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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What’s your favorite movie about soldiers and soldiering?

Simple question for this Memorial Day Monday:

What’s your favorite movie about soldiers and soldiering?

Without thinking about it too much, I’ll say Gladiator. Though I doubt Roman generals are what the founders of Memorial Day had in mind when they instituted this holiday. Of course, they didn’t have backyard barbecues and big sales at the mall in mind, either.

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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  • Chris

    No Mary Ann, they just looked for any excuse to screw. I must say I dont really see Gladiator as a movie about soliders or solidering, just a movie about one solider who gets screwed and because a slave fighter. Great movie though.

    Saving Private Ryan and The Deerhunter have always been my two fav’s. Private Ryan just because it does the best job of showing the sacrifice our soliders make and just how bad war really is. The Deerhunter I think does the best job of showing how a man changes after returning from war and just how desperate people can be to keep there friendships alive.

  • Hank Graham

    My view on this is a bit askew, because my older brother is a career soldier, and a sergeant-major in the Marines.

    He hated “Gladiator,” which he felt got the history wrong, and “The Deerhunter,” for the same reason.

    He liked the battle scenes in “Saving Private Ryan,” but despised the framing story bit with the old man in the cemetary, and was loud in his contempt for it.

    I pitched this question to him, and his instant opinion was the 1930 “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” and “Tunes of Glory.”

    He also said he’d give an honorable mention to “Platoon,” but that every other Vietnam war movie he’d ever seen was crap, “particularly the ones the critics liked.”

    He could, I think, write a thesis on the intellectual pretensions of “Apocalypse Now,” in all its versions.

  • Hank Graham

    Oh, yeah–and my brother felt that “Full Metal Jacket” was a mess, a case of a great book being ruined by a pretentious director.

  • JSW

    Aliens, of course. Really, could there be another answer?

  • Cate

    Black Hawk Down. It’s an amazing movie in its own right – but watching it with my father, who was Army and knew men who were there, it became a totally different kind of experience: personally resonant and emotional and painful in a way I find difficult to put into words.

    Taking Chance – I just watched this a couple weeks ago and was blown away by its simple truthfulness about people and uniforms and honor and ceremony.

    My father would say We Were Soldiers.

  • amanohyo

    I’m always a sucker for The Best Years of Our Lives. The corny scene where Harold Russell shows Wilma his arms makes me bawl like a baby. However, if Seven Samurai counts, it gets my vote. Any hint of glorifying violence and attempting to make it look cool to kill people is usually a pretty big turn off for me, unless it’s done in a fantasy/martial arts context.

  • Doa766

    apocalyse now

  • PaulW

    I always have a soft spot for the 1943 Bogart film Sahara

    But The Longest Day for me is my idea of the perfect war film: it shows both sides Allied and German and their different approaches to how the day will go… the grimace on Ike’s face when he gives the order to go, countered by the German officer playing him in a planned war game insisting Eisenhower wouldn’t dare make the gamble… you feel sympathy for the German general who realizes the war is lost because no one will take the initiative, and he whispers to himself “Wounds my heart with a monotonous languor…” That bagpiper leading British troops to Pegasus Bridge… Two platoons walking by each other along a bridge at night, not noticing each others’ uniforms… That single take of an overhead camera following French soldiers charging (and dying) along a canal towards a fortified casino tower… that horrified shared look on U.S. cliff climbers when they reach their objective… an equally horrified look from Red Buttons as he watches trapped on a church tower his buddies falling into Ste. Mère-Eglise… and of course that British general whacking tanks to get ’em working again (“Aye, I like his dog too.”).

  • Mimi

    I don’t watch a lot of soldier movies. But I liked “Glory.”

  • Kenny

    I second Glory.

  • Kenny

    Oh.. and Lawrence of Arabia.


  • I vote for The Best Years of Our Lives as well.

  • AJP

    Your brother didn’t “think” Gladiator got the history wrong, Gladiator DID get the history wrong. Very blatantly wrong too.

    Apocalypse Down is only vaguely about the Vietnam War. It is just a cinematic version of Heart of Darkness, updated from the Congo to Indochina.

    I’ll go with Band of Brothers or Glory as my choice.

  • James T.

    Right now I’d say my personal favorite is Black Hawk Down. The capabilities of our special forces and Rangers is stunning.
    A close second from the Vietnam War is We Were Soldiers.
    WII favorites would be To Hell and Back, To End All Wars, The Great Raid and Saving Private Ryan.
    WWI favorite Sergeant York.
    Civil War favorite Gods and Generals.
    Revolutionary War favorite The Patriot.

    And the war movie I’m most looking forward to is based on the book Lone Survivor. What four Navy Seals were able to accomplish against 180 battle hardened Taliban on a mountainside in Afghanistan is nearly incomprehensible.

  • Victor Plenty

    Oddly, it seems the most accurate depictions of the soldiering life are found in television (of all places) rather than in movies. Band of Brothers, Rome, and Tour of Duty supply just a few examples.

    Perhaps I’ve missed the best movies available on the subject. Of the ones I’ve seen, Letters From Iwo Jima resonates the most deeply, perhaps in part because it successfully reveals the universal humanity in people so often depicted as inhuman enemies, in so many other American made war movies.

  • misterb

    Why so serious?

    Catch-22 and M*A*S*H

    War is getting more and more absurd (and tragic) as it is fought by drones and battle-mechs.

  • Drew Ryce

    No favorite, but there are several that I regard as very good, although for different reasons:
    Band Of Brothers, Private Ryan, Bridge on the River Kwai, Das Boot, In Harms Way, Blackhawk Down, Master and Commander, MASH, etc.

  • Pen Dragon

    Generation Kill. No other war movie, of any era, comes close to capturing the raging idiocy of military life and military people with such unflinching accuracy.
    And before some brainless “support the troops” types get on my case for insulting the service, let me point out that I’m an 8-year Marine vet, currently deployed in Iraq and hating it more every day.

  • Melissa

    I’d go with “Platoon”, mainly because I think the soldier’s attitudes are the most realistic portrayal I’ve ever seen. Too many movies have soldiers being all “SIR YES SIR”,and Platoon is far more real. I disqualified it since it’s a mini-series, but “Band of Brothers” is fantastic, and otherwise definitely tops my list.

  • Drew Ryce

    To Pen Dragon: Interesting. As no Marine enlistment is longer than 5 years you have apparently chosen to, not just enlist, but then re-enlist in what you feel is a ‘raging idiocy’.
    I wish you well on the remainder of your tour and hope that return home safely to find a life path more to your liking.

  • bitchen frizzy

    –“To Pen Dragon: Interesting. As no Marine enlistment is longer than 5 years you have apparently chosen to, not just enlist, but then re-enlist in what you feel is a ‘raging idiocy’.”

    Are you familiar with the “Dilbert” comic stip?

  • Victor Plenty

    Drew appears unfamiliar with the involuntary extension of United States military service members’ enlistment contracts.

    If I’m not mistaken, reservists can also be involuntarily returned to active duty, creating another way in which Drew Ryce’s insulting assumptions about Pen Dragon are hasty and unwarranted.

  • Drew Ryce

    To Victor Plenty: The Marines haven’t used the ‘stop loss’ program since 2003. Obviously, no Marine currently serving in Iraq could be there under that program.
    So much for a hasty and warrented conclusion. Re the “insult” I’m supposed to have made. Please re-read the post. If you so choose, please explain why you feel that “I wish you well on the remainder of your tour and hope that return home safely to find a life path more to your liking” constitutes an insult.
    In any event, for your own sake, please learn to relax. I didn’t like Star Trek as much as you did. You have to find a way to live with that.

  • Victor Plenty

    Drew, the insulting part of your statement to Pen Dragon was this:

    you have apparently chosen to, not just enlist, but then re-enlist in what you feel is a ‘raging idiocy’.

    Despite your failed attempt to rationalize your unwarranted assumptions, it is a simple fact that you do not know Pen Dragon’s actual situation.

  • Kenny

    There was an amazing series set in Bosnia during the breakup of Yugoslavia called Warriors…

  • Drew Ryce

    Victor Plenty, the raging idiocy line is a quote from Pen dragons post (that’s why I put it in quotes). The ‘assumption’ that he has enlisted and re-enlisted is based solidly on the facts of his ‘actual situation’ (your quote) as presented by him. You cannot be a current Marine in Iraq on an 8 year hitch without a voluntary enlistment and re-up. I could post my service record as a demonstration of why I know this to be so but the facts are in the public domain if you wish to go farther than wikipedia. If you think it isn’t true I will send you a cite.
    Nothing in my post is an insult. It is appreciably more level than Pendragon’s where he uses phrases like raging idiocy and ‘brainless support the troops types’. I didn’t take Pen Dragons comments as a personal insult. Neither, apparently, did anyone else. My response was, apparently, not taken as an insult by him or anyone but you. Given the tone of his post, it is clear thatpen Dragon is fully capable of defending himself if he felt he needed to.

    I submitted, and you avoided answering, that you have a residual personal problem with someone you have never met, that would be me, based on your highly personal response to my not liking Star Trek with your degree of passion. To this I say, for your own health, give up on it.

  • Victor Plenty

    Drew, my disagreement with you here has nothing to do with your opinions about anything else. I will try to explain my motives more clearly.

    Your claim of general knowledge, no matter how well you can document it, does not give you specific knowledge about how a particular person came to be serving in Iraq at this time.

    It struck me as disrespectful to assume that the only significant factor in creating this situation must have been Pen Dragon’s own choice. Such an assumption could imply blame. In reality, many other factors, beyond Pen Dragon’s control, may have contributed to the situation. That is why I perceived your statement as insulting, and responded as I have.

    However, I accept one claim you can make with full authority, namely, that you did not intend your statement to sound insulting. Of course you know, better than anyone else, what you meant to say. Thank you for clarifying this.

    In any event, you and I are both in agreement on the most important point. We both wish Pen Dragon a safe return home.

    In that spirit I hope it is now clear that my strong disagreement with your ideas (or my mistaken impression of your ideas) was not meant to imply any condemnation of you as a person.

  • Saladinho

    Man, it’s not just one.
    Saving Private Ryan
    Apocalypse Now
    Paths Of Glory
    Ballad of A Soldier
    The Bridge on the River Kwai
    Lawrence of Arabia
    The Best Years of Our Lives
    Seven Samurai
    I could go on. I didn’t even realize how many war films I actually like…

  • Can’t stand war movies, so that leaves only comedies about soldiers and soldiering for me to pick from. I’ll go with an oldie– No Time for Sargents, Andy Griffith’s first movie. He was a funny guy!

  • OK, never could spell sergeant. Sorry! Hey, I thought a “lef-tenant” was something different from a lieutenant for a long time, too!

  • Drew Ryce

    Well, if we are going for comedies with ‘left-tenants’ then there are a couple of Brit flicks that had me in stitches years back. In one, Terry Thomas had to spend the war pretending to be a Barbary Ape. I can’t remember the film title.

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