- War film
War film is a
film genreconcerned with warfare, usually about naval, air or land battles, sometimes focusing instead on prisoners of war, covert operations, military training or other related subjects. At times war films focus on daily military or civilian life in wartime without depicting battles. Their stories may be fiction, based on history, docudramaor, occasionally, biographical.
anti-war filmis sometimes used to describe films which bring to the viewer the pain and horror of war, often from a political or ideological perspective.
1920s and 1930s
Films made in the years following
World War Itended to emphasise the horror or futility of warfare, most notably " The Big Parade" (1925) and "What Price Glory? (1926)". With the sound era, films like "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930), Howard Hawks' "Road to Glory" (1936) and "Grand Illusion" (1937), focused on the futility of war for non-American soldiers whilst Hollywood produced American soldiers featuring in World War I comedies such as Buster Keaton's "Doughboys" (1930) and Wheeler & Woolsey's " Half Shot at Sunrise" (1930), or exciting tales of the U.S. Marine Corpsputting down rebellions in Central America, China, and the Pacific Islandsin films like Frank Capra's "Flight" (1930), "The Leathernecks Have Landed" (1936) and "Tell it to the Marines (1926 film)". Other films focused on the drama inherent in the new technology and fading chivalryof aerial combatin films such as "Wings" (1927), "Hell's Angels" (1930) and "The Dawn Patrol" (1930 and 1938 versions).
The first popular war films during the
Second World Warcame from Britain and Germanyand were often documentary or semi-documentary in nature. Examples include " The Lion Has Wings" and " Target for Tonight" (British) and " Sieg im Westen" (German).
By the early 1940s, the British film industry began to combine documentary techniques with fictional stories in films like
Noel Coward's " In Which We Serve" (1942), " Millions Like Us" (1943) and " The Way Ahead" (1944). Others used the medium of the fiction film to carry a propaganda message; about the need for vigilance (" Went the Day Well?") or to avoid "careless talk" (" The Next of Kin").
Selective Training and Service Act of 1940was passed by the United States Congresson September 16, 1940, becoming the first peacetime conscriptionin United States history. Hollywood reflected the interest of the American public in Conscription in the United Statesby having nearly every film studio bring out a military film comedy in 1941with their resident comedian(s). Universal Pictures' Abbott and Costellocame out with the first feature film on the subject " Buck Privates" and followed it with the team "In The Navy" and in the United States Army Air Corpsto " Keep 'Em Flying". Paramount Pictures' Bob Hopewas "Caught In The Draft", Warner Brotherstold Phil Silversand Jimmy Durante"You're In The Army Now", Columbia Picturesput Fred Astairein the army declaring "You'll Never Get Rich", Hal Roachgave his new comedy team of William Tracyand Joe Sawyer "Tanks a Million" and 20th Century Foxhad the former Hal Roachteam of Laurel & Hardygoing " Great Guns". The minor studios such as Republic Picturesmade Bob Crosbyand Eddie Foy Jr "Rookies on Parade" and Monogram Picturesenlisted Nat Pendletonas "Top Sergeant Mulligan". However, the first comedians to hit the screen in an army comedy were The Three Stoogesas " Boobs in Arms".
1941films involving training for war included U.S. Cavalryin MGM's "The Bugle Sounds", RKO's "Parachute Battalion", Paramount Pictures"I Wanted Wings" and Warner Brothers' " Dive Bomber". 20th Century Foxmade the last pre-war military film about the U.S. Marine Corps"To The Shores of Tripoli". When the Pearl Harborattack occurred the studio reshot the ending to have John Payne reenlist in the Corps and march off with the Marines whilst his father implores him to 'Get a Jap for me'.
Pearl Harbor, Warner Brotherswarned of " Confessions of a Nazi Spy" whilst PRC told of " Hitler, Beast of Berlin". A metaphorfor America was Gary Cooperas the real life " Sergeant York" who went from hillbillyhell-raiser, to pacifist, to a draftee comparing the Bibleto the History of the United Statesand deciding that his marksmanshipagainst the Germans was righteous.
United Statesentered the war in 1941 Hollywoodbegan to mass-produce war films. Many of the American dramatic war films in the early 1940s were designed to celebrate American unity and demonize "the enemy." One of the conventions of the genre that developed during the period was of a cross-section of the American people who come together with a common purpose for the good of the country, i.e. the need for mobilization.
The American industry also produced films designed to extol the heroics of America's allies, such as "Mrs. Miniver" (about a British family on the home front), "
Edge of Darkness" (Norwegian resistance fighters) and "The North Star" (the Soviet Unionand its Communist Party). Towards the end of the war popular books became the source of films of higher quality and more serious tone, extoling more long-term values, including " Guadalcanal Diary (film)" (1943), " Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" (1944) and " They Were Expendable" (1945).
The years after World War II brought a large number of mostly patriotic war films, which used the war as a backdrop for dramas and adventure stories. Many films made in Britain drew on true stories, such as "The Dam Busters" (1954), "Dunkirk" (1958), "
Reach for the Sky" (1956) telling the life of Douglas Baderand " Sink the Bismarck!" (1960). The immediate aftermath of the war in Hollywood avoided the action film and delved into problems experienced by the returning veterans, turning out a number of high quality movies that included " The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946), "Battleground" (1949), "Home of the Brave" (1949), "Command Decision" (1948), and " Twelve O'Clock High" (1949). The latter two examined the psychological effects of combat and the stresses of command. Hollywoodfilms in the 1950s and 1960s were often inclined towards spectacular heroics or self-sacrifice in films like " Sands of Iwo Jima" (1949), " Halls of Montezuma" (1950) or " D-Day the Sixth of June" (1956). They also tended to toward stereotyping: typically, a small group of ethnically diverse men would come together but would not be developed much beyond their ethnicity; the senior officer would often be unreasonable and unyielding; almost anyone sharing personal information - especially plans for returning home - would die shortly thereafter and anyone acting in a cowardly or unpatriotic manner would convert to heroism or die (or both, in quick succession). Twentieth-Century Foxmade a succession of war movies realistically-filmed in black-and-white in the early 1950s that highlighted little-known aspects of World War II, among them " The Frogmen", "Go For Broke!", " You're in the Navy Now", and " Decision Before Dawn".
Another large group of films emerged from the plethora of popular war novels penned after the war. Their quality was largely dependent on their faithfulness to the plot or theme of the original, casting, direction,and production values. Much of their appeal for the American public was that they covered virtually every branch of the service involved in the war. These include: "
The Young Lions" (1958), " The Naked and the Dead" (1958), "Battle Cry" (1955), " Run Silent, Run Deep" (1958), " Captain Newman, M.D." (1963), " The Caine Mutiny" (1954), " Away All Boats" (1956), " From Here to Eternity" (1953), " Kings Go Forth" (1958), " Never So Few" (1959), " The Mountain Road" (1960), and " In Harm's Way" (1965).
A popular sub-
genreof war films in the 1950s and '60s was the prisoner of warfilm. This was a form popularised in Britain and recounted stories of real escapes from (usually German) P.O.W.camps in World War II. Examples include " The Wooden Horse" (1950), " Albert R.N." (1953) and " The Colditz Story" (1955). Hollywood also made its own contribution to the genre with "The Great Escape" (1963) and the fictional " Stalag 17" (1953). Other fictional P.O.W. films include " The Captive Heart" ( 1947), " Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957), "King Rat" (1965), " Danger Within" (1958), " The Secret War of Harry Frigg" (1968) and " Hart's War" (2002). Unusually, the British industry also produced a film based on German escaper Franz von Werra, " The One That Got Away" in (1957).
By the early 1960s films based on
commandomissions like " The Gift Horse" (1952) based on the St. Nazaireraid, and " Ill Met by Moonlight" (1956) had begun to inspire fictional adventure films such as "The Guns of Navarone" (1961), " The Dirty Dozen" (1967) and " Where Eagles Dare" (1968), which used the war as the backdrop for spectacular action films. The latter films had American producers, stars and financing but were filmed in England or on location with British film crews, supporting actors, and expertise.
The late 1950s and 1960s also brought some more thoughtful big war films like
Andrei Tarkovsky's " Ivan's Childhood" (1962), David Lean's " Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957), and "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) as well as a fashion for all-star epics based on battles which were often quasi-documentary in style and filmed in Europe where extras and production costs were cheaper. This trend was started by Darryl F. Zanuck's production "The Longest Day" in 1962, based on the first day of the 1944 D-Day landings. Other examples included "Battle of the Bulge" (1965), "Anzio" (1968), "Battle of Britain" (1969), "Waterloo" (1970), " Tora! Tora! Tora!" (1970) (based on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), "Midway" (1976) and "A Bridge Too Far" (1977). A more recent example is the American Civil Warfilm "Gettysburg" which was based on events during the battle, including the defense of Little Round Topby Colonel Joshua Chamberlain.
Though trouble in
Southeast Asiawas shown in Jack L. Warner's "Brushfire" (1961), and Marshall Thompson's "A Yank in Viet-Nam" (1964) and "To the Shores of Hell" (1966), the major Hollywood studios refused to make any Vietnam Warfilms with the exception of John Wayne's "The Green Berets" based on the best selling book by Robin Mooreand using the theme song Ballad of the Green Berets. No Vietnam war films followed until Jack Starrett's " Nam Angels" AKA "The Losers" (1970) filmed on Philippine sets left over from Robert Aldrich's " Too Late the Hero" (1970).
The effects of the
Vietnam Wartended to diminish the appetite for fictional war films by the turn of the 1970s. American war films produced during and just after the Vietnam War often reflected the disillusion of the American public towards the war. Most films made after the Vietnam War delved more deeply into the horrors of war than movies made before it (This is not to say that there were no such films before the Vietnam War). Later war films like "Catch-22" (set in WWII) and the black comedy"MASH" (set in Korea), reflected some of these attitudes.
In the decades following the War, the American film industry produced many war films either critical of American involvement in Vietnam, depicting American war crimes or the negative effects of war on combatants. These films included works by the most prominent actors and directors in American film and garnering the highest accolades and commercial success including:
Taxi Driver" (1976) — nominated for four Academy Awards, directed by Martin Scorsese.
Coming Home" (1978) — winner of three Academy Awards, directed by Hal Ashby.
The Deer Hunter" (1978) — winner of five Academy Awards, directed by Michael Cimino.
Apocalypse Now" (1979) — winner of two Academy Awards, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
Casualties of War" (1989) — directed by Brian De Palma.
1990's to 2000's
The success of
Steven Spielberg's ultra-realistic " Saving Private Ryan" in 1998 helped to usher in a revival of interest in World War II films. A number of these, such as "Pearl Harbor" and " Enemy at the Gates" were aimed fairly squarely at the blockbuster market, while others, like "Enigma", "Captain Corelli's Mandolin", and "Charlotte Gray", were more nostalgic in tone.
The military and the film industry
Many war films have been produced with the cooperation of a nation's military forces. The
United States Navyhas been very cooperative since World War IIin providing ships and technical guidance; "Top Gun" is the most famous example. The U.S. Air Forceprovided considerable verisimilitude for " The Big Lift", "Strategic Air Command" and " A Gathering of Eagles", filmed on Air Force bases and using Air Force personnel in many roles.
Typically, the military will not assist filmmakers if the film is critical of them. Sometimes the military demands some editorial control in exchange for their cooperation, which can bias the result. The German Ministry of
Propaganda, making the epic war film "Kolberg" in January 1945, used several divisions of soldiers as extras. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbelsbelieved the impact of the film would offset the tactical disadvantages of the missing soldiers.
If the home nation's military will not cooperate, or if filming in the home nation is too expensive, another country's may assist. Many 1950s and 1960s war movies, including the Oscar-winning films "Patton", "Lawrence of Arabia", and "Spartacus", were shot in
Spain, which had large supplies of both Alliedand Axis equipment. The Napoleonic epic "Waterloo" was shot in Ukraine(then part of the Soviet Union), using Soviet soldiers. The D-Day scenes in " Saving Private Ryan" were shot with the cooperation of the Irish army, and all of the major sequences in " Dark Blue World" were shot in the Czech Republic, at a disused air force base.
* Genre film theory
List of war films
List of films based on war books
List of World War II films
Fiction based on World War I
Fiction based on World War II
Fiction based on the Vietnam War
Military science fiction
Battles in film
The United States Marine Corps on film
* [http://www.wwii-movies.com/index.php?content=list List of World War II Movies] at WWII Movies
* [http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_1_urb-war.html The Lost Art of War, "City Journal," Winter 2008]
* [http://www.imdb.com/Charts/Votes/war Top War Movies] at the
Internet Movie Database
* [http://warmovies.17.forumer.com War Movies & Literature Discussion Forum]
* [http://warmovieblog.com/ War Movie Reviews and News at WarMovieBlog]
* [http://warinfilm.com/ WWII Movie news at War in Film]
* [http://www.lasalle.edu/library/vietnam/FilmIndex/home.htm Index of all known Vietnam War Films with links to reviews and criticism] From La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA
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