If you thought “Saving Private Ryan” has the finest depiction of the Normandy landing, you might be inclined to change your mind with this war film. “The Big Red One” is director Samuel Fullers’ finest work and deserves to be better known than it presently is. The idea for the film had been brewing ever since he began his filmmaking career in the 1940s.
Lee Marvin plays an unrelenting sergeant leading his men through every significant battle. What we get is an unforgettable war odyssey and a plethora of brilliant cinematic moments. In one such scene, a soldier loses his hand during the landing at Omaha Beach. The hand, wristwatch still intact, sticks out in the mud – a still that Fuller cuts back to at different points in the film to show the passage of time.
Run Silent, Run Deep (1958)
“Run Silent, Run Deep,” is an adaptation of a best-selling novel by Captain Edward L. Beach Jr. and directed by Robert Wise. Clark Gable portrays the impervious and mercurial Commander Richardson. Richardson comes on board a submarine after losing his crew and ships a year ago — in large part due to his recklessness. He now has the chance to settle the score.
But he can do that only by usurping control from a popular commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bledsoe (Burt Lancaster). Richardson’s personal vendetta becomes evident, dividing the crew. The power struggle here is decidedly different, one where an already dangerous job has become hostile much before any semblance of actual combat. Every decision on board could mean life or death for the crew. Choosing sides in a war takes on a whole new meaning.
Das Boot (1981)
“Das Boot” is a rare war film in that most of it takes place inside a WWII German submarine. You don’t get to see wide open spaces and expansive battlefields. The submarine is underwater most of the time. Every story, character arc, and climactic moment takes place below the surface. As a result, each scene is massively effective.
Viewers get peeks into a life of combat inside a submarine, the excitement and all the dangers. The atmosphere is always tense. You never know what can happen. But at the same time, boredom, loneliness, and uncertainty are just as pervasive. What’s heartbreaking is that these are folks just following orders, fighting a war nobody but a nebulous, faceless higher-up wants.
The Bridge at Remagen (1969)
“The Bridge at Remagen” is your classic action-packed, sit-on-the-edge war film. It is based on the true story of how the Allies captured Ludendorff Bridge as WWII began waning. The film sticks to several traditional war film tropes – exciting battle sequences, stunts, and sweeping war scenes.
But unlike other war movies of the time, it delves sharply into the true costs of war and does a stellar job conveying it. This isn’t another movie glorifying war; the point of view is decidedly cynical. The film is also worth watching for the brilliant performances by the inimitable George Segal and Robert Vaughn.
Charlie Sheen surprised everyone when he played the protagonist in this brilliant war film. He takes on the role of a young soldier, determined and gung-ho to serve in Vietnam. When his friends and fellow soldiers start dying in combat one by one, he slowly but surely becomes disillusioned by war. “Platoon” doesn’t intend to be subtle.
The scenes are disturbing and sometimes hard to watch, but they're effective in driving the point home. War is destructive, forever altering the body and mind. And young people can often be the greatest casualties. Directed by Oliver Stone, this hard-hitting film won the Oscar for Best Picture that year and deservedly so!