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War film


War film

Anti-war film

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The war film is a film genre that has to do with warfare, usually focusing on naval, air, or land battles, but sometimes focusing instead on prisoners of war, covert operations, military training, or other related subjects. Sometimes they focus on daily military or civilian life in wartime without depicting battles directly. Their stories may be fiction, based on history, or docudrama.

The term anti-war film designates films which bring to the viewer the pain and horror of war.



1920s and 1930s

Films made in the years following World War I tended to emphasise the horror or futility of warfare, as in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and Grand Illusion (1937), but some glamorized warfare, in particular those based on the new technology of aerial combat in films such as Wings (1927), Hell's Angels (1930), and The Dawn Patrol (1930 and 1938 versions).



The first popular war films during the Second World War came from Britain and Germany, and were often documentary or semi-documentary in nature. Examples include The Lion Has Wings and Target for Tonight (British), and Sieg in Wessen (German).

By the early 1940s, the British film industry began to combine documentary techniques with fictional storylines in films like In Which We Serve (1942), Millions Like Us (1943) and The Way Ahead (1944).

United States

After the United States entered the war in 1941 Hollywood also began to mass-produce its own war films. Many of the American dramatic war films in the early 1940s were designed to celebrate American unity and demonize "the enemy." One of the conventions of the genre that developed during the period was a cross-section of the American people who come together as a crack unit for the good of the country. The American industry also produced films designed to extol the heroics of America's allies, such as Mrs Miniver (about a British family on the home front), Edge of Darkness (Norwegian resistance fighters), and The North Star (the Soviet Union).

1950s and 1960s

The years after World War II brought a large number of mostly patriotic war films, often based on true stories. Examples from Britain included The Dam Busters (1954), Dunkirk (1958), Reach for the Sky (1956) and Sink the Bismarck! (1960).

Hollywood films in the 1950s and 1960s were often inclined towards spectacular heroics or self-sacrifice in films like Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), Halls of Montezuma (1950) or D-Day the Sixth of June (1956). They also tended to toward stereotyping: typically, a small group of ethnically diverse men would come together but would not be developed much beyond their ethnicity; the senior officer would often be unreasonable and unyielding; almost anyone sharing personal information - especially plans for returning home - would die shortly thereafter; and anyone acting in a cowardly or unpatriotic manner would convert to heroism or die (or both, in quick succession). However, other films such as Command Decision and Twelve O'Clock High were able to examine the psychological effects of warfare and the strains of command.

POW films

A popular sub-genre of war films in the 1950s and '60s was the prisoner of war film. This was a form popularised in Britain, and usually recounted stories of real-life escapes from (usually German) P.O.W. camps in World War II. Examples include The Wooden Horse (1950), Albert R.N. (1953) and The Colditz Story (1955). Hollywood also made its own contribution to the genre with The Great Escape (1963) and the fictional Stalag 17 (1953). Other fictional P.O.W. films include The Captive Heart (1947), Bridge over the River Kwai (1957) , King Rat (1965) ,(Danger Within (1958) and Hart's War (2002). The British industry also produced a film based on German escapee Franz von Werra, The One That Got Away in (1957).

Commando films

Films based on real life commando missions like The Gift Horse (1952) (based on the St. Nazaire raid) and Ill Met by Moonlight (1956) would inspire a series of fictional adventure films popular in the 1960s, such as The Guns of Navarone (1961), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Where Eagles Dare (1968).

War epics

The late 1950s and 1960s also brought some more thoughtful big-scale war films like David Lean's Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), as well as a fashion for all-star epics based on real battles, and often quasi-documentary in style. This trend was started by Darryl F. Zanuck's production The Longest Day in 1962, based on the first day of the 1944 D-Day landings. Other examples included Battle of the Bulge (1965), Battle of Britain (1969), Waterloo (1970), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) (based on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), Midway (1976) and A Bridge Too Far (1977). A more recent example is the American Civil War film Gettysburg, which was based on actual events during the battle, including the defense of Little Round Top by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain.

Post-Vietnam films

American war films produced during and just after the Vietnam War tended to reflect the disillusionment of the American public towards the war. Most films made after the Vietnam War delved more deeply into the horrors of war than movies made before it. (This is not to say that there were no such films before the Vietnam War; Paths of Glory is a notable critique of war from 1957, the very beginning of the Vietnam War era.)

The last film of what can be called the pre-Vietnam style is The Green Berets. Examples of post-Vietnam style films include Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, which deal with Vietnam itself, and Catch-22 and M*A*S*H, which do not, but use earlier wars to explore similar issues.

The majority of war films concern the Vietnam conflict or the Second World War. Recent exceptions have included Ridley Scott's film Black Hawk Down, that dealt with the 1993 US involvement in Somalia, and Jarhead, about the 1990-91 Gulf War.

The military and the movie industry

Many war films have been produced with the cooperation of a nation's military forces. The United States Navy has been very cooperative since World War II in providing ships and technical guidance; Top Gun is the most famous example.

Typically, the military will not assist filmmakers if the film is critical of them. Sometimes the military demands some editorial control in exchange for their cooperation, which can bias the final result. The German Ministry of Propaganda, making the epic war film Kolberg in January 1945, used several divisions of soldiers as extras. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels believed the impact of the film would offset the tactical disadvantages of the missing soldiers.

If the home nation's military will not cooperate, or if filming in the home nation is too expensive, another country's may assist. Many 1950s and 1960s war movies, including the Oscar-winning film Patton, were shot in Spain, which had large supplies of both Allied and Axis equipment. The Napoleonic epic Waterloo was shot in Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union), using Soviet soldiers. Saving Private Ryan was shot with the cooperation of the Irish army.

See also

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