The Consensus 100 Greatest War Movies

May 2011
New Iberia, La.
38. El Cid (1961)

SYNOPSIS: "El Cid" is the tale of a legendary Spanish medieval hero during the period when the Moors controlled parts of Spain. El Cid is a Christian knight who is the epitome of chivalry. He gets in trouble with the King when he treats some Muslim foes fairly. An accusation of treason leads to a duel to maintain his family's honor. He ends up killing his fiancé's father which puts a damper on her love for him. He then gets in trouble with the new king for accusing him of conspiring to kill his brother. This gets El Cid exiled. He is brought back to capture and then hold a key port. A villainous Muslim leader lands an army and attempts to take the city.

BACK-STORY: “El Cid” is an historical epic about the legendary Spanish medieval hero Don Rodrigo Dial de Vivar, known as El Cid. It was released in 1961 and was directed by Anthony Mann. It is in the same genre as “Ben Hur” and similarly stars Charleton Heston. His co-star Sophia Loren had a $200/week hairdresser allowance. The film was shot mostly in Spain. It was nominated for Academy Awards for Art Direction, Original Music Score, and Best Song. The movie was a box office hit and was well received by critics.

TRIVIA: Wikipedia, imdb

1. The Moors (Spanish Muslims) called Rodrigo Diaz de Viver “El Cid” which means “the lord”. Christians called him El Campeador (“the one who stands up in the battlefield”).

2. The film used 7,000 extras, 10,000 costumes, and 35 ships.

3. Heston and Loren did not get along. In love scenes Heston had a hard time looking her in the eye. The main conflict was over her high salary. Heston later admitted that he had been a jerk.

Belle and Blade = N/A
Brassey’s = 4.0
Video Hound = N/A
War Movies = N/A
Military History = #63
Channel 4 = #86
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = no
Rotten Tomatoes = no

OPINION: “El Cid” was better than I thought it would be. Although I am a big fan of “Ben Hur”, most of the old-school historical epics seem so outdated and overblown. This movie has some of those characteristics, but it is highly entertaining and accurate enough to pass the sniff test. Its strengths overcome its flaws.

Some of the flaws include a sappy love story and twirl your mustache type villains. Heston and Loren do not have much chemistry and the ups and downs are not realistic. I doubt Herbert Lom’s Ben Yusuf is considered politically correct in today’s Muslim-tolerant atmosphere. However, the movie is surprisingly even-handed in its depiction of the Moors. There is a nice balance of evil and good Christians and Muslims. The main flaw is El Cid is too perfect. He is unbeatable as a warrior, at one point he defeats a dozen knights virtually singlehandedly. He is totally loyal to his lords, even when they are corrupt and trying to kill him. He is the perfect mate, being understanding when his fiancé despises him and tries to have him killed.

The strengths include the wonderful (if too brightly lit) castle interiors and the “Ben Hur” style score that does a great job setting the mood. The 70mm Technicolor is vibrant. The action is crisp and is three for three with the duel, the trial by combat, and the beach battle. The ending is memorable, even though its ridiculous.

“El Cid’ is a spectacle in the grandest sense of the word. It is epic in its scale. It is old-school Hollywood at its best, not its worst. However, it is overrated at #38. It might belong in the greatest 100, but not this high. Plus, it is not firmly in the war movie genre.
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
37. Breaker Morant (1980)

SUMMARY: "Breaker Morant" is the true story of Lt. Harry "Breaker" Morant (Edward Woodward) who, with two comrades Lt. Handcock (Bryan Brown) and Lt. Witton (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), is put on trial for killing prisoners and a German missionary during the Second Boer War. They become pawns in an unpopular British war.

BACK-STORY: “Breaker Morant” was released in 1980 and was the first of three films made in Australia that marked the arrival of Australian cinema as a force in war movies. The other two films were “Gallipolli” (1981) and “The Lighthorsemen” (1987). The film was directed by Bruce Beresford, has an all-Australian cast, and was shot in Australia. It is based on the play by the same name which tells the story of the court-martial of Harry “Breaker” Morant, a well known warrior/poet. It was a box office success in America and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

TRIVIA: Wikipedia, imdb, Criterion essay

1. It is based on a play by Kenneth Ross.

2. It was voted Best Picture by the Australian Film Institute.

3. It was one of the first of the Australian New Wave that continued with “Gallipoli” one year later. These war movies, which included “The Lighthorsemen”, were typified by manliness, comradeship in dilemmas, and anti-It

4. Considering its anti-British vibe, it premiered at the Royal Charity Film Premiere in London. Prince Charles attended.

5. The “Rule .303” refers to the .303 caliber bullet used in their rifles.

6. The poem at the end is “Mafeking” by Sir Alfred Austen, a British poet Laurette.

7. Breaker was a reference to a breaker of horses.

8. The Morant poems were: 1. “At the River’s Crossing” – in the jail cell 2. “Westward Ho!” - the night before the execution 3. “Butchered to Make a Dutchman’s Holiday” – in the execution scene. The song he sings was based on his poem “At Last”.

9. It is a good companion to “Paths of Glory” and “King and Country”.

Belle and Blade = 5.0
Brassey’s = 3.0
Video Hound = 5.0
War Movies = 3.8
Military History = #91
Channel 4 = #78
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = no
Rotten Tomatoes = no

OPINION: I’ll go out on a limb and proclaim that this is the best movie ever made about the Boer War. You get a feel for the war, although looking it up in an encyclopedia will help with the big picture. It also helps if you are familiar with the Vietnam War because you can transpose that war for much of ”Breaker Morant”. The closing speech by Thomas could have been given by Lt. Calley’s lawyer at his My Lai trial.

“Breaker Morant” is one of the great anti-war movies. I recently got into a debate about whether all war movies are anti-war. Realistically, they should be, but actually a lot glorify war without showing any of the seamier side. The themes of prisoner abuse, never-ending guerrilla war, and scape-goating lower echelon soldiers resonate today. I sure hope this movie is being shown at West Point these days! It would not hurt for cadets to be told to focus on the “war corrupts good men” theme. Officers coming out of West Point are in many ways our “Breaker” Morants. It is the second best “soldiers on trial as scape-goats for command decisions” movie. After watching “Breaker Morant”, pair it off with its sister – “Paths of Glory”.

The only problem I have with the movie is if you really think about it, Morant was guilty of war crimes. Before the death of Hunt, he was clearly conflicted about the verbal orders from higher-up to kill prisoners. When he takes over, he did not have to obey those orders even if he thought they were official and it is clearly implied he became vengeance-minded. It is one of the strengths of the movie that even the death of the missionary seems like a railroaded charge when, of course, it was an egregious breech of the rules of war. How many in the audience see it as it is accurately depicted – an assassination of a priest for choosing the wrong side and for potentially informing on a war crime?

This is a great movie. The scenery is beautiful as Australia stands in for the unbroken horizons of the Transvaal. The acting is fantastic. In the courtroom scenes, watch the facial expressions of the actors. You can read a lot from those faces! Woodward is seething, Brown is roguish, Fitz-Gerald is naïve, and Thompson is outraged. Denny (the head of the tribunal) and Kitchener are appropriately hissable.

As a history lesson and a lesson in military ethics, the movie is valuable and should be viewed by a public that is at war in a war similar to the Boer War. Let’s say, Afghanistan. Clearly the film should be mandatory viewing for soldiers involved in a counter-insurgency situation and for the leaders who are fashioning that counter-insurgency policy.
Last edited:
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
36. The Thin Red Line (1998)

SUMMARY: The movie is set during the Battle of Guadalcanal. It covers one unit of GIs who are tasked with taking a strong defensive position. The unit’s commander, Capt. Staros (Elias Koteas), is leery about the suicidal nature of the mission, but his commanding officer Lt. Col. Tall (Nick Nolte) insists on maximum effort. The movie dwells on the effects of war on the environment and the environment's interaction with warfare.

BACK STORY: “The Thin Red Line” came out in 1998 ( the same year as “Saving Private Ryan”). It is based on the acclaimed novel by James Jones and is a fictional account set in the Battle of Guadalcanal. The film marked the return of legendary director Terence Malick after a twenty year hiatus. He had previously made “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven”, both of which were highly thought of in Hollywood. Many A-list actors were interested in being directed by Malick in whatever movie he made his comeback with. In fact, several major actors worked on the movie and were left on the cutting room floor ( e.g. Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen, Gary Oldman ). The movie did not do well at the box office, but did garner seven Oscar nominations ( including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography ). It won none.

TRIVIA: Wikipedia, imdb, “Guts and Glory”

1. It was based on the novel by James Jones which was published in 1962. He had served on Guadalcanal.

2. The movie fictionalizes the Battle of Mount Austen.

3. So much film was shot that it took seven months to produce the first print which was five hours long. In trimming it, the roles of Bill Pullman, Mickey Rourke, and Luke Haas ended up on the cutting room floor. Adrien Brody attended the premiere thinking his Cpl. Fife had a key role only to find he was barely in the movie.

4. It was filmed in Australia and the Solomon Islands.

5. Many A-list celebrities wanted to work with Terence Malick. It had been twenty years since his last film – “Days of Heaven”. Woody Harrelson and John Savage stuck around for an extra month just to watch the auteur.

6. The Pentagon refused to cooperate because it had little WWII era weapons and it felt the script did not cast a positive light on the Army.

Belle and Blade = 5.0
Brassey’s = 4.0
Video Hound = 2.5
War Movies = N/A
Military History = #100
Channel 4 = #16
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = #90

OPINION: Most movie critics loved this movie when it came out. They had been waiting for twenty years for a Malick product and refused to be disappointed. It seems every male actor wanted in on the project and when Malick would tell them to wander around and gaze at the sea (as he did with Travolta in his big scene) they did not question the “genius”. The Oscar nominating committee must have been very impressed with cinematography that managed to make Guadalcanal into a tourist destination. Some lucky cameraman was paid to get numerous shots of flora and fauna, especially looking upward. And then there are the voice-overs which are sometimes character’s voices ( often unidentifiable ) and sometimes a more generic sentiment. This may be inspired film-making but it just looks and sounds pretentious to the average war movie buff.

The main fault of the movie ( and any bad war movie ) is lack of realism. Malick may be arguing that the Battle of Guadalcanal was evil man versus good environment, but any veteran of the campaign would support the view that the environment was almost as big a villain as the Japanese. To make a film set on a tropical island and not show the pests, the rain and mud, and the heat is laughable.

Several of the characters do not behave realistically. Witt goes from pacifist to gung-ho with no explanation why. Welsh is a tough guy, yet he volunteers to assist a malingerer back to the rear at a critical moment in the battle, but later he makes a suicidal dash into no man’s land to help a dying soldier.

The assault on the bunker is well done, but the following attack on the camp strains credulity as the Japanese behave against type. Is Malick being a revisionist? Nothing I have read suggests the fanaticism of Japanese soldiers has been inaccurately depicted by military historians.

TRL is a very polarizing movie. You either love it or hate it. Put me in the hate it group. In my opinion, Malick was partly motivated by the desire to offend people like me. The movie is not aimed at war movie lovers. I think it works best for people who do not watch a lot of war movies. People who put high stock in gorgeous cinematography and philosophizing dialogue. It is a must-see if you ever wondered: "why can't they make a nature film / war movie with psychobabble dialogue?" I would not have it in my top 100 and to me it is a travesty that it is #36 on this list. That is a cruel joke.
Likes: Fiver
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
35. Cross of Iron (1977)

SYNOPSIS: A squad of German soldiers is fighting on the Eastern Front after the Battle of Stalingrad. They are led by an anti-hero named Steiner (James Coburn). The men are just trying to survive the war and deal with their status as pawns within the Wehrmacht. Steiner clashes with their new commanding officer (Maximilian Schell) who is a blue blood intent on winning the Iron Cross. The movie goes from last stand to lost patrol as the men hold off a Russian attack and then have to retreat back to German lines.

BACK-STORY: “Cross of Iron” is a war movie set on the Eastern Front in World War II. The film was Sam Peckinpah’s last great feature and his only war movie. He supposedly was heavily drinking during the shoot. The movie is based on the novel "The Willing Flesh" by Willi Heinrich. The movie follows the book fairly closely. The movie was filmed on location in Yugoslavia with the cooperation of the Yugoslavian army. Because the production ran out of money, the ending had to be improvised. The release met with mixed reviews and it did not do well at the box office. Its reputation has been rising over the years, however.

Belle and Blade = 2.5
Brassey’s = 4.0
Video Hound = 5.0
War Movies = 3.1
Military History = #64
Channel 4 = #37
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = no

TRIVIA: Wikipedia, imdb

1. The movie is set on the Eastern Front in 1943 after the Soviet victory at Stalingrad. The Soviets are attacking the German salient at Kuban on the Taman Peninsula.

2. The exterior scenes were filmed in Yugoslavia because the Yugoslavian Army could provide WWII era equipment like T034 tanks. It also provided 1,600 soldiers for extras.

3. The movie was a joint Anglo-German production. One of the producers, Wolf Hartwig, had made porn films.

4. The was Sam Peckinpah’s only war film. He supposedly drank four bottles of whiskey and vodka a day and slept only 3-4 hours.

5. Robert Shaw turned down the Steiner role over money.

6. The film was not successful in America, but did very well in Germany.

OPINION: “Cross of Iron” is a special movie. There is no other war movie quite like it. It has the Peckinpah touch throughout it – the trademark slow motion violence, the iconoclastic anti-hero, the lack of respect for authority. An American war movie concentrating on Germans on the Eastern Front is pretty rare. The movie is certainly action-packed with lots of explosions. It is a great combat movie and has several combat scenes that are among the best filmed. It does have its exposition parts (which are necessary to develop the conflict between Steiner and Stransky and to explain Brandt’s role in the triangle), but the movie is definitely not wordy.

The movie is an excellent depiction of small unit warfare, but it also gives a taste of command. Brandt is a sympathetic soldiers-general and Keisel represents another type – the cynical staff officer. Stransky is yet another type – the chicken-hearted glory hound. Steiner portrays the hardened NCO who cares more for the survival of his men than the “big picture”. The movie is refreshingly free of the stereotyped evil Nazis. Stransky is not a Nazi – he is an aristocrat who is fighting for his family honor, not Hitler.

The acting is outstanding. Coburn deserved an Academy Award nomination and has one of his best roles. He is perfect as Steiner. He is ably supported by Mason, Warner, and Schell. I especially enjoyed Warner’s cynical Keisel. He is riveting whenever he appears. Schell is appropriately loathsome. The unknown actors who make up the squad also do a good job.

If you want a war movie that is adrenalin-fueled and well-acted, try “Cross of Iron”. It is not subtle, but it is not one-dimensional either. It seems comfortable at #35 and is much better than “The Thin Red Line”. And infinitely better than the next movie.
Likes: BuckBradley
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
34. Braveheart (1995)

SYNOPSIS: "Braveheart" is the story of William Wallace, the Scottish patriot. It covers from his reluctant warrior stage through his death at the hands of King Edward I of England. In between their is romance with a Princess and the Battles of Sterling and Falkirk. The film also includes political intrigue involving Robert the Bruce.

BACK-STORY: “Braveheart” is a war movie that was released in 1995. It stars Mel Gibson as the Scottish patriot William Wallace. Gibson did not want to act in the movie (he felt he was too old for the part), but the studio refused to finance it without the superstar appearing. Gibson also directed the movie. It was a critical and box office success. It won the Best Picture Oscar and Gibson was awarded Best Director. It captured a total of five Oscars. The movie was filmed in Scotland, although most of the extras for the battle scenes were from the Irish territorial army. The screenplay was written by Randall Wallace who also did Gibson’s “We Were Soldiers” script. He based the story on a medieval poem about Wallace by Blind Henry. Wallace claims to be a descendant of the hero. The movie was going to be rated NC-17 due to graphic violence, but Gibson made some cuts of the gorier shots.
TRIVIA: Wikipedia, imdb

1. It was set in the First War for Scottish Independence.

2. Screenwriter Randall Wallace was inspired by a statue of William Wallace at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. He used as his source the epic medieval poem by Blind Harry entitled “The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Capioun Schir William Wallace”.

3. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Make-up, and Sound Editing. It was nominated for Original Screenplay, Costume Design, Sound, Film Editing, and Original Score (James Horner).

4. It was filmed mainly in Scotland, but the battle scenes were done in Ireland with the help of extras from the Irish Army Reserve.

5. The battle violence had to be toned down to avoid an NC-17 rating .

6. The music was by the London Symphony Orchestra.

7. Mel Gibson felt he was too old to portray Wallace, but Paramount insisted on it for box office purposes.

8. Gibson used some mechanical horses which were propelled by nitrogen cylinders and could reach 30 MPH on tracks.

9. The disembowelment of Wallace was filmed in gory detail, but the negative reaction of a test audience consigned it to off camera.

10. The movie was criticized for Anglophobia in its depiction of the British and homophobia for its depiction of Prince Edward and his boyfriend.

Belle and Blade = N/A
Brassey’s = 4.0
Video Hound = 3.1
War Movies = N/A
Military History = #67
Channel 4 = #13
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = no
Rotten Tomatoes = #93

ACCURACY: You could make a case for “Braveheart” being the most historically inaccurate major war movie ever made. You know you are in trouble when even the title of the movie is inaccurate. The name “Braveheart” was actually applied to Robert Bruce. You get a preview of what is to come when the lies start flowing in the introductory narration. I do not want to beat a dead horse, but this movie is pure garbage! It could not have been more inaccurate than it is. Virtually everything is a mockery of the actual people and events. To make matters worse, Randall Wallace and Gibson had the nerve to defend its historical accuracy. Wallace is, of course, more to blame. He bases the story on the very dubious Blind Henry poem. This could justify taking liberties with Wallace’s early life (of which we have little knowledge), but not the pillaging of well documented events like the two battles. To have the Battle of Stirling Bridge depicted with no bridge in sight is infuriating. But in spite of the total disregard for history, many critics praised the film for its entertainment value. Have we reached the point where laughable cliches and ridiculous occurrences pass for entertainment? I could not help breaking out in laughter when the Irish switched sides in the middle of a charge or when Wallace and the Princess have a tryst between enemy lines and she got pregnant with the heir to the British throne.

OPINION: The movie is not terrible, as a piece of pure entertainment. It fits firmly in the modern brainless epic category. As the movie-going public is increasingly distracted by baubles, it satisfies most people's desire for mindless escapism. The musical score by James Horner perfectly sets the mood throughout the film. The scenery is awesome. The environment is appropriately medievally grotty. The acting is very good. Gibson is more than competent. McGoohan makes Edward I as slimy a villain as you could imagine. Marceau is lovely and feisty. Macfayden is good as the conflicted Bruce. The supporting cast is above average (although I found the insane Irishman aggravating).

The two battles, although inaccurate, are rousing. Especially the Battle of Stirling. The mechanical horses that get impaled are so lifelike that the ASPCA supposedly complained. As far as I know, no humans actually had any limbs hacked off, but there is so much hacking a mistake could have happened. However, it is obvious Gibson was ripping off films like “Spartacus”. But then again, several movies have done that. Speaking of “Spartacus”, you can’t beat the original and “Braveheart” does not even come close.

You can see the future of Gibson (e.g. “The Patriot” and “Passion of the Christ”) as a film maker here. All the elements are there – over the top villains, getting tortured, unbelievable atrocities, Rambo-like heroics, and disregard for history or realism.

I’ll be truthful. I have passionately hated this movie since I first saw it in a theater. I tried watching it several years later thinking I was being overly harsh, but I could not get a third of the way through. Having to watch it all the way through for this project was the biggest chore I have encountered since I began. I strongly dispute its inclusion on any list of great war movies. I have no problem with historical license for entertainment sake, but this movie crosses the line and does damage to history. I cannot abide that.
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
33. Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)

SYNOPSIS: "The Charge of the Light Brigade" is the very fictionalized account of the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. Hollywood turns it into a love triangle, a Gunga Dinesque sojourn in India to acquire a hissable villain, and then it's off to the Crimea for the charge.

BACK-STORY: “The Charge of the Light Brigade” was released in 1936 and is one of the “British Empire movies” like “Lives of the Bengal Lancers”. It falls into the historical adventures subgenre. The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”) and stars Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. The film was one of twelve made by Curtiz and Flynn (with de Havilland appearing in eight). It was filmed in California with the Sierra Nevadas standing in for the mountains of India. The movie had a large budget of $1.23 million. It was a box office success and was nominated for Academy Awards for Sound and Original Score (Max Steiner). It won the Oscar for Best Assistant Director (Jack Sullivan). The production was difficult with Flynn and Curtiz at odds (as they always were).

TRIVIA: Wikipedia, imdb. TCM

1. It was based on a story by Michael Jacoby who based it on the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

2. The Sierra Nevadas stood in for the Khyber Pass.

3. The film was green-lighted because of the success of “Lives of a Bengal Lancer”.

4. It was the second of eight films with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. He was sexually attracted to her and evinced it by childish pranks like putting a rubber snake in her pants, making faces at her during her dramatic scenes, and putting a whoopee cushion on her chair!

5. Errol may have made Olivia’s life miserable, but he claimed this movie was his worst experience as an actor. He hated director Michael Curtiz and with good reason. Curtiz was a dictatorial ass-hole. He did not care if his actors were freezing while he was all bundled up. Flynn also had major disagreements with Curtiz lack of concern for safety.

6. Some of the shooting was done in Mexico because of its lax regulations on the use of animals in films. In the climactic charge trip wires were used to take down 125 horses. 25 of them were killed or had to be put down. Flynn was so upset that he confronted Curtiz and they had to be pulled apart. Flynn contacted the ASPCA and they put pressure on Hollywood to increase safety of animals in movies. Trip wires were banned. Because of the notoriety of the charge, the movie was not re-released and was not seen again until the late 50s on TV.

7. Another conflict between Flynn and Curtiz was due to Curtiz’s insistence on removing the protective tips from the swords. A stuntman was impaled on a broken sword that was sticking out of the ground.

8. Flynn loved practical jokes, but he was the butt of one when he was doing his own makeup on horseback and a stuntman prodded his horse with a lance. The horse bucked Flynn off. Flynn pulled the prankster off his horse and beat him up. They became friends.

9. Curtiz did not speak English well and at one point used the phrase “bring on the empty horses”. David Niven used the phrase for the title of his autobiography.

10. Scenes from the movie were used in Iron Maiden’s video for the song “The Trooper”.

11. In an opening title card, the movie is dedicated to the brigade that made the charge at Balaklava in 1856. The charge was actually in 1854.

Belle and Blade = N/A
Brassey’s = 4.0
Video Hound = 3.8
War Movies = 3.8
Military History = #26
Channel 4 = #77
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = no

OPINION: “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is classic old school. It is black and white, but that’s not a problem because most of the scenery in India is lacking in color. The cinematography is crisp, but not special until we get to the Charge. The score is what you would expect from a 1930s historical adventure. It is hammy and sappy and designed to manipulate your emotions. The acting is not a strength. Flynn is satisfactory playing a 1930s hero who is too good to be true. The characters are all stereotypes. The torn-between-two-gentlemen female. The dashing, but sensitive hero. The likeable romantic rival. The bonhomme best buddy. We even get the busy-body, husband-nagger for comic relief. Surat Khan starts out interesting, but ends up stock. His motivation for the massacre is out of character and unclear.
The movie is very predictable and cliché-ridden. Nothing happens that is unusual. Of course, American audiences could have been shocked if the result of the Charge had been shown historically accurate. The last twenty minutes piles on the cliches. A duel between the hero and the villain at the climax – check. The love triangle solved by the noble death of one of the two men – check. A postscript which assures that the hero did not die in vain (or commit a court-martial offense) – check.
The biggest problem with the movie is the lack of realism. For instance, with all the dusty marching the British uniforms remain pristine. Geoffrey’s calm reaction to his brother’s betrayal is possible, but improbable. The Khan’s appearance in the Crimea is laughable. These types of things are pretty standard for movies of this kind, however. They are what they are.
In conclusion, once again we have a head-scratcher. You could possibly make a case for it making it into the Greatest 100, but #33 is astounding. Some of the overrated Greatest 100 could possibly have gotten their higher than deserved rankings because the panel deemed them “important”, but that could not have been the case here. “Lives of a Bengal Lancer” would fit better if you are looking for a similar movie that is important in cinematic history. It did not even make the list.
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
32. The Dirty Dozen

SYNOPSIS: "The Dirty Dozen" is the granddaddy of suicide mission movies. A maverick major (Lee Marvin) is assigned twelve military convicts for a mission to massacre a chateau full of German officers behind enemy lines. They go through training, win a war game, and then parachute into occupied France.

BACK-STORY: “The Dirty Dozen” created the template for an entire genre of motley crew, suicide mission movies. It’s influence has been substantial. The movie was released in 1967 and was part of the wave of more realistically gritty war movies like “Patton”. Director Robert Aldrich adapted it from the bestselling novel by E.M. Nathanson, but made substantial changes. The film was made in England and took seven months to complete. Production included the construction of a chateau that was 240 ft wide and 50 ft high, surrounded with 5,400 sq. yds. of heather, 400 ferns, 450 shrubs, 30 spruce trees and 6 weeping willows. It turned out to be so substantially built that it could not be easily blown up so they had to construct a flimsier section for the climactic scene. The cast was all-starish. The studio wanted John Wayne for the Reisman role, but Aldrich wisely insisted on Marvin (Wayne made “The Green Berets” instead). The dozen actors were supposed to be divided between the stars and the “who the hell is that” group (known as the Back Six). However, one of the Back Six broke out to become a rising star The movie was a huge hit with audiences and with most critics. It was nominated for four Oscars; Best Supporting Actor (John Cassavetes), Editing, Sound, and Sound Effects (won).

1. “The Dirty Dozen” created the template for an entire genre of motley crew, suicide mission movies. It’s influence has been substantial. The movie was released in 1967 and was part of the wave of more realistically gritty war movies like “Patton”. Director Robert Aldrich adapted it from the novel by E.M. Nathanson, but made substantial changes. The film was made in England and took seven months to complete. That was three months over schedule and it cost 60% than its budget. Production included the construction of a chateau that was 240 ft wide and 50 ft high, surrounded with 5,400 sq. yds. of heather, 400 ferns, 450 shrubs, 30 spruce trees and 6 weeping willows. It took 250 workers four months to construct. It turned out to be so substantially built that it could not be easily blown up so they had to construct a flimsier section for the climactic scene.

2. Aldrich wanted to film the book independently, but he found that MGM had purchased the rights two years before it was published. When MGM hired him, they already had a script by Nunnally Johnson (“The Grapes of Wrath”). Aldrich thought the script was good – for a 1945 war movie. He wanted something that fit the 1967 vibe. He got Lukas Heller to rewrite and make it more anti-authoritarian and anti-military. Johnson and Heller shared screenwriting credit, but the movie is more Heller’s. Aldrich did not push the idea that it was an anti-war movie. He felt he had checked that off with “Attack!” (1956) The studio wanted John Wayne for the Reisman role, but Aldrich didn’t and luckily Wayne was already committed to “The Green Berets”.

3. Supposedly Aldrich lost out on a nomination for Best Director because he refused to tone down the gasoline and grenades finale.

4. In the Last Supper scene (when they go over the plan), Maggott is seated where Judas was in the Da Vinci painting.

5. The movie “Small Soldiers” reunited Borgnine, Brown, Kennedy, and Walker.

6. Actor back-stories:
- Sutherland was originally hired as an extra. Originally his only line was “Number 2, sir!” His huge break came when Walker bowed out of the inspection scene due to his being a big star and he felt the humor was demeaning. Aldrich pointed at Sutherland and told him to do the scene. Sutherland got his role in “MASH” due to this scene.
- Trini Lopez was hired because he was a popular singer. He was coming off a huge hit with “Lemon Tree”. He left the production midway through after a conversation with Frank Sinatra. Sinatra pointed out that his singing career was on hold right when it was about to take off. Since Lopez had signed for four months and it was long past that, he left. Aldrich wrote him out by having his character die on the parachute drop. Lopez had a hit with the song from the film – “Bramble Bush”.
- Brown was still playing football, but had started his acting career with “Rio Conchos” in 1964. When the production went over schedule, Browns owner Art Modell gave him an ultimatum and Brown surprised him by announcing his retirement on set. Modell regretted his move.
- Many of the cast were WWII veterans: Marvin (Marines – wounded on Saipan), Savalas (Army), Bronson (Army), Borgnine (Navy), and Walker (Merchant Marine). Marvin’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery simply reads “PFC – Marines”.

7. Accuracy problems:
- Our “heroes” use the M3A1 Grease Gun almost exclusively. It is cool looking, but notoriously inaccurate. Several of the shots in the movie, starting with Reisman shooting the rope, would have been highly unlikely.
- Non-engineers would not have been able to build the camp.
- Grenades do not create the kind of explosions that occur when Gilpin throws two on the roof.
- Posey is using a German MG-42.

8. Scenes that were cut:
- Posey, who was a Native American, did a rain dance.
- Reisman has a romance.

Belle and Blade = 2.0
Brassey’s = 4.0
Video Hound = 5.0
War Movies = 5.0
Military History = #21
Channel 4 = #27
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = #61

OPINION: “The Dirty Dozen” has several strong aspects to it. The acting is very good. Marvin is the perfect Reisman. He plays him with the right amount of bravado and steely insubordination. The scene where he is briefed on the mission by Gen. Worden and his lackey establishes him as an intriguing character. Reisman is very much a 1960s war movie archetype. He reminds me of Steiner from “Cross of Iron”. The rest of the name actors are good. Savalas is very creepy as Maggot. It shows his range since his other famous role was Kojak. Bronson is charismatic and likeable. Brown does a remarkable job in his first major role. He does not look like an amateur. Richard Jaeckel gets a well-deserved turn as Reisman’s second in command. Cassavettes steals the honors with his characterization of Franko. You can tell he is trying to steal the camera’s attention away from the others. It is obvious he created his own character beyond the script. He deserved the Academy Award nomination. With all this said, beyond the big names the Back Six (with the notable exception of Sutherland) are in over their heads and should be very thankful they are in this movie.

As far as the plot, you know going in that you will have to suspend disbelief. Very little of what happens has any foothold in reality. It was fun to listen to Dale Dye’s commentary which takes the movie to task on numerous issues. Basically, the movie would not have been made if he had been the technical adviser. And yet, he is a big fan. The whole Maggot subplot is beyond ridiculous, but fun. You could really say that about the whole movie. In this respect it does not differ from “The Guns of Navarone” and other movies of this genre. And truly, it is less ridiculous than its most recent descendant - “Inglorious Basterds”.

The movie has the theme of military planners can sometimes be lunatics, but if you put an ass-kicking, rule-breaker in charge the plan will be successful. Another theme is even incorrigible criminals can be molded into a team (if the choice is mold or be hanged). One theme that is not apparent is that war is Hell. This is the rare major war movie that is not clearly anti-war. It basically glorifies in the warrior ethos. Aldrich’s statement that he wanted people “to know that war is hell” a crock of crap. Most of the target audience did not leave the theater detesting war. If they were teary eyed, it was because of Jefferson’s failed run (reminiscent of Von Ryan’s, by the way), not due to the slaughter of trapped German officers and their paramours. That slaughter is a troubling aspect of the film. The unit is not conflicted about this task. In fact, the best word for their facial expressions is gleeful. It’s a bit perplexing that few critics focused on this war crime. To paraphrase, if you win the war, there is no such thing as a war crime. (Ask the bombers of Dresden.) That usually refers to avoiding a trial, not to depicting the “good guys” committing one with no consequences in a movie.

In conclusion, “The Dirty Dozen” is one of the great guy movies in the war movie genre. It is required viewing for men of my generation. It created a template for numerous imitators and some of them are superior to the original. I feel that “Kelly’s Heroes” and “Where Eagles Dare” are better and more entertaining and yet neither made the Greatest 100.
Likes: Fiver
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
31. Rome, Open City (1945)

SYNOPSIS: “Rome, Open City” is squarely in the resistance sub-genre. It is a rare one set in Italy in WWII. A Resistance leader named Manfredi is on the lam and is aided by a priest. The movie splits time between the underground and their families and the dastardly Germans who catch and torture them. It is the most famous of the neorealist style.

BACK-STORY: “Rome, Open City” is a cinematic masterpiece by acclaimed director Roberto Rossellini. It was set and filmed in Italy in 1945 during the waning days of Nazi occupation. It was shot in the streets of Rome. The crude look to the cinematography was the result of the lack of funding, the damaged studio, and the circumstances. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and won the Palme D’Or at Cannes. It is a landmark in the Italian neorealist movement. These films were noted for a general atmosphere of authenticity, immediacy as in being shot on location, use of nonprofessionals in roles, documentary style cinematography, and children in major roles.


1. The name comes from the fact that Rome was declared an “open city” on August 14, 1943.
2. It won the Grand Prize at Cannes and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards.
3. It all started when a wealthy old Italian woman offered to finance a documentary about the Catholic priest Don Pieto Morosini who was executed for involvement with partisans. Later, she also wanted to sponsor a documentary about children in the resistance. The two ideas were combined into one fiction movie. The financing was not enough to fund the movie so director Frederico Fellini sold everything he owned to bring the movie to completion.
4. The movie was one of the first great examples of Italian NeoRealism cinema. This movement featured stories about the lives of common people, shooting on location, and use of nonprofessional actors. In this film the only significant actors were Aldo Fabrizi as the priest and Anna Magnani as Pina.
5. Different film stocks were used – whatever was available. Some of it was provided by Rod Geiger of the U.S. Signal Corps.
6. Fellini made use of German POWs to play the German soldiers.
7. The premiere was whistled (booed) and the movie was not popular in Italy until it was lauded in other countries.

Belle and Blade = N/A
Brassey’s = 4.0
Video Hound = N/A
War Movies = N/A
Military History = #25
Channel 4 = #87
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = no

HISTORICAL ACCURACY: The movie is supposedly based on real events as told to Rossellini by actual Resistance members. This makes it hard to verify. Let’s assume the events in the film actually happened. That is plausible. The movie does not depict anything that is obviously ridiculous or improbable. Even the young boys sabotaging the German war effort is based on reality.

One of the characters (Don Pietro) is clearly based on a real person. Don Pieto Morosini was a Catholic priest who was part of the Resistance. My research could not confirm any of his actions in the movie, but the death scene is close to his execution. The last words are authentic. The firing squad did miss. The killing was actually done by an Italian officer, not a German. A telling decision by Rossellini? He does have characters that are collaborators, but overall the movie is lenient toward the Italian public.

OPINION: “Rome, Open City” is a cinematic classic and deserves its fame. It has an immediacy to it that makes it unique, especially for back then. It has been best described as looking like a newsreel. The cinematography is not jaw dropping, but if you know the back-story, it’s remarkable. Rossellini had to overcome such obstacles that you have to admire the finished product. The blending of film stocks is a standout feature. Rossellini had to use what was available. However, there’s the rub. If you don’t know the full story behind the production, the movie does not have the same impact.

The acting is what you would expect from a production like this. Fabrizi is the top performer. His Don Pietro is humane, humorous, and a hero. He provides the comic relief like the frying pan silencing. There is also a whimsical scene involving a naked statue. Without him, the movie would have been too bleak. The rest of the cast is average and many are playing stereotypes. For a movie of such consequence, it is perplexing why Rossellini would include such sore thumbs like the Gestapo chief and the lesbian agent. You would not expect hissable villains. But I suppose if I had lived through the Nazi and fascist days, I might put a vampirish lesbian and an effeminate torturer in also.

The themes are basic. Good versus evil. Normal people doing heroic things because the situation calls for it. Civilians trying to live their lives in wartime. Freedom is worth dying for. None of this is ground-breaking. The plot does not match the production. If it did, this would be a masterpiece. As it is, the movie could have done with more concentration on the more unorthodox elements like the children saboteurs.

In conclusion, once again I am confronted with a movie that must be highly rated by critics because of its historical importance moreso than its actual quality. It is assuredly a must-see for anyone interested in the history of cinema and specifically Italian neorealism, but purely as a war movie it is nothing special. I admire what Rossellini went through and the movie is truly a great accomplishment. This must have been a large part of the reasoning by critics. It could be argued that it is the #31 most important war movie ever made, but you cannot replace” important” with “greatest” or “best” and even put it in the Top 100. It will not make my list of the 100 Best because I am not judging the films on importance. I am looking at two main factors: historical accuracy / realism and quality. “Rome, Open City” does not make a case for itself in either area. I would not put it ahead of the other Resistance movies I have reviewed: Army of Crime, Flame and Citron, and Black Book (none of which made the Greatest 100). All of those are more entertaining than "Rome, Open City".
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
30. From Here to Eternity (1953)

SYNOPSIS: "From Here to Eternity" is the classic soap opera set on Oahu before the Pearl Harbor attack. Several character’s lives and loves intertwine. The main arc is the affair between a sergeant (Burt Lancaster) and his commanding officer’s wife (Deborah Kerr). There is also a subplot involving a pacifist boxer (Montgomery Clift) and his buddy (Frank Sinatra). The melodramatics culminate with the attack.

BACK-STORY: “From Here to Eternity” is a war movie that is set in the weeks prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It takes place in Honolulu. It was directed by Fred Zinnemann and was based on the famous novel by James Jones. It was released in 1953 and is black and white. The movie was a huge hit and is still very popular. It won 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Editing, Screenplay, Sound, Supporting Actor (Frank Sinatra), and Supporting Actress (Donah Reed). Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift were nominated for Best Actor but their split votes helped William Holden win for “Stalag 17”. Deborah Kerr was nominated for Best Actress. Sinatra’s win was the culmination of a campaign by him to get the role. The movie is #52 on AFI’s greatest movies list and #20 on the 100 Passions list. The movie was filmed on location at Schofield Barracks.

Belle and Blade = 3.5
Brassey’s = 4.0
Video Hound = 5.0
War Movies = 5.0
Military History = #59
Channel 4 = #54
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = #42

Wikipedia, imdb, TCM, Guts and Glory

1. It was based on the novel by James Jones. The title came from a Rudyard Kipling poem called “Gentleman-Rankers” which has the line “damned from here to eternity”. The book was a smash best seller, but is 800 pages long and with language and sexual situations (including homosexuality) that scared studios away. Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, was determined to make it and bought the rights for just $82,000. It was called “Cohn’s folly” because Hollywood was skeptical that the book could be turned into a successful movie.

2. Sinatra worked hard to get the role. He saw it as a golden opportunity to revive his flagging movie career. Apparently the most important factor was his wife Ava Gardner’s friendship with Harry Cohn’s wife. The legend that the Mafia was involved (as fictionalized in “The Godfather”) is not true. Sinatra did the film for only $8,000, but it paid off big time. He flew on his own dime from Africa to do the screen test. The test was so good with Sinatra ad-libbing the use of olives for dice that it was used in the movie.

3. Clift went all out for his role. He learned to play the bugle even though he knew it would be dubbed. He took boxing lessons, but they still had to use a double for longer shots. He did not have to learn how to drink, he was already showing the alcoholism that would ruin his life. In one scene, he tried to play drunk while drunk but it did not work.

4. Burt Lancaster was intimidated by Clift’s acting ability. He had an affair with Kerr during production.

5. Clift, Sinatra, and James Jones went on drinking binges during the filming.

6. The legend that George Reeves’ role ended up mostly on the cutting room floor because test audiences giggled at Superman is not true.

7. The film was made in just 41 days for just $1 million. Cohn insisted the movie not go over two hours.
10. Cohn wanted an almost entirely different cast (for example, Aldo Ray instead of Clift), but Zinnemann insisted on his choices.

8. The Army at first was adamant about not cooperating with the movie, but producer Buddy Adler was a veteran of the Signal Corps from WWII and managed to negotiate enough changes to the script to get the Army to provide Schofield Barracks and training planes that could be mocked up to be Zeros. Some of the changes included: changing the brothel to a night club, changing the prostitutes to hostesses, toning down the mistreatment in the stockade, and having Capt. Holmes kicked out instead of promoted. Taradesh had already taken out all the cursing to placate the Movie Code.

9. At first, Jones tried to adapt his own screenplay, but it was a half-ass effort and a disaster. Jones inexplicably made huge changes to the characters including making Holmes a good guy. Taradesh’s screenplay was certainly one of the most deserved Oscar winner for Adapted Screenplay in history. He added Maggio dying in Prewitt’s arms. He changed Karen’s sterility to the result of a miscarriage instead of gonorrhea contracted from her husband. Jones hated the movie when he first saw it, but changed his mind upon a rewatch five years later.

ACCURACY: “From Here to Eternity” is based on a novel that is set in pre-Pearl Harbor Hawaii. The attack plays only a tie-loose-ends role in the story. Historical accuracy is not really a factor in analyzing the movie. As a portrayal of Army life it is a bit melodramatic, but fairly realistic. Could the personal dynamics have occurred at Schofield Barracks? Possibly. Was the Army concerned that the book was falsely tarnishing its image or was it upset that Jones was exposing some dirty little secrets?

Speaking of the book, the Army did insist on some changes to the plot in order to extend its cooperation (e.g. use of Schofield Barracks). First, the movie could not actually show the abuse of Maggio in the stockade and Judson had to be clearly portrayed as an anomaly. Second, Holmes had to resign, instead of be promoted. The Army did not seem to have a problem with the fact that the movie shows there was an incredible amount of drinking in the pre-war army.

Other differences from the book were done for Hollywood reasons. Maggio is a male hustler in the book. The night club is a brothel and Karen is not simply a “hostess”. And Maggio does not die in the book. Oh, and by the way, Warden and Karen don’t just kiss on the beach in the surf.

OPINION: “From Here to Eternity” is a classic example of how changes in social mores can antiquate a movie. The fact that the technology available in “Pearl Harbor” makes the attack here look quaint, that is not the reason why FHTE does not hold up well. The problem is what was shocking behavior in 1941 is tame by today’s standards. When the movie came out in 1953, audiences were titillated by the depiction of adultery and sex on a beach. If you are shocked by Rhett Butler saying “damn”, then you probably will find FHTE to be naughty. However, if you are younger than age 60, there are a lot of ho-hum moments. Here’s what I mean. Over age 60: “Oh my God, he is kissing a married woman in the surf and she is on top!” Under age 60: “OMG, they are keeping their swimsuits on and is that all?” It’s not just the outdatedly tame situations. The dialogue now seems cheesy. The movie is overly melodramatic.

The strength of the movie is in the acting. It is uniformly good, although the critics have gone a little overboard on this. Clift is excellent and supposedly intimidated Lancaster with his acting ability. He also mentored Sinatra and helped him create the role of his life. Kerr acted against type effectively although I did not find her steaming hot like some did. Reed also is good, but certainly both women were not Oscar nomination worthy. Speaking of which, it is hard to imagine what was going through the Academy’s mind in doling out eight Oscars and thirteen nominations to this movie.

The basic themes of the movie are effectively explored. Real men have responsibilities and duties that they are bound to carry out. This explains Prewitt accepting the “treatment” and in fact it looks like he is prepared to box in the tournament after all. He also returns from being AWOL in order to rejoin his unit for the war. Another theme is that military men will choose their unit over their women. Warden lets Karen go not just because there’s a war to be won, but he refuses to win it as an officer.

In conclusion, the movie is overrated. I can understand why it created a stir in 1953, but that was more than fifty years ago. They had no rating system back then, but no doubt it would have been rated R. Today it would be PG-13 at the most. Torrid back then is tepid today. As I watched the surf scene I wondered what the big deal was. I am not in favor of remakes usually, but this movie begs for a modern reinterpretation.
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
29. The Longest Day (1962)

SYNOPSIS: "The Longest Day" is the epic, all-star movie about D-Day. It covers the invasion through a series of vignettes and reenactments of key moments. It is told through the viewpoints of both the Allies and the Germans.

BACK-STORY: “The Longest Day” is the granddaddy of the war movie epics. Its progeny include “A Bridge Too Far”, “The Battle of the Bulge”, “Battle of Britain”, etc. It was a labor of love for famed producer Darryl Zanuck who purchased the rights to Cornelius Ryan’s bestseller. Zanuck got multinational cooperation and brought in a international cast. At $10 million, it was the most expensive black and white film until “Schindler’s List”. Zanuck used several directors and was very hands-on. He insisted on shooting at the actual locations whenever possible, which included Ste. Mere Eglise, Pointe du Hoc, and Pegasus Bridge. The Omaha landings were filmed on Corsica. The movie was a box office success and was the highest grossing black and white movie until “Schindler’s List”. It won Oscars for Cinematography and Special Effects. It was nominated for Picture (“Lawrence of Arabia” won), Art Direction, and Editing.

TRIVIA: Wikipedia, IMDB, TCM, “The Longest Headache” Life Oct. 12, 1962, Guts and Glory

1. It is based on the book by Cornelius Ryan. Ryan wrote the screenplay, but producer Daryl Zanuck brought in a few other writers to improve it. One of them was author James Jones (uncredited) to snap up the soldier dialogue. He asked Erich Remarque to help with the German scenes, but Remarque simply returned the script with a note that it was fine as is. Along with a large bill for “consulting”. When Ryan first met Zanuck it was hate at first sight. Ryan was not a believer in dramatic license. Elmo Williams had to act as a go-between for script revisions.

2. Several of the stars were veterans of WWII: Henry Fonda, Leo Genn, Kenneth More, Rod Steiger, and Richard Todd.

3. The technical advisers included Gen. Blumentritt, James Gavin, Werner Pluskat, “Pips” Priller, Lucie Rommel, and John Howard.

4. When the extras were reluctant to leave the landing craft because of the cold water (in another version, they were reluctant to get in the landing craft), Robert Mitchum jumped in and shamed them into moving.

5. The $10 million cost was the most for a black and white movie until “Schindler’s List”. Zanuck decided to do it in black and white for two reasons: to give it a documentary feel and to make the old actors look younger. The rumor that another reason was to blend in archival footage is not true because no archival footage was used in the film.

6. Richard Todd turned down the chance to play himself in the Pegasus Bridge scenes. He wore John Howard’s helmet. Kenneth More used Colin Maud’s shillelagh for his beachmaster role. The bulldog was not English, he was French because of restrictions on bringing animals into France. The dog had to be tranquilized because of the explosions. He was mellow during the filming.

7. Charleton Heston really wanted to play Vandervoort, but when John Wayne jumped in at the last minute, Heston was dumped. Wayne was mad at Zanuck because he had made some cracks about the financial problems of Wayne’s “The Alamo”. He demanded $250,000 instead of the standard $25,000 the other stars got.

8. The 505th Airborne Battle Group were used for the Pointe du Hoc assault. One of the men, Joseph Lowe, reenacted his climb from his participation in the actual attack.

9. Former President Eisenhower was considered for playing himself, but the make-up artists could not make him young enough. The Ike in the movie was played by Henry Grace, who was a Hollywood set designer who bore an uncanny resemblance to the general. Grace made his acting debut.

10. Richard Burton and Roddy McDowell were filming “Cleopatra” in Italy and had some downtime. They
flew in and did their cameos for free.

11. The U.S., Great Britain, and France provided around 23,000 soldiers.

12. Curt Jurgens, who played Gen. Blumentritt, had been imprisoned by Nazis during WWII.

13. Zanuck wanted to use an actual paradrop for the Ste. Mere Eglise scene, but only a few of the parachutists landed in the square and a few more were injured. They had to end up using cranes dropping the men.

14. The fleet scenes used 22 ships from the U.S. 6th Fleet off the coast of Corsica. The 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Division was practicing landings. The cameramen were instructed to avoid shooting the black Marines.

15. Zanuck told Ryan he would not have any females or romance in his film. Then Zanuck met Irina Demick at a cocktail party. She became his mistress and Zanuck changed his mind about the romance.

16. 500,000 blanks were fired during production.

17. The Pentagon was very cooperative, but felt burnt when Zanuck left in a scene depicting the killing of German soldiers attempting to surrender. Zanuck had agreed to delete it and then kept it in. When the Pentagon attempted to put its foot down, the movie had already been released.

18. The censors demanded that words like crap, muck it, motherlover, bastard, damn, and hell be cut. James Jones was particularly incensed with this denial of reality. They also wanted the bloodshed toned down, but Zanuck disregarded this.

19. Three Spitfires were located in Belgium and two Me-109 Spanish versions were used. Two replicas of the gliders were commissioned from the piano company that built them during the war.

20. There was concern over the casting of three teen idols (Fabian, Paul Anka, and Tommy Sands) for the Pointe du Hoc scene. Especially after Sands was out for a while because of sand in his eye and a broken fingernail. But in the end, the three did a decent job and earned the respect of the soldier extras.

Belle and Blade = 2.0
Brassey’s = 5.0
Video Hound = 3.8
War Movies = 5.0
Military History = #15
Channel 4 = #20
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = 67

OPINION: This is a big movie. Zanuck went all in and it shows. He literally commanded an army of actors and crew. The equipment is sometimes anachronistic (the ME-109s are actually ME-108s, for instance), but it was not from lack of trying. He also spent a lot of effort trying to get things right. For example, he originally tried to reenact the drop on Ste. Mere Eglise using actual paratoopers dropping from planes. Uncooperative winds put an end to that noble attempt. He insisted all the dialogue be in the correct language. Using subtitles was a bold move and sends a strong message that entertainment was not the only goal.

Some critics find fault with the cast and the acting. There is something of a stunt feel to it, but the variety of characters was based on the book and why not have the best professionals play the roles? Granted, it is hard not to see John Wayne as playing Col. John Wayne (actually he is Lt. Col. Vandervoort). Can anyone seriously argue that Zanuck, who is making the epic WWII movie, should pass up the chance to have the biggest star on Earth and the man most associated with war movies in his film?

The movie is uniformly well-acted. There is little scene-chewing by the stars in spite of their recognition that their screen time would be very limited. It is interesting to see how the big stars use little tricks of the trade to maximize their time on camera. The amazing aspect of the casting is the most memorable performances are by the B-Listers. Richard Beymer (the Rosary carrying paratrooper) and Hans Blech (the German who is the first to see the armada coming right at him) come to mind. More importantly, some of the performances made the actual people famous. What American would have cared about the fascinating “Pips” Priller (look him up on Wikipedia) if not for Heinz Reincke’s vibrant portrayal?

The plot handles a complex topic in a way that you do not need much knowledge of D-Day to follow it. Unlike many similar movies, TLD periodically informs us when and where the action is taking place. The jumping between the Allies and the Germans works well. The Germans are not demonized and in fact there is not a single “heil Hitler” in the film. For a serious pseudo-documentary, there are brief, but effective interjections of humor. My favorite is when the reporter accuses the wayward carrier pigeon with being a "damned traitor".

In conclusion, considering it was the first of its type (the big budget, all-star, battle epic) and has had many challengers over the years, it is amazing that you can argue it is still the best of them all. I doubt it could be much better than it is, given the state of war movie making in 1962. I think it is also true to say that even with modern technology, a remake could not improve on it. Zanuck did not try to reinvent the genre, but he did create a subgenre and using orthodox methods fashioned a masterpiece. Although it is sometimes unfairly compared to “Saving Private Ryan”, it is actually the perfect companion to it. By watching both, one gets a well-rounded view of D-Day. As far as its placement at #27, that is not surprising considering most critics are not enamored with it. Check out the ratings above, they are all over the place. I feel it should be in the top ten. It is much better than many of the upcoming movies, as you will see.
Likes: Kevinmeath

Similar History Discussions