My list begins with “Journey’s End.” I first knew it as a stage play, written by R.C. Sherriff, and I cried over it every time I reread it. It takes place in a British army dugout in 1918 and is the most powerful statement I have ever known about the futility of war and its effect on participants.
It was made into a movie, and I remember David Manners as the young, idealistic newcomer to the group. It made its appearance in a wonderful book I own that includes the greatest plays ever written — going back to early Greek theater. And then it seemed to die. No one knew it when I mentioned it. Then for no reason that I know, it was revived on Broadway in 2007 and walked off with the Tony for the best revival of the year.
Still, people don’t seem to know it when I praise it in 2014, so I’m giving you a heads-up. It is potent theater and a wonderful movie.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” is one of my favorite books. Members of one book club recently decided I had written about it so much they had better read it — and I was thanked because the members were so glad they finally read that perfect book. Try it. You’ll see why.
Then it was made into a movie in 1930, starring Lew Ayres, with Louis Wolheim and Karl Dane. Again: Wow! It won the Oscar as it should have. It was done brilliantly. There was another version years later with Richard Chamberlain, I believe, but that was a mistake. It’s the story of a young German soldier and his experiences during World War I and the Lew Ayres version should be shown regularly to remind people of what movies can do with excellent material.
No, all the good movies weren’t made way back then. “The Best Years of Our Lives “ depicts the return of three veterans from World War II, and it is a winner The cast was topnotch; it included Frederic March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews and other star-quality actors. And it is shown occasionally on the Turner channel, among others. If you haven’t seen it, watch for it on television. It is one of my top three films.
Way back, when films were in black and white, there was “Wings.” It starred Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen, and it appeared in 1929. No, don’t be such a smart aleck: I don’t remember it from then. But I have seen it twice fairly recently. It won the first Academy Award ever in 1929 , and you wouldn’t believe the airplane scenes. This was a World War I film, so planes were more or less a novelty, you remember.
“A Farewell to Arms,” the Gary Cooper version was good, not great. I liked the novel better. It’s about a love affair between a nurse and an American ambulance driver (Hemingway really was one in WWII). It is still worth seeing in 2014.
Ah, well, I feel better. Let my list of great war films become part of the written word history. And see them whenever and if ever you can.