Category Archives: War

The Dawn Patrol

Directed by Edmund Goulding
Produced by Jack Warner (executive producer)
Hal B. Wallis (executive producer)
Robert Lord (associate producer)
Written by John Monk Saunders (story)
Seton I. Miller
Dan Totheroh
Starring Errol Flynn
Basil Rathbone
David Niven
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Tony Gaudio
Editing by Ralph Dawson
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date December 24, 1938
Running time 103 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Dawn Patrol is an excellent film about the futility of war and the waste of human life that they cause. Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone are great in this but it is David Niven as Scotty who steals the film in my opinion. Scotty goes from being a happy-go-lucky pilot who thinks that war is an adventure and not really caring about anything. His persona slightly changes after he is recovered  and he briefly confronts the German who shot him down, but it is not until his own brother has enlisted and is sent up with the squadron to tackle the hated Von Richter and his men in what will be certain doomed for an inexperienced rookie that his character changes completely.

The film is not so much about war, although there are some great aerial scenes (many of which were taken from the 1930 Howard Hawks version), but about the way it changes the men who have to fight it.

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Reach For The Sky

Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Produced by Daniel M. Angel
Written by Paul Brickhill, Lewis Gilbert & Vernon Harris
Starring Kenneth More
Muriel Pavlow
Lyndon Brook
Lee Patterson
Alexander Knox
Music by John Addison
Cinematography Jack Asher
Distributed by Rank
Release date United Kingdom 10 July 1956 (London)
United States 30 April 1957 (NYC)
Running time 136 Minutes

Reach For The Sky is the inspirational true story of Flight Commander Douglas Bader, who despite losing both his legs in a flying accident was able to become a hero of the Battle Of Britain, and then spent four years as a German prisoner of war.

Once upon a time this film, which was the most popular British film of 1956, would have always been shown on Australian TV. I remember seeing it many times on a Sunday afternoon, but it would be over 25 years since I can remember it last being on TV. (Perhaps ABC2 shows it nowadays late at night?!) Fortunately it has been recently released onto DVD by Magna Pacific, through their connection with Britain’s Granada International. It forms a part of their Silver Screen Collection, and is one part of a 3 DVD set, with The Heroes Of Telemark (starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris) and Malta Story.

I found rewatching Reach For The Sky to be a good experience. It is a very British film and I found Kenneth More’s portrayal of Bader to be a little clichéd, with all of the stiff upper lipped fighting spirit and courage that he showed. The crash that crippled Bader is well staged as are the WWII battle scenes, even if they do use some original and stock footage. Overall the film is a  very enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.


Battle of Britain

Directed by Guy Hamilton
Produced by Harry Saltzman & S. Benjamin Fisz
Written by James Kennaway,
Wilfred Greatorex
Starring Laurence Olivier
Hein Riess
Trevor Howard
Robert Shaw
Christopher Plummer
Michael Caine
Edward Fox
Susannah York
Ian McShane
Kenneth More
Ralph Richardson
Patrick Wymark
Michael Redgrave
Curt Jürgens
Nigel Patrick

Music by Ron Goodwin
William Walton
Cinematography Freddie Young
Editing by Bert Bates
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) 15 September 1969 (UK)
Running time 133 minutes
Country UK
Language English
German
Polish
French

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few“.

Battle Of Britain features an all-star cast of fine British actors BUT their performance is not the major attraction here. The real reason for watching this film is for the terrific special effects and the great scenes filled of Spitfires and Hurricanes taking on (a whole mess of) Messerschmitts in a huge battle royal over London. The actors really have very screen time anyway as we go from one action scene to another. The dog fights are all chaotically brilliant and gives the viewer the feeling that they are in the midst of battle. No wonder that these scenes have influenced most dog fight movies since. This is purely plane porn, while the actors are just props in between the action scenes.


You Nazty Spy!

Directed by Jules White
Produced by Jules White
Written by Felix Adler
Starring: Moe Howard
Larry Fine
Curly Howard

Richard Fiske
Lorna Gray
Dick Curtis
Don Beddoe
Florine Dickson
Little Billy
John Tyrrell
Bert Young
Joe Murphy
Eddie Laughton
Al Thompson
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) January 19, 1940
Running time 17′ 59″
Country United States
Language English

Satire was never the Three Stooges forte, they were known more for their slapstick and poking each other in the eyes, yet their greatest film was a satirical look at World War II that was more biting than anything that Chaplin could do. In fact this film was released nine months before Chaplin’s The Great Dictator! Moe was the first ever actor to spoof Hitler.

This is a most unusual short when compared to the Stooges other films. I suppose that is because it is quite clever and not as one dimensional as their other movies. I suppose that they were more venomous and serious with their humour because of their Jewish heritage and to make a profound statement about the atrocities happening in Europe at the time.


Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Produced by Sam Zimbalist
Written by Dalton Trumbo
Book: Ted W. Lawson & Robert Considine
Starring Van Johnson
Robert Walker
Robert Mitchum
Spencer Tracy
Phyllis Thaxter
Stephen McNally
Music by Herbert Stothart
Cinematography Robert Surtees, ASC
Harold Rosson, ASC
Editing by Frank Sullivan
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) November 15, 1944
Running time 138 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Anyone who has seen the terrible Disney film Pearl Harbour from a few years back will be familiar with the premise of thirty Seconds Over Tokyo as the events of this film were featured in the second half of Pearl Harbour. This is about the Doolittle Raid where a squadron of B-25 Mitchell Bombers took off from an aircraft carrier to hit Japan as a retaliation over Pearl Harbour.

The acting, especially from Van Johnson, is a little over the top as Ted Lawson, whose story this is based upon, while we don’t see that much of Spencer Tracy who plays Lt. Col. Doolittle. Robert Mitchum is featured in the film too in one of his earliest roles.

Johnson, who died in December 2008 at age 92, is a little hammy in his portrayal of Lawson, whose plane crashed on the Chinese coast after bombing Tokyo and had to have his leg amputated. During the films ending Lawson does not want to see his wife until he has an artificial leg and has learnt how to dance, whilst his wife, played by Phyliss Thaxter, does not want him to see her because she has put on a little weight. Oy Vey!!! Such melodrama. In the end they embrace because they are both glad that Lawson has survived.

However despite the over acting this is a fine film with great scenes of the hulking bomber taking off on their dangerous mission from the confines of the aircraft carrier. Whenever Spence is on-screen he gives the audience a reassuring feeling that he is in control and that everything will be alright in the end. The film is even quite even handed about their portrayal of the Japanese, which is quite surprising since the war in the Pacific was still raging when the movie was released.


Foreign Correspondent

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Walter Wanger
Written by Memoir: Vincent Sheean
Screenplay: Charles Bennett & Joan Harrison
Dialogue: Robert Benchley & James Hilton
Uncredited: Harold Clurman, Ben Hecht,
John Howard Lawson, John Lee Mahin,
Richard Maibaum &Budd Schulberg
Starring: Joel McCrea
Laraine Day
Herbert Marshall
George Sanders
Albert Basserman
Robert Benchley
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Rudolph Maté
Editing by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by United Artists
Release date 16 August 1940 (US)
11 October (UK)
Running time 120 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Foreign Correspondent is another of those lesser known Hitchcock films. It was released in 1940 and was nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture, but it has since been overshadowed by Hitch’s other film from 1940, Rebecca.

This is a brilliant spy thriller set in Europe just prior to the start of WWII. There is lots of rollicking action and intrigue and a few of Hitchcock’s set pieces that are excellent examples of film making. The scene where Van Meer is shot in the face is brilliant, as is the scenes involving the windmills and the plane crash at the films finale. However the most disarming thing about Foreign Correspondent are the scenes in which Edmund Gwenn, who in years to come would play Santa Claus in Miracle On 34th Street, playing a hired killer trying to murder Joel McCrea’s heroic Huntley Haverstock. It’s a great action movie, well worth watching.


Lifeboat

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Kenneth Macgowan
Written by Novella:John Steinbeck
Screenplay: Jo Swerling
Uncredited: Ben Hecht
Starring: Tallulah Bankhead
William Bendix
Walter Slezak
Mary Anderson
John Hodiak
Henry Hull
Heather Angel
Hume Cronyn
Canada Lee
Music by Hugo W. Friedhofer
Cinematography Glen MacWilliams
Editing by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date January 11, 1944
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Lifeboat is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most interesting works. It could easily be dismissed as being anti-Nazi propaganda, but in my mind this is more than just an anti-German film. It was released during World War II and there are some scenes where Walter Slezak’s German U-Boat captain Willi comes across sympathetically, but by the film’s conclusion we are in no doubt that he is nothing but a heartless barbaric monster. Apparently Hitchcock had conflicting views on Germans during the war, as he loved German expressionist cinema, which is where he learnt his trade, but he hated the Nazis and their atrocities. Also Hitch’s Britain was at war with the Nazis, struggling to survive the German onslaught.

The film really has nothing to do with the war, except on the surface, and is best viewed as a character study of what lengths people will go to when put into a life or death situation. That Willi is such a villain is not really the point of the film, as we see that when the tables are turned, that good people who are not indoctrinated in Nazi fanaticism have the potential to become monsters too, if that is the only way for them to survive. When faced with death, or at the very best internment in a Nazi concentration camp until the end of the war, we see the characters emotions’ laid bare and how their actions change, depending on the hopelessness or otherwise of the situation until in the end, they commit an act of murder just the same as the ‘evil’ Nazi.

The film at times feels very claustrophobic, being as it is set for its entirety on a lifeboat. There are a few good performances from Tallulah Bankhead and especially Canada Lee as the only real voice of reason. Hitchcock also has a very memorable cameo, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for best director for this film.

* Purchase the Region 1 (North American) version of Lifeboat from Amazon *