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War Movies: What They Tell Us
by Jon Schuller

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Only 27 days left

Only 27 days left
Wars have been with us since time immemorial. That's nothing new. Wars create death, new technologies and peace treaties; those in turn are broken and the cycle starts again. We are living with two major conflicts today and films are mirroring the harsh realities faced by soldiers and civilians alike. It's a big topic and I will re-visit it.

I recently watched The Hurt Locker, the latest Academy Award winner. It is a movie that holds nothing back. We see, hear and feel what the bomb disposal unit (and all serving there) faces in Iraq. We get glimpses of their personal lives along with their military lives. No one is immune to the dangers lurking behind every building; every face could be that of a bomber or terrorist. The film is a blunt mirror to view something most of us would rather not confront.

Movies about war were not always so blunt. I've felt that unless the film-makers had been in a war, or at least close to one, they could not tell a realistic story. The first Academy Award winner,
This is not what they told us

This is not what they told us
1927's Wings, told the story of First World War pilots in a softened way. Before America entered World War I we still had some romantic notions about the chivalric ideals of fighting a war. Like the Europeans those ideals were quickly lost amidst the horrors of artillery shells and poison gas. Pilots flying their delicate "crates" were viewed as the last "knights" to fight a war.

After the Great War the films became more realistic. Novels written about the First World War led the way in discussing the stark realities. European film-makers told their side of the story. The real reasons for actually going to war were sometimes overlooked. Stereotypes abounded. They didn't want to horrify the audiences too much. Otherwise no one would have gone to see them. Hollywood tried to follow suit. Arguably one of the best movies ever, 1930's All Quiet On The Western Front was one of the new genre to portray war realistically. Showing how the Germans created a more intense and deadly type of warfare was one way
I think we've taken just about enough

I think we've taken just about enough
to attempt an anti-war sentiment. It won an Academy Award and propelled its creators and actors to fame and fortune.

There were fewer war movies made during the "between-the-wars" period in the 1930's. I would describe them as "neutral". No one really wanted to think about wars anyway: there was enough misery going around because of the Depression. Service movies like Test Pilot with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy showed men pitting their skills against new aviation technologies. The real "test" was coming sooner than they realized. Waterloo Bridge was a romantic tale about to be broken apart by the beginning of World War Two. Sergeant York proclaimed Gary Cooper as the archetypal "aw shucks" hero in 1941. But none of these movies truly faced the realities that had been or were about to be seen again.

During The Second World War films were simply straight-forward propaganda, anti-Japanese/anti-German, to help
keep us strong while the battles raged. Hollywood responded and offered the public its
Citizen-Soldiers

Citizen-Soldiers
great actors in many guises. The list is long but some memorable ones deserve mention: Guadalcanal Diary, They Were Expendable, In Which We Serve (from England), Destination Tokyo, A Walk in the Sun and Back To Bataan. After war's end a more realistic approach started with the classic, The Best Years of Our Lives.

Starting in the 1950's dozens of great films about war's aspects were made. From Here to Eternity, Stalag 17, Attack, Apocalypse Now, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Courage Under Fire, The Tuskegee Airmen (about the landmark flying squadron), The Guns of Navarone, The Train, Patton, Glory, and of course, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List. As the movies matured we see tougher, more realistic views, actions and attitudes. Saving Private Ryan actually showed men shot and killed as on a battlefield. It's an unfortunate aspect of life that wars are being fought at all. There seems to be no peace everywhere in the world at once. The cinema simply reflects the horrors of Man's Inhumanity to Man.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

A Story of Bravery, Truth and Devotion

This One Is#9 To Be Precise

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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