The Great Dictator

  • Directors: Charles Chaplin, Wheeler Dryden
  • Producers: Charles Chaplin
  • Writers: Charles Chaplin
  • Genres: Comedy, Drama, War
  • Actors: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie

The film begins during World War I. Chaplin, as an unnamed Jewish private in the army of the fictional nation of Tomainia (allusion to ptomaine poisoning), valiantly attempts to rescue an officer named Schultz (Reginald Gardiner), only to lose his memory when the plane the two had taken off in crashes into a tree. Schultz escapes from the wreckage, and the young private spends the next 20 years in the hospital, thoroughly oblivious to the changes that are taking place in Tomainia: Adenoid Hynkel (cf. Adolf Hitler, Chaplin in a double role), now the ruthless dictator of Tomainia, has undertaken to persecute Jews throughout the land, aided by ministers Garbitsch (cf. Joseph Goebbels) (played by Henry Daniell) and Herring (cf. Hermann Göring) (played by Billy Gilbert).

The amnesiac soldier returns to his barbershop in the Jewish ghetto, still unaware of the political situation, and is shocked when storm troopers paint “Jew” on the windows of his shop. In the ensuing scuffle with the stormtroopers, he finds a friend, and ultimately a love interest, in Hannah (Paulette Goddard), a beautiful resident of the ghetto.

Meanwhile, Schultz, who has come up in the ranks in the intervening 20 years, recognizes the barber (who is reminded of WWI by Schultz and therefore gets his memory back) and, though surprised to find him a Jew, orders the storm troopers to leave him and Hannah alone. Hynkel, in addition, has relaxed his stance on Tomainian Jewry in an attempt to woo a Jewish financier into giving him a loan. Egged on by Garbitsch, Hynkel has become obsessed with the idea of world domination. (In one famous scene, he dances with a large, inflatable globe to the tune of a theme from Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin). On Garbitsch’s advice, Hynkel has planned to invade the neighboring country of Osterlich (likely a corruption of Г–sterreich, the German name for Austria) and needs the loan to finance the invasion. Eventually, the financier refuses, and Hynkel reinstates his persecution of the Jews, this time to an even greater extent.

Hannah hears the barber’s speech on the radio, and is amazed when “Hynkel” addresses her directly: “Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up, Hannah. The clouds are lifting. The sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world, a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed and brutality. Look up, Hannah. The soul of man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow — into the light of hope, into the future, the glorious future that belongs to you, to me, and to all of us. Look up, Hannah. Look up” .[3]

The Great Escape

  • Directors: John Sturges
  • Producers: John Sturges
  • Writers: Book, Paul Brickhill, Screenplay, James Clavell, W R Burnett, Walter Newman
  • Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama, History, Thriller, War
  • Actors: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn

Upset by the soldiers and resources wasted in recapturing escaped Allied prisoners of war (POWs), the German High Command concentrates the most-determined and successful of these prisoners to a new, high-security prisoner of war camp that the commandant, Luftwaffe Colonel von Luger (Hannes Messemer), proclaims escape-proof.

On the day of arrival, some of the prisoners make on-the-spur escape attempts which are all foiled by the sharp-eyed German “ferrets” or guards. As the POWs settle into their new camp, the Gestapo and the SS deliver the one they consider to be the most dangerous POW of all: “Big X”, Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough), who is the prime organizer of most of the escape attempts made by Allied prisoners in Germany. Gestapo agent Kuhn (Hans Reiser) warns the Briton that he will be shot should he ever escape again. Locked up with “every escape artist in Germany”, Bartlett immediately plans the greatest escape attempted — a tunnel system for exfiltrating 250 prisoners of war, the idea being to “confuse and harass the enemy” to the point that more troops and resources will be wasted on finding and detaining POWs rather than being used on the front line.

Hilts is brought back alone to the camp, and subsequently to the cooler. His fellow American officer, USAAF 1st Lt Goff, throws him his baseball and glove as he walks into solitary confinement. As the Luftwaffe guard locks him in his cell and walks away, he hears the familiar sound of Hilts bouncing his baseball against the cell walls. The film ends with this scene under the caption “This picture is dedicated to the 50.”

Der Untergang

  • Directors: Oliver Hirschbiegel
  • Producers: Bernd Eichinger
  • Writers: Joachim Fest, Bernd Eichinger, Traudl Junge
  • Genres: Biography, Drama, History, War
  • Actors: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara

The film begins with a clip from the documentary Im toten Winkel, where the real-life Traudl Junge wonders why she decided to work for Hitler. The narrative then starts in 1942, in Rastenburg, East Prussia, where Traudl Humps and four other applicants vie for the position of secretary to Hitler. Upon hearing Traudl comes from Munich, Hitler takes an immediate liking to her and tests her dictation skills. Portrayed as a kindly employer who loves his dog, he overlooks Junge’s nervous errors and hires her.

The narrative moves to Hitler’s 56th birthday on April 20, 1945. Traudl, now Traudl Junge, resides in the FГјhrerbunker with Gerda Christian and Constanze Manziarly, another secretary and private cook, respectively. Generals Wilhelm Burgdorf and Karl Koller indicate the Soviets are only 12 kilometres from the city center. Hitler is now visibly aged, shaking, and in poor humor. At his birthday reception, Heinrich Himmler, his adjutant Hermann Fegelein, party leader Martin Bormann and Walther Hewel of the foreign ministry are present. Hitler resolves to stay in Berlin. By contrast, Fegelein wishes to leave. Hewel and Himmler urge Hitler to try a diplomatic solution, which Hitler rejects. Albert Speer and Eva Braun later arrive, and reject Fegelein’s advice to leave for Bavaria.

The film ends with Traudl and Peter escaping Berlin by bicycle. An epilogue details the final fates of many of the film’s historical characters. Another interview excerpt with the elderly Traudl Junge is shown. While the Nuremberg Trials made her aware of the horrors of the Holocaust, she had excused herself because of her youth, ignorance, and lack of personal guilty acts. After seeing the memorial to Sophie Scholl, who was of her own age and executed for resisting the Nazis, Junge realized that she could have acted differently.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

  • Directors: David Lean
  • Producers: Sam Spiegel
  • Writers: Pierre Boulle, Carl Foreman, Michael Wilson
  • Genres: Adventure, Drama, War
  • Actors: Alec Guinness, Sessue Hayakawa, William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Geoffrey Horne

Two prisoners of war are burying a corpse in the graveyard of a Japanese World War II prison camp in southern Burma. One, American Navy Commander Shears (William Holden), routinely bribes guards to ensure he gets sick duty, which allows him to avoid hard labour. A large contingent of British prisoners arrives, marching in defiantly whistling the Colonel Bogey March under the leadership of Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness).

The Japanese camp commander, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), addresses them, informing them of his rules. He insists that all prisoners, regardless of rank, will work on the construction of a bridge over the Kwai River as part of a railroad that will link Bangkok, Thailand and Rangoon, Burma.

The next morning, when Saito orders everyone to work, Nicholson commands his officers to stand fast. He points out that the Geneva Conventions state that captured officers are exempt from manual labour. Saito is infuriated, but Nicholson refuses to back down, even after Saito has a machine gun set up and threatens to have the officers shot. Saito is dissuaded by Major Clipton (James Donald), a British medical officer, who warns of an inquiry and scandal should Saito carry through with his threat; instead, the Japanese commander leaves Nicholson and his officers standing in the intense heat. As the day wears on, one of them collapses, but Nicholson and the rest are still standing defiantly at attention when the men return from the day’s work. The British officers are placed in a punishment cage and Nicholson is locked into his own box to suffer in the heat.

Warden responds to the shocked stares of the women porters by pleading, “I had to do it! They might have been taken alive! It was the only thing to do!” Meanwhile, Major Clipton has witnessed the carnage unfold; he shakes his head incredulously and utters, “Madness! … Madness!”

Das Boot

  • Directors: Wolfgang Petersen
  • Producers:
  • Writers: Wolfgang Petersen
  • Genres: Action, Drama, History, War
  • Actors: Klaus Wennemann

The film is the story of a single mission of one World War II U-boat, U-96, and its crew. It depicts both the excitement of battle and the tedium of the fruitless hunt, and shows the men serving aboard U-boats as ordinary individuals with a desire to do their best for their comrades and their country. The story is based on an amalgamation of the exploits of the real U-96, a Type VIIC-class U-boat commanded by Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, one of Germany’s top U-boat “tonnage aces” during the war.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Lt. Werner (Herbert GrГ¶nemeyer), who has been assigned as a war correspondent on the German Submarine U-96 in October 1941. He joins its Captain (JГјrgen Prochnow), who is only named as der Alte (“the Old Man”) or Kaleu (short for his rank of KapitГ¤nleutnant) and Chief Engineer (Leitender Ingenieur or LI, played by Klaus Wennemann). As the U-96 officers, including the “1WO” (the First [watch] Officer, played by Hubertus Bengsch) and “2WO” (the Second [watch] Officer, played by Martin Semmelrogge) drink in a cabaret, KapitГ¤nleutnant Phillip Thomsen (played by Otto Sander), celebrating his Ritterkreuz award, gives a crude drunken speech in which he mocks Adolf Hitler.

Their return to La Rochelle on Christmas Eve is a little less triumphant than their departure; the boat is battered, the crew is pale and weary after their long tour. The wounded navigator is taken ashore to a waiting ambulance, but as soon as Admiral Dönitz comes aboard for an inspection, Allied planes strafe the facilities. Werner, the LI, the 1WO, Pilgrim, Frenssen, the Chief Bosun, Schwalle, and Dufte take refuge in the secure U-boat bunker, though most of the men are wounded. After the raid, Werner leaves the bunker and is horrified when he sees the lifeless bodies of Johann, Ullmann, and the 2WO, their bodies riddled with bullets and crushed by concrete. Looking towards the entry passage he finds the Captain, with multiple bullet wounds and bleeding from the mouth, watching the U-96 sink at the dock. When the Captain collapses after the conning tower disappears, Werner rushes to his side, then backs away in horror.

The Pianist

  • Directors: Roman Polanski
  • Producers: Roman Polanski, Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde, Gene Gutowski
  • Writers: Ronald Harwood
  • Genres: Biography, Drama, Music, War
  • Actors: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann

Wladyslaw Szpilman, a famous Polish Jewish pianist working for Warsaw Radio, sees his whole world collapse with the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. After the radio station is rocked by explosions from German bombing, Szpilman goes home and learns that Great Britain and France have declared war on Nazi Germany. He and his family rejoice, believing the war will end quickly.

When the Nazis’ armed SS organization occupies Warsaw after the regular army passes on, living conditions for the Jewish population gradually deteriorate as their rights are slowly eroded: first they are allowed only a limited amount of money per family, then they must wear armbands imprinted with the blue Star of David to identify themselves, and eventually, late in 1940, they are all forced into the squalid Warsaw Ghetto. There, they face hunger, persecution and humiliation from the SS and the ever present fear of death or torture. The Nazis became increasingly sadistic and the family experiences and/or witnesses many horrors inflicted on their neighbours.

Before long, the family, along with thousands of others, are rounded up for deportation by train to the extermination facility at Treblinka. Szpilman sees his brother reading from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. He asks him to read aloud, and he reads: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? If you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” Szpilman remarks that it is an appropriate play for their situation. His brother responds, “That’s why I brought it.” As the Jews are being forced onto cattle cars, Szpilman is saved at the last moment by one of the Jewish Ghetto Police, who happens to be a family friend.

As newly-freed prisoners of a concentration camp walk home, they pass a fenced-in enclosure of German prisoners of war, guarded by Soviet soldiers. A German prisoner, who turns out to be Hosenfeld, calls out to the passing ex-prisoners. Hosenfeld begs one of them, a violinist of Szpilman’s acquaintance, to contact Szpilman to free him. Szpilman, who has gone back to playing live on Warsaw Radio, arrives at the site too late; all the prisoners have been removed along with any trace of the stockade. In the film’s final scene, Szpilman triumphantly performs Chopin’s Grand Polonaise brillante in E flat major to a large audience in Warsaw. Title cards shown just before the end credits reveal that Szpilman continued to live in Warsaw and died in 2000, but that Hosenfeld died in 1952 in a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp.

Lawrence of Arabia

  • Directors: David Lean
  • Producers: Sam Spiegel
  • Writers: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
  • Genres: Adventure, Biography, Drama, War
  • Actors: Peter O Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains

The film opens with Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) as a civilian, riding his motorcycle down a narrow English country road, only to be killed when he tries to avoid a collision with two boys who are bicycling on the wrong side of the road. At his memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral, reporters try to gain insights into this remarkable, but enigmatic, man from people who knew him, with little success.

The film then flashes back to Cairo during World War I, where Lawrence is a misfit army lieutenant, notable only for his insolence and knowledge of the Bedouin. Over the objections of a sceptical General Murray (Donald Wolfit), he is sent by Mr Dryden (Claude Rains) of the Arab Bureau to assess the prospects of Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) in his revolt against the Turks.

On the journey, his Bedouin guide is killed by Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) for drinking from a well without permission. Near Feisal’s camp, he encounters his superior officer, Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle), who orders him to keep quiet, make his assessment, and then leave. He promptly ignores these commands when he meets Feisal. His fine intellect and outspokenness pique the prince’s interest.

The Arabs set up a council to administer the city, but they are tribesmen, not a nation. Unable to maintain the electricity, telephones, and waterworks, and clashing constantly with each other, they soon abandon most of Damascus to the British. Lawrence is promoted to colonel and then immediately relieved of his command and sent home, his usefulness at an end. The negotiations are left to Feisal and the British and French diplomats. A dejected Lawrence is driven away in a staff car.

Saving Private Ryan

  • Directors: Steven Spielberg
  • Producers: Steven Spielberg, Ian Bryce, Mark Gordon, Gary Levinsohn
  • Writers: Robert Rodat
  • Genres: Action, Drama, War
  • Actors: Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Matt Damon, Edward Burns, Jeremy Davies, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Adam Goldberg, Dennis Farina

The film begins with an elderly World War II veteran (Harrison Young) and his family visiting the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, France. The veteran collapses to his knees in front of a gravestone, overwhelmed by emotion. The scene then changes to the beginning of the Normandy invasion, with American soldiers landing on Omaha Beach and struggling against dug-in German Army infantry, machine gun nests and artillery fire. One of the officers who survives the initial landing, Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks), commanding officer of C Company, 2nd Ranger Battalion, assembles a group of soldiers and slowly penetrates the German defenses, leading to a breakout from the beach.

Meanwhile, in the United States, General George C. Marshall discovers that three of the four brothers of the Ryan family have all died within days of each other and that their mother will receive all three notices on the same day. He learns that the fourth son, Private First Class James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon) of Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment is missing in action somewhere in Normandy. The drop target for Ryan’s unit was Neuville-au-Plain, Manche. After reading to his staff Abraham Lincoln’s Letter to Mrs. Bixby, Marshall orders that Ryan be found and sent home immediately.

Back in the present, the elderly veteran is revealed to be Ryan at Miller’s grave. Ryan asks his wife to confirm that he has led a good life and that he is a “good man”, and thus worthy of Miller’s and the others’ sacrifice. He then salutes Miller’s grave as the camera pans down the gravestones to the American flag and fades out.

Paths of Glory

  • Directors: Stanley Kubrick
  • Producers: James B Harris
  • Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson, Calder Willingham, Story, Humphrey Cobb
  • Genres: Crime, Drama, War
  • Actors: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready

Paths of Glory is based loosely on the true story of four French soldiers, under General GГ©raud RГ©veilhac, executed for mutiny during World War I; their families sued, and while the executions were ruled unfair, two of the families received one franc each, while the others received nothing.

The film begins with a voiceover describing the trench warfare situation of World War I up to 1916; immediately following this is a scene in which General George Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) of the French General Staff asks his subordinate, General Mireau (George Macready), to send his division on a suicidal mission to take a well-defended German position called the “Anthill.” Mireau initially advises against the attack, citing the low probability of success and the danger to his beloved soldiers, but when General Broulard mentions the possibility of a promotion, Mireau quickly convinces himself the attack will succeed.

Mireau proceeds to walk through the trenches, addressing his men. He asks several soldiers (some of whom later become major characters) the question, “Ready to kill more Germans?” He throws one soldier out of the regiment for showing signs of shell shock, which Mireau denies exists, blaming the soldier’s behavior on cowardice. Mireau leaves the detailed planning of the attack to the 701’s RГ©giment Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) despite Dax’s protests that the only result of the attack will be to weaken the French army with heavy losses for no benefit. Mireau does not relent.

After the execution, some of Dax’s soldiers are in a tavern, carousing, when the proprietor brings a young, captured German woman on stage and makes her sing the German folk song “The Faithful Hussar.” The hardened troops begin to howl and whistle wolfishly at her, but, touched by her song, they end up humming along, some openly weeping. Dax overhears this scene from outside. A sergeant appears with word that the regiment has been ordered to return to the front, but Dax tells him to give the men a few minutes more.

Apocalypse Now

  • Directors: Francis Ford Coppola
  • Producers: Francis Ford Coppola
  • Writers: Novel, Joseph Conrad, Screenplay, John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola
  • Genres: Action, Drama, War
  • Actors: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, Albert Hall, Harrison Ford

It is 1969 and the war is at its height. CPT Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) has returned to Saigon; a seasoned veteran, he is deeply troubled and apparently no longer adjusted to civilian life. Two intelligence officers, LTG Corman (G. D. Spradlin) and COL Lucas (Harrison Ford), as well as a government man (Jerry Ziesmer), approach him with a special mission: journey up the fictional Nung River into the remote Cambodian jungle to find COL Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a former member of the United States Army Special Forces.

They state that Kurtz, once considered a model officer and future general, has allegedly gone insane and is commanding a legion of his own Montagnard troops deep inside the forest in neutral Cambodia. Their claims are supported by very disturbing radio broadcasts and/or recordings made by Kurtz himself. Willard is ordered to undertake a mission to find Kurtz and terminate the Colonel’s command “with extreme prejudice.”

Willard studies the intelligence files during the boat ride to the river entrance and learns that Kurtz, isolated in his compound, has assumed the role of a warlord and is worshipped by the natives and his own loyal men. Willard learns much later that another officer, Colby (Scott Glenn), sent earlier to kill Kurtz, may have become one of his lieutenants.

While bound outside in the pouring rain, Willard is approached by Kurtz, who places the severed head of Chef in his lap. Coppola makes little explicit, but we come to believe that Willard and Kurtz develop an understanding nonetheless; Kurtz wishes to die at Willard’s hands, and Willard, having subsequently granted Kurtz his wish, is offered the chance to succeed him in his warlord-demigod role. Juxtaposed with a ceremonial slaughtering of a Water Buffalo, Willard enters Kurtz’s chamber during one of his message recordings, and kills him with a machete. This entire sequence is set to “The End” by The Doors, as is the sequence at the very beginning of the film. Lying bloody and dying on the ground, Kurtz whispers “The horror… the horror,” a line taken directly from Conrad’s novella. Willard drops his weapon as in turn the natives do in a symbolic act of laying down of arms,he walks through the now-silent crowd of natives and takes Johnson (who is now fully integrated into the native society) by the hand. He leads Johnson to the PBR, and floats away as Kurtz’s final words echo in the wind as the screen fades to black.