A Comprehensive Guide to The Second World War Films – Part 4

The world seems to be obsessed with war. We see it or the idea of it everyday in the newspapers or on the news. One of the horsemen of the apocalypse is busy making people fight. And he was busy the most, at the time of the second world war. Being the bloodiest of them all, it was also the object of affection of historians, writers, filmmakers. Sometimes we look at the films which come from the film industry and think that if Adolf Hitler wouldn’t exist, what would filmmakers make a film about?

Second World War started by the occupation of Poland by Germany on September 1, 1939. And the European war front ended after Germany’s surrender on 8 May 1945 (Allied Forces conquered most of Europe). The Pacific War Front ended after Empire of Japan’s surrender on 2 September 1945 (Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). In six years, approximately 85 million people died, including the Holocaust of 6 million European Jews and the deaths resulting from the atomic bombs in Empire of Japan (about 250000 people). There were larger than life figures like Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin and their circles of people whose biographies were made into films.

This list in no particular order is intended to be a comprehensive guide to the Second World War films.

31. Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

Credit: Mosfilm

Ivan’s Childhood has a special place in movie history because it’s the first feature film of the master filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky. Ivan is a very young soldier in the Soviet army that uses him as a spy on Germans. But he wants to do more than just spying although his older soldier friends don’t allow it. They know that Ivan is only a child, but Ivan doesn’t feel like one, he is an orphan who is full of anger towards the German army. The ending is very devastating but that’s probably what Ivan always wanted. This will be familiar to the followers of the director with its great black and white cinematography and dreamlike long sequences.

32. Idi i smotri – Come and See (1985)

Credit: Mosfilm

Another Russian film who tells the Eastern Front (particularly Belarus) through a child’s eyes. From the writer/director Elem Klimov, Come and See is one of the hardest films to watch, you can feel the horror of war in this boy’s eyes. In the beginning the only thing he wanted was to join the Soviet army, when he finds a rifle, he becomes the happiest boy in the world. After witnessing the things that Nazis do to their fellow countrymen, he realizes that it isn’t any fun. Old people, children, young girls suffer from these crimes against humanity and our boy, Gaishun is our eyes in this madness. The famous scene which Nazi soldiers put a gun against his head to take a photo makes your heart bleed. As I am writing this, I remember the scenes and this is not a good feeling at all. But these are the things what people lived in real life, so to witness some truth on screen we have to watch this great film to remind us that people can be extremely cruel to one another.

33. Cross of Iron (1977)

Credit: EMI Films

” I’ll show you how a Prussian officer can fight.

And I will show you, where the Iron Crosses grow.”

From the director of intense masterpieces like Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah, ‘Cross of Iron’ is an anti-war war film about the Russian Front from the German Army’s point of view. Sergeant Steiner is a man who only tries to survive in this madness called war, especially in the violence of the Eastern Front. When a Prussian Officer Captain Stransky is assigned as his new commander, who is more of a bureaucrat than a real soldier but is obsessed with getting the Iron Cross, Sergeant Steiner will have to realize about war’s and people’s absurdities more and more each day. James Coburn as Steiner and Maximilian Schell as Stransky are great, also in the cast are James Mason and David Warner. From the intro scene of the Third Reich’s real footage combined with a German children song “Hänschen Klein” to the thought provoking and left for audience interpretation ending, Cross of Iron is one of the best films ever made.

34. Stalingrad (1993)

Credit: Senator Film

The Second World War is the bloodiest battle and the battle of Stalingrad is the bloodiest. It is also the reason of Soviets’ victory and Germans’ defeat. This was the turning point of WWII. Film starts in Italy, then follows  a group of German soldiers’ story through the Eastern Front until the battle of Stalingrad. The conditions were harsh enough but high-ranking German officers certainly didn’t make them any easier for this little group of soldiers. A great German film about World War 2, Stalingrad makes you see the miserable life Nazi soldiers lived in Stalingrad. A very realistic war drama with Thomas Kretschmann as the main character, Stalingrad is one of the films you must see if you are interested in WWII history.

35. Enemy at the Gates (2001)

Credit: Paramount Pictures

“We tried so hard to create a society that was equal, where there’d be nothing to envy your neighbour. But there’s always something to envy. A smile, a friendship, something you don’t have and want to appropriate. In this world, even a Soviet one, there will always be rich and poor. Rich in gifts, poor in gifts. Rich in love, poor in love.”

We are at war in Stalingrad again. Soviets’ finest sharpshooter (Vassili) becomes a hero by killing many German soldiers, so Germany has to send his own greatest sniper (Major König) as a match. König is there to kill Vassili and he is a man known for his determination. So the adventure begins. Directed by French director Jean Jacques Annaud, Enemy At the Gates is a highly charged war/romance film that has a great cast : Jude Law, Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, Joseph Fiennes, Ron Perlman and Bob Hoskins.

36. The Great Escape (1963)

Credit: United Artists

A special German camp is built for the Allied prisoners of war who attempted to escape before. Our gang is there trying to dig a tunnel and trying to escape of course. But there is one little problem, even if they manage to escape from the camp how can they survive in a place full of Nazis. It really was a great escape, about 70 prisoners escaped but 50 of them were murdered by the Nazis. This film is based on a real story and it is dedicated to these 50 men who were killed. It’s a clever adventure film directed by John Sturgess. It has a great cast and this is one of the most famous films of movie icon Steve McQueen.

37. Nuit et brouillard – Night and Fog (1956)

Credit: Argos Films

“As I speak to you now, the icy water of the ponds and ruins fill the hallows of the mass graves, a frigid and muddy water, as murky as our memory. War nods off to sleep, but keeps one eye always open.”

Alain Resnais’ short documentary about the Nazi  concentration camps was a very eye-opening experience for me because I saw the real life video footage of the things were going on there for the first time in this film. If only they didn’t do these horrible things and we didn’t know things like these could exist. But if you really want to witness and try to understand one of the darkest times of humankind you have to see this film. It’s a masterpiece, mostly shooted in different camps of Poland combined with the newsreels. Francois Truffaut’s favorite film will probably bring a lump to your throat, too.

38. The Train (1964)

Credit: United Artists

Burt Lancaster plays a French train station master/machinist who is also a resistance fighter in Nazi occupied France. Paul Scofield plays a Nazi Colonel who is determined to transport the French national heritage, paintings of the most famous artists like Picasso, Van Gogh and Gauguin. The last days of the occupation is near and the resistance tries to prevent the train which carries the paintings from arriving to Germany. John Frankenheimer directed this underrated action-packed thriller, it makes you bite your nails and allows you to empathize with the members of the resistance.

39. Darkest Hour (2017)

Credit: Focus Features

“You can not reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.”

Winston Churchill’s early times as the British prime minister were the hardest times for him. He was the one who would decide whether he will fight against Hitler or he will make a peace treaty. As a result this decision would determine a nation’s and maybe the whole world’s destiny which is on the verge of war. Heavy burden of this big responsibility while he is face to face with a hostile plot of some fellow politicians and powerful people, he tries to do his best for his country. One of my favorite actors is Gary Oldman and he won his only Oscar for his performance as Churchill. Famous prime minister has an easily recognizable figure, a silhouette and make up department had a good job by making him look a lot like Churchill and these team won an Oscar too. Joe Wright is the director of the film.


Gamze Akan

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