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  • Lance Mannion
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Tom W.

Interesting post Lance, I've been watching the series too. I think one facet of its disappointment is over-exposure. This was one super-documented war, with vast first-person film/video accounts stretching back to The World at War with Olivier.

I do think Burns has a wonderful ear for voices, particularly southern voices. So I've enjoyed some of the listening, from a musical standpoint.

My one big-picture thought its that the homefront alone could have carried this. That the war overseas without the Soviets, Brits, French, Germans, Italians, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos etc. is sorely lacking - the American battlefield costs, while high, were nowhere near highest on an attrition basis.

But WWII on American soil was - my older relatives tell me - an experience like no other in our history, when every hand pulled the common plough. Now that would have been a thematically consistent documentary I'd haved Burns to tackle. We didn't need another Falaise Gap map.


War's aftermath: The Best Years of Our Lives. For WWII, there's also obviously Saving Private Ryan, The Big Red One, Das Boot, Stalingrad and the recent Letters From Iwo Jima. For a sillier home front pic, there's Woody Allen's Radio Days.

If we're talking war in general, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Steel Helmet, The Big Parade, Grand Illusion and Fires on the Plain are noteworthy. But it's easy to add to that list.


WWII movies I'd add: Decision Before Dawn, Tora Tora Tora, Twelve O'Clock High (the combat footage in this is real), Ice Cold in Alex (available on region 2 DVD for those with multi-region players), Sink the Bismarck, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Stalag 17, The Desert Fox (I'd love to see Ed Harris play Rommel), and Judgement at Nuremberg.

I found The War interesting enough, but the gold standard remains The World At War.


Apparently there was a 1943 movie made from Richard Tregaskis's "Guadalcanal Diary," but I haven't seen it. I did read the book when I was a teenager and was impressed. Tregaskis was a war correspondent there.

For Iwo Jima, Tony Curtis played Ira Hayes (the American Indian in the flag-hoisters) in "The Outsider," a 1961 film which was a real downer, as it portrayed Hayes's downfall and death realistically. I saw that movie three times on successive nights at the drive-in theater in Bagdad, Arizona, which should tell you how little there was to do at night there (and my aunt and uncle owned the theater).

Exiled in New Jersey

Lewis Milestone's The Purple Heart and A Walk in the Sun. Milestone was the Sam Fuller of an earlier age.

Chris the Cop

Let's see - most electrifying war movie ever: The Deer Hunter, for the way it took its time building up to some of the most shocking war violence ever simulated. I remember a middle aged couple patiently watching in front of me and when the carnage starts, and the corpse of an infant is dragged by a maddened boar, the husband had to carry his wife out of the theatre - it was that devestating.

And also, it had such a sad climax and poignant ending.


Paths of Glory.

Whenever someone utters a phrase along the lines of "greatest war movie of all time," that is the title that leaps into my mind, and won't budge.


The book has certain issues to do with the author's American-centrism, but the 10 hour miniseries _Band of Brothers_ is one of the most sympathetic and engrossing war movies I've ever seen. Yes, it's cheating that it's 10 hours long, but it is ten hours with almost no missteps at all.

I'll also second _Paths of Glory_ for great great great war movies. Also, it's perhaps Kubrick's most compassionate movie (which, I know, isn't saying much, but it's really good, nonetheless).


There was a TV movie in 1976 called "Farewell to Manzanar" that was extremely moving. I had never even heard about the Japanese internment camps in WWII, and yet I was old enough that I should have.

And if you want a movie about the experience of a non-US country, one whose casualties dwarfed those of the US, "Enemy at the Gates" is a good pick. It's about a Russian sniper during the Battle of Stalingrad. I'll never forget the pandamonium-filled first scene, where new soldiers are paired up and given only one gun between them - and told that when the one carrying it is killed, then the other can pick it up and keep going.

And if you want the German viewpoint, "Der Untergang" ("Downfall") is just devastating. The story of the last days inside Hitler's bunker before it fell to the Russians. I don't usually have the patience for subtitled movies, but I couldn't take my eyes off of this one.


For me, as a kid in the '50s, 'A Walk in the Sun' was THE war movie (and we watched them all). I think it was because my father never talked about the war except for a few incidents of light comedy while he was in the Navy;(he was wounded in a torpedo attack.) The guys (soldiers) in this movie had a lot to say, usually cynically/sarcastically, which I ate right up as a 10 yr. old. And yes, it was poetic.


It's not true that you've seen no historians. Two quite good ones, Paul Fussell and Samuel Hynes, tell of their personal experiences in the war and are never identified as historians or speak as historians, though that's clearly why they were picked. They've both written memoirs of their war experiences, but academically both did much better work on the First World War I.

Sunny Jim

Charles Fuller's
'A Soldier's Play' won a Pulitzer for drama in 1982, and the movie version was called 'A Soldier's Story', set on a segregated
Louisiana US Army base in 1944. The movie version was terrific with Adolph Caesar, Howard Rollins and Denzel Washington.

Also, for a PG Disney production, 'Swing Kids' was a wonderful film about the Nazi suppression of swing dance clubs and the pressure to conform among school-aged kids in the time of the Hitler Youth movement. Interesting to see a very young Christian Bale and Robert Sean Leonard in that one.



While generally speaking the point about the voices in The Civil War being more compelling than those in the other documentaries is well taken, there were some really notable exceptions. Buck O'Neill in Baseball was absolutely mesmerizing, every time he appeared on screen. Doris Kearnes wasnt half bad either.


Life on the homefront: "Tender Comrade," a 1943 film about a bunch of war brides who set up housekeeping together. It was written by Dalton Trumbo and directed by Edward Dmytryk, both of whom were later members of the blacklisted Hollywood 10. Ginger Rogers, the star, was uncomfortable with the socialistic aspects of the wives' endeavor (she has lines like "Share and share alike-that's democracy!"), and her mother, uber-bitch Lela Rogers, testified to HUAC that Trumbo was a Commie and the film was Commie propaganda.

It's not as good as "Since You Went Away" (which is BRILLIANT), but it's an interesting look at what was probably not an uncommon approach to life without menfolk.

And, since I'm on the female kick, a great women-at-war film is "So Proudly We Hail!"


Overexposed subject matter, lack of voices as compelling as Shelby Foote's (tall order), not as good as many fictional films-- in agreement with all of these. Still, I learned a number of things from The War, none pleasant. The mosting striking example was one Caucasian commander's use of his company of young Japanese Americans as fodder for German guns, on Gallipoli-like charges up the same damn hill for days. (That is a WWI film, btw.)


A Midnight Clear is one of my favorite recent (1992)war films - possibly because I've known and/or interviewed several veterans who were at The Bulge, but I think the specific setting is secondary.
Also, Ernie Pyle was killed in the South Pacific - a smaller island near Okinawa, I believe. Granted, most of his worked had been in ETO.

flem snopes

Oh, please.

The story of the war in the Pacific can't be told without discussing the Submarine Force.

Our submarines, though only about 2 percent of the U.S. Navy, destroyed over 30 percent of the Japanese Navy, including 8 aircraft carriers, 1 battleship and 11 cruisers.

Our submarines also destroyed over 60 percent of the Japanese merchant fleet, crippling Japan's ability to supply its military forces and industrial war effort.

A great submarine movie, from a book written by Captain Edward L. Beach, one of the great submariners of our navy, Run Silent, Run Deep.

As for another war correspondent's view...

"I saw the submariners, the way they stood aloof and silent, watching their pigboat with loving eyes. They are alone in the Navy. I admired the PT boys. And I often wondered how the aviators had the courage to go out day after day and I forgave their boasting. But the submariners! In the entire fleet they stand apart!”

James Michener
Tales of The South Pacific

Chris the Cop

Also, "Tribes," a pretty much forgotten Vietnam-era made for TV movie about Marine boot camp starring Darren McGavin and Jan-Michael Vincent.

M.A. Peel

I saw an advance screening of bits and pieces of this over a year ago, as a work-in-progress, and it was compelling and poignant. I was then surprised and disappointed that I was not drawn into it at all on tv. I agree that his storytelling vision has faltered. Even from that first epiosde, the threads of the different men he was following were not deftly drawn.

David W.

Shorter Lance: Where have I processed this input before?

Also, were you a DJ on KRUI? Just wondering.

David W.

To be fair to Burns, he did pay some necessary attention to the Italian theater, in particular Anzio, which was one of the bitterest battlefields the U.S. fought in during WWII.


joanr16: I learned a number of things from The War, none pleasant. The mosting striking example was one Caucasian commander's use of his company of young Japanese Americans as fodder for German guns, on Gallipoli-like charges up the same damn hill for days.

joan16, That sequence on the 442nd and the Lost Battalion was one of the best in the series so far. It had everything I think The War could have used more of, including some chararacterization, particularly of that idiot general who treated the 442nd as his personal trophy regiment. And Sen. Inouye is one of the better storytellers among the witnesses.

David W.: Shorter Lance: Where have I processed this input before?

lol! You know, there are times when I wish people would regularly write "Shorter Lances." In fact, I wish they'd write them before I wrote the actual posts. In fact again, I wish I was one of those people.

Btw, no, David, I did my DJ-ing during my undergraduate years. When I got to Iowa I was too busy for such frivolous pursuits. (Translated Lance: KRUI had a real talent pool to draw on and didn't need knuckleheads like me taking up mic time.)

Chris, I was just thinking about Tribes yesterday morning. I wonder what Jan Michael Vincent's up to these days.

Howard Chaykin

I couldn't agree more. I haven't read the other comments, so this might have already been covered, but Burns had his Shelby Foote for this series, and used him far too sparingly. That's Paul Fussell. His writing on his own experiences in the Second World War--in particular WARTIME, THE BOY'S CRUSADE, and THANK GOD FOR THE ATOMIC BOMB are skeptical, incisive, insightful, brilliant, and unsparing--and incredibly well written, as well. His work is a perfect anecdote to Ambrose and Brokaw's rah rah bullshit.

He's particularly good on the iconography of warfare. What got me to read WARTIME in the first place was an excerpt about the above, most of the book's last chapter--about the depiction of death and dying on the battlefield. In this regard, when I saw SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, my comment to my wife wast that the D-Day landing sequence had to have been inspired by Fussell's book. In THE BOY'S CRUSADE--and I paraphrase here, as the book has been passed along to like minded pals--Fussell lauds that opening sequence, and dismisses the rest of the movie as sentimental horseshit.

As for WWII pictures that had a huge impact on me, let's not forget COMMANDOS STRIKE AT DAWN with Paul Muni, and SOLDIER OF ORANGE with Rutger Hauer and Jeroen Crabbe--from the ridiculous to the sublime--and, as I've commented elsewhere, read Alan Furst--his Second World War stuff is extraordinary.


Some of the info about the 442nd was entirely new to me, and I live in Hawai'i, where that group has been idolized for 60 years. At least once a month there's a story in the papers or on the tube recapping their exploits, so learning about that nitwit CO was a real surprise.

Chris the Cop

I don't know, Lance - it's like he dropped off the face of the earth.

Mike the Mad Biologist

I would add to the list, "When Trumpets Fade." It was an HBO movie, and, from what I've read about the Hurtgen Forest, it seems 'true' to that WWII campaign.

Brian Russell

Just to let you know. The actor playing Sullivan Ballou was named Paul Roebling. He was actually a great grandson of Washington Roebling who built the Brooklyn Bridge. I'm fairly sure Burns first met Roebling when he was making his documentary on the Brooklyn Bridge, and Paul ended up doing some voices in much of Burns' early work. A great actor and great friend, Paul passed away in 1994.


Enemy at the Gates, though that's about Stalingrad.

For any ol' war movies, the best, IMO, is probably Glory. And there's a nice little A&E made for TV movie about the Battle of Trenton called The Crossing. I'm also a sap for Alamo movies, especially Billy Bob Thornton's Davy Crocket.

Plutonious Monk

Lance, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo was shown on a couple of the cable channels few weeks back. I was a teenager when the film was released in 1943 or 1944 and was most impressed by the preparation, the raid itself and the ordeal of the captured and wounded airmen. Not until the mid-90's did I view the picture again. What impressed me most then was the portrayal of all the officers and enlisted men as being ever so sweet and nicey nice with one another.


My greatest memory is seeing MASH with my Dad in the drive-in. He never talked about war, he was never in Korea, but in the army, I think Germany at the time.

But the surgery scenes is when he looked at me and said, that is what it is really like.

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