- 1After Vietnam, war wasn't cool anymore, so G.I. Joe became an astronaut. That sucked!
Flag-fest films like John Wayne's "The Green Berets" were dismissed as patriotic clap-trap (I, for one, loved it) and for a while nobody even MADE war films.
Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" was born from this void. Completely unconventional in every respect, this lurid masterpiece exposes the nightmare of war in a manner that re-invented the whole genre of the war movie: take acid and die.
- 2Erich Maria Remarque was a German infantry soldier who served in the trenches of World War One.
In 1928 he published his memoirs, "Im Westen Nichts Neues." The book was an unflinching look into the lives of the common soldier, and a striking condemnation of war and its effects.
It struck a chord in a world still stunned by the carnage of Verdun, and sold over two million copies in its first year. Hitler was less than impressed, however, and the book was banned in Nazi Germany.
But that didn't stop director Lewis Millstone from making one of the best novel-to-movie adaptations ever.
The film is at once both deeply lyrical and savagely brutal, contrasting the banality of army life with the sudden punctuation of mindless violence so effectively that the film won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Back then, that actually meant something.
- 3Maverick director Sam Peckinpah, who ushered in a whole new era of movie-making with 1969's "The Wild Bunch," is at his slow-motion, blood-spattering best in this deep study of a group of German soldiers struggling to survive on the Russian Front during the closing phases of World War Two.
Yugoslavian National Guard T-34 tanks and a painstakingly attention to detail contribute to the absolutely authentic look and feel of this film, and amazing performances from a stellar cast (including James Coburn, David Warner, and especially Maximilian Schell) make this long over-looked film absolutely top-rate.
- 4(Also known as "The Bridge")
A little known German film made in 1959 in the lingering rubble of the Reich.
Based on a true story, in the closing days of the war a small group of boys are sent to defend an out-of-the-way bridge to keep them out of the fighting -- but of course this is where the Americans end up attacking.
One-by-one the kids get wasted in a variety of nasty ways, and the old guy that tries to save the kids has his face melted off by a Panzerschreck (a.k.a. a sick German rocket-launcher inspired by the American Bazooka).
By the end of the film, the sole survivor is fighting his own side to stop the demolition of the bridge. A painful movie about the absurdity of war and the pointless sacrifices it demands.
- 5How can you go wrong with Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas on the trail of Nazi gold in the closing days of World War Two? Throw in some great mock-up Tiger tanks, Donald Sutherland as the proto-hippie tank commander "Oddball", and a sweaty Don Rickles lugging a 30 cal. all over the French countryside, and you have the most hilarious war movie ever made.
But for all the yucks, director Brian Hutton (who also worked with Eastwood in "Where Eagles Dare") doesn't let up on the violence -- which is both graphic and plentiful.
The film also features German actor Karl-Otto Alberty as the SS tank commander. His lantern jaw, baby-white blond hair, and potato-pancake face make him the perfect Nazi.
In fact, Alberty plays one in just about every WW2 movie made around this time.
- 6In 1938, visionary Russian director Sergei Eisenstein ("The Battleship Potemkin") returned to the screen with this epic film about the 13th century invasion of Novgorod by the Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman Empire.
The film is a symbol of Russian defiance in the face of the oncoming war with Germany, and a stark condemnation of the Catholic church.
At one point, bishops clad in swastika-decorated robes hand-off Russian babies to the beast-like knights, who cast the unfortunate infants into a great fire.
The film climaxes with a 30-minute long sequence depicting the battle of Lake Piepus, which was fought on the lake's frozen surface.
Scores of stuntmen were killed or injured filming the scene, as the producers discovered the hard way that the wooden weapons they had given to their cast worked almost as well as the metal ones they were emanating.
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