Unlike the Anglo-Zanzibar War, World War II is likely to be the war with the most films featuring it as part of their plot. There are numerous reasons for this, including the rise of Hollywood during the same timeframe, as well as a distinct “good guy vs. bad guy” conflict. Unlike the Civil War, World War II was a recent enough conflict for there to be individuals who were affected by it. Furthermore, unlike the Vietnam War, World War II was a war popular with the public sentiment (even despite the unpopular idea of war in general). Consequently, of the multitude of World War II films, at least eight of them have won the Oscar for Best Picture, which doesn’t even include the numerous nominated films that covered the same subject. This week’s two films highlight some of the best World War II movies ever made.
Saving Private Ryan
Length: 169 minutes / 2.82 hours
The effects of war can spread far from their source of origin. In a global conflict like WWII, there can be prisoners of war in Burma being held by the Japanese (like in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)) as well as in Germany (like in The Great Escape (1963)). Of course, the impact of a war is often felt on the home front as well. Soldiers have families back home and often have to work hard at reintegrating into a post-war society (like in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)). That’s assuming these soldiers even make it back at all. Some generals like Patton (1970) throw their empathy out the window when giving orders, especially if they produce results. However, there are also occasions when the leaders in charge realize a single soldier’s life is significant, especially if it means that soldier can return home to a family who has already lost so much.
During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln sent a letter of condolence to Lydia Bixby after her five sons died fighting for the Union. To prevent this tragedy from happening again, General George Marshall (Harve Presnell) orders that James Ryan (Matt Damon), a soldier missing in action, is found and returned home safely. Ryan’s three brothers were also soldiers, each one of them confirmed dead by the end of D-Day. While it takes some time (and the lives of two men) to track Ryan down, Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) is reluctant to return empty-handed. Unfortunately, while Ryan’s biological brothers are dead, his brothers-in-arms are still alive and protecting a strategic bridge. Captain Miller reluctantly agrees to help defend the bridge with Ryan, which proves to be a daunting task as a German Panzer Division arrives to take back control. Will anyone survive to return home?
Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours
Just like war can affect those who are on the home front, the civilians left behind still have plenty of capability to resist the evil present in a global conflict like WWII. Sure, you might be a nun helping a family escape German-controlled Austria (like in The Sound of Music (1965)). You might even be a German industrialist saving the lives of many Jews from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories (like in Schindler’s List (1993)). Nevertheless, these little things add up to help defeat the enemy. While plenty of Europeans resisted the advancement of the Nazis, the Americans in Hawaii were completely taken by surprise (like in From Here to Eternity (1953)) but still did their part to win the war. Of course, when the war is in your backyard (like in Mrs. Miniver (1942)), it’s much easier to step up and help the war effort directly.
With the Germans advancing through France, allied troops gather at Dunkirk in the hopes of being evacuated. Unfortunately, there are not enough military transports to take hundreds of thousands of soldiers away from the French port. The soldiers who are trapped on the beach begin to realize there isn’t enough transportation and come up with ways to get on the boats that are leaving. Of course, as they are still in enemy territory, even these boats face torpedoes and aerial gunfire from German forces, sinking in the process. Meanwhile, across the English Channel, civilians are being conscripted to head over to Dunkirk and use their small boats to evacuate the soldiers. Overhead, Spitfire planes are engaged with the enemy to help pave the way for a safe return home. The tension of the situation remains high as each second ticks by, dwindling away the time left for people to escape.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 well-made WWII movies