Top Favorite WORLD WAR II Movie and Television Productions

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September 1-3 marked the 75th anniversary of the beginning of World War II.

On September 1, 1939; the German Army invaded Poland on the orders of its leader, Chancellor Adolf Hitler, a week following the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. While the Polish military struggled to keep the invading Germans at bay, its government awaited awaited expected support and relief from France and the United Kingdom, with whom they had a pact. Two days later on September 3, Poland’s two allies declared war on Germany and World War II; which ended up engulfing both Europe, Asia, North Africa and the South Pacific; began.

Below is a list of my favorite movie and television productions about the war.

 

TOP FAVORITE WORLD WAR II MOVIE AND TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS

1a - Band of Brothers

1a. “Band of Brothers” (2001) – Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks produced this outstanding television miniseries about the history of a U.S. Army paratrooper company – “Easy Company” – during the war. Damian Lewis and Ron Livingston starred. (tie)

1b - The Pacific

1b. “The Pacific” (2010) – Spielberg and Hanks struck gold again in this equally superb television miniseries about the experiences of three U.S. Marines – John Basilone, Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge – in the war’s Pacific Theater. James Badge Dale, Joseph Mazzello and Jon Seda starred. (tie)

2 - Kellys Heroes

2. “Kelly’s Heroes” (1970) – Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas and Don Rickles starred in this memorable war comedy about a group of Army soldiers who go AWOL to rob a bank behind enemy lines. Brian G. Hutton directed.

3 - Inglorious Basterds

3. “Inglorious Basterds” (2009) – Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed this excellent alternate history adventure about two plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Laurent starred.

4 - Casablanca

4. “Casablanca” (1942) – Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman starred in this Oscar winning adaptation of Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s un-produced stage play, “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the movie also starred Paul Henreid and Claude Rains.

5 - The Winds of War

5. “The Winds of War” (1983) – Dan Curtis produced and directed this excellent 1983 television adaptation of Herman Wouk’s 1971 novel. The miniseries starred Robert Mitchum, Jan-Michael Vincent and Ali McGraw.

6 - Hope and Glory

6. “Hope and Glory” (1987) – John Boorman wrote, produced and directed this 1987 excellent comedy-drama about his own childhood experiences during World War II. Sarah Miles, David Hayman and Sebastian Rice-Edwards starred.

7 - A Bridge Too Far

7. “A Bridge Too Far” (1977) – Sir Richard Attenborough produced and directed this darkly fascinating adaptation of Cornelius Ryan’s book about the Operation Market Garden campaign. The all-star cast included Dirk Bogarde, Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal and Gene Hackman.

8 - Valkyrie

8. “Valkyrie” (2008) – Bryan Singer directed this detailed and first-rate account of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg’s plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in July 1944. The movie starred Tom Cruise, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy.

9 - The Longest Day

9. “The Longest Day” (1962) – Darryl Zanuck produced this all-star adaptation of Cornelius Ryan’s book about the Normandy invasion. The cast included Robert Mitchum, Richard Beymer, Robert Wagner and John Wayne.

10 - The Bridge on the River Kwai

10. “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) – David Lean directed this Oscar winning adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s 1952 World War II novel. The movie starred William Holden, Oscar winner Alec Guinness and Oscar nominee Sessue Hayakawa.

HM - Empire of the Sun

Honorable Mention: “Empire of the Sun” (1987) – Steven Spielberg produced and directed this excellent adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel about a British boy’s experiences in World War II China. The movie starred Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson and Nigel Havers.

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“THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” (1969) Review

“THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” (1969) Review

Back in 1965, filmmaker Ken Annakin and 20th Century Fox studio chief released a all-star comedy about an international air race between London and Paris in 1910. “THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” not only proved to be a major hit, it also received numerous movie award nominations in both the United States and Great Britain. Four years later, Ken Annakin created a sequel to the 1965 movie called “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” (aka “MONTE CARLO OR BUST”).

“THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” told the story about a group of international racing car drivers who participate in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1929. Superficially, one would not view this movie as a sequel to“FLYING MACHINES”, since it is about a road race, not an air race. But the movie was made by the same producer/writer/director as the first film, Ken Annakin. It possessed its own jaunty theme song – “Monte Carlo or Bust”, which was performed by Jimmy Durante. The movie also featured three actors from the 1965 movie – Terry-Thomas, Eric Sykes and Gert Fröbe. More importantly, Thomas’ character, Sir Cuthbert Ware-Armitage, proved to be the son of Thomas’ character from “FLYING MACHINES”, namely Sir Percival Cuthbert Ware-Armitage. In fact, Sir Cuthbert’s reason for participating in the Monte Carlo Rally stemmed from a mistake committed by his late father. So, yes . . .“JAUNTY JALOPIES” is a sequel to the 1965 film.

The Monte Carlo Rally began as an endurance test for many drivers and the vehicles they drove. The competitors would set off from different locations in Europe and meet in Monaco. The day after the competitors reach Monte Carlo, they would end up racing each other via a road that threads through the Maritime Alps and back to Monte Carlo and the finish line. Although “JAUNTY JALOPIES” indicated that the race began at five different European locations, the movie featured competitors starting at three:

*From John O’Groats, Scotland – Wealthy American automobile magnate Chester Scofield won half of the Ware-Armitages’ automobile factory in a poker game with Sir Percival Armitage-Ware. Following the latter’s death, his son Sir Cuthbert challenges Chester to enter the Monte Carlo Rally. Whoever crosses the finish line first – officially – wins as sole owner of the company. Sir Cuthbert blackmails his company foreman Perkins into serving as his co-driver. And Chester, who began the race alone, acquires a co-driver in the form of an English aristocratic beauty named Betty (surname unknown).

*From Stockholm, Sweden – Eccentric British Army officer Major Digby Dawlish and his aide Lieutenant Kit Barrington enter the Rally to advertise Dawlish’s odd inventions for his car. Both end up clashing with a German convict/race driver Willi Schickel (who is impersonating a murdered driver named Horst Mueller and his co-driver Otto Schwartz, who have entered the Rally to smuggle stolen gems for an exiled Russian aristocrat named Count Levinovitch.

*From Ragusa, Italy – Two Roman police officers named Angelo Pincelli and Marcello Agosti enter the Rally to earn a big enough reward for Angelo to avoid marrying the promised daughter of a supervisor. They end up mainly competing against a French doctor named Marie-Claude and her two co-drivers, medical students Pascale and Dominique; who enter the Rally in the name of Women’s Rights.

While reading a few articles about “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES”, I noticed that many bloggers and critics tend to compare this film with the 1965 movie . . . and to the former’s detriment. Many regard“THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THE FLYING MACHINES” as superior to “JAUNTY JALOPIES”, regardless of whether they liked the latter or not. I recall one major criticism that film critic Leonard Maltin made about “JAUNTY JALOPIES”. He claimed that the 1969 movie failed to completely re-capture the atmosphere of the late 1920s in the way “FLYING MACHINES” managed to re-capture the late Edwardian era. And I am afraid he is right. Despite the mid-1960s beehive hairdos worn by the actresses, watching “FLYING MACHINES” made me feel as if I had stepped back into those last years before the outbreak of World War I. On the other hand, “JAUNTY JALOPIES” did not exactly re-capture the atmosphere of the late 1920s. Mind you, Production Designer Ted Haworth and Costume Designer John Furniss gave it their all. Their work certainly contributed to the movie’s late 1920s setting. But in spite of their work, the movie still failed to fully re-capture the era of its setting. One person I cannot help but blame is composer Ron Goodwin. Although Goodwin had wrote an entertaining score that emphasized the movie’s comedy and sense of travel, it failed to invoke a sense of the Roaring Twenties – at least in Europe. And unlike “FLYING MACHINES”, which featured several scenes in which the competitors and other characters managed to socialize; “JAUNTY JALOPIES” only featured one scene that featured all of the competitors together. I am referring to the scene in which the competitors meet at an inn in Chambéry, France for an overnight stay, before they set on the road to Monaco. “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” also had one or two scenes that seemed to have been cut rather quick by the film’s editor, Peter Taylor. I got the feeling both Ken Annakin and Taylor were trying to rush the movie’s narrative along – especially before the last sequence of the race. And although I liked the movie’s pre-credit sequence that introduced the Digby Dawlish and Kit Carrington characters in British Indians, I found the sequence’s portrayal of Indians a little tacky and racist . . . even if it was spoofing British Imperialism and characters like Dawlish and Carrington.

But despite the movie’s naysayers and some of its flaws, I liked “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES”. Actually, it is one of my favorite movies released in the 1960s. And I also like it more than “THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES”, of which I am a big fan. One, it has the advantage of being a movie about a road trip. In the case of “JAUNTY JALOPIES”, it starts out as three road trips that merge into one. The humor featured in this film is very similar to the humor featured in “FLYING MACHINES”. Another reason why it enabled me endure it a lot more is that the major characters struck me as more rounded and complex than most of those featured in the 1965 film. A good comparison would be the characters portrayed by Gert Frobe in both films. His Colonel Manfred Von Holstein character from “FLYING MACHINES” has always struck me as the cliché of a typical high-ranking German Army officer and a very narrow one. On the other hand, Frobe portrayed a former German race driver-turned-criminal in “JAUNTY JALOPIES” named Willi Schickel, who seemed a lot more complex (and clever) than the one-dimensional character he had portrayed in “FLYING MACHINES”. Even Eric Sykes’ role as Terry-Thomas’ subordinate and plant manager in this film struck me as an improvement over the sniveling chauffeur he portrayed in the 1965 film. “JAUNTY JALOPIES” also benefited from better on-screen romances. Hell, the romances featured in this film – either between Chester and Betty, or Marcello and Marie-Claude – were MAJOR improvements over the romances from the first movie.

In my opinion, the biggest virtue that “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” possessed over“THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” proved to be its narrative. If I must be frank, the second film possessed tighter writing. To this day, I remain frustrated that the air race featured in the 1965 film only lasted during its last 45 minutes – one third of the film. Due to Ken Annakin and Jack Davies’ screenplay and the movie’s setting, the Monte Carlo Rally was featured in MOST of the film’s narrative – aside from the first 15 to 20 minutes that introduced the major characters and the sequence in Chambéry. Not only did I find this to be a big improvement over the 1965 film’s narrative, I am grateful that most of “JAUNTY JALOPIES” is set during the actual race. And I am surprised that not one other blogger or film critic has ever noticed this.

I tried to recall if I found any particular performance off putting. And if I must be honest, I did not. “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” featured some funny and excellent performances. Tony Curtis was very charming, yet zany as American driver Chester Scofield. I liked how he balanced Chester’s aggressive ambition with a shy sweetness toward his leading lady. Speaking of her, I really enjoyed Susan Hampshire’s portrayal of the complex and aristocratic Betty. In fact, due to her charming and manipulative nature, I found her to be the most interesting female character in both movies. One would expect Terry-Thomas’ portrayal of Sir Cuthbert Armitage-Ware to be an exact replica of the character’s father, the mustache-twirling Sir Percival. Yet, I found his Sir Cuthbert to be more subtle and manipulative than his father . . . and better company, despite his villainy. Eric Sykes, who also appeared in the 1965 film, got a chance to portray a more rounded character as Perkins, Sir Cuthbert’s semi-brave factory manager, who ends up being blackmailed by his employer to serve as a co-driver.

What I found interesting about “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” were the screen pairings that seem to dominate the film. And they all clicked so well. Gert Frobe’s portrayal of the extroverted Willi Schickel contrasted very well with Peter Schmidt, who gave a nice performance as the former’s reserved and slightly nervous co-driver and fellow convict, Otto Schwartz. Among the movie’s cast were Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, who portrayed the two British officers, Major Dawlish and Lieutenant Kit Barrington. Cook and Moore were already a screen team when they made this movie. And both proved in this movie that their chemistry was as strong and funny as ever. Mireille Darc, Marie Dubois and Nicoletta Machiavelli made a charming and intelligent trio as the three French drivers who entered the Rally on behalf of women’s rights. But I was very surprised by the chemistry between Walter Chiari and Lando Buzzanca, who portrayed the two Italian policemen, Angelo Pincilli and Marcelo Agosti. Not only did they proved to be a very effective screen team, I found them just as funny as Cook and Moore. I should not have been surprised, considering that they had worked together before. Bourvil portrayed the pompous, yet sarcastic Rally official, Monsieur Dupont. And I found him especially funny in a scene with Mireille Darc, as her character convinces him to allow women to participate in the Rally and in that bizarre, yet hilarious scene at the Rally’s finish line.

As I had stated earlier, there are many who regard “THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES” as not only inferior to 1965’s “THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES”, but something of a loss in the end. However, I am not one of them. It has its flaws. But there are too many aspects of the 1969 film that struck me as an improvement over the 1965 film. More importantly, I found “JAUNTY JALOPIES” so entertaining that it has become one of my favorite comedies . . . and movies that was released during the 1960s. I have to thank writer-director Ken Annakin, along with the all-star cast led by Tony Curtis, Susan Hampshire and Terry-Thomas for making this movie so entertaining for me.

“THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” (1965) Review

“THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” (1965) Review

Many comedies featuring a long running time and a cast of celebrities were very prevalent in Hollywood and Europe during the 1960s. One of the more famous of these films happened to be the epic 1965 comedy titled ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes. Directed and co-written by Ken Annakin, this two hour and eighteen minutes film depicted an comedic air race between London and Paris in 1910.

Director Annakin first came up with the idea of a pre-World War I air race while co-directing Darryl Zanuck’s World War II epic, ”THE LONGEST DAY” (1962). He pitched the idea to the producer and the latter agreed to bankroll the film. Zanuck also came up with the movie’s title, after Elmo Williams, managing director of 20th Century Fox in Europe, told the producer that his wife had written an opening lyric to the movie’s song:

Those magnificent men in their flying machines,
They go up diddley up-up, they go down diddley down-down!

Annakin complained would eventually “seal the fate of the movie”. However, after being put to music by composer Ron Goodwin, the ”Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” song would become the “irresistible” jingle-style theme music for the film and go on to have a “life of its own”, even released in singles and on the soundtrack record. I can relate. To this day, I still consider the tune one of the best theme songs in movie history.

Annakin, along with Jack Davies, wrote a story that opened with a brief, comic introductory segment on the history of flight, narrated by James Robertson Justice and featuring American comedian Red Skelton (in a cameo appearance) that depicted a recurring character whose aerial adventures span the centuries, in a series of silent blackout vignettes that incorporate actual stock footage of unsuccessful attempts at early aircraft. As the story unfolded, Lord Rawnsley (Robert Morley), a newspaper magnate whose favorite to win his race is his daughter’s fiancé, Richard Mays (James Fox). Lord Rawnsley summed up the expectation that a Britisher should win the competition: “The trouble with these international affairs is they attract foreigners.” An international cast plays the array of contestants, most of whom live up to their national stereotypes, including the fanatically by-the-book, monocle-wearing Prussian officer (Gert Fröbe), the impetuous Count Emilio Ponticelli (Alberto Sordi), an amorous Frenchman (Jean-Pierre Cassel) , and the rugged American cowboy Orville Newton (Stuart Whitman), who falls for Lord Rawnsley’s daughter, Patricia (Sarah Miles).

The main entertainment came from the amusing dialogue and characterizations and the daring aerial stunts, with a dash of heroism and gentlemanly conduct thrown in for good measure. Terry-Thomas portrayed the cheating Sir Percival Ware-Armitage, an aristocratic rogue who “never leaves anything to chance”. With the help of his bullied servant Courtney (Eric Sykes), he sabotaged other aircraft or drugs their pilots – only to get his comeuppance in the end. The film is also notable for its use of specially constructed reproductions of 1910-era aircraft, including a triplane, as well as monoplanes and biplanes. Air Commodore Wheeler insisted on using the authentic materials of the originals, but with modern engines and modifications (where necessary) to ensure safety.

In the end, ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” became one of the most successful ”epic comedies” to emerge from the 1960s. Not only did it score top notches at the box office, it was also nominated and received various movie awards in both the U.S. and Great Britain. The original screenplay written by Ken Annakin and Jack Davies was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing Directly for the Screen (1966). The film was also nominated in the category of Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written. At the 1966 Golden Globes, the film won Best Motion Picture Actor – Musical/Comedy for Alberto Sordi, as well as being nominated in Best Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy and Most Promising Newcomer – Male for James Fox.

I can say with true honesty that ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” has become one of my favorite movies from the 1960s. Ken Annakin and his production crew had created a stylish and funny movie. The movie was filled with memorable characters like Terry-Thomas’ dastardly Sir Percival Ware-Armitage, Alberto Sordi’s eager aviator Count Emilio Ponticelli and Gert Fröbe’s by-the-book Prussian Colonel Manfred von Holstein. One very witty moment featured the arrival of the Japanese pilot, Yamamoto (Yujiro Ishihara), whose description of his journey from Japan to Great Britain turned out to be less exciting than a reporter had assumed.

Thomas N. Morahan’s production design and Osbert Lancaster’s costumes managed to evoke the bygone era of Europe and especially Great Britain during the last years before the outbreak of World War II. Christopher Challis’ photography and the Special Effects department led by Ron Ballinger did a great job in re-creating the actual air race shown during the last third of the film. Two of my favorite scenes featured the contestants leaving Dover to cross the English Channel and the race’s exciting finale in Paris. I also enjoyed the pre-race interlude at Dover in which the contestants and their families/companions spend a few hours frolicking in the sea and sipping champagne.

Not all seemed perfect with ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES. One tiresome aspect of the film included the running joke featuring Pierre Dubois’ (Jean-Pierre Cassel) encounters with six women of different nationalities that all look alike and are portrayed by Irina Demick. I found it slightly amusing when Dubois encountered two of the women. By the time of Dubois’ encounter with the fifth Ms. Demick, I found myself screaming for the joke to end. Romance did not fare very well in the movie. Granted, James Fox’s Mays and Sarah Miles’ Patricia made a quaint couple. But Whitman’s arrival as Orville Newton, Mays’ rival in the race and for Patricia’s hand, did not improve matters. The problem was that Whitman and Miles made a poor screen team. According to Annakin, the two actors had a falling out after Whitman attempted to romantically pursue Miles and the two ended up disliking each other so much, they had trouble portraying a romance between Orville and Patricia. Mind you, Whitman and Miles had a few scenes that did generate chemistry. I suspect those scenes had been filmed before the fallout.

I must admit that ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” can boast some hilarious moments and dry wit. But most of the humor seemed focused upon the Keystone Cops antics of the aviators during the days leading up to the race and the race itself. Most of the film’s humor featured bizarre plane crashes, hackneyed stunts and cliché portrayals of the various nationalities featured in the film. I rather liked the comedian Benny Hill . . . but not in this movie. In ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN”, he portrayed a fire chief, whose job was to keep an eye out for aviation accidents. And whenever a crash occurred, it gave Hill and his cronies the opportunity to engage in an extreme form of slapstick humor that forced me to press the Fast Forward button of my DVD player . . . every damn time. But if there is one aspect of the movie I find frustrating, it is the fact that”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINE” is a two hour and eighteen minute film about an air race . . . that does not occur on screen until the last 45-47 minutes. The movie’s first fifteen or twenty minutes focused upon the characters’ introduction. But most of the movie’s action does not focus upon the race. Instead, it focused upon the few days before the race in which one has to endure practice flights that include countless crashes and slapstick humor. And every time I watch this film, I find this aspect so . . . damn . . . FRUSTRATING.

Technically, ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” is a first-rate film. Although I found some of the dry humor to be rather sharp and entertaining, the slapstick humor that dominated the film became very hard for me to bear. I am also not thrilled that only one-third of the film had focused upon the actual race. But I have to give the movie points for the creation of interesting characters like Sir Percy Ware-Armitage and Count Emilio Ponticelli, along with a memorable and catchy theme song. And I must give Annakin and his production crew credit for re-creating a charming look at the elegance of pre-World War I Europe. Overall, ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” has remained a fun and entertaining look at the early days of aviation that moviegoers today might still enjoy.