Hollywood’s Finest Hour-And-A-Half
Perhaps no event in history has inspired more films than World War II. (That was the 1940s, for those of you under 30 who get the various wars confused.) It was the Western democracies’ finest hour, when the bad guys were really bad and the good guys were pretty good, and stars like Audie Murphy and John Wayne and Henry Fonda saved the world from the Axis Powers.
They also made some damned good war films in the 1940s. Not to mention the 50s, 60s, and 70s. If you want to see the Big War through the eyes of Hollywood, here are some of your best bets, beginning with a focus on a few stars who appeared in some of the most memorable efforts, followed by a list of some of the greatest classic WW II films (with links to their pages on the Internet Movie Database). My personal recommendations (and that’s all they are) are marked with a red * in front of the title. (You’ll find links to the alphabetized movies lists at the bottom of this page.)
Special thanks to C.J. Warren, who wrote or co-wrote many of the annotations for the movies on this list (those marked with a * at the end of the annotation).
America’s most decorated WW II hero was also a fine actor, who appeared in numerous films, including the exciting story of his WW II experiences, To Hell and Back (1955). Richard Rodgers’ Audie Murphy site has a great collection of photos from that film, as well as other material. The poster at the left appears here courtesy of the Audie Murphy Research Foundation. Murphy was also known for his many Western films.
Hank played so many actual generals and such that a lot of people probably thought he was the real thing… including Admiral Nimitz inMidway, Teddy Roosevelt in The Longest Day, and Lt. Col. Kiley in The Battle of the Bulge. Then there was The President in Fail-Safe and, of course, Mr. Roberts in the movie of the same name. It was somehow comforting to know that Henry Fonda was in charge when things got rough.
In Sands of Iwo Jima and other films, The Duke was the prototypical American soldier hero. If an actor were to be chosen to lead all the other actors into battle, Wayne would be the unanimous choice.
“Private Art: WWII Letters” isn’t technically a classic movie site, but it’s so well-designed and nostalgia-inducing that I couldn’t resist it, and it fits this topic to a T. Created by Rose Pranger (with assistance from the “Webchick,” who is also responsible for the “Old Blue-Eyes” tribute to Frank Sinatra, another durable WW II actor).
For another collection of letters from soldiers (both World Wars), visit War Letters, which includes both scans and translations.
Quite a few other actors fought the War many times on film, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Jimmy Stewart, Errol Flynn, Jimmy Cagney, James Mason, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Cliff Robertson, Anthony Quinn, William Holden, Alec Guinness, Gregory Peck, Clark Gable, Trevor Howard, Curt Jergens, Burt Lancaster, Jack Lemmon, Cary Grant, and Spencer Tracy.
Finally, for a nice collection of WWII (and WWI) movie posters, visit Festival Films.
Now let’s take a look at some of those great films. All links are to the relevant pages in the Internet Movie Database, without which this series of articles would not be possible.
Part I: Introduction
Part II: WWII Movies A-C
Part III: WWII Movies D-M
Part IV: WWII Movies N-Z
Other classic movie checklists that you’ll enjoy.