D-Day: The Sixth of June (1956), Director: Henry Koster, Running Time: 106 minutes
Robert Taylor portrays an American officer on the front lines of the massive Allied landing, whose special commando unit must destroy a key German gun position. But for Capt. Parker (Taylor), the mission is also fraught with personal complications because he and his commander (Richard Todd) are in love with the same woman (Dana Wynter). Featuring Edmond O'Brien, and building to a stirring climax on the beaches of Normandy, D-Day The Sixth Of June is a moving story of courage and sacrifice both on and off the battlefield.
The Dam Busters (1955), Director: Michael Anderson, Running time: 125 minutes.
It was one of the most daring and controversial missions in WWII history: On May 17th, 1943, an elite RAF squadron flew deep into Germany’s Ruhr Valley carrying five-ton experimental spinning bombs that needed to be dropped from a height of exactly 60 feet at precisely 240 mph in order to destroy three key dams in the Nazi industrial heartland. Oscar nominees Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd star in this gritty docudrama that depicts the infamous Ruhr Raid from drawing board to attack, hailed by critics as among the greatest war movies of all time.
Dark Blue World (2001), Director: Jan Sverak, Running time: 115 minutes.
The film relays the little-known WWII story of Czech fighter pilots who escaped the Nazi occupation of their country to fight in Britain's Royal Air Force. Those who survived the battles were placed in work camps upon their return home by a then-entrenched, paranoid Communist regime. Sverák (Kolya) tacks back and forth between Franta (Ondrej Vetchy), a worldly captain in the defunct Czech Air Force, and Karel (Krystof Hádek), his earnest young recruit, as they leave home to fight the enemy on foreign soil. Only one returns to tell his story, from a prison hospital bed. While enduring life in the RAF with fellow Czech pilots, Franta and Karel manage to fall in love with the same woman, learn English, swing dance, recite poems, sing rousing Czech songs, and perform heroic feats. Dogfights in the air and inevitable losses ensue, but it is the genuine camaraderie evoked by a gifted cast of Czech actors that saves the film from effusive excess. Like a charismatic captain steeling his company before battle, Sverák can't resist indulging romantic clichés, but his actors, in their fresh intensity, are more than up to the task set before them. (Fionn Meade for Amazon.com)
Das Boot (1982), Director: Wolfgang Petersen, Running time: 293 minutes (mini-series).
In the midst of World War II, as the tide turns against the Axis, a German U-boat crew is sent out to patrol the Atlantic and fire at Allied ships bringing supplies to England. The submarine also carries a press correspondent, there to report from the front lines of nautical warfare. Meanwhile, the crew's captain (Jürgen Prochnow) is becoming disillusioned with the Nazi regime and with war in general. What starts out as a routine mission is soon livened up beyond the crew's expectations when their boat's surprise attack on a convoy is thwarted by a fast-moving destroyer. Battered by depth charges, the crew must pull together to survive the attacks of their unseen enemy.
Day One (1989), Director: Joseph Sargeant, Running time: 140 minutes.
The use of the atomic bomb to end WWII was one of the most controversial events in human history. This Emmy-winning 1989 miniseries brings the conflicts to life in wrenching performances by a stellar cast. Michael Tucker is Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard, who helped persuade the U.S. government to build the bomb and later had second thoughts; David Strathairn is anguished J. Robert Oppenheimer; Brian Dennehy is no-nonese General Leslie Groves.
Decision Before Dawn (1951), Director: Anatole Litvak, Running time: 119 minutes.
Rooting for a German soldier was a daring choice for a movie made in 1951, but Decision Before Dawn justifies the risk; this is a crackling good war movie. In late 1944, the Allies are pushing through Europe but need intelligence behind German lines. Two Americans (Richard Basehart, Gary Merrill) recruit German POWs and enlist them to spy on their former Fatherland. We follow the adventures of one such agent, arrestingly played by the young Oskar Werner, who parachutes into Bavaria and gathers information. (Oddly, the film abandons Basehart and another recruit, marvelously played by Hans Christian Blech, who has also gone under cover.) The well-deployed suspense is accompanied by a constant examination of what it means to be German, and what loyalty to one's country really entails--dutiful devotion or skeptical rebellion? This question doesn't go deep (there's a sense that the movie is a make-nice effort toward a new economic ally), but the film is on solid ground whenever the clockwork suspense takes over. Hildegarde Knef (here billed under her Hollywood spelling, Neff) turns up as a conflicted fraulein. Director Anatole Litvak, shooting on location, gets some amazing shots of bombed-out buildings and ruined towns; in that sense, the film is almost like a documentary record of the postwar landscape. Decision Before Dawn was nominated for the best picture Oscar, but became a lesser-known film in the decades that followed. It deserves a higher profile. (Robert Horton for Amazon.com)
Der Fuchs von Paris (1957), Director: Paul May, Running time: 98 minutes.
Der Fuchs von Paris (The Fox of Paris) is set in Paris, not long after the Allied invasion of the continent in 1944. Hardy Kruger stars as Captain Eustenwerth, a German officer who turns his back on the losing Nazi cause and joins the Resistance. In a similar vein, General Quade (Martin Held) struggles to save the lives of the men he has left by tacitly defying orders from the German High Command. Through a series of unfortunate coincidences and misunderstandings, both of these idealistic individuals find themselves on opposite sides of the fence, culminating in impending execution for Eustenwerth. (Hal Erickson for All Movie Guide)
The Desert Fox (1951), Director: Henry Hathaway, Running time: 88 minutes
James Mason delivers a strong performance in this fascinating portrait of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. In the early 1940's, Rommel's juggernaut Afrika Korps dominated North Africa. But as the tide turned and he came to the painful realization that his Fuhrer, to whom he hd sworn allegiance, was destroying Germany, his ingrained sense of duty pushed him into a conspiracy against Hitler. Co-starring Jessica Tandy as Rommel's wife and Cedric Hardwicke as another anti-Hitler conspirator, The Desert Fox is an intimate look at one of the most respected military tacticians of modern times.
The Desert Rats (1953), Director: Robert Wise, Running time: 88 minutes.
Richard Burton stars in this exciting story of the stubborn, courageous men who held Rommel at bay in North Africa despite hopelessly outnumbered. The year is 1941, and Rommel has the British in full retreat. All that stands between him and the Suez Canal is the fortress of Tobruk, manned by a small army of Australian troops who are ordered to hold this vital position at any cost. Many of the men are green recruits, and it falls to Capt. MacRoberts (Burton) to whip them into shape. A bold tactician who realizes they will soon be overwhelmed if they do not take the offensive, MacRoberts leads countless daredevil raids that keep the superior enemy off-balance and earn his men the famous nickname they "won with blood and bore with pride." Directed by Robert Wise and co-starring James Mason in a reprise performance as Field Marshall Rommel (whom he first played in "The Desert Fox"), this stirring blend of action and history pays tribute to the heroic men known in the annals of war as The Desert Rats.
Destination Tokyo (1943), Director: Delmer Daves, Running time: 135 minutes.
The offbeat casting of Cary Grant as a submarine captain pays off in this tense WWII underwater picture; he ably trades in his sophistication for the sweaty close quarters of an action movie. The mission: Infiltrate the mined harbor of Tokyo itself, a feat book-ended by a brief confrontation in the Aleutians and a depth-charge chase through the open sea. Skipper Grant is supported by the usual stock crew of Navy melting-pot types, with John Garfield drawing duty as the resident dame-crazy fantasist. (Somebody forgot to put the saltpeter in his chow, apparently.) The solid action alternates with dialogue that tends toward the schmaltzy or jingoistic (the movie's become somewhat notorious for its unusually nasty propagandistic jabs at the Japanese enemy). Destination Tokyo was the directing debut of Delmer Daves, who would later excel in smart Westerns such as 3:10 to Yuma. (Robert Horton for Amazon.com)