The Consensus 100 Greatest War Movies

May 2011
New Iberia, La.
This is my attempt at a statistical analysis of the greatest war movies. Here is the methodology. I found four 100 Greatest War Movies lists that I feel are knowledgeable on the subject. Two of those lists (Military History magazine and Channel 4) rank the movies. The others are Film Site and the book 101 War Movies You Must See Before You Die. I also used three books that rate war movies: Video Hound's War Movies, Brassey's Guide to War Films, and The Belle and Blade Guide to Classic War Videos. (Since I did my research I received my copy of War Movies by Brock Garland. I did not redo the data, but I have included its grade in the ratings list.) The reason why the list is limited to only movies from the 20th Century is because not all of the sources include 21st Century movies.

I won't bore with the details, but basically I used a combination of the average rating from the ratings books and a rating based on the ranking from the two ranked lists (on a scale of 1-5). I grouped the movies based on how many lists they made so only movies that were in both Military History magazine and Channel 4 made the top 43.

I must emphasize that this list does not reflect my opinions. In fact, I find some of the positions ridiculous. I have seen and reviewed all of the movies on the list. Some are not war movies, in my opinion. Others are very overrated. It is also apparent that foreign movies got short-changed.

My plan is to post the movies every few days to give members the chance to comment on them. Use the like button so we can get an idea what the group's feelings are about the movie.
May 2011
New Iberia, La.

SYNOPSIS: "The Manchurian Candidate" is a Cold War thriller. An American patrol is captured by the North Koreans and brainwashed. One of them (Laurence Harvey) is the step-son of a rabid anti-Communist Senator. He becomes an unwitting sleeper agent when he returns to America after the war. His mother (Angela Lansbury) is part of a plot to use her "hero" son to assassinate the President so his step father can take over the Presidency. One of his brainwashed comrades (Frank Sinatra) is in a race against time to foil the plot.

BACK-STORY: "The Manchurian Candidate" is a political thriller released in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis which is appropriate because it taps into the Red Scare hysteria of that time. It is based on a novel by Richard Condon and is faithful to the book. It was directed by John Frankenheimer and showcases his style of unusual camera angles and symbolism (notice all the images of Lincoln). The movie was supposedly taken out of circulation because of its proximity to the Kennedy assassination. There is also the possibility that Oswald saw the film and was inspired by it. It was remade in 2004 starring Denzel Washington in the Sinatra role.

TRIVIA - mentalfloss, imdb, wikipedia
1. United Artists did not want to make the film because of the political controversy. Frank Sinatra went to Pres. Kennedy who was a big fan of the novel. Kennedy contacted the studio head and got him to change his mind.
2. Angela Lansbury was only three years older than her "son" Laurence Harvey.
3. The movie came out in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
4. When Marco visits Raymond in his hotel room towards the end of the film, Sinatra is filmed out of focus. Critics lauded this cinematography for showing Raymond's distorted perspective. Actually, the assistant cameraman screwed up the shot and director Frankenheimer was upset and wanted to reshoot it, but he could not get Sinatra to duplicate the performance.
5. Sinatra wanted Lucille Ball for the Angela Lansbury role.
6. Sinatra broke a finger in the fight scene with Henry Silva. Later, when he was up for "Dirty Harry", he could not grip the pistol properly and had to drop out.
7. When Laurence Harvey jumped in the lake in Central Park, it was so cold that ice had to be broken.
8. The myth that the movie was pulled after the assassination of Kennedy was not true. It was shown, but rarely because there was not a lot of interest in the film.
9. In the novel, the relationship between Raymond and his mother is more incestuous and she even seduces him. The movie could only go as far as a kiss on the lips. (Surprisingly, the 2004 remake does not even have the kiss.)
10. Mrs. Iselin is #21 on AFI's list of 100 Heroes and Villains.
11. It was nominated for two Academy Awards: Editing and Supporting Actress (Lansbury). She lost to Patty Duke in "The Miracle Worker".

Belle and Blade = 3
Brassey's = 4
Video Hound = 5
War Movies = 4.4
Military History = 85
Channel 4 = not on list
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = no

OPINION: I am not sure if "The Manchurian Candidate" is really a war movie. It certainly fits more comfortably in the political thriller genre. As such, it has the usual unrealistic plot twists and unbelievably fortuitous occurrences (e.g., Joycelyn showing up in the queen of hearts costume). What would be faulted in a war movie is par for the course in a thriller. As a political thriller it is cracking entertainment full of suspense and great acting. As political satire, it is a devastating indictment of McCarthyism.
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
99. Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)

SYNOPSIS: "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" is an air combat movie set in the Korean War. The main character (William Holden) is a naval fighter-bomber pilot who has been drafted away from his idyllic family. The commander of his carrier (Frederic March) is a father figure who has to send men like him to their deaths for the good of the noncommunist world. The climactic mission is a very dangerous one to take out some bridges in North Korea. To remind you what Brubacher is risking, he is visited by his wife (Grace Kelly) on R&R in Japan. Mickey Rooney has a showy role as a rescue helicopter pilot.

BACK-STORY: “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” is a war movie based on the novel by James Michener. The movie was released in 1955, just one year after the book was published. The movie was a hit and got an Oscar for Best Special Effects for John Fulton. He used miniatures for the bridge attack. The producers had the full cooperation of the U.S. Navy which allowed the use of nineteen ships. The credits mention that the movie was made as a tribute to U.S. Navy pilots. William Holden and Grace Kelly had an affair during the filming.

TRIVIA - imdb, Wikipedia, TCM

1.William Holden learned how to taxi a jet on the carrier deck for close-ups.
2.The US Navy cooperated with 19 ships, including the USS Oriskany ( and when it was no longer available, the USS Kearsarge).The Oriskany was later sunk as an artificial reef off Pensacola, Florida and is a popular diving site.
3.James Michener wrote the novel after spending time on the USS Essex during the Korean War. Neil Armstrong was a pilot at the time.The incident involving the bombing of bridges and the rescue of a downed pilot was based on actual events.However, the downed pilot and his attempted rescuer were actually captured and survived the war.
4.Holden’s brother was a navy pilot in WWII who was killed in action.
5.In the book, the jet is the F2H Banshee, not the F9F Panther.The Panther was probably substituted because it was more photogenic.
6.Holden insisted the novel’s ending be retained.He did not want the typical Hollywood happy ending.This worked well because although the movie came at the end of a wave of WWII/Korean War formulaic offerings, it stood out.
7.The movie won the Oscar for Best Special Effects and was nominated for Best Editing.
8.Holden and Grace Kelly conducted an affair during the shoot.This was not uncommon for him, even though he was married.When Kelly invited her to her home, her father shook his fist at Holden and evidenced his displeasure with the affair.Holden left the house upset.The affair did not continue after the movie was finished.
9.Mickey Rooney got the role partly due to his friendship with Michener. One day, Rooney was needed for an unscheduled scene, but could not be found. He turned up later as co-pilot of a jet having bribed the pilot to fly him to Tokyo for the horse races.

Belle and Blade = 2.5
Brassey’s = 3
Video Hound = 3.8
War Movies = 4.4
Military History = #73
Channel 4 = not on list
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = no

OPINION - Although the novel is short, if you do not like to read, this movie will give you the classic novel’s plot in cinema form. It follows the book religiously. It also accurately reflects the novel’s themes of self-sacrifice, loyalty, and the senselessness of war. But most significantly, the movie does not change the downer of an ending just to suit the audience. Kudos for that! In some ways it is the “All Quiet” of the Korean War.
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
98. Mrs. Miniver (1942)

SYNOPSIS: “Mrs. Miniver” is a romance drama set in WWII Great Britain in 1940. The Miniver family is upper class and lives in a mansion outside a typical British village. Eldest son Vin woos the daughter of the local doyen. She is opposed to the marriage. Vin joins the Royal Air Force and becomes a fighter pilot. Father Clem (Walter Pidgeon) participates in the “little boats” rescue from Dunkirk. Mrs. Miniver (Greer Garson) holds down the mansion and even has a confrontation with a downed German pilot. The movie builds to the climactic rose competition.

BACK-STORY: “Mrs. Miniver” is an American movie directed by William Wyler (“The Best Years of Our Lives”). It was based on the novel by Jan Struther which was published in 1940. The screenplay was constantly adjusted during production to reflect developments in the war. It was a massive hit in America and Britain and was the box office champ for 1942. A sequel entitled “The Miniver Story” was released in 1950. Garson and Pidgeon reprised their roles.

TRIVIA - imdb, wikipedia

1. Soon after the movie was finished, Greer Garson married her movie son Richard Nay. The marriage lasted four years.
2. Winston Churchill claimed the movie was equivalent to a fleet of destroyers.
3. The Vicar’s speech at the end (called the Wilcoxon speech after the actor – who cowrote it with director William Wyler) was printed in Look and Time magazines. FDR encouraged its broadcasting on Voice of America and the dropping of it in leaflet form over occupied Europe.
4. Wyler was a Jew born in Germany and knew the stakes. He saw the movie as a pro-intervention piece.
5. After the movie was completed, Wyler joined the Signal Corps (see the documentary entitled “Five Came Back” on Netflix). He made the documentaries “Memphis Belle” and “Thunderbolt”. He flew missions in B-17s and once passed out from lack of oxygen. He became partially deaf in one ear due to the noise he encountered filming P-47s. Based on what he saw in WWII, he later commented that he felt the movie was too wimpy.
6. It was the first movie with five acting nominations - Garson won for Best Actress and Teresa Wright won for Supporting Actress. Walter Pidgeon was nominated for Actor (losing to Jimmy Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy”) and May Whitty and Henry Travers for supporting roles. The movie won for Best Picture, Director, and Black and White Cinematography. It was nominated for Special Effects, Editing, and Sound Recording.
7. Garson did not want to play the lead because she did not want to play a mother. Her contract obligated her to take the part.
8. This was the second of eight movies that Pidgeon and Garson made together.
9. The movie script was constantly being rewritten during filming to reflect the changing fortunes of the Allies. For instance, Mrs. Miniver’s confrontation with the German pilot got increasingly belligerent and ended up including Miniver slapping him (after Pearl Harbor).
10. Joseph Goebbels admired the movie’s effectiveness as propaganda.
11.Greer Garson’s Academy Awards speech was over 30 minutes long and led to limits on the length of speeches.

Belle and Blade = 3
Brassey’s = 3.8
Video Hound = 3.4
War Movies = 4.4
Military History = not on list
Channel 4 = #79
Film Site = no
101 War Movies = yes

OPINION: “Mrs. Miniver” was the perfect movie for its time and yet it holds up very well. It came out at the time when America was just entering the war and although it reflects the interventionist spirit before Pearl Harbor, it gave Americans inspiration as the long road loomed. It is highly crafted propaganda, but it does not bludgeon you. The cast is sterling and the performances are solid, if a bit overrated. It is a series of vignettes that give each main character a chance to shine and the episodes manage to hit on iconic moments, like sitting out a bombing raid in a cellar. There is also a tear-jerking death to make sure the audience recognizes that the war will have tragedy. As a war home front movie, it is one of the best and a great companion for Wyler’s post-war home front flick “The Best Years of Our Lives”.
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
#97 - To Hell and Back

SYNOPSIS: "To Hell and Back" is the Audie Murphy story starring the hero himself. It is essentially Murphy's "greatest hits" and covers the major incidents in his career starting in Sicily and leading up to the climactic Medal of Honor moment in Southern France. Although a biopic, the movie does have a squad feel to it as Murphy leads a typical cinematic heterogeneous unit. There are several good battle scenes.

BACK-STORY: “To Hell and Back” is an autobiopic released in 1955. It is based on the book by the same name. It stars Audie Murphy as himself. It was his 16th movie. He had come to Hollywood after WWII at the urging of his friend James Cagney. This movie was his biggest hit in a career dominated by B westerns. He also starred in the acclaimed war movie version of “The Red Badge of Courage”. Murphy was reluctant to play himself because it smacked of self-promotion. He wanted Tony Curtis for the role. Studio execs and friends convinced him to take the part. They were right.

The movie was a critical and box office success. In fact, it was Universal’s biggest hit until “Jaws”. It was not a hit with Murphy, however. He felt that even though he had acted as technical adviser and tried to get things right, the studio sanitized the blood and gore of combat. He also felt the movie muted the unpleasantness of war and the negative emotions it brings out. He noted that the climate conditions that he actually fought in (mud, rain, snow) were usually depicted as nice, sunny weather.

TRIVIA: imdb, Wikipedia, TCM
1.In the Medal of Honor scene, Murphy was actually on a M10 tank destroyer, not a M4 Sherman.
2.Murphy did not want to play himself because he thought it would come off as too egotistical.He wanted his friend Tony Curtis.
3.The production used 50,000 rounds of ammunition, 300 pounds of TNT, 600 pounds of blasting powder, and 10 cases of dynamite for the battle scenes.
4.The movie was a huge hit and was Universal Pictures top film until “Jaws”.
5.Audie Murphy in “To Hell and Back” was the inspiration for Rambo.
6.The movie popularized the term “dogface”.
7.It is still the only biopic that stars a movie star as himself.
8.Murphy wanted to make a sequel called “The Way Back”, but could not get the financing.
9.It was Murphy’s sixteenth film.
10.Murphy was the technical adviser and was very hands-on in getting everything realistic.
11.Murphy did not like the finished product and referred to it as a “Western in uniform”.He was angry about the battle scenes being filmed in nice weather when the reality was worse.He did not want the film to close with the Medal of Honor ceremony.(He had left it out of the book.)He generally felt the movie was not gritty enough and did not explain why he suffered from PTSD.
12.Murphy was tabbed to be the villain in “Dirty Harry” when he died in the plane crash.

Belle and Blade = 4.5
Brassey’s = 2
Video Hound = 3.8
War Movies = 3.8
Military History = #77
Channel 4 = not on list
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = no

OPINION: “To Hell and Back” is a classic WWII movie. Although it is rife with the usual clichés and stock characters, it is special because of the involvement of Audie Murphy. Murphy, the most decorated American soldier of the war, deserved to have his story told and the fact that he stars as himself is unique. It was a huge hit, but now seems a bit outdated in comparison with the more realistic and gritty films that began to hit the screen in the 1960s. For instance, you get little of the reasons why Murphy was haunted by PTSD the rest of his life.
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
96. Run Silent, Run Deep

SYNOPSIS: A WWII submarine captain (Clark Gable) is obsessed with sinking a Japanese destroyer nicknamed Bungo Pete. He is given command of the U.S.S. Nerka over the current exec (Burt Lancaster) creating a command and personality conflict. The captain is also a martinet. The captain insists on going deep into enemy waters to sink his white whale.

BACK-STORY: This movie is based on the best seller by Edward L. Beach, Jr. (a WWII sub commander). It was produced by Burt Lancaster and cast him (a rising star) with Clark Cable (whose start was fading). The two reportedly did not get along well during the shoot with Gable upping the cost of production with his 9 to 5 work rate. This dysfunction may have added to the realism of the movie which is based on a personality conflict between the two leads. The technical advisor was a retired Rear Admiral. The movie had the full cooperation of the U.S. Navy including use of a sub for exterior shots, equipment for interior shots on the set, and submariners to train the actors.

TRIVIA: imdb, Wikipedia, TCM

1.Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster did not get along during the shoot.Lancaster made jokes about Gable’s age.Gable refused to work past 5 and would leave in the middle of a scene.Since Lancaster was a co-producer and the film ran overtime and overbudget, this became frustrating.Gable did not want to play a captain that lost his command, he felt it did not fit his image.He sat out two days over this issue and only returned when the script was changed so the captain lost command because of a head injury.(Another example of an actor insisting on something that made the plot worse.)
2.The actual Akikaze did not play the role of a hunter as depicted in the movie.It was sunk when it purposely intercepted a torpedo aimed at the carrier Junyo it was escorting.
3.The actors in the sub crew went through training on how to run a sub.The movie has been commended for its accurate depiction of the attack procedure.
4.The older/younger commander dynamic was used again by director Wise for the first “Star Trek” movie.He used the stationary subs hunting each other in his “Wrath of Khan”.
5.This was Don Rickles’ first film.He was on a motor torpedo boat tender in WWII.He was in charge of morale.Just kidding.
6.The movie starts off badly with Richardson’s previous boat being sunk in Bungo Straits early in the war.First, a U.S. sub would not have been that deep into Japanese waters at that time and if it was, there is no way the crew could have been rescued.
7.The author Edward Beach did not like the movie.He once commented that all the studio did was buy the title.
8.The movie was basically a combination of “Moby Dick” (with the Akikaze being the white whale) and “Mutiny on the Bounty” (with its command dysfunction).
9.The movie was overshadowed at the box office by “Operation Petticoat”.

Belle and Blade = 4
Brassey’s = 2
Video Hound = 4.4
War Movies = 3.1
Military History = #79
Channel 4 = not on list
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = no

OPINION: “Run Silent, Run Deep” was one of my favorite books as a teenager. This movie does not do justice to the book. The movie became a showcase for two legendary actors, but that does not overcome some of the ridiculous aspects of the film. The acting by the whole cast is noteworthy. Rickles even adds some humor. (He gets to offer a guy “a cookie”.) The movie is certainly entertaining and better than average in the submarine subgenre.
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
95. The Alamo (1960)

SYNOPSIS: "The Alamo" is John Wayne's take on the famous siege during the Texas Revolution. It covers the campaign and the battle. Wayne plays Davy Crockett. He throws in a romantic sub-plot and command dysfunction between Travis (Laurnece Harvey) and Bowie (Richard Widmark). The movie concludes with an Old School Hollywood spectacular Mexican assault.

BACK-STORY: “The Alamo” is a war movie released in 1960 about the famous siege of 1836. It was directed and produced by John Wayne. He did not intend to star in his directorial debut, but the studio refused to back the project without Wayne starring. Wayne deserves a lot of credit for overcoming every obstacle to finish a project that was obviously important to him. He assembled a good cast and did a competent job as director. He also put a lot of his own money into it and did not recoup his investment. The movie did not do particularly well at the box office but did get Oscar nominations for Sound, Cinematography, Editing, Score, and Song. The money does show up on the screen with the recreation of the Alamo from the ground up at Alamo Village in Bracketville near the actual site in San Antonio. The set took two years to construct and looks more authentic than the original. Rumor has it that the fake Alamo has a basement with a bicycle in it.

TRIVIA: classic movie hub, imdb, Wikipedia, TCM

1.Chill Wills took out a tasteless ad in Variety to push for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.The ad claimed the crew were praying more for Wills’ victory than the defenders in the Alamo were praying to survive.There was such a backlash that Wayne had to take out a counter ad.Wills lost to Peter Ustinov from “Spartacus”.It would have taken more than a brilliant ad to change that outcome.
2. Charleston Heston turned down the role of Bowie partly because his moderate Democratic political philosophy (at the time) clashed with Wayne’s conservatism.Also, he was skeptical about Wayne as a first-time director.He later regretted the decision.Clark Gable turned down the Travis role.
3.Wayne and Richard Widmark did not get along.It started when Wayne called him “Dick” to try to bond and Widmark coldly insisted on Richard.After that Wayne emphasized “Richard”.It did not help that Widmark was a liberal Democrat who supported civil rights and gun control and was opposed to black-listing.He also questioned Wayne’s directorial talents.
4.Wayne, who felt guilty about avoiding WWII, saw the movie as his way to join the fight against communism.That’s why the movie has a big liberty and democracy theme.
5.Wayne wanted to play the small role of Sam Houston so he could concentrate on directing, but the studio insisted he take on a bigger role to boost the box office potential.
6.Wayne was all-in for the movie and went into his own pocket to pay for cost overruns.He did not recoup his money until the TV rights were sold years later.
7.During filming, a cannon rolled over Laurence Harvey’s foot breaking it.Harvey finished the scene.
8.The production used 7,000 extras, 1,500 horses, and 400 cattle.
9.The set took two years to construct and became a major tourist attraction.It was used in over 200 Westerns.
10.Bowie’s seven-barreled gun was called a Nock Volley Gun and developed for use in the Royal Navy.It had limited use because the kick was more than most men cared to endure.
11.The movie was banned in Mexico.
12.Wayne intended to shoot the film in Mexico until the Daughters of the Republic of Texas threatened him with tanking the film in Texas theaters.
13.After a few weeks of release, the movie was cut by 30 minutes.
14.Wayne hired Frankie Avalon because of the successful casting of Ricky Nelson in “Rio Bravo”.
15.Several days in, Widmark wanted to drop out because he felt he was not right for playing the much larger Bowie.
16.Historians James Frank Dobie and Lon Tinkle insisted their names be removed from the credits.
17.The movie won the Academy Award for Sound.It was nominated for Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Editing, Music, Picture (losing to “The Apartment”), and Song (“The Green Leaves of Summer”).
18.Sammy Davis, Jr. wanted to play the slave, but his controversial marriage to a white woman nixed it.
20.It was the only film Wayne directed.
21.John Ford showed up on set and started giving Wayne advice.Wayne solved the problem by sending Ford off to do some second unit shooting of Mexican cavalry.Most of which did not make it into the film.

Belle and Blade = N/A
Brassey’s = 5
Video Hound = 2.5
War Movies = 3.8
Military History = #61
Channel 4 = not on list
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = no

OPINION:If you want to know the legend of the Alamo told through the lens of democracy versus communism, this is the movie for you. If you are interested in accuracy, this movie should not be shown in an American History classroom. Although it is probably required viewing in Texas classrooms. It is entertaining in an old school Hollywood epic sort of way. The final battle is epic for sure. It is a bit hard to believe it is in the top 100 because it was not critically acclaimed when it came out and it’s reputation has not improved over the years.

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