“The Great Dictator” is a significant milestone in Charlie Chaplin’s filmography. To start, it was his first non-silent movie. Chaplin had steered clear from non-silent films thus far. Second, audiences got to see him shine in a darker film, a sharp departure from his otherwise light and comedic repertoire. This isn’t your typical war film in any case.
It has several funny moments and Chaplin is exceptional as Dictator Adenoid Hynkel. Beyond the humor and satire, let’s not forget that the subject of the film is none other than Adolf Hitler on the rise in Germany. Chaplin uses humor to address Hitler’s sinister rhetoric and desire for power. For audiences viewing the film after WWII, Chaplin’s warnings become a prophecy, given how much Hitler managed to decimate the very fabric of humanity until his defeat in 1945.
Despite his failing health and financing troubles, Akira Kurosawa put everything into "Ran." The results? An epic film that became the most compelling and expensive Japanese film made during the time. Kurosawa weaves elements of William Shakespeare’s "King Lear" into a story based on Mori Motonari, a feudal lord who lived during the 16th century.
Tatsuya Nakadai portrays the role of Ichimonji Hidetora, a legendary but now aging daimyo who wants to split his kingdom among his three sons. His sons have other plans. Bloody conflict ensues, largely as retaliation against Hidetora’s oppressive rule. “Ran” is a tale of regret and introspection – how one man cast humanity and virtue for glory, which ultimately means nothing and literally burns to the ground.
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
For years after its release, Richard Attenborough's “A Bridge Too Far” courted significant controversy. The film describes in astonishing detail the unfolding of Operation Market Garden — a failed Allied attempt during WWII to take several bridges and break through German lines. What became highly contentious was Sir Dirk Bogarde's portrayal of General Browning.
Friends and family of the late general believed that he was made the fall guy for the failure of Operation Market Garden. In recent years, however, critics and viewers have seen the movie in a new positive light, and with good reason. “A Bridge Too Far” has an enticing script from William Goldman and a meticulously detailed account of the operation that war history enthusiasts love.
The Siege of Firebase Gloria (1989)
This Australian war movie takes us to the battlefields of Vietnam. Sergeant Major Hafner (played by R. Lee Ermey) leads his squad on patrol through dangerous enemy territory. The soldiers’ objective is clear — to officially capture and defend Firebase Gloria. The result is an epic battle scene, among the finest cinematic moments on the silver screen.
Studio executives ended up butchering the film, with cuts that destroyed most of its insightful commentary on war. Despite the thoughtless editing, “The Siege of Firebase Gloria” is still an underrated film about the Vietnam War and ideas of reconciliation – one that deserves more attention and recognition.
Cross of Iron (1977)
“Cross of Iron” does an impeccable job of setting the mood for a war film. What is striking about the film is the instantaneous sense of pervading gloom and misery – truly one of the best atmospheric films out there. The story follows a German platoon on the Eastern Front of WWII. James Coburn portrays the leader of the platoon – a tough but honorable man who butts heads and ideologies with a new commander.
This superior cares far more for medals than soldiers’ lives. The film is an unapologetic portrayal of both the horrors of war and the hellish personal agendas within it. The only truth is that human lives are dispensable. “Cross of Iron” is among Sam Peckinpah’s finest works, worthy of more attention and discussion in the war film universe.