‘The Guns of Navarone’

A derring-do blockbuster from 1961 with its all-star cast, the adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s best selling novel is a war time adventure as the Allies look to destroy a seemingly impregnable German fortress on the (fictional) Greek island of Navarone.

With the guns threatening Allied naval ships in the Aegean Sea, a plan to send in a crack team is developed, headed by Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle – Lawrence of Arabia, Anne of a Thousand Days). But an early casualty on the island sees German-speaking Captain Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck – Spellbound, Roman Holiday) take command. Aided by Greek resistance members, the saboteurs need to overcome an extensive security network of German troops.

Inevitably for its time, emphasis was placed on the thrills and melodrama of the adventure rather than on character (or even credibility), but the frisson between Mallory and Greek general Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn – Zorba the Greek, Lust For Life) adds a level of personal tension to the narrative as the team fight to avoid capture and complete their mission.

As directed by J. Lee Thompson (Taras Bulba, Northwest Frontier), The Guns of Navarone became the second highest grossing film of 1961.

Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1962 including best film, director, adapted screenplay – won 1 for visual effects.

Rating: 61%

‘All Quiet on the Western Front’

Visceral and lyrical, the horror and inhumanity of trench warfare cruelly unfolds in this extraordinary adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s seminal anti-war novel.

Patriotic fervour sees four schoolboy friends lie to enlist in the German army. But they are quickly confronted by the brutality of life on the front as Ludwig is killed on their first day. As the narrative hones in on Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer in his film debut), the three are befriended by the older, seasoned Stanislaus ‘Kat’ Katczinsky (Albrecht Schuch – Berlin Alexanderplatz, Lieber Thomas). Bäumer and Kat become inseparable as the war ticks slowly by and negotiations begin by Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl – Rush, Woman in Gold) for a speedy armistice.

Perfectly capturing the chaos and futility of war, All Quiet on the Western Front, directed by Edward Berger (Jack, TV’s Deutschland 83), is a powerful sweep of history, a dour, deeply moving, visual excess of a feature. Bleak it is – bleak it needs to be.

Nominated for 9 Oscars in 2023 including best film, adapted screenplay, visual effects – won 4 for best foreign language film, cinematography, original score (Volker Bertelmann – Ammonite, Lion) and production design.

Rating: 88%

‘The Deer Hunter’

A visceral engagement for its time of the American/Vietnam war, The Deer Hunter looks to the impact the war has on a migrant Polish blue-collar community in Pennsylvania.

With a narrative told over three parts of comparible length (before, during, after), director Michael Cimino (Thunderbolt & Lightfoot, The Sicilian) builds context as steel workers celebrate at the wedding of Steven (John Savage – The Thin Red Line, Hair) three of their own heading overseas. Life will never be the same for the three hunting buddies or those left behind.

Confronting, with brutal scenes of pyschological warfare (the Russian roulette scene indelible once seen) juxtaposed with post-war scenes in Saigon equally challenging, it’s a feature that also celebrates community, courage and friendship. Michael (Robert De Niro – The Godfather II, Silver Linings Playbook) refuses to give up on Steven or Nick (Christopher Walken – Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can): Linda (Meryl Streep in only her second film) and the boys’ friends await their return.

Muted tonality and (mostly) claustrophobic cinematography (Vilmos Zsigmond – Close Encounters, The Black Dahlia) add to its heightened sense of power that is simultaneously harrowing and engrossing. And the ending? Irony? Love of country? A communal coming together? It’s a hard call seeing the film 50 years later with the benefit of time – The Deer Hunter itself was released just three years after the American withdrawal from Vietnam with emotions raw…

Nominated for 9 Oscars in 1979 including best actor (De Niro), supporting actress (Streep), original screenplay, cinematography – won 5 for best film, director, supporting actor (Walken), sound, editing.

Rating: 81%


Overblown wartime biopic of controversial American general George S. Patton (George C. Scott – Dr Strangelove, The Hustler), Patton is a celebration of a self-obsessed megalomaniac that can be hard to stomach.

From a military family of wealth, Patton grew up privileged. Complex, arrogant, profane, Scott commands the screen as he embodies the war hero who fell from grace. A brilliant tactician, he helped better Rommel in North Africa but refused to toe the line of the Allied High Command. It’s long suffering colleagues such as General Omar N. Bradley (Karl Malden – On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire) who attempt to deal with ego in their midst as the American clashes with his British counterpart, Field Marshall Montgomery.

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (The Boys From Brazil, The Planet of the Apes) and written by Francis Ford Coppola, Patton runs for almost three hours and covers just two years of Patton’s rise, fall and D-Day re-emergence. It’s a stodgy, bloated ride dealing with a man so in his element in the theatre of war.

Nominated for 10 Oscars in 1971 – best cinematography, soundtrack, special effects; won 7 – including best film, actor, director, adapted screenplay.

Rating: 50%

‘The Tomorrow War’

A former military man of today, Dan Forester (Chris Pratt – Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy) is conscripted to travel into the future to help save mankind.

With the future world threatened by alien invading forces, technology allows time travel. Desperate forces return to the US to gain help in saving that future – only 30 years away and where as little as half a million or so people survive. Conscripted for seven days, on arrival Forester finds Yvonne Strahovski (TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Stateless) the unexpected military leader. On his return, Forester must change the course of action that leads to the future carnage.

A big, bold, derivative blockbuster. Lots of action, lots of special effects – but even the presence of J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Palm Springs) fails to instil much soul to precedings.

Rating: 47%

‘Saving Private Ryan’

Undermined by schmaltzy sentimentality and overbearing patriotism in its later stages, Saving Private Ryan opens (literally) with an unflinching bombardment as American troops land on the Normandy beaches. Harrowing, it’s visually and emotionally breathtaking as hundreds are cut down barely on French soil not having fired a single shot.

The Americans eventually take Omaha beach with heavy losses, but Captain Miller (Tom Hanks – Sully, Apollo 13) hardly draws breath before he and the remains of his company are given new orders. Find Private James Ryan (Matt Damon – The Martian, Invictus). Transpires all three of Ryan’s older brothers were killed in the space of a week of each other: top brass feel his mother has given enough to the war effort. Unfortunately for Miller, he’s given only vague whereabouts as to Ryan’s location.

What follows may not live up to those first 20 minutes of the film, but director Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Schindler’s List) knows how to tell a story as the men traverse the ruins of northern France in search of Ryan. As a war film, there’s the inevitable battle scenes and freak accidents, but Saving Private Ryan is as much about comradeship as it is about the futility of war. Adventure and melodrama narratives are piled one on top of the other (it is Speilberg afterall) as the emotions are played with and left wondering whether any of the men will survive.

Nominated for 11 Oscars in 1999 including best film, best actor (Hanks), original screenplay, won 5 for best director, cinematography (Spielberg regular, Janusz Kaminski), sound, editing, special effects.

Rating: 68%

‘Da 5 Bloods’

Spike Lee’s latest – a bold, broad brushstroke commentary on the black experience in the American intervention in Vietnam – sees four black Vets return, 50 years later, in search of the remains of their squad leader (Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Black Panther) and hidden gold.

Older, not altogether wiser, each has been impacted in the ensuing years and the lack of change towards racism in the States. And this changes their attitudes to each other and the world around them. As they trek through the jungles in search of their treasure, factions emerge as a bitter, embattled Paul (Delroy Lindo – The Harder They Fall, The Cider House Rules) takes charge – and places them in danger. They are being watched by heavily armed ex-Viet Cong who are only too aware of why the Americans have returned.

Switching time frames between Vietnam of the 1960s and today, Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, BlackKklansman) emphasises his point. But the film is a long, unconvincing, odd mishmash of adventure and polemic. A series of unlikely scenarios arise. Paul is angry – very angry, anger that is hard to get past. Even the likes of longstanding friend, Otis (Clarke Peters – Harriet, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri) finds a changed Paul impossible. Trust is lost between the friends: few survive.

Da 5 Bloods, verging at times on the point of hysteria, is a banal, overly laboured feature that, in its message of racism within the military, overlooks the disrespect it shows towards contemporary Vietnam. But it’s also ultimately rather boring with just too many shoot outs.

Nominated for best soundtrack (Terence Blanchard – BlacKkKlansman, One Night in Miami) Oscar in 2021.

Rating: 46%

‘Germany Year Zero’

Twenty years after Walter Ruttmann’s celebration of the German capital, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City comes Italian director Roberto Rossellini and the final film in his neorealist trilogy (Rome, Open City and Paisà being the other two) with the spotlight on the ravages and destruction of war.

A destroyed city forms the perversely beautiful yet stark backdrop. A young boy (Edmund Moeschke), left to his own devices looking to find ways of supporting his family, falls foul of the black market and the desperation of post-war survival mentality.

Marred occasionally by an overly melodramatic and intrusive score, a riveting and deeply humane Germany Year Zero is a visually elegaic, intense, tragic drama. With its predominantly non-professional cast, it’s a true classic of Italian post-war neorealism.

Rating: 81%

‘The Great Escape’

Although there were many POW films made prior – Stalag 17, The Colditz Story spring to mind – 1963’s rousing The Great Escape is arguably, in its ‘war is one big adventure’ genre, the best of them all – a star-studded epic about a real-life break out from Stalag Luft III.

As with his earlier western, The Magnificent Seven, director John Sturges marshalls an ensemble series of narratives around a central focus – in this case, escape. With three tunnels built simultaneously, there is a determination in these serial escapees. Richard Attenborough (Jurassic Park, Brighton Rock) heads the planning committee but there’s James Garner, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence all to be found behind the barbed wire. Yet, with his irreverence towards German authority and the film’s famed chase along the fenced Swiss border on a motorcycle, it’s a memorable Steve McQueen who carries the day.

A classic of its time that’s entertaining as well as thrilling, The Great Escape, in spite of its uneveness and lack of character development, remains something of a template for its genre. And then there’s the Elmer Bernstein soundtrack.

Nominated for 1 Oscar (film editing) in 1964.

Rating: 71%

‘Rock the Casbah’

A personal and powerful feature that addresses modern day warfare and occupation through the eyes of fresh faced, newly conscripted recruits.

It’s 1989 and the new recruits join ‘old hands’ in Gaza as part of compulsory army service for all Israelis. They’re not welcome. But then most of these boys (and they are little more than that) do not really understand why they are there. Emotions escalate when a new arrival is killed and four find themselves posted on a rooftop in Gaza.

It’s the interaction between the four themselves as well as the family of the household that acts as a metaphor for the conflict – the fear, the hate, the acceptance, the arrogance, the boredom, the humour – but ultimately the absurdity of the situation. Authentic performances from a (mostly) young cast help director Yariv Horowitz create a thoughtful, balanced take on the conflict.

Rating: 67%