Films of my life – War Movies

The recent release of the excellent Dunkirk prompted me to think about which war films would I choose for my Top Ten? Would Dunkirk make that list?

It’s interesting, but I usually think of myself as a “sci-fi” movie fan, but actually I’m first and foremost a “movie’ fan. I love sci-fi, but I also enjoy other genres. Reflecting on what films to put in this list, I realised that many of my favourite movies are war films. In fact, I’ve already identified 2 of the movies on this list as my favourite film for the year they came out (The Great Escape (1963) and A Bridge Too Far (1977)). Another was one of my picks from 1979 (Apocalypse Now) and there is even one of my favourite (non Christmas) Christmas Movies (Where Eagles Dare)!

 

So, what else would I choose as my favourite (so not necessarily the best) war movies?

I would have to include Dunkirk on my list as it is not only one of the best movies of 2017, but a superlative example of how to make epic events relatable

Dunkirk

In no particular order, I would have all of the above, plus:

  1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – I remember Gill and I going to see the re-released “Director’s Cut” at Marble Arch in 1989. This was the first time I got to see this movie on a BIG screen and its the only way to really appreciate it. I did once see it on a National Express Coach, on a 12 inch screen which was located at the front of the coach. I was sat halfway back and I might as well have been listening to a radio play!
  2. Saving Private Ryan (1998) – the combination of brutal battle scenes (D-Day), state of the art sound realisation (That TANK arriving from behind you) and a human story makes this on of Spielberg’s classics
  3. Das Boot(1985) – This excellent movie showed for the first time not only how boring submarine life was, but also a more balanced German perspective. Released in cinemas from an original German TV series (1981), 30 years before HBO.
  4. Platoon (1986) – made a massive impression on me when I first saw it (in Reading with friend and house mate George Marshall ). It still has the power to shock
  5. Black Hawk Down (2001) – conveys the confusion and fear of war like no other movie. I’ve seen this movie so many times, and I still can’t tell who is who
  6. The Deer Hunter (1978) – another movie that shows the price communities pay when their men (and women) go to war. The relationships portrayed have that hallmark authenticity of Michael Cimino and 70s cinema
  7. Zulu (1964) – was in my list of 1964 favourites. The contrast of fighting styles and the sheer scale of the battles, coupled with the heroism on display, mask the uncomfortable colonial past of the British Empire. Actually, both sides come out with some honour
  8. Paths of Glory (1957) – I chose this movie over “Full Metal Jacket”, as I think it is Kubrick’s better war movie. I chose it over “All Quiet on the Western Front” as it is an even more powerful anti-war statement than that classic. An under rated movie
  9. La Grande Illusion (1937) – like “Paths of Glory”, this is a potent anti-war movie, all the more powerful because it was made 2 years before the fall of France and was banned by the Nazi’s
  10.  Dunkirk (2017) – I would have to include Dunkirk on my list as it is not only one of the best movies of 2017, but a superlative example of how to make epic events relatable. I love Director Christopher Nolan’s call back to another famous war film – The Battle of Britain with Michael Caine providing the voice of the unseen Squadron Leader (a role he played in TBoB)

So there you have it, my ten-ish (ok, 14) favourite War Films.

But which of these would you have on your list?

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Films of my life – 1977

Films of my life 1977

061132:Odeon cinema Pilgrim Street Newcastle upon Tyne Malcolm Maybury 1995

The Odeon, Pilgrim Street, Newcastle

By 1977, my cinema visiting routine was well established. I was living in Gateshead, but my school was in the west end of Newcastle (St Cuthbert’s Grammar). This meant that I travelled through the centre of Newcastle every evening of the working week, usually via the number 39 bus. At least once a week I would go to see a movie, preferably with a friend, but often on my own.

There was plenty of choice amongst cinemas in Newcastle in 1977. There was the Odeon on Pilgrim Street, which had 3 (later 4) screens, two ABC cinemas (Haymarket and Westgate Road), the Studios 1-4, and the Queen’s Theatre (70mm, curved screen). There were no affordable video players, and video rentals didn’t arrive until the 1980s, so if you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to the cinema, or wait FIVE years to see it on TV!

Star_Wars_Episode_IV-A_New_Hope_Theatrical_Release_PosterProbably because I was 13 for most of  1977, it is one of my favourite movie years. There are several movies from 1977 that are now regarded as classics:

  • Star Wars – just Star Wars, not Episode IV, not “A New Hope”, just Star Wars, which I think Dave Webster and I went to see at the very first showing at Christmas. A school acquaintance (Terry Hawthorn) allowed us to join him and his mum and jump the queue
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind – another favourite, though
    Spielberg has re-edited it several times, and generally not for the better. It was superb in 70mm at the Queen’s.(Update: on checking, this movie was released in 1978 in the UK)
  • The Spy Who Loved Me – one of the better Roger Moore Bond movies
  • Annie Hall – a film I love that I discovered in the 1980s when I was old enough to appreciate it!
  • Saturday Night Fever – I was annoyed that my younger sister, Rose,  got to see this at 12 years old (it was an X / 18) but I had to wait 2 years before I could get in
  • Eraserhead – David Lynch’s oddity, which I eventually saw in my 20s.

My favourite film of 1977 is not regarded as a classic, but it is my favourite war movie (as in one featuring battles, I have others, such as Schindler’s List that are set in the war, but are not war movies). It was one of the top 10 earners of 1977, though.

A Bridge Too Far Original Half-SheetSo why does it have such a special place in my heart? Well, it was one of the last movies that really had an ALL-STAR cast – Connery, Caan, Olivier, Redford, Gould, Hackman, Bogarde, Caine to name but a few. Sean Connery was, and probably still is, my favourite movie star and he is excellent in this film.

Another reason that I have fond memories of this movie were the circumstances of seeing it. Our family holiday that summer was in North Wales, and we spent it with my Uncle David, Aunty Margaret and my 4 year old cousin, Andrew. We saw the movie in Llandudno, in hot, stuffy, packed cinema. The movie is about 3 hours long, and had a interval. Sometime after stuffing our faces on ice-creams at the break, Andrew, decided to bring it back for public viewing. This resulted in Margaret getting a mop and bucket and cleaning it up. It did make the hospital scenes more realistic for the audience, as the cinema stank of bleach for the rest of the showing.

015507:Percy Street Newcastle upon Tyne 1966

ABC Haymarket

The success of Star Wars, Close Encounters and a few minor blockbuster movies reflected the changes going on in movie releases. The success of Jaws in 1975, plus the big hitters of this year set the pattern that we still see today – with studios putting more emphasis on making and marketing blockbusters. This would get even bigger with the introduction of multiplexes, video (then DVD and Blu-Ray) rental and sales starting in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the move to the US model of cinema chains spelled the ned for many older theatres in city centres like Newcastle. Within a decade many of the cinemas mentioned would close. The Odeon was the last to go, eventually closing in 2002.

Films of my life – 1965

Films of my life – 1965

I have to be honest and say that 1965 is not a vintage year. That said, it did produce 2 of my all time favourite films and enough quality to fill a weekend of binge viewing.

I have no real memories of 1965 (I was 2 in the October of that year), so again, the films I like were mostly discovered on TV. One or two should be on telly more often (“The Hill” for one, in which a wig-less Sean Connery endures bullying and pain in a desert military prison ) and others, such as the sumptuous Doctor Zhivago have become staples of holiday viewing (there is nothing better than watching this movie on a snowy day at Christmas).

Ipcress File

The Ipcress File – the “anti-establishment Bond”

Notable releases this year were “Thunderball” (Connery’s Underwater-Bond, complete with wig). In fact, it was a big year for spy movies, with the first movie version of a John Le Carré  book – “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” with Richard Burton. This was a grittier, humourless spy movie, much more real-life and bleak. Very much a product of the Cold War. Similarly, one of my 2 favourite movies from this year, was an antidote to Bond, but this one was produced by Harry Saltzman, one of the Bond producers! “The Ipcress File” starring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer has lot of the grit of Le Carré, but author Len Deighton added in 2 elements that make it even more appealing; Palmer is a working class spy and he has a real attitude; if Bond is establishment, then Palmer is the very definition of anti-establishment. As such, the character tapped into the blossoming youth culture and “kitchen sink dramas” from a few years previously. The fact that it is set at the dawn of “swinging London” gives it an added sense of time and place. Then there is the outstanding score (by another Bond veteran, John Barry). Check out the main theme, it is sublime!

I have to say that every time I come across this movie on TV, I can’t resist watching it.

Other top movies released in 1965:

  • For a Few Dollars More
  • Help (good soundtrack, not as good a movie as “A Hard Day’s Night”
  • Dr Who and the Daleks (Peter Cushing[!], Technicolour Daleks[!])
  • Ten Little Indians (one of the best Agatha Christie’s, recently done on TV as “And then there were none”)

Sound of MusicAs I said, not  a vintage year. However, my other favourite movie of this year also has a great soundtrack, and is still a regular for holiday TV. “The Sound of Music” is hard to resist, with many well known songs (“Climb Every Mountain”, “My Favourite Things”, “Do-Re-Mi” to name but a few) and a surprisingly gritty story. It was another film that I saw for the first time at the cinema, in the mid 1970s at the Queen’s Theatre in 70 mm.

 

I’m not sure which of these 2 movies I love most, so I’ll choose both of them as my films of the year.

 

Films of My Life – 1964

clapperboardThis blog charts my life through the films I love. Each post focuses on one year of my life and I choose my favourite film from that year.

In this post we are looking at 1964 – my first full year of life and probably best remembered for Beatlemania. In fact my mother always said that my first word was “Yeah” after the Beatle hit “She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)”. The Beatles capped this year of mega popularity with a movie of their own – “A Hard Day’s Night”. It’s a good movie, but not my favourite for that year.

“There were some absolute crackers released in 1964, and I found it hard to choose a favourite”

Again, I have to say that, of course, I was too young to remember seeing any movies in 1964 – my film memories of that year are based on movies I have seen subsequently, some may years after their release.

There were some absolute crackers released in 1964, and I found it hard to choose a favourite. Here are some of the other contenders; all great movies and anyone could have been my movie of the year;

  • Dr Strangelove – Kubrick’s satire on nuclear war, with outstanding performances (3) from Peter Sellers.
  • Fail-Safe – Dr Strangelove without the laughs. Truly terrifying
  • Marnie – Probably Hitchcock’s last great movie
  • Zulu – another bank holiday favourite
  • Mary Poppins – Probably my all time favourite Disney movie, with memorable songs and dodgy accents
  • A Shot In The Dark – more Pink Panther frolics, this time written by the man who would go on to write The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty)
  • A Fistful of Dollars – The first of the Leone “Man With No Name” trilogy

GoldfingerMy favourite movie of 1964 is “Goldfinger”. The third of the Bond series set the template for the next 30 years, until Daniel Craig took the role. Humour, gadgets (the (souped up Aston Martin DB5), great sets (Ken Adam imagining what the inside of Fort Knox might look like), a megalomaniac villain with a bonkers plan  (played by Gert Froebe, but dubbed throughout) and best of all – an outstanding score by John Barry and THAT title song, sung by Shirley Bassey.

I managed to see all of the Bond movies in the cinema. Bond movies didn’t make it onto TV until the late 1970s. Throughout the 1970s, they were often re-released as double headers, sometimes for only 3 or 4 days, which meant that some weeks I could see 4 Bond movies at the Classic cinema in Low Fell, or the Studios in Newcastle!

The first time I saw “Goldfinger”, I persuaded my cousin, Nigel Filby, to take me one Sunday afternoon, when his family were visiting us. The deal was that he kept the money we were given for sweets (which he used to buy fags). I didn’t care, I just wanted to see the movies!

1964_Corgi_Aston_Martin_DB5My other abiding memory of “Goldfinger” was having the Corgi replica of the Aston Martin (I think every young lad, and many lasses, had that car, with its working ejector seat). I had the car for so long before I got to see the movie, I remember that when  I did see it, I was amazed that it was silver -not gold like the toy!

In my opinion Goldfinger is not the best Bond (O.H.M.S.S. and Casino Royale are better) but it is the most famous. Connery was never better and the film was the top grossing movie of 1964. It also led to a plethora of copycat productions, from “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Mission: Impossible” on TV to “Our Man Flint” in cinemas

Yes, 1964 was a great year for Britain – it started with Beatlemania and ended with Bondmania.