As the days dwindle down to a precious few before Clint Eastwood unveils Flags of Our Fathers, AP movie writer David Germain marks the occasion by saluting twelve of the finest movies ever made about World War II, a list "covering combat, prison camps, the Holocaust, espionage and sabotage, life on the homefront, homecomings and even the dreary boredom of war for some of its combatants."
To his lineup, I would add -- if only for its historical importance and subsequent influence -- Guadalcanal Diary (1943), among the first and best of the flag-waving, crowd-pleasing WWII combat dramas designed to honor U.S. soldiers, boost homefront morale, and enhance America's image abroad during wartime. Based on Richard Tregaskis' best-selling book about the U.S. Marine invasion of the Solomon Islands -- one of the earliest American victories against Japanese forces -- this reasonably gritty and generally well-acted drama is remarkably persuasive for a movie supposedly set in the South Pacific, but shot on location at Camp Pendleton, California. Its episodic depiction of day-to-day survival under enemy fire has been repeatedly used as a template for similar jungle-combat scenarios filmed during and after WWII. More important, its introduction of a fighting unit comprised entirely of archetypes is the first significant employment of a lineup that would reappear, with only minor variations, in countless other war films.
Yes, friends, we're talking about the multi-ethnic platoon, the emblematic band of brothers that purposefully epitomizes the demographic diversity of America. It's a convention that has long been razzed and satirized by critics, academics and stand-up comics. During World War II, however, the cliche was a deadly serious element of many Hollywood movies. Indeed, the cliche was actively encouraged by the Office of War Information's Bureau of Motion Pictures, the government agency charged with advising and influencing the film industry's contributions to America's war effort. Why? Because during wartime, doggone it, all good Americans should transcend their differences and unite in common purpose against a common enemy.
For audiences accustomed to more graphically violent and morally ambiguous renderings of men at war, Guadalcanal Diary may seem like a quaint relic from a distant past when the Greatest Generation fought the good fight. (I don't have to tell you that one of the soldiers adopts a stray dog, do I?) But even cynics must admit that the movie has quite a few undeniably affecting moments. Chief among them: William Bendix, representing the common man as citizen soldier, improvises a prayer during a long dark night of Japanese bombardments. It's worth noting how the character's words were echoed more than a half-century later by Tom Hanks' schoolteacher-turned-soldier in Saving Private Ryan (No. 1 on Germain's Top 12).
Anything you'd care to add to the list?