War

Explore some conflict resolution with War Films starring Glen Ford, Bill Nighy, Jose Ferrer, Rod Steiger, Gary Cooper, George C. Scott, Helen Hayes, Sophia Loren, Van Johnson, Robert Mitchum, Bette Davis, or Randolph Scott. Or with some great War Movie Directors like Ray Enright, John Hugh, Michael Winner, Nathanael Gutman, M. Clay Adams. Waris Hussein, Joel Rapp or Jim Goddard.

The war film genre is not necessarily tightly defined: the American Film Institute, for example, speaks of “films to grapple with the Great War” without attempting to classify these. However, some directors and critics have offered at least tentative definitions. The director Sam Fuller defined the genre by saying that “a war film’s objective, no matter how personal or emotional, is to make a viewer feel war.”

John Belton identified four narrative elements of the war film within the context of Hollywood production:

  • the suspension of civilian morality during times of war,
  • primacy of collective goals over individual motivations,
  • rivalry between men in predominantly male groups as well as marginalization and objectification of women, and
  • depiction of the reintegration of veterans.

The film critic Stephen Neale suggests that the genre is, for the most part, well-defined and uncontentious since war films are simply those about war being waged in the 20th Century, with combat scenes central to the drama. However, Neale notes, films set in the American Civil War or the American Indian Wars of the 19th Century were called war films in the time before the First World War. The critic Julian Smith argues, on the contrary, that the war film lacks the formal boundaries of a genre like the Western, but that in practice, “successful and influential” war films are about modern wars, in particular World War II, with the combination of mobile forces and mass killing. The film scholar Kathryn Kane points out some similarities between the war film genre and the Western. Both genres use opposing concepts like war and peace, civilization and savagery. War films usually frame World War II as a conflict between good and evil as represented by the Allied forces and Nazi Germany whereas the Western portrays the conflict between “civilized” settlers and the “savage” indigenous peoples. James Clarke notes the similarity between a Western like Sam Peckinpah‘s The Wild Bunch and “war-movie escapades” like The Dirty Dozen.

Film historian Jeanine Basinger states that she began with a preconception of what the war film genre would be, namely that:

“What I knew in advance was what presumably every member of our culture would know about World War II combat films—that they contained a hero, a group of mixed types [of people], and a military objective of some sort. They take place in the actual combat zones of World War II, against the established enemies, on the ground, the sea, or in the air. They contain many repeated events, such as mail call, all presented visually with appropriate uniforms, equipment, and iconography of battle.”

Further, Basinger considers Bataan to provide a definition-by-example of “the World War II combat film,” in which a diverse and apparently unsuited group of “hastily assembled volunteers” hold off a much larger group of the enemy through their “bravery and tenacity.” She argues that the combat film is not a subgenre but the only genuine kind of war film. Since she notes that there were in fact only five true combat films made during the Second World War, in her view these few films, central to the genre, are outweighed by the many other films that lie on the margins of being war films. However, other critics such as Russell Earl Shain propose a far broader definition of war film, to include films that deal “with the roles of civilians, espionage agents, and soldiers in any of the aspects of war (i.e. preparation, cause, prevention, conduct, daily life, and consequences or aftermath).” Neale points out that genres overlap, with combat scenes for different purposes in other types of film, and suggests that war films are characterized by combat, which “determines the fate of the principal characters.” This in turn pushes combat scenes to the climactic ends of war films.

Not all critics agree, either, that war films must be about 20th-Century wars. James Clarke includes Edward Zwick‘s Oscar-winning Glory  (1990) among the war films he discusses in detail; it is set in the American Civil War, and he lists six other films about that war which he considers “notable.”