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James R. Stout

My Top 10 War Movies In Honor of Memorial Day

            Although the past few months have at times seemed to drag by, the truth is when you’re retired time seems to go by faster each day. At least, it has for me. Frankly, I’m amazed that it’s already Memorial Day weekend. It seems like yesterday that we were just starting the whole pandemic nightmare. But I live alone and I’m used to being alone (although I would love to have a lady in my life that I could dine out with, watch movies, sit on the porch and enjoy nature with, take long drives with, and spend time studying the Bible with), so I haven’t been affected by the pandemic and staying at home aspects of it. Ooops! I’ve gotten off point.

            To my subject for this blog entry. We will be inundated with war movies over the next three days. Most of them will involve either WW2 or The Vietnam War. I grew up in a time when WW2 was the war that most war movies were about. Tom Brokaw called that generation the greatest generation and I agree with him on this. My father and two uncles were three of the 10 million men in uniform during that war. My father was a Marine, one uncle was in the regular army and while he didn’t see action, he was close enough to hear the cannons and be in harms way as a field clerk, and then the other uncle was in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was a hero and then some. He flew 32 missions over Germany in a B-17 and was saved by his flack jacket when the airplane he was a technical sgt. in was sustained heavy damage. He ended-up staying in the Air Force and retiring after 28 years. He was in engagements in WW2, Korea, and Vietnam. How I wish I could talk to him again about his service to our country.

            I keep getting off subject. Back to the movies. I am going to list my Top 10 favorite war movies. I’ll go ahead tell you now something that you no doubt have guessed already, they are all about WW2. Perhaps some of them don’t have the absolute best acting or there may be holes in the screenplays, but the movies are my favorites. I don’t really care what the critics say. We may agree on some and on some we may have completely different views. So be it. Here they are:

  1. “In Harm’s Way” (1965) – I’ve seen some critics lampoon this movie while others rate it highly. My reasons for including it are many. It’s in black and white during a time when black and white movies were becoming rare. It lends an authenticity to the move for me. It’s got a whole bunch of great actors in it. It stars John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Henry Fonda, George Kennedy, Carroll O’Conner, Burgess Meredith, and Paula Prentiss. The battle scenes are realistic and show the emotions of the men leading up to battle. Even John Wayne (an Admiral) admits to his best friend Burgess Meredith that he was scared. There’s some side “love interest” scenes that in my opinion lend realism to the story. One of the great things about the movie was that many of the naval ships and airplanes were still around and used in the movie unlike later movies that have had to mostly rely on CGI for these things. It’s been told by many who were in the movie that the director was exceedingly difficult to get along with and rude. Interestingly enough, it has been reported that John Wayne was the only actor that Otto Preminger didn’t try to bully. Most likely a smart move.

  2. “Hell Is For Heroes” (1962) – An early starring role for Steve McQueen, but also featuring Fess Parker, James Coburn, and Bobby Darin in a non-musical performance. It’s gritty and suspenseful and again is in glorious black and white. Steve McQueen was about as cool as you could get in this one.

  3. “Twelve O’clock High” (1949) – This is the war movie filmed closest to the time of the actual war. It stars Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger. It’s in black and white as well. It’s close enough to the air battle scenes that it depicts to be using actual planes that saw action. This certainly adds realism to the movie. It’s got plenty of battle scenes, suspense, and shows what was then called battle fatigue that is now well-known as PTSD.

  4. “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) – This is one of the most recent movies on my list. There have been several more movies since and I have liked many of them. There isn’t much that I can say about “Saving Private Ryan” that hasn’t been said, so I’ll leave it there.

  5. “The Guns of Navarone” (1961) – Stars Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, James Darren, and David Niven. It’s in color and I agree with that choice for the movie. The movie is one of the first movies about WW2 to come out in the 60’s. It’s very suspenseful and the story is based on Alistair Mclean’s novel. The night scene photography is stellar.

  6. “Stalag 17” (1953) – stars William Holden and shows life in a German POW camp. It’s suspenseful and the acting is stellar. Perhaps it’s a tad on the “Hollywood” side and therefore not as realistic as it could have been, but it’s still a great movie the way it is.

  7. “Battle of the Bulge” (1966) – I saw this one on TV recently and the rating was only 2 out of 4 stars. That’s just nuts. Maybe it’s not quite as realistic as some would like, but it stays on point and includes actual events related to that last gasp by the German army. It stars Henry Fonda and a whole bunch of well-known actors. I saw this movie when it was a new release at a drive-in theater. I was 10 years-old and it holds great nostalgia for me.

  8. “Patton” (1970) – OK, it’s got Hollywood blockbuster written all over it. But it did win The Best Movie Oscar, so it had to please a lot of critics. George C. Scott stars along with Karl Malden and the battle scenes are very well done. It shows a less than perfect man who was perfect for what was needed at the time.

  9. “Hacksaw Ridge” (2016) – stars a little-known actor named Andrew Garfield. It was directed by Mel Gibson and superbly so. It is based on a true story about a concentious objector who was awarded the Medal of Honor for saving many lives on Okinawa. He did not carry a weapon, but instead carried a Bible and served as a medic. The movie is very suspenseful, realistic, and for the most part stays true to the actual events. What it did omit was the fact that he had already received two bronze stars for his part in the battles off Guam and Leyte.

  10. “Where Eagles Dare” (1968) – stars Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. Some people would wonder at this choice. The girl looks more like 1968 than 1944, but that’s nothing new. Its suspenseful, has some twists and turns and surprises, and it’s my favorite time period for Clint Eastwood. I know it’s just my personal tastes, but I like him best from “Coogan’s Bluff” through “Joe Kidd.

          There it is. My top 10 favorite war movies. I can just hear some groans over some omissions, but there are so many great war movies that whittling it down to just 10 is difficult. Some honorable mentions include, “The Great Escape”, “The Dirty Dozen”, “Von Ryan’s Express”, “Run Silent, Run Deep”, “Torpedo Run”, “Operation Pacific”, “The Longest Day”, and “The Bridge Over River Kwai”. I did not include any about the Vietnam War for a couple of reasons. They are, in my opinion, extremely crude and depict American soldiers as pot smoking, rapists, murderers of innocent non-combatants, and not what I believe most Vietnam Veterans were actually like. Even some of the more recent WW2 movies incorporate some these elements and it’s pretty much all Hollywood drivel. As for the Korean War there just isn’t much to choose from. A couple do stand out including “Porkchop Hill” and “The Bridges at Toko-Ri”.

          There is a little-known movie from 1940 that is and isn’t a War Movie. It does take place during the early stages of the rise of Hitler, but it’s not a war movie in the classic sense. But it is a fantastic movie and shows the rise of Hitler and how some German people bought his insanity hook, line, and sinker. The movie is called “The Mortal Storm” and stars James Stewart as well as some up and coming stars such as Ward Bond and Robert Stack. If you have never seen this movie, then you need to.

          Finally, I am a proud American and I believe that America saved the world in WW2. There have been many movies over the ensuing years that tell the side of some of the Axis countries. Let me be noticeably clear about something. I don’t want to see their side. I am a historian and I know the truth. I don’t want the white-washed “it’s not all their fault” nonsense. American soldiers didn’t mistreat POW’s. American soldiers didn’t torture the enemy. American soldiers didn’t want to take over the world and enslave people. The Axis powers, especially Japan and Germany, did those things. I don’t care about their side. They were in the wrong and I don’t want to see a movie that tries to show sympathy for them.

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