Huey's List of War Films You Never Watched (But Should)
The Beast (1988)
Before Fury, there was The Beast. But instead of Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf driving around a M-4 Sherman tank around Europe, this tank crew consists of Jason Patric, Stephen Baldwin, and Donald Patrick Harvey (you know him look him up) driving around a Russian T-55 around Afghanistan. It has somewhat of a cult status which should not be of a surprise as it was directed by Kevin Reynolds. You may remember Reynolds as the director of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld, Fandango, among others. The Beast takes place in 1981, a pre-9/11 world where Americans knew little of Afghanistan other than it where Rambo went to fight the Russians. It’s a good story with decent action that’s actually based on a play. Like Fury, this film goes into a bit of a character study of some flawed individuals, and is one of the better tank-based trope of war movies.
The Big Red One (1980)
Based on the WWII experiences of writer/director Samuel Fuller, the film takes its name from the nickname of the US Army First Infantry Division. Independently produced on a low budget, this auteur shot, semi autobiographic war flick gave a fantastic performance from Lee Marvin with just as good acting from Mark Hamill and Robert Carradine. Lots of action with a very story driven element that comes back around on itself, this film is one of the more most critically acclaimed flicks on this list, but still unfairly bumped out of top war film lists in favor of bigger director/budget war films. (Yes, that means you Full Metal Jacket). Funny and gorgeously shot (see the tank scene) this film can switch from drama to action to comedy seamlessly. By the way, this was one of the best D-Day landing scenes in film until Saving Private Ryan came out. Its so good, you forget Luke Skywalker is in this.
The Wild Geese (1978)
Ok. Its pretty obvious that Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Roger Moore, and Hardy Kruger were drinking excessively during the filming and holding on to what masculinity they had left in their career but hey... It’s a great quotable war flick. A former British Army Colonel now mercenary is hired by big evil banker dude with nefarious intent to free an imprisoned President of an African nation. The Colonel taps a diverse (and hilarious) bunch of former solders to form his mercenary team to do the job and UH OH, the evil bank people break their word and now our mercs are stuck in hostile country with no support. Time for some revenge. Great one liner (especially by Medic Arthur Witty), great firefights, and fast pacing; this movie is better than any of the Expendables movies.
Objective, Burma! (1945)
My dad called this “the man’s man film.” With respect to The Adventures of Robin Hood, this is Errol Flynn at his best. (best at acting, not the horrible things he did in his life). Very (and I mean very) loosely based on Merrill’s Marauders in the Burma Campaign (and it really pissed off Winston Churchill). This is a textbook war film. There is no over the top heroics and is a gritty, and very authentic tribute to real infantry soldiers fighting in a jungle war. Errol is not a superman, rather an every-man soldier doing his job and holding his men accountable. Gives you good action and has fantastic camaraderie among the characters. It’s almost like watching a WW2 documentary shot during the Burmese campaign. Don’t watch the computer color version. Stick with black and white.
Force 10 from Navarone (1978)
Filmed as a sequel 17 years after The Guns of Navarone (if you have not seen that film, stop here, do not continue until you watch it) by the guy that filmed a bunch of James Bond films. This picture has a number of actors we know; Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford (first film after Star Wars), Barbara Bach (Spy Who Loved Me, married to Ringo…), Carl Weathers, Richard Keil (Bond bad guy Jaws, Happy Gilmore). It’s a bit of a weird thing to grasp because in the first film, the two main character roles were played by Gregory Peck and David Niven and subsequently replaced by Robert Shaw and Edward Fox. Anyway, this film didn’t get very well reviewed by critics but has fantastic performances by Shaw and the rest of the cast. It’s a quaint little wartime espionage flick that is worth a watch.
Where Eagles Dare (1968)
One of two British films starring Richard Burton on my list. Also starring Clint Eastwood and filmed by Brian Hutton who also directed my favorite war flick Kelly’s Heroes (also starring Clint), this film is very positively reviewed and at the time a huge blockbuster that is often overshadowed by war flicks made in the 80’s and 90’s. Modern audiences in my opinion just don’t appreciate anything before the 80's. The assembly of the British and American characters in this film along with the plot line would be one of the films that Tarantino paid homage to (among many others), and influenced the creation of Inglorious Basterds. This is a war epic. Gorgeous scenery, acting, writing…not just a war movie but it’s a great film fan film.
The Final Countdown (1980)…No it’s not the Europe song
Ok so this is more of a history/time travel/science fiction/war movie but whatever. Fantastic performances from Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, and Katharine Ross. A modern day (modern in the 80's) naval aircraft carrier USS Nimitz goes through a storm and ends up in the Pacific on December 7th 1941; the day before Pearl Harbor. Ethical questions arise. This one super-carrier could effectively wipe out the Japanese attack force before it starts. Should they? What would happen if they do? What would happen if a Japanese Zero went up against a F-14 Tomcat? Filmed with participation of the US Navy, this film takes a cool “what if” scenario to the screen.
Sergeant York (1941)
Gary Cooper oozing out Americana. While everyone should know of this film, I feel like it has been lost to time and should be revisited especially with the recent renewal of interest in WWI era films such as 1917 and They Shall Not Grow Old. A Howard Hawks epic based on the exploits of the most decorated soldier of WWI this picture is more about love and reflection than it is about killing bad guys. This film does an amazing job of depicting a non-toxic version of patriotism, morals, and values of American culture; which is something we all need right now in these times where our country is questioning its identity. Its one of the highest grossing movies of all time when adjusted for inflation, and amazingly holds up. This is one of the films where I would say that is fine to watch the computer color version. It’s just all around good.
The Green Berets (1968)
This is one I struggled with including but is worth watching. Its cliché and it’s very much a white savior narrative that just does not hold up at all. I include this film because it’s important to understand the spirit behind this film as well as its influence on war cinema. Directed by and starring John Wayne with a supporting cast that includes Jim Hutton and George Takei among others, this film was made during the height of the Vietnam war and attempted to depict the American involvement in Vietnam in a positive light during a time where our country was in a state of unrest, protest, and change (sound familiar?). Unfortunately, they didn’t do a great job as this depicts American involvement in Vietnam as a noble, patriotic, “America the savior” venture. It was panned so hard by the public and critics that led to a flood of anti-Vietnam pictures that would follow. A man named Oliver Stone started writing a screenplay in response to this film that would later be Platoon. Here is why it needs to be watched; Wayne’s goal was to demonstrate the sheer awesomeness of the Green Berets and the American soldier in a way that honors them during a time where they were very much ostracized. I think our nation recognizes the difference now between our soldiers and the government that puts them in bad situations, but this was John Wayne attempting to make that statement long before our country caught up to that idea. If you can ignore the tone-deaf themes, it’s a noble attempt to thank the troops.
Heaven Knows Mr. Allison (1957)
Directed with the eye of John Huston (I didn’t list it, but check out African Queen). A marine played by Robert Mitchum is stranded on a Japanese occupied island during WWII with a Nun played by Deborah Kerr (got nominated for best actress for this role). Will they survive? Can a Marine and a Nun get along? Will she break her vows and love this Marine? The chemistry between Mitchum and Kerr is intoxicating while also building tension because of the situation they are in makes for a great watch. If you wince because you are thinking this is an old timey movie… don’t. WWII War dramas can hold up because of the era its based in, and is shot so gorgeous you will forget its older than your parents.
Bonus: Not exactly war but close enough…
Father Goose (1964)
A family friendly romantic comedy. Set during the height of the Japanese island invasions in WWII Pacific, an American coast watcher played by Carey Grant finds a French schoolteacher (Leslie Caron) and 8 schoolgirls of various ages stranded on an island. French bourgeoisie meets American beach bum, and voilà! Magic happens. A good date movie with a little romance, lots of comedy, and some good action scenes. Go ahead and try to not fall in love with Leslie Caron.