10 more top war films from Xiphos

9 Nov


November 9th, 2009–

A month or so ago, I posted Xiphos’ list of his top ten modern American war films from the perspective of a military man and someone personally interested in the history of warfare. Now, Xiphos is back with a follow-up list highlighting war films that are both international and from previous eras. We don’t get any Spartans, but there’s plenty of great films in the list below, both ones you have seen and others you probably haven’t. If I was pressed to give an opinion, I’d say Lawrence should perhaps be higher and that all three of the Australian films mentioned (including Morant, which is more of a courtroom drama) are top-shelf and absolutely worth seeing. Great work, Xi! Thanks again.

Take it away…

Since the first list I created went over like a lead balloon I decided to compound that error by doing another one. This one is more international and deals with other eras of combat. I look forward to the discussion to follow.

 1. A Bridge Too Far (1977)

It’s a movie about the Battle of Arnhem and the larger operation called Market Garden which was British Army General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery’s massive screw up that ended up prolonging WW 2 by months. Thanks Eisenhower, you stooge. A Bridge Too Far, besides having brilliantly staged combat sequences, also shows how jealousy and the drive for personal recognition affect General Officers of any armed forces. If Montgomery wasn’t so jealous of United States Army General George S. Patton’s success with the 3rd Army, then the gigantic mistake that is Operation Market Garden would not have happened. This movie shows how personal issues of the officer corps will always lead to the fighting men of any nation being sacrificed on the altar of personal glory. I cannot praise enough the bravery, ingenuity and pure guts shown by the combined Canadian, English and American fighting men during this operation even if their senior leadership let them down on every single level.

 2. Zulu (1964)

Usually movies that play fast and loose with real events, like the Defense of Rorke’s Drift, the way ZULU did, bothers the hell out of me. The reason this movie gets a pass is because they got the big picture ideas so right. Those issues are how could 87 men hold an indefensible position for sixteen hours against 4,000 native warriors fighting on their own land? The answer in simple terms is known as “The Western Way of War” and this movie demonstrated again the superiority of that idea. How did the members of B Company, 2nd Battalion of the 24th Regiment make this amazing stand? Simple, they acted as soldiers and this movie showed, yet again, that soldiers can be warriors but warriors are not necessarily soldiers. The men of B Company won out due to the following: Tough and hard basic training, a coherent rank structure, excellent leadership (especially from Commissary Sergeant Major DaltonVC, NCOs are the ones that win wars), the discipline of the British Colonial Army and, at the time, the superiority of English marksmanship training. British soldiers could fire 12 rounds a minute of .45 caliber bullets from their single shot Martini-Henry lever action rifles. Those rifles could routinely down a target at 500+ yards. All these ideas plus about a hundred more were displayed in this movie and that’s why it’s at number two. The acting is excellent especially from Michael Caine as B Company Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead VC and Stanley Baker as Engineer Lieutenant John Chard VC. Chard and Bromhead shared command of the defense of Rorke’s Drift. The interesting thing about Bromhead and Chard is that they were both, before Rorke’s Drift, considered to be less than stellar officers.

 3. Gallipoli (1981)

From Wikipedia: “Gallipoli is a 1981 Australian film, directed by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee, about several young men from rural Western Australia who enlist in the Australian Army during the First World War. They are sent to Turkey, where they take part in the Gallipoli Campaign. During the course of the movie, the young men slowly lose their innocence about the purpose of war. The climax of the movie occurs on the Anzac battlefield at Gallipoli and depicts the futile attack at the Battle of the Nek on 7 August 1915.” There were a lot of inaccuracies in this movie but man does it show the futility of direct frontal assaults in soul sickening detail. If you have not seen this movie go rent it today.

4. Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

While not about combat, The Bridge on the River Kwai does explore the effects combat can have on an individual as seen from the point of view of Alec Guinness’s character Colonel Nicholson. The devastating loss that the Japanese inflicted on English forces in Asia was tremendous and this movie deals with the after effects of that through Nicholson’s character. Alec Guinness was absolutely breath-taking in his portrayal of Colonel Nicholson. From the iconic opening scene of him and his men strutting into the POW camp whistling the “Bogey March” to the scene near the end when Nicholson realizes what his choices meant for the Japanese, Guinness was superb. His equal was found in Japanese actor Sussue Hayakawa as Colonel Saito the POW camp commander. These two heavyweight actors slugged it out during the course of this movie. The Bridge on the River Kwai deserves every single accolade it receives and then some.

 5. The Sand Pebbles (1966)

 This movie is based on the book of the same name by Richard McKenna. (Good book BTW.) It’s the story of a United States Navy gunboat serving on the Yangtze River patrol in China during the Communist revolution. Normally my distaste for anything associated with the US Navy would preclude me from recommending this movie but I really like the Sand Pebbles. It showcases a life that doesn’t exist anymore, serving in China (I’ve read accounts of life in China between the wars. WOW is all I’m saying.) and it shows how an outsider becomes part of a unit. Steve McQueen was excellent in his role as Machinist’s Mate 1st class Jake Holman, a man who doesn’t care about anything except for the engine room of the USS San Pablo (The Sand Pebble).

 6. The Wild Geese (1978)

 I’m probably going to take some heat for including a film about mercenaries but so what. Mercs do good things like prevent the Balkans from going up in flames and stopping the war in Angola among other things. The Wild Geese is a pretty good look at Merc operations in Africa and the story is based loosely on the exploits of South African Merc Michael “Mad Mike” Hoare who acted as technical advisor to the movie. The Wild Geese is a “men on a mission” action adventure flick along the lines of the of movies like Guns of Navarrone or The Dirty Dozen. The movie’s cast is top-notch and includes Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore so I’d imagine that lots of booze was drunk during production which translates on the screen as the actors looking like they are having a good time making the movie.

 7. The Lighthorsemen (1987)

 I have to hand it to the Australian movie industry in the 80’s. They produced 3 great movies and an excellent TV min-series highlighting Australian fighting men on different fields of battle. The Lighthorsemen tells the story of an Australian Cavalry outfit fighting the Turks in Palestine in 1917. I commend the Aussies on their ability to film combat scenes. Between this movie, Breaker Morant and Gallipoli, the Aussies managed to make some of the best war movies in the 80’s that hardly anybody ever saw.

 8. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

 Good point to remember, don’t make fey Englishmen angry, you won’t like them when they’re angry. This lushly shot tale of Arab partisan operations in WW 1 is a beautiful movie. Don’t let the 4 hour run time dissuade you just let yourself become enveloped in the story. Peter O’Toole is absolutely amazing as the rather complicated T.E. Lawrence.

9. 633 Squadron (1964)

Based on a book I’ve never read, it’s the fictionalized story of the British Royal Air Force’s relentless hammering of the German rocket fuel production facilities in Norway. Now true, there is a ton of wooden acting in this movie but what saves it are the aerial combat scenes and the score.

10. Glory (1989)

The more or less true story of a platoon of black soldiers fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War. This movie is in the top end at depicting how confusing and downright scary combat is. It makes me glad that the 18th century concept of a line advance is only used in Boot camp for Drill and Ceremony. There is no way in hell I would want to face the withering musketry of repeating rifles like the characters in the movie had to endure.

There we go, that’s it, enjoy and Mahalo.



22 Responses to “10 more top war films from Xiphos”

  1. koutchboom November 9, 2009 at 3:23 pm #

    No Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War?

    Next you should due, best future war movies.

  2. Xiphos November 9, 2009 at 5:21 pm #

    Nathan thank you for posting this.

  3. xiphos0311 November 10, 2009 at 1:09 am #

    Nathan the reason Lawrence of Arabia fell where it fell is becuase it’s not much a war movie but a movie about man finding himself in war. It’s a damn good movie and probably one of the most beautiful looking movies ever filmed.

  4. Bartleby November 10, 2009 at 1:15 am #

    Y’know, Xi, it’s funny because when I was showing my wife the list–I just naturally explained it that way, and then realized it for myself.

    I am curious though, why no Seven Samurai? Or is that not quite a war film?

    Also, what are your thoughts on Gettysburg–the film, not the epic slaughter?

    Actually, what makes the list valuable is that is from your perspective, and we can have discussions based off of that and the films themselves. Instead of a case where “what, this isn’t what I thought it should be=fail” the distinctive qualities make it more interesting.

    Inspired by The Box, Im working on a top list of Twilight Zone eps. It’s fun and I should have it up tomorrow.

  5. xiphos0311 November 10, 2009 at 1:41 am #

    Nathan I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Gettysburg and the more I think about it the more I’m sure I haven’t.

    As far as Seven Samurai while technically a “war” film I guess I’m basing these list on the western perspective of the way of war. Its not any sort of cultrural imperialism or saying that one part the globe is better or smarter then the other, Its just that the west has been the preminant military power for more then 2000 years an its just how my mind is organized to view it.

  6. xiphos0311 November 10, 2009 at 1:45 am #

    Cool a twilight zone list! count me in on that one.

  7. Bartleby November 10, 2009 at 1:48 am #

    You should remedy that Gettysburg issue immediately. It’s a long film and some of it has the stench of trying to be so inclusive of every historical detail, but when the battles just stretch on and on, you get a real feel for the sprawling miasma and bloody tragedy of that kind of warfare, and the look on Sheen’s face when he realizes he just jacked up the whole war is priceless. Stephen Lang is awesome in the film too. Love his line delivery towards the end when Lee inquires of Pickett, after the famous charge, “Where is your division?” and Lang answers in this warbling, near-despair cry of “Sir, I have no division!”

  8. xiphos0311 November 10, 2009 at 1:54 am #

    That’s a situation I can remedy in about 9 days and I will.

  9. lord bronco November 10, 2009 at 2:45 am #

    Xi-Great article! It’s just priceless getting your take on these flicks. It’s the kind of list you savor like a fine wine, though-that’s gotta be 25 good war movies I could queque up in row that i haven’t seen. might be a bit much to take back to back to back.
    As to war movies that i’ve been meaning to check out that you maybe haven’t covered. The Killer Angels trilogy-which is, according to my historian actor friend, a painfully accurate, American produced series of movies created by civil war buffs. The acting is kind of voluntary, and the production budgets apparently are minimal, but the recreations apparently are text-book perfectly accurate. Incredibly nerdy stuff.
    2 more points-maybe unrelated.
    My Dad was a history/sociology teacher for 30 years-and one of his top 5 movies of all time is Zulu-he swears by that flick.
    Final unrelated point, his all-time survival, war movie is “The Naked Prey”-which is a heck of a flick where a guy gets captured by an African tribe, and is set loose with a headstart and has to try and survive pursuit by savannah hunter/gatherers. Apparently fiction, but it’s like that old Star trek episode with the Gorn.
    My dad says it’s spot on accurate anthropologically.
    Thanks again for another great article, hope this helps.

  10. Bartleby November 10, 2009 at 2:57 am #

    Bronco, the Killer Angels trilogy is trilogy only in book form. Ironically, we were just discussing the first one, Gettysburg, above. The sequel, Gods and Generals came out in 2002 and it is just painfully bad, trying too hard to paint the South in a positive/slightly flawed light. Lang was front and center on that one as Stonewall Jackson and it sucked terribly. Outside of a great scene involving the Irish regiment and Daniels as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (reprising his role from Gettysburg although G&G is a prequel) there isn’t much to recommend. Robert Duvall plays Robert E. Lee for about five minutes though.

  11. Bartleby November 10, 2009 at 2:58 am #

    should have mentioned….the terribly poor reception of the sequel, both critically, commercially and any other way that mattered, shot down all hope of the third film ever being made.

  12. xiphos0311 November 10, 2009 at 5:40 am #

    Bronco thanks. Isn’t the Killer Angels a series of books by Jeff Shar-something?

  13. Bartleby November 10, 2009 at 10:39 am #

    yep, Xi. The Killer Angels was developed into the film Gettysburg. Gods and Generals was the second, and the third, The Last Full Measure, was never made.

  14. Xiphos November 10, 2009 at 12:36 pm #

    Ah good the old memory still works! Thanks Jonah

  15. lord bronco November 10, 2009 at 2:37 pm #

    Well-what my history buddy said-and he isn’t the leg-pulling type generally, is that the the third and last movie was completed this year. He was apparently all jazzed about it-but then again he did say that it may have been made on a shoestring budget, or something-i should just google the darn thing, but I’m so broke i can’t even rent movies-so i didn’t want to torture myself

  16. lord bronco November 10, 2009 at 2:40 pm #

    ahh-here we go-


  17. lord bronco November 10, 2009 at 2:43 pm #

    Wow, now that’s a cast. Again, i haven’t seen any of them, and when i say he’s a history buff-he’s a nerd’s nerd history buff/actor type. I could believe all the points you said, because even he said the film had flaws without going to much into it.

  18. Bartleby November 10, 2009 at 2:44 pm #

    Bronco! That’s funny, my history buff buddies said the same thing to me earlier this year, all jazzed and amazed it was made..I had honestly forgotten about it! Such was their grief-stricken disappointment when I pulled up the IMDB synopsis for ‘The Last Full Measure’:

    An ambitious government bureaucrat is given an unwelcome assignment that could harm his carefully orchestrated career, to complete a long-unfinished report on whether the nation’s highest award for bravery should, after 40 years, be given to a fallen hero. His investigation leads him down a path he could not have imagined and changes his life and the lives of others in the process.Starring Bruce Willis.

  19. Bartleby November 10, 2009 at 2:47 pm #

    It’s totally a different movie completely from the Sharra book. I guess some of them were duped by the fact Duvall is in this and in Gods and Generals as Lee.

  20. xiphos0311 November 10, 2009 at 11:31 pm #

    Becasue I’m a total fool I need to make an adendum to the list. Master and Commander: On the Far Side Of the World. I want to go on record here and say I would never want to fight a sea battle between ships of the line nohank you. Master and Cmander falls into its own sort of hybrid catagory. Its a study of leadership at sea and a rousing adventure story.

  21. lord bronco November 12, 2009 at 1:51 am #

    Master and Commander-one of my all time favs-just so cool–the movie is a hybrid of the first 6 or so books in a series of *25 or 30*-I live in the mountains, so the sea always has an exotic allure for me–i’m probably going to read *all* of them.

    Bartleby-bummer about the last full measure-sounds like oscar bait mix of a few good men and that one with charlize-another Hollywoodized military thing-though with a cast that good-It’ll probably be pretty darn good whatever it is.

    Gotta love Civil War stuff, though-gruesome, bloody war stuff-first time industrilized warfare took place-oh well


  1. 10 more top war films from Xiphos « Cinematropolis | Drakz News Station Angola - November 11, 2009

    […] the original post: 10 more top war films from Xiphos « Cinematropolis Share and […]

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