From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR
Many of you were around for May 8, 1945, when you and the rest of America and Great Britain celebrated Victory in Europe Day, the end of World War II and the Allies’ victory over the Nazi war machine.
Some of us were then only gleams in the eyes of our veteran fathers, or gleams-to-be in the eyes of our still-teenaged dads. But we know much about it, sometimes through talking to veterans, but mainly because no other war has had more books written or movies made about it. I am counting on cable to hook me up with movies in the next few days as a week from Friday marks the 70th anniversary of V-E Day.
To get your cinematic wheels spinning, we offer here what we think are the best WWII movies ever made. “Best” here means “most entertaining, realistic and/or informative. Some are historical in the strict sense and some just use the war as a backdrop for a good war-seasoned story; “The Pianist” and “The Americanization of Emily” don’t involve so much fighting but could have happened only during the war, and both are top shelf.
Neither of those make this list, which hurts me. Other wonderful movies you should see that aren’t included are “Sand Pebbles,” “Where Eagles Dare,” “The Guns of Navarone,” “Midway,” “Inglorious Bastards,” “The Longest Day,” “Sands of Iwo Jima,” “PT 109,” “Guadalcanal Diary” and “Hell is for Heroes.”
HBO’s “Band of Brothers” mini-series is the best WWII film I’ve seen, and its sister film “Pacific” closely follows the books it’s based on, but neither is a theatrical release. The following are.
10. Saving Private Ryan: I have to agree with William Goldman, who wrote “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” my favorite movie ever. The first half of this movie says ‘war is hell’ as no other movie does; but once they find Ryan, “the last hour tells us that war can be a neat learning experience for little Matt Damon.” Hollywood having it both ways.
9. A Bridge Too Far: Read the backstory on this movie sometime, the financial risks involved by one man to make it. Workmanlike effort to cover on screen a mission this complicated. Far from perfect but lots of stars, lots of Brit accents. And from real British people!
8. Bridge Over the River Kwai: Alec Guiness. Pride vs. duty vs. duty vs. pride. More Brits!, and in talking roles, too.
7. Stalag 17: Even though I’m not a huge William Holden fan, it’s hard to dismiss what was the first movie focused on prisoners of war. Otto Preminger gets the line of the movie: “No more Mr. Nice Guy.”
6. Kelly’s Heroes: Not realistic but, unlike “Saving Private Ryan,” it doesn’t try to be two things at once. Entertainment. Think “Ocean’s Eleven” in cammo in 1944. Don Rickles is beautiful: “What’s in it for me?” Eastwood. Telly Savalas. Donald Sutherland as an early-hippie Sherman commander.
5. The Great Escape: Can’t not watch it. Filmed 10 years after “Stalag 17” and based on a true story. Hello Steve McQueen and your motorbike and baseball glove. James Garner. Bronson. Coburn.
4. Schindler’s List: To write a story for the newspaper, I watched this in a cinema filled with only Jewish moviegoers. And me. Silence when it ended, for maybe a minute? That’s a long time for a lot of people to be still and quiet. Had to lean against a pole outside when it was over.
3. Casablanca: Please. This could be No. 1 for me, depending on the mood. “I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue…”
2. The Dirty Dozen: The perfect cast and story – and the Krauts the perfect foils -- for these fictional misfits led by Lee Marvin. The best – besides Jim Brown counting and running -- is the Dozen’s rhyming review of their mission: “Franco goes in / where the others have been.”
1. Patton: It opens with a kind of disciplined red-white-and-blue wonder, and George C. Scott never lets up, as Patton didn’t, in this non-fiction re-telling of the general’s greatest hour.
If you disagree, no hard feelings. The war’s over.
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