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Defending war films

Whenever I meet my fellow film reviewers at the Sundance Film Festival rest assured when we take a latte after some indie film of indescribable tedium and conversation turns to our favourite genres and films I’m under bombardment for enjoying war films most, yet I continue to defend them not just on the grounds of the enjoyment they provide.

First, they require great deal more planning and work than most films. The most popular film web site is IDMB (Independent Data Movie Base) which charts every film. In the record of the film is a section called goofs.

Clive James once presented a film programme which did much the same.

So directors and producers are very much aware and wary of any poor editing or impossible detail e.g. a credit card before the 1970s. Before a war film is made uniforms, tanks and guns have to be gathered and this is no easy task.

Second, the filming of a large scale open air battle is demanding and expensive.

The director does not have the luxury of a interior studio take of 20 attempts.

Third there is the quality of the cast. A film like Darryl Zanuck’s The Longest Day features every star going and this can and does lead to rivalry.

For a younger audience though it’s now a rare opportunity to appreciate Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson – as in Battle of Britain – or Alec Guinness in Bridge over the River Kwai or The Malta Story or Robert Shaw in Battle of the Bulge.

These films were my rites of passage into films.

The strange thing is, though in my mid-sixties, I enjoy them all the more.

I watched Battle of the Bulge for the umpteenth time recently.

I was reminded of my aunt ‘s view when it was released “Henry Fonda was right and the whole of the American army wrong” but any such historical impossibility is more than offset by the performance of Robert Shaw, the input of Telly Savalas and Charles Bronson, and the sheer epic grandeur of the tank engagements.

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts