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Hollywood's Treatment of War

Since the first scenes of warfare appeared in a brief 1898 silent movie filmed during the Spanish American War, many American films have sought to capture the horror and unbridled heroism, carnage and undaunted courage, the senseless and meaning of warfare. These films explore the realities of combat, the relationships that soldiers form within their units; and the interior mind of soldiers as they are thrust into battle.

The Big Parade (1925)

Many war films are in fact anti-war films. This film, directed by King Vidor, tells the story of a soldier, played by John Gilbert, who experiences the terror of the trenches and returns home maimed and emotionally scarred.


All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

This film, one of the most powerful anti-war statements ever made, tells the story of a German soldier, played by Lew Ayres, as he is transformed from idealistic student to a hardened soldier.


Triumph of the Will (1936)

This German film, directed by Leni Riefenstahl, reveals film's power as an instrument of propaganda.


The Great Dictator (1940)

In this film, which helped prepare the nation for war, Charlie Chaplin plays two characters, the dictator Hynkel, a caricature of Adolf Hitler, and his look-alike, a Jewish barber facing religious persecution.


The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

This William Wyler film explores the wrenching readjustment of soldiers as they return home.


Battleground (1949)

This film, which served as the model for Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, shows a squadron of American foot soldiers who are trapped during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.


The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

John Huston directed this adaptation of Stephen Crane's Civil War novel which cast Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of World War II, in the lead role, and which examines what goes on inside a young man as he encounters combat for the first time.


Paths of Glory (1957)

Stanley Kubrick directed this powerful anti-war film about WWI, in which Kirk Douglas leads his troops into battle against a German outpost and they are ravaged by machine gun fire, shrapnel, grenades and mines.


Patton (1970)

Director Franklin Schaffner's film presents a complex, multi-dimensional portrait of General George Patton, which simultaneous admires and criticizes the famous general.


The Big Red One (1980)

Director Samuel Fuller's vivid examination of life as a foot soldier on the front lines of World War II.


Platoon (1986)

Director Oliver Stone's powerful first film about the Vietnam War, which examines a young soldiers who is caught between two sergeants, one good, one evil.


Saving Private Ryan (1998)

The 24-minute recreation of the D-Day landing in Normandy is generally considered the most accurate depiction of the experience of combat to appear on the screen. Yet ironically the rest of the movie generally conforms to many of the conventions of the World War II combat film, with a diverse unit consisting of corn-fed farm boys, ethnic types and wise-guy New Yorkers.

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