Stalingrad or Dogs Do Yo Want To Live Forever? – Hunde wollt ihr ewig leben (1958) The first Stalingrad

Dogs Do You Want to Live Forever? – Hunde wollt ihr ewig leben? is a German black and white movie from the 50s. Although the newer movie Stalingrad is generally seen as a remake I cannot agree with this view. Both movies focus on Stalingrad but the way they are told, the point of view is very different. While a modern movie will often appeal more to us because it’s not black and white, we know the actors and the special effects are normally superior, this first Stalingrad is an excellent movie and I would say as good as the one from 1993, if not in parts better.

The movie opens with Hitler watching a German army parade. A voice in the off which we will hear all through the movie, criticizing the decisions of Hitler and the high command, tells us that these marching soldiers will soon be dying in the Russian snow. After a while we leave the parading soldiers and the camera shows men dying in the snow. After that the story as such begins.

The movie tells of the encirclement of the 6th Army in Stalingrad from the point of view of a young, idealistic and likable first lieutenant. In 1942, just before the Russian offensive which will encircle the 6th Army, Wisse has been commandeered to an outpost, not far from Stalingrad where he is liaising with a Rumanian corps which fights along with the Germans.

When it is clear that the Russians have started the offensive, Wisse is posted in Stalingrad. The town is half-destroyed, the German soldiers are freezing as they are not equipped for the Russian winter and there is hardly any food left. In the end high command gives the order to stop feeding the wounded.

It is obvious from the beginning of the movie that Hitler miscalculated the whole campaign and that the only way the 6th Army could have been saved would have been to break out of the circle and retreat as fast as possible. The Russian army entrapped a Germany army which was lacking winter gear, ammunition and was almost starving. The generals and commanding officers pleaded with the Führer but he was adamant. Still, the German command refused to break rank and disobey Hitler to save the army.  By the time General Paulus decided to surrender, 60’000 soldiers were dead. 110’000 were left, of which only 6’000 would return to Germany after the war.

What is particularly harrowing in this dark chapter is the fact that Stalingrad had no strategic importance whatsoever. It was a purely political decision and for the same reasons Stalin decided to hold the city. What followed was probably the most infamous battle of WWII.

There are many reasons which make Dogs Do You Want to Live Forever? a great movie. In focussing on one man, first lieutenant Wisse, it exemplifies the disintegration of the whole army and illustrates the disillusionment and the realization of Hitler’s misguided megalomania. While Wisse is true to the party in the beginning, he, like all the other soldiers based in Stalingrad, becomes aware that Hitler doesn’t care what happens to them. He breaks his promises and as soon as he realizes the fight might be lost, he abandons them completely.

Wisse isn’t the only interesting character, there is the cowardly  commanding officer Linkman, the priest who speaks up and fight for justice and some secondary characters which are all well-rounded too.

While Stalingrad (1993) is a great movie, this one feels even more authentic because a lot of what we see is original footage and it’s blended in so well that we often only realize that we are back to the movie when we can make out one of the actors. I have rarely seen this type of blending done so seamlessly and well. The effect is not only realistic but chilling.

What was better in this one than in the new movie was the way the street fighting and the combat in the city was shown. That must have been so chaotic and both sides were battle weary and would have liked to stop fighting.

Stalingrad – Dogs Do You Want to Live Forever? is one of the top war movies, one nobody should miss. It’s well worth pairing the viewing with the 1993 version as they complement each other.

While finishing this post I discovered that there will be a new, Russian Stalingrad which should be released in 2013. Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk, starring August Diehl. I’m really looking forward to that.

The Most Terrible Weather Conditions in Infantry Combat Movies – 4 Examples

Combat is hell. We all know that. But some combat situations are made even worse because of the weather. I have seen four movies and episodes of series in which the depicted weather conditions made me think: “How utterly awful this must have been”. The terrible weather conditions are a great means for film directors to enhance how horrible combat is and how utterly futile some battles when facing not only a strong(er) opponent but the force of nature.

The first movie is Stalingrad. To watch those troops in the icy cold snow of the Eastern Front is harrowing. Countless men who survived the battle died from hunger and cold.

Horror weather example number two is also due to snow and cold. It is shown in the episode “Bastogne” from Band of Brothers.

As brutal as the winter in Europe and the Eastern Front was, the constant rain the troops had to face in The Pacific was no less demoralizing. Example number three is the episode number 4 “Cape Gloucester” from The Pacific which takes place just after the battle of Guadalcanal. Humidity and the constant noise of the torrential rain lead to stress and illness.

Another really harrowing example was shown in the Australian movie Kokoda. The mud, rain and dirt of the Kokoda trail has to be mentioned among the worst experiences any troops have undergone.

I just realized that all these are examples from WWII. Makes it look as if there hadn’t been any terrible weather conditions during other wars but that is of course not the case. I remember a few WWI movies in which the mud and rain played an important role but I’m not able to pick a perfect example. Additionally I would like to add an example in which scorching heat proved to be fatal.

Which is the worst weather you have ever seen in any war movie?

My Top 10 Favourite War Movies – Revisited

I re-watched Glory the other day and while I still think it’s a very good movie, I don’t think it deserves to be in my Top 10 nor will it end up in my Top 20. Top 50 certainly. This made me think that it’s about time to revisit my Top 10. I had to replace Glory and I also decided to get rid of Band of Brothers. It is excellent, absolutely deserving of being watched and re-watched but it’s a mini-series and not a movie.

So here is the list which will probably change again, sooner or later.

Black Hawk Down

Stalingrad

Platoon

When Trumpets Fade

The Thin Red Line

Gallipoli

Joyeux Noel

Hamburger Hill

Cross of Iron

The Army of Crime

Two movies were almost included Days of Glory and Das Boot.

I’m in the process of re-watching and while I know that Black Hawk Down, Stalingrad, Hamburger Hill, Platoon and The Thin Red Line will stay on the list, I’m not a 100% sure about the others.

Which movies would have to be on your Top 10?

Enemy at the Gates (2001) or The Duel of Two Snipers

It’s interesting how often people mention Enemy at the Gates as one of their favourite war movies, yet I do not see it included very often in more official Best of Lists. I wonder why and can only guess. Maybe because it is too esthetic? Hardly ever have ruins looked this good. Or is it because of the love story? I must admit, I had a problem with it. I don’t mind a love story, although it is mostly a bit tacky in a war movie, but I would have liked this one to be left out. I thought it spoilt an otherwise perfect movie. And I think another cast would have been better as well, apart from an excellent Ed Harris, I didn’t care for the actors. Despite all these reservations, I think it is an excellent movie. The central story is suspenseful and it is one of the most beautifully filmed war movies ever and certainly one of those I will re-watch. And don’t you just love movies about snipers?

Stalingrad 1942. The city is under siege. The German army hopes to win the war and to secure the oil fields near the Caspian Sea. The Russians are well aware if they lose Stalingrad, it is over. The losses are high, morale is low and a little bit of propaganda might do every one a lot of good. That’s why Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins) thinks its high time to fabricate a hero and charges Danilov, an important oficer of the Communist Party, with this mission.

Enemy at the Gates is loosely based on the story of the famous Russian sniper Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law). Vassili has learned to shoot at an early age, and now, in his early twenties he is the best sniper in the Russian army. Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) decides to pick him, and turn him into the hero Khrushchev is looking for. Vassili gets newspaper coverage and publicity and soon his fame is known far beyond the Russian borders and especially the Germans are well aware what a dangerous enemy he is.

Amidst the rubble and the ruins we see two parallel stories unfold. The first story line, follows a love triangle. Through Danilov Vassili meets the Jewish woman Tania (Rachel Weisz). Both men are in love with her but as it seems Tania has only eyes for Vassili. This love triangle is frankly annoying and disrupts the movie. It isn’t even very plausible.

The second story line revolves around the competition between Major König (Ed Harris), a famous German sniper, and Vassili. König is sent to Stalingrad to take out Vassili. All the parts of this second story line are quite gripping. We see the men hunt each other, we see how they get to know each other, how they try to find out how the other will react, how and from where he will shoot, how they try to ambush each other.

Snipers are endlessly patient. They don’t just shoot wildly, they aim carefully, take their time, observe and shoot only when they are fairly sure of hitting their target. Enemy at the Gates perfectly captures this cat-like hunter quality of the sniper and that’s what makes this film so watchable despite its flaws.

The director Jean-Jacques Annaud is famous for his cinematography. He has made one of the visually most compelling movies The Bear or L’ours . Enemy at the Gates is equally stunning from a cinematographic perspective.

Stalingrad (1993) The German Movie That is One of the Best War Movies Ever

Joseph Vilsmaier’s Stalingrad is one of the most powerful war movies I have ever seen. It bears testimony to Germany’s outstanding filmmaking capacities. It is also one of the rare that I have watched at least three times and every time I discovered something new. That’s why it is difficult to write a decent review and not one that is so long that you jump to the next post without even finishing the introduction.

Stalingrad focuses closely on five characters, four of which have been together since they fought at El Alamein.  We first see them on leave in Italy  from where they board a train to the Eastern Front. They don’t really have a clue where they are going or what for. They know the Führer says it is crucial and they have to trust him on that but first voices can be heard that doubt the decision-making of their command. During their train trip they meet their new Lieutenant, Witzlan (Thomas Kretschmann), for the first time. He isn’t battle hardened like the others are, in fact he has never fought at all and there is immediately a lot of friction.

When they get off the train in Stalingrad they face total chaos. There are heavily wounded soldiers everywhere, fighting is extremely heavy and they are in the midst of it all right away. The German officers in Stalingrad are mostly cruel Nazis, the treatment of Russian prisoners is harrowing. Witzlan is, as the privates discover now, a very humane person. He will not tolerate abuse and cruelty and comes into conflict with superiors on that subject. He may be inexperienced but he has a great character and his decision making isn’t all that bad, as we soon see.  As a matter of fact his subordinates learn to respect him a lot. One of the majors however is one of the most obnoxious characters of war movie history, a real jerk.

Stalingrad consists more or less of seven very distinct parts, the first one is the leave in Italy, followed by a heavy infantry combat one, then a sequence in which they are doing forced labour, next is the so-called “tank episode”, then they escape, meet again later with a part of their original group and finally try again to escape, out of Russia and back to Germany.

Because Stalingrad focuses practically only on five people it is a very intimate and emotional movie You have the feeling to know these people, you care for them, they are really humans with all their strengths and flaws. They are no heroes, they are normal people caught in what was one of the biggest tragedies of WWII, one of the battles that cost the most lives.

And there is the setting and seasonal implications. Russia in winter is one of the coldest places on earth. This really is a winter movie. Snow, ice, freezing and the total hopelessness of the people involved makes it unforgettable. Most of those who survived the battles froze to death later.

I have often wondered, if I had to choose, which climate I would choose. Fighting in the desert, in the jungle or in the icy cold planes of Russia? All three settings bear their own horrors as did the war soaked trenches of France and Belgium. My father fought in the desert, where you fight exhaustion, thirst, Fata Morgana and hallucinations from the heat and have to endure long walks through arid barren country where you can’t hide and are an easy target.

From my own personal point of view, I tink that icy Russia would be the worst. Stalingrad is for me the worst battle that ever took place. The battle and its aftermath are horrible.

I haven’t seen the Finnish movie Talvisota aka The Winter War yet, this might be similar, also a winter movie, but apart from that I think the extreme that is depicted in Stalingrad is unique. No other war movie achieves to convey such a powerful anti-war statement.

It think it safe to say that it is not only one of my Top 10 but it is also generally acknowledged as one of the best ever.  It manages to combine very intimate portraits of five soldiers, intense infantry combat, the depiction of a grueling climate and one of the biggest miscalculations of Hitler. 5/5 is an absolute understatement.

10 German War Movies You Must See Before You Die

In the last years Germany has made quite a few very good war movies but there are also some older ones that have stood the test of time. I am sure I have forgotten some and left out many that are co-productions with the exception of Joyeux Noël aka Merry Christmas because it is one of my Top 10. I will very probably mention it again when I will make a post on 10 French war movies you must see before you die.

Let´s stick to Germany for the time being.

Die Brücke aka The Bridge (1959): WWII, Germany. One of the best anti-war films ever. Shows how senseless some orders are. Young people fight for a bridge although the war can´t be won anymore. It is one of the movies on my list Children in War Movies.

Hunde, wollt ihr ewig leben aka Dogs, do you want to live forever – Stalingrad (1959): WWII, Russia. A German classic. A grim look at the battle in Stalingrad.

Das Boot (1981): THE U-Boot movie. Conveys brilliantly what it is like to be helpless under water. Claustrophobic feel. Superb acting. Marvellous cast. Especially noteworthy the singer Herbert Grönemeyer.

Stalingrad (1993): WWII, grim infantry combat. German POV. One of the best war movies  ever, one of my Top 10 as well. The setting, the character portraits, the acting, the combat, the snow, the cold, the despair. A fabulous movie that gives an insight in one of the worst chapters of WWII. Another marvellous cast. Thomas Kretschmann (King Kong, Resident Evil, The Downfall, The Young Victoria) is in it. He is one of those German actors that are known far beyond Germany and Europe. (see my post on Stalingrad)

NaPolA aka Before the Fall (2004): WWII, Germany. Interesting look at the Hitler Youth. How they recruited their elite, how they brainwashed them. Poisonous Pedagogy. See my review for more details. This movie is also on the Children in War Movies list.

Der Untergang aka The Downfall (2004): WWII, Berlin. The final days of Hitler. Astonishing acting from the very great Bruno Ganz. A fascinating portrait. Eerie. Creepy.  An outstanding movie and a must see even for those who don’t watch war movies. (see my post on The Downfall)

Joyeux Noël aka Merry Christmas (2005): WWI, France. Especially noteworthy as it is about WWI. The movie depicts the so-called “Little peace”. It is Christmas and something strange is happening. The war stands still. The enemy soldiers prefer football over fighting and get to know and like each other. Based on a true story. You get a good feel for the differences of the trenches and the characteristics of the parties involved.

Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage aka Sophie Scholl (2005): WWII, Germany. German Resistance. One of the leaders of The White Rose, Sophie Scholl´s final days. I have hardly ever seen a movie like this. After watching it I did solemnly swear to become a better person (I am not too successful yet. It is an ongoing process. A work in progress). No, honestly, this woman or girl´s guts… So much selfless idealism and courage. I was awed.

Anonyma – Eine Frau n Berlin aka Anonyma – The Downfall of Berlin (2008) : WWII, Berlin. One of the movies I reviewed recently. I included it as it tackles a lesser known and very painful subject. The mass rape of German women by the Red Army. See my post of Anonyma.

Der rote Baron aka The Red Baron (2008): WWI, Germany. The romanticized story of Baron von Richthofen the famous German fighter pilot. Beautifully filmed, good-looking cast, very intense air combat. See my post of the Red Baron.

Any movies you would add?

As I think Sophie Scholl is not known enough I added the trailer for you.

Hooked

Which war movie was it that did it? Which was the first to catch my interest to such an extent that it would become a passion? Is it the same that I would call my all time favourite war movie or has it meanwhile become one amongst many?

Which one is it for you? Or is it more than just one, maybe a whole category? Was it the day you discovered that there is actually more than just one Vietnam movie but a whole bunch of them?  Or do you go for combat movies in general and the actual war isn’t even that important to you?  It could also be about the camaraderie. Or the weapons. Or machines. You could love sniper movies or those with subs in them. Maybe you are obsessed with panzers.

See? A lot of things could get you hooked.

In my case it was a very specific movie. The war: Second world war. Location: The Pacific. Genre: Infantry combat. You know which one? Take a guess.

Yes, the other one, the one that didn’t get all the credit it deserved cause Saving Private Ryan was out there at the same time.  Yeah, I’m talking the Thin Red Line here.

That was the first one that moved me so much it got me thinking. And looking back. There had been others before and there would be many more afterwards but this one  was the first that got me hooked. Followed closely by Stalingrad, Black Hawk Down and Band of Brothers. Ok, I admit, it is not a very old passion but notwithstanding it is a profound one. These  movies convinced me that there was more about war movies than the general public would ever see,it showed me a huge terrain full of astonishingly original, moving, interesting and fascinating movies.    A world full of variety. There are so many war movies out there and so many different genres and subgenres that probably no one, and I mean it, absolutely no one would not name the one or the other among some of their all time favourites (it just depends on how inclusive the borders of the category are to you.  Combat movies are just a genre among many and even though, admittedly, it might be what I prefer, they are not to everybody’s liking. But think: Last of the Mohicans, Enigma, The Pianist…..  There’s quite a wide range.)