Where Eagles Dare (1968) War Themed Action

I’ve never seen Where Eagles Dare before and must say I was pleasantly surprised. It’s entertaining and cinematographically stunning.

It’s a fabulously scenic film with some pictures that would even look good in a vampire movie. Plus we get to see two great actors, Clint Eastwood and  Richard Burton who, teamed up, give this movie a special something that I found very appealing.

The story is the tale of a suicide mission. A group of mountaineering soldiers, led by British Major Smith (Richard Burton) and American Lt. Schaffer (Clint Eastwood) are sent to free an American officer captured by the Germans and held in a castle in the mountain, called Eagle’s Nest.

From the moment they parachute out of the plane it’s obvious that the mission they are on is a fake one. What they really need to do, is uncover double-agents.

From the moment they land in the snow-covered woods, until they climb into the castle, the action and tension is relentless and is even intensified, when they have to escape from the castle again.

It’s quite a violent movie, with loads of explosions and a great deal of merciless killings. But it is also very suspenseful, there is plenty of action reminiscent of a modern-day movie. (It seems as if this was Quentin Tarantino’s favourite war movie and that he wanted to do a remake. I hope he will not and that the similarities one can find in Inglourious Basterds is all there will be.)

It was a pleasant surprise to find a female agent who has quite a great role, and fights and shoots just like the men.

I loved the cinematography, the steep mountains, covered in snow and the castle, nested on the top of a hill, gave the movie a Gothic feel.

The fact that I always feel uneasy in cable-cars made watching this movie quite impressive as some of the most gripping scenes take place on the top of a cable-car.

Apparently the movie has been criticized for not being anti-war. I think, that there are for sure movies with a clearer anti-war statement, which is one of the reasons why I think this is more of an action movie with a war theme than a real war movie.

In any case,  I found it very entertaining and I loved Clint Eastwood in this.

I’ve heard that Where Eagles Dare is one of a pair, the other one being The Guns of Navarone. There is a certain likeness, logically, they have both been written by Alistair MacLean. I couldn’t say which one I prefer, I think they both have a lot to offer.

Which one do you prefer?

Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom (1995) A Story of the Spanish Civil War

At the beginning of Ken Loach’s movie Land and Freedom, we see a young woman sorting out the things her late grandfather has left behind. She finds a suitcase full of black and white photos, newspaper articles and letters that show her a hidden part in her grandfather’s life. Little had she known that he had fought in the Spanish Civil War and loved a Spanish woman.

In 1936 David Carr (Ian Hart) is an unemployed miner and member of the British Communist Party. When someone from the Spanish Communist Party shows up and tells them about the Civil War in Spain in which the people fight against General Franco’s Army and the rich landowners, David spontaneously decides to go to Spain and fight for the rights of the people.

On his train journey he meets people from the Spanish militia, part of the POUM, a communist group that fights independently of the International Stalinist Brigades. He has no particular place to be and decides to join them. The people in the little group he is fighting with are all idealists. They come from all over the world, the US, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the UK. They want to fight for the rights of the peasants and the poor and not join the Stalinist Brigades which they consider to be corrupt and only interested in their own cause.

David who at first seems to think he is living some kind of adventure, soon faces the harsh reality. Not only is the fighting often heavy and there are casualties but they are badly trained and equipped and the Stalinists keep the weapons from them. When one of those faulty guns explodes, David is injured and sent to the hospital. Blanca, one of the group visits him in Barcelona, after he has come out of the hospital. They spend a night together but she leaves disgusted when she finds out that David has decided to join the Stalinists.

David will regret his decision soon enough and return to his old POUM group. The movie ends tragically and on a note of utter disillusionment.

Land and Freedom was absolutely not what I had expected and I assume that is exactly what Ken Loach was aiming for. We all have our ideas about the Spanish Civil War, some very romantic ones mostly. We know that Hemingway fought in Spain and so many other writers, painters… It seemed to have been one of the very rare wars with a justified cause to fight for. Ken Loach destroys all our romantic ideas and that is why the movie is good and annoying at the same time. He tries to show how it must have been. The fights and differences within the Communist Party and their subgroups, the endless talking and theorizations. The middle part of the movie is one long annoying and boring conversation and dispute about collectivism.

An aspect I wasn’t familiar with is the fact that women were only allowed to fight alongside the men at the beginning of the war. Later it was decided that they had to do “womanly” things like cooking or being nurses. I thought that women fought all through this war. Another shattered illusion.

Loach has earned a lot of praise and got also a lot of scolding for this movie. Some think that finally someone told it as it was, others think he dirtied the memory of the Spanish Civil War.

I am a fan of Ken Loach‘s movies, he has done quite a few that I liked a lot, although I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I liked Land and Freedom, I must say, I appreciated it. I felt somewhat stupid for having to realize that my idea of the Spanish Civil War had maybe been a tad too romantic as well.

Unfortunately there was no trailer of Land and Freedom, only the first part of the movie.

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.

Spike Lee’s Miracle at St.Anna (2008) The Story of the Buffalo Soldiers and the Massacre at St. Anna

I would say that Miracle at St.Anna is one of the best American war movies and the best American WWII movie of the last ten years. I was surprised to see how good it is, as critics and public have been equally harsh. I assume they are biased because of its director. The end is corny but overall it is absolutely excellent and tells a lesser known story in a very engaging way.

The movie starts somewhat surprisingly in 1982 New York. A modest post-office worker kills a man who buys stamps from him. He shoots him with a German Luger. The incident attracts a lot of attention, even more so when they discover the head of an Italian Renaissance statue in his apartment.

Next we are in Italy, in 1944. The 92nd company, the so-called Buffalo soldiers, a company consisting almost only of African-American soldiers gets under heavy German fire. A small group is separated from the rest and makes their way to a little mountain village that is surrounded by Germans.

One of the soldiers, a huge man, saves a little boy who seems to be ill and slightly crazy. He takes the disturbed little kid with him, all together they find refuge in the house of some Italians, one of them a Fascist. The Germans aren’t really looking for the Buffalo soldiers, they are hunting Italian partisans. And the partisans are hunting them. The Italians know, and so it seems does the little boy, that there is a traitor among them.

While they stay at the village, some of the soldiers realize that the Italians treat them much better than the white people back home. And they also treat them better than some of the white American civilians living in Italy. There is a particularly infuriating scene with an American bar owner who doesn’t want to serve black people. They fight for their country but their country doesn’t appreciate them.

The core scene of the movie is the massacre at St. Anna, a true story, in which hundreds of Italian civilians got killed by the Nazis because the Partisans have killed some of the Germans. The Germans have been told by their command that they have to shoot 10 Italians for one dead German.

Miracle at St. Anna is very rich. It combines a multitude of elements and many stories that circle around different relationships but still feels like a whole. It’s sad, it’s moving and it is very suspenseful as it also works like a thriller. We really want to know why the guy killed the other one. There aren’t many good WWII movies showing the African-American participation and there aren’t many good ones on Italy during WWII. This covers both. And there is also some fighting, for those who want this from their war movies.

Miracle at St. Anna is also part of the Children in War Movies List and African-American Soldiers in war movies.

For those of you who like to watch TV series, the actor who played Shane in The Shield and the guy called “Omar” in The Wire are in this movie.

This is a highly watchable and very original movie that can be named together with other great WWII movies like Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line. 5/5

Roma, Città Aperta aka Rome, Open City (1945) Roberto Rossellini’s Neorealist Masterpiece

Rome, Open City, which is part of Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy, was first meant to be a documentary. It eventually  became a movie which incorporated a lot of original footage, in part due to the shortage of film. The black and white movie Rome, Open City is one of the most important movies of the Italian Neorealist movement. Apart from a famous cast, including Aldo Fabrizi and the great and talented Anna Magnani in one of her best roles, Rossellini hired many people from the streets to enhance the authentic feel.

It’s a fantastic movie and one of the most important movies of European film making. Furthermore it’s another one on my list Children in War Movies as children play an important role.

Roma, città aperta takes place towards the end off WWII. At the core of the story are the Priest Don Pietro Pellegrini, the widow Pina who is about to get married to Franceso, her little son Marcello and Giorgio Manfredi, the head of the resistance. Because Giorgio almost gets caught he hides and the priest and his friend Francesco try to help him and organize his escape. Francesco has a girlfriend, Marina, but he keeps her at arm’s length knowing very well that he is about to leave. Marina, a vain and weak woman, gives away his hiding place to the Gestapo. On the one hand she wants to take revenge, on the other she is venal. Since the war began she regularly sells her body to all sorts of people, also Germans. When bribed by a sleek German commander and his lesbian assistant she gives in. In exchange she gets drugs.

When the Gestapo arrests Giorgio, Pina runs after him into the street and is shot by the Germans. This is an extremely famous scene, one that stays with you for a long time. What follows Giorgio’s and his friends’ arrest is similar to all the other Resistance movies I have seen. The men are tortured. The priest isn’t tortured but also questioned and when he doesn’t say anything, he is executed. The children of the street, among them Pina’s little son, witness the execution of the beloved gentle priest with horror.

Rome, Open City is gritty and realistic. It shows many details of the life in Rome during WWII. How the people lived in close quarters, how they struggled to provide themselves with food. It also shows how many people were active in the Resistance. All the main characters are part of it, also the priest which is an important detail that wants to show how unified the Italians were in their fight against the Germans.

Rome, Open City is a classic. It has many memorable scenes and dialogues. It also analyses the deeper meaning of war and guilt. The priest states more than once that maybe the war happened for a reason. With a central character being a Catholic priest it’s obvious that the movie is saturated by Catholicism. The church  takes an active part in fighting evil.

This movie is a must for cinephiles and people interested in war movies alike. If you need the subtitles it will be a bit difficult to follow this movie. Although I speak Italian I had to watch with subtitles as they can’t be turned off and noticed that far over 50% of the dialogue, which is very fas,t is missing.