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Film Archive
Film Archive (U through Z)
Organized Alphabetically by Title
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U-571 (2000)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Taut and gripping, U-571 follows the exploits of a fictional team of World War II U.S. submariners who undertake a secret mission to capture a German Enigma machine to decode German documents. Writer-director Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown) tells an intense, economical tale, reminiscent of the best classic war films, while infusing it with modern sentiments. Spring 1942: A crew of young submarine sailors are on a much-needed 48-hour liberty when they're suddenly called together and engaged in an expedition. At the helm are Lieutenant Commander Mike Dahlgren (Bill Paxton), Lieutenant Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaughey), and Chief Klough (Harvey Keitel). Other pivotal crew members include Tyler's Annapolis pal Lieutenant Pete Emmett (Jon Bon Jovi, proving his acting mettle) and Lieutenant Hirsch (Jake Weber), who, along with Marine Major Coonan (David Keith), organizes the mission. As much of the movie takes place in a submarine during WWII, there are inevitable comparisons with the technical masterpiece Das Boot, but Mostow's masterfully shot tale can hold its own.
McConaughey's Tyler is believably earnest as he comes to grips with the reality, tragedy, and consequence of being in command. While this explosion-filled film consistently maintains its tense pace (as did the underrated Breakdown), it also presents with surprising restraint a genuine human story--and the remarkable journey of an unexpected hero. --N.F. Mendoza

Von Ryan's Express

Von Ryan's Express (1965)
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Trevor Howard
Director: Mark Robson
Forget Indiana Jones. This 1965 high adventure stars Frank Sinatra as the leader of a mass escape from a World War II POW camp in Italy. That mission accomplished, Old Blue Eyes has sundry adventures camouflaging the freed men as German soldiers, trying to fool the Gestapo, and finally doing battle with enemy planes and ground troops while trying to get a hijacked train through a blocked tunnel. Sinatra is in great form and director Mark Robson handles the endless chain of action set-pieces with panache. A great pulse-quickener. --Tom Keogh

Wake Island

Wake Island (1942)
Starring: Brian Donlevy
Director: John Farrow
Wake Island, a sandbar rising 21 feet out of the South Pacific, was among the first U.S. outposts to be hit by the Japanese, virtually simultaneously with Pearl Harbor. Wake Island the movie was among Hollywood's earliest responses to America's being attacked and drawn into WWII. The Marine Corps defenders of Wake became instant war heroes, akin to the martyrs of the Alamo. Nothing could be done to rescue or even to reinforce and resupply them, and they fought on through air attacks and naval bombardment for two weeks until, finally overrun, they were wiped out. That searing historical context had a lot to do with the movie's impact in 1942, and the sight of the dark forms of enemy planes coming over the horizon for the first time still carries a shock. Wake Island's a decent film, and it doesn't dishonor its subject with sham heroics and grandstanding. But the New York Film Critics voted John Farrow best director of 1942, and that's a reach. The first half hour sets up the allegory of America as melting pot (there's even a corporal named Goebbels), establishes horseplay as the coin of democratic discourse (especially for gyrenes Robert Preston and the Oscar-nominated William Bendix), and fosters familiar friction between new commander Brian Donlevy and civilian construction supervisor Albert Dekker. Then shortly after a beaming Japanese peace envoy has stopped by for dinner, things get rough. The scenes of warfare are more than adequate, but they'd soon be outdone, sometimes in films much less worthy than Wake Island. --Richard T. Jameson

The Wannsee Conference

The Wannsee Conference (1984)
Starring: Friedrich G. Beckhaus, Gerd Böckmann
Director: Heinz Schirk
The horror of the holocaust began on January 20, 1942, when key representatives of the SS, the Nazi Party, and the government bureaucracy met secretly at a house in Wannsee. A quiet Berlin suburb, to discuss "The Final Solution." While they enjoyed a buffet lunch, brandy, and cigarettes, they discussed how they could systematically exterminate eleven million Jewish people. Director Heinz Schirk and writer Paul Mommertz use actual notes from the Wannsee Conference, along with letters written by Hermann Goering and Adolf Eichmann, and testimony by Eichmann at his 1961 trial in Israel, to re-create the shocking events of the fateful 85-minute meeting. Viewers become stunned witnesses to the cold-blooded, matter-of-fact manner in which the most hideous crime in history was set in motion.

When Trumpets Fade

When Trumpets Fade (1998)
Director: John Irvin
First broadcast on HBO in June of 1998--shortly before the theatrical release of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan--this World War II drama offers an equally intimate and devastating study of combat and its tragic aftermath. Set in Germany during the closing days of the war, the film uses a little-known episode of U.S. military history--the bloody battle of the Hurtigen Forest--as the backdrop for the story of a battle-weary private (Ron Eldard) who is the only surviving member of his platoon. Despite his request for dismissal on the grounds of mental disability and shell-shock, he is considered a promising soldier by his superiors, promoted to sergeant, and assigned to command a fresh platoon of young, inexperienced soldiers. The cycle of war continues, and the film ends as it began--with one soldier carrying a mortally wounded comrade from a scene of devastating loss. A veteran of several war films, director John Irvin emphasizes the gritty, physically exhausting realities of combat with keen attention to detail on location in Hungary. This film is decidedly downbeat (don't look for any Spielbergian uplift here), but its depiction of warfare is undeniably powerful, earning praise for Irvin and HBO for tackling such an uncompromising project. --Jeff Shannon

Where Eagles Dare

Where Eagles Dare (1969)
Starring: Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood
Director: Brian G. Hutton
Scorned by reviewers when it came out, this concentrated dose of commando death-dealing to legions of Nazi machine-gun fodder has acquired a cult over the years. In 1968 Clint Eastwood was just getting used to the notion that he might be a world-class movie star; Richard Burton, whose image had been shaped equally by classical theater training and his headline-making romance with Elizabeth Taylor, was eager to try on the action ethos Eastwood was already nudging toward caricature. Alistair MacLean's novel The Guns of Navarone had inspired the film that started the '60s vogue for World War II military capers, so he was prevailed on to write the screenplay (his first). The central location, an impregnable Alpine stronghold locked in ice and snow, is surpassing cool, but the plot and action are ultra-mechanical, and the switcheroo gamesmanship of just who is the undercover double (triple?) agent on the mission becomes aggressively silly. --Richard T. Jameson


Windtalkers (2002)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach
Director: John Woo
Having earned Hollywood's respect with blockbusters like Face/Off and Mission: Impossible 2, Hong Kong action master John Woo lends his signature style to serious World War II action in Windtalkers. Recognizing the long-forgotten contribution of Navajo "code talkers," whose use of an unbreakable Navajo-language radio code was instrumental in defeating the Japanese, the film serves as an admirable tribute to those Native American heroes. Unfortunately, it falls short of importance with its standard-issue story about a battle-scarred sergeant (Nicolas Cage) assigned to protect a code-talker (Adam Beach, from Smoke Signals), with unspoken orders to kill him if Japanese capture is imminent. This allows for an involving drama of hard-won friendship, but cardboard supporting characters suffer in the shadow of nonstop action that's as repetitious as it is technically impressive. Windtalkers is best appreciated as a more substantial vehicle for Woo's trademark ballet of bullets. --Jeff Shannon

Wing and a Prayer

Wing and a Prayer (1944)
Starring: Don Ameche, Dana Andrews
Director: Henry Hathaway
Don Ameche and Dana Andrews head an all-star cast in this acclaimed film about life aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier after the attack on Pearl Harbor. A group of young, eager Navy pilots become frustrated when their higher-ups enact a non-combat strategy against the Japanese. To make matters worse, the pilots must answer to a rigid, unyielding commander (AMECHE). Against all odds, the men fly into action in the decisive Battle of Midway. Nominated for a 1944 Best Original Screenplay Oscar, this stunning war drama uses actual combat footage to tell its engrossing story.

The Winter War

The Winter War

The Young Lions

The Young Lions (1958)
Starring: Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift
Director: Edward Dmytryk
One of the most thoughtful films about World War II, this 1958 Edward Dmytryk (The Left Hand of God) drama, based on a novel by Irwin Shaw, tells parallel stories of two American soldiers (Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin) and one German officer (Marlon Brando), whose war experiences we follow until they intersect outside a concentration camp. Martin plays what he calls "a likable coward," Clift is intense as a Jewish GI, and Brando experiments with the limits of his part as a Nazi reevaluating his beliefs. Legend has it that Clift accused Brando of bleeding-heart excessiveness. Interestingly, the two Method actors share no scenes together. --Tom Keogh

Copyright © 2003 The World War II Lecture Institute. All rights reserved.