Having written previously about the most historically accurate military history films, I received feedback asking, what are other war movies with good to fair historical accuracy? So I ran the Geiger counter over some of the better WWI and WW2 films. Hollywood has made scores of war dramas set during the two World Wars of the violent century, but most are not especially known for a high degree of historically accuracy. I have picked out eight films that do not rank in the best-in-class for historical accuracy, yet these films stay true to the times, places and basic historical facts without any jarring errors or anachronisms. Some are based on mere novels that historians more High Church than myself would dismiss. However, when the novel is authored by a war veteran, and he knows exactly what he is talking about, it imparts an interesting first-hand knowledge on the subject that adds a sense of realism as much or more than some movies based on a true, or non-fiction, storyline. Other films in this post are at least partially based on true stories, yet are embellished for obvious box office reasons. These eight war movies make for good stories about WWI & WW2 with plenty of drama and action. And most importantly are very entertaining. The following reviews are in order by release dates. Learn some Military History and enjoy these films!
1. Hell is for Heroes 1962
With half a dozen BTWF actors that would later dominate the big screen and TV in the 60’s, this low budget movie is an underrated gem. The cast is outstanding; Steve McQueen (Reese) is at his best here; the cool loner packing a .45 cal. M3 “Grease Gun”, James Coburn (Henshaw) on the Flamethrower, Fess Parker (Sgt. Pike) on the M2 carbine, Kolinsky on the BAR, and the rest of the boys toting M1 Garand rifles. Enhanced with a low-key, effective soundtrack and welcome comic relief (movie debut by Bob Newhart) this movie nails the bull’s-eye for action fans. My father was an infantryman in the U.S. 9th army, and fought the Nazis for two years across France, Belgium and Germany. We saw this movie together, and he was impressed with the realism of the film. He said that the film captured the time period and atmosphere better than any other WWII film he had watched. So for me, this movie is as good as it gets for an intense tale of WWII small unit combat operations – American GIs versus German Landsers, circa 1944/5.
2. The Blue Max 1966
If you like aviation and military history, watch this big-budget WW 1 historical drama. This film is legendary in the annals of air combat movies for its reality as well as the skill and daring that went into the production. Filmed 40+ years after the war ended, there were no airworthy WWI warplanes available for use, so the studio contracted to hand-build two air forces from scratch copying the original German and British fighter aircraft plans as closely as possible. Next they hired the best stunt pilots in the business then off they went to Ireland to make a movie. The cost was immense, but worth every penny. The storyline is entirely from the German point of view. George Peppard does a good job of playing the lead character, ace fighter pilot Bruno Shachel. In fact, Peppard was so keen on the role that he learned to fly, and did some flying in the movie. Of course, the stunt pilots handled the tricky flying, and there was plenty of that to do. The writers had the brilliant idea of a dramatic bridge fly-through. The stunt pilots frowned on the idea, but it wouldn’t go away. Finally, the ideal bridge was found in a rural area of southern Ireland. The bridge spanning the Blackwater River is a stately railway viaduct with wrought-iron lattice girders supported by massive stone pillars with enough room for a fly through – for an expert pilot. Derek Piggott, an RAF war veteran, was the fearless man who volunteered for the challenge, and got the job done. CGI simply can’t compete with real pilots flying vintage biplanes right into the danger zone. We will never see its likes again. A Blue Max for Derek!
Written by Ben Clark. Copyright 2016-2023. All rights reserved.
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