once seen, you will never forget it.
- “Air Force” 1943. Director Howard Hawks. Stars John Garfield, Gig Young, John Ridgely, Jim Brown and Harry Carey. A classic combat character study of the crew of the B-17 called the “Mary Ann” that begins with a Pearl Harbor then hopping from island to island as the Japanese forces are right behind them. Great dialogue and fast paced directing by Hawks make this movie a must see.
- “Battleground” 1949. Director William Wellman. Stars James Whitmore, Marshall Thompson, Van Johnson, John Hodiak and Ricardo Montalban. Another classic character study of men in combat about the 101st Screaming Eagles at the Battle of the Bulge. It’s a tour-de-force movie that covers the sense of humor and sadness during war between soldiers. 90% of the film was shot on the sound stages at MGM. The original “Band of Brothers.”
- “China’s Little Devils” 1945. Director Monta Bell. Stars Harry Carey, Paul Kelly and Ducky Louie. During the Japanese invasion of China, a group of rag-tag orphans start off by stealing food and supplies from the soldiers and progress to rescuing down American P-40 pilots. Soon, they advance to sabotaging and blowing up ammo dumps while stealing much need fuel from the Japanese depots engaging in combat with them against the wishes of their American pastor, Carey. An ultra rare film to find as all the prints and negatives were destroyed to make room for other films in the MGM vault though some TV prints are available on DVD on the internet. A great, unforgettable move.
- “So Proudly We Hail” 1943. Director Mark Sandrich. Stars Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake and Claudette Colbert. Three nurses deal with Pearl Harbor, then are sent to Bataan then Corregidor during the Japanese invasion of the Pacific. Veronica Lake’s powerful performance should have earned her an Oscar. Look for George “Superman” Reeves as a soldier and Colbert’s love interest. A great tribute to the nurses of World War II.
- “Reach For The Sky” 1956. Director Lewis Gilbert. Stars Kenneth Moore, Muriel Pavlow and Lyndon Brook. Moore turns in an impressive performance in the true story of barnstorming pilot, Douglas Bader, who lost both his legs in a flying accident and went on against impossible odds to become of the world’s greatest pilots flying in the Battle of Brittan even gaining respect from the Luftwaffe. It’s a tale of hope and courage that will inspire one that nothing is impossible.
- “Went The Day Well?” 1942. Director Alberto Cavalcanti. Stars Leslie Banks, C.V. France and Valerie Taylor. Germans posing as British soldiers take over a small town to prepare for an invasion as the ordinary townspeople decide to fight back. Brilliant performances, excellent dialogue and unexpected events with the characters in this film make it an instant classic. Look for David Farrar (who usually played good guys and romantic leads.) plays a right bastard in disguise and Christopher Lee in a small part.
- “First Light” 2010. Director Matthew Whiteman. Stars Sam Hueghan, Gary Lewis and Ben Aldridge. Based on Geoffrey Wellum’s personal biography, the movie begins, “The war; you can’t forget it.” In 1940, 18 year old, Geoffrey Wellum, joins the legendary, Royal Air Force 92 Spitfire squadron where pilots who have seen combat sign their names on a blackboard. The youngest pilot of the squadron is picked on because of his age and what starts out as fun and games with girls, flying and drinking abruptly ends as the scramble bell rings and the Battle of Britain begins. Wellum refuses to sign his name as each of his friends die in combat causing him to have a mental breakdown as his tour of duty ends. A very personal film that emphasizes the feelings, fears and a desperate desire not to let anyone down. Wellum also appears in the film recounting his experiences. Impressive on all levels.
- “The Dambusters” 1955. Director Michael Anderson. Stars Michael Todd, Michael Redgrave and Ursula Jeans. One of the greatest movies ever made. Todd plays Wing Commander Guy Gibson whose mission is to train his Avro Lancaster bomber group in two months with a new “skip bomb” to destroy a German dam. Based on true events, it’s a flawless movie with excellent performances. Look for Patrick McGoohan as a soldier guarding the outside the briefing room. On a special note; George Lucas must have seen the last twenty minutes of this film for the original “Star Wars” and it is word-for-word the same dialogue and action.