The DVDs and videos described here readily available for rent or purchase. A significant number of descriptions for the films have been written by a distributor, as a film synopsis or a critic. The names of the writer appear at the end of each description when applicable.
Battle Circus (1953), Director: Richard Brooks, Running Time: 90 Minutes. A deadly barrage of "incoming mail" draws nearer. The frontlines are moving, so Mobile Army Surgical Hospital 8666 must also move, and quickly. The wounded are evacuated. Tents are struck and loaded. And if there's no time to strike it, burn it. Then, like circus wagons rolling through hell, the medical convoy risks ambush as it bumps and rumbles to its next encampment.
Humphrey Bogart and June Allyson star and Richard Brooks (Elmer Gantry, In Cold Blood) scripts and directs this stark tale of love and war that matches M*A*S*H in setting but not in tone. Allyson plays a wide-eyed nurse who arrives in Korea oblivious to the dangers. Bogey plays a careworn surgeon who numbs his feelings with booze and romantic dalliance. "Three world wars in one lifetime," he says. "Maybe whiskey's as much a part of our life as war."
Battle Hymn (1956), Director: Douglas Sirk, Running Time: 108 Minutes. Dean Hess, who entered the ministry to atone for bombing a German orphanage, decides he's a failure at preaching. Rejoined to train pilots early in the Korean War, he finds Korean orphans raiding the airbase garbage. With a pretty Korean teacher, he sets up an orphanage for them and others. But he finds that to protect his charges, he has to kill. (Summary written by Rod Crawford for www.imdb.com)
Battle Taxi (1955), Director:Herbert Strock, Running Time: 82 Minutes. In the Korean war, the commander of an Air Rescue helicopter team must show a hot-shot former jet pilot how important helicopter rescue work is and turn him into a team player. (Summary written by Jim Beaver for www.imdb.com)
The Bridges at Toko-ri (1954), Director: Mark Robson, Running Time: 103 Minutes. The Bridges at Toko-ri is a masterful story of a war-weary World War II veteran who must leave his family to fight again, this time in the Korean War. Starring: William Holden, Grace Kelly, Fredric March, Mickey Rooney, Robert Strauss, Charles McGraw, and Keiko Awaji.
Combat Squad (1953), Director: Cy Roth, Running Time: 72 Minutes. A small platoon of American infantry, led by Sergeant Fletcher (John Ireland), captures a cave and smashes a roadblock and then heads back for some "R n' R" with some U.S.O hostesses. Then they clean some snipers out of a thicket, accomplished with the aid of a raw recruit, Martin (Lon McCallister.) (Summary written by Les Adams for www.imdb.com)
For the Boys (1991), Director: Mark Rydel, Running Time: 138 Minutes. USO entertainers Dixie Leonard and Eddie Sparks travel and perform together through World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The story of their adventures together, filled with love, laughter and tears, is related in flashbacks by Dixie on the eve of being awarded a medal by the President. (Summary written by Dan Larsen for www.imdb.com)
Fixed Bayonets (1951), Director: Samuel Fuller, Running Time: 92 Minutes. A platoon is cut off from their patrol in the Korean War, and as officers drop like flies, an unwilling corporal must take command. With Fuller at the helm, this is no typical combat movie; as the soldiers are pinned down under fire, the film grows more and more claustrophobic until someone reaches a breaking point.
The Glory Brigade(1953), Director: Robert D. Webb, Running Time: 82 Minutes. During the Korean War Lt. Sam Pryor volunteers his platoon to escort Greek troops to perform a reconnaissance mission behind Communist lines. Due to his Greek heritage Pryor is initially proud to accompany the Greek contingent, but his feelings change to scorn and mistrust when what he believes is cowardice shown by the Greek soldiers and their leaders results in the near annihilation of his own platoon. An uneasy alliance is maintained between the US and Greek troops as the enemy's true objective is learned. Starring: Victor Mature, Alexander Scourby, Lee Marvin, Richard Egan, Nick Dennis, and Roy Roberts.
Inchon (1981), Director: Terence Young, Running Time: 140 Minutes. A noisy re-telling of the great 1950 invasion of Inchon during the Korean War which was masterminded by General Douglas MacArthur.
Jet Attack (1958), Director: Edward L. Cahn, Running Time: 68 Minutes. American commandos go after a captured scientist behind North Korean lines.
M*A*S*H(1970), Director: Robert Altman, Running Time: 117 Minutes. Highlights the outrageous antics of three skilled young surgeons drafted from civilian life and assigned to a unit of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) during the Korean War.
MacArthur (1977), Director: Joseph Sargent, Running Time: 130 Minutes. The story of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander during World War II and United Nations Commander for the Korean War. "MacArthur" begins in 1942, following the fall of Phillipines, and covers the remarkable career of this military legend up through and including the Korean War and into MacArthur's days of forced retirement after being dismissed from his post by President Truman.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Director: John Frankenheimer, Running Time: 126 Minutes. In Korea in 1952, a US Army patrol is ambushed by Communist soldiers. A year later the squad, having escaped, returns to the US, where Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw is to receive the Medal of Honor for single-handedly saving the lives of the squad. Shaw is the son of Eleanor Iselin, wife of US Senator John Yerkes Iselin, and Mrs. Iselin turns the return of Raymond into a political rally that brings out building hostility between son and mother over the ambitions of Johnny Iselin. But there is more involved, for the actions of Raymond Shaw are not what everyone believes they are, and the nightmares of a US Army officer, Bennett Marco, leads to investigation of Raymond that unlocks a stunning political conspiracy that sweeps up Johnny and Elanor Iselin, and which only Bennett Marco can possibly stop. (Summary written by Michael Daly for www.imbd.com)
Men of the Flying Lady (1954), Director: Andrew Marton, Running Time: 81 Minutes. Chronicle of the exploits and heroic actions of US Navy pilots during the Korean War. Men of the Fighting Lady was based on two literary works: The Case of the Blinded Pilot by Cmdr. Harry A. Burns, and The Forgotten Heroes of Korea by James A. Michener
Pork Chop Hill (1959), Director: Lewis Milestone, Running Time: 97 Minutes. A stark screen re-enactment of the U.S. Army King Company's valiant, high-casualty offensive to capture and hold strategically important Pork Chop Hill during the Korean War. Starring: Gregory Peck, Harry Guardino, Rip Torn, George Peppard, James Edwards, Bob Steele, Woody Strode, George Shibata.
Retreat Hell (1952), Director: Joseph H. Lewis. A film about the United States Marine Corps' withdrawal from the Changjin Reservoir.
Sabre Jet (1953), Director: Louis King, Running Time: 90 Minutes. The story of jet pilots flying over Korea by day, from their Itazuke Air Base in Japan, and of their wives, on station with them, who have dinner ready when they return. Jane Carter (Coleen Gray), a reporter for a large newspaper syndicate arrives and she is also the estranged wife of the assistant squadron commander, Colonel Gil Manton (Robert Stack.) At first, she goes at her assignment of getting a story on the pilots’ wives with the same ruthlessness and persistence that broke up her marriage but a mirror isn't needed to peek around the corner to where this one is headed. (Summary written by Les Adams for www.imdb.com)
The Steel Helmet(1950), Director: Samuel Fuller, Running Time: 85 Minutes. Set in the early days of the Korean War, Evans plays a POW survivor who teams up with an orphaned Korean boy to find US troops and make it back home. Confronted with the horrors of war that have felled lesser men, Evans’ determined individualistic streak is the only thing that saves him—acting as a metaphor for notorious renegade Fuller. Starring Gene Evans and Robert Hutton.
Ladybug Ladybug (1963), Director: Frank Perry, Running Time: 82 minutes.
Frank and Eleanor Perry, makers of "David and Lisa," have produced a new motion picture... a picture dedicated to life. Staff and students at a rural school react to a warning of an imminent nuclear attack, not knowing whether it is real or mistaken.
Les Carabiniers (1963), Director: Jean-Luc Godard, Running time: 80 minutes.
Godard's powerful anti-war and anti-imperialist film, Les Carabiniers, centers on two peasants who join the King's army. Seduced by the promise of riches, the two leave their wives and embark into the war sending postcards home that detail their conquests. Upon their return, they learn that a peace treaty has been signed and in turn, are betrayed by the king for their overzealousness.
Letters from Iwo Jima (2007), Director: Clint Eastwood, Running time: 140 minutes.
The island of Iwo Jima stands between the American military force and the home islands of Japan. Therefore the Imperial Japanese Army is desperate to prevent it from falling into American hands and providing a launching point for an invasion of Japan. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi is given command of the forces on the island and sets out to prepare for the imminent attack. General Kuribayashi, however, does not favor the rigid traditional approach recommended by his subordinates, and resentment and resistance fester among his staff. In the lower echelons, a young soldier, Saigo, a poor baker in civilian life, strives with his friends to survive the harsh regime of the Japanese army itself, all the while knowing that a fierce battle looms. When the American invasion begins, both Kuribayashi and Saigo find strength, honor, courage, and horrors beyond imagination.
Life Is Beautiful (1998), Director: Roberto Benigni, Running time: 116 minutes.
In this extraordinary tale, Guido (Benigni)—a charming but bumbling waiter who's gifted with a colorful imagination and an irresistible sense of humor—has won the heart of the woman he loves and created a beautiful life for his young family. But then, that life is threatened by World War II ... and Guido must rely on those very same strengths to save his beloved wife and son from an unthinkable fate! Honored with an overwhelming level of critical acclaim, this truly exceptional, utterly unique achievement will lift your spirits and capture your heart!
Lions for Lambs (2007), Director: Robert Redford, Running time: 91 minutes.
Robert Redford, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep deliver "three knockout performances" (Vue Weekly) in this powerful story about how the decision makers at the top affect American soldiers on the ground half a world away. An idealistic professor (Redford), a charismatic U.S. Senator (Cruise) and a probing TV journalist (Streep) have opposing viewpoints about the actions of our nation and the attitudes of its citizens. But the human consequences of war become chillingly clear for two of the professor's former students, who find themselves trapped behind enemy lines, fighting for freedom... and their very lives.
Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, this is a first-rate thriller that, like Bertolucci's The Conformist and Coppola's The Conversation, opts for character development over car chases. The place is East Berlin, the year is 1984, and it all begins with a simple surveillance assignment: Capt. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe in a restrained, yet deeply felt performance), a Stasi officer and a specialist in this kind of thing, has been assigned to keep an eye on Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch, Black Book), a respected playwright, and his actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck, Mostly Martha). Though Dreyman is known to associate with the occasional dissident, like blacklisted director Albert Jerska (Volkmar Kleinert), his record is spotless. Everything changes when Wiesler discovers that Minister Hempf (Thomas Thieme) has an ulterior motive in spying on this seemingly upright citizen. In other words, it's personal, and Wiesler's sympathies shift from the government to its people—or at least to this one particular person. That would be risky enough, but then Wiesler uses his privileged position to affect a change in Dreyman's life. The God-like move he makes may be minor and untraceable, but it will have major consequences for all concerned, including Wiesler himself. Writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck starts with a simple premise that becomes more complicated and emotionally involving as his assured debut unfolds. Though three epilogues is, arguably, two too many, The Lives of Others is always elegant, never confusing. It's class with feeling. (Kathleen C. Fennessy for Amazon.com)
Lord of War (2005), Director: Andrew Niccol, Running time: 121 minutes.
Based on actual events, this black comedy/drama stars Nicholas Cage as international arms smuggler Uri Orlov. The story follows Uri from his humble beginnings as a Soviet immigrant in 1970s Brooklyn and peaks with his involvement in selling off the stockpiled arsenal of post-Cold War Ukraine to—among other top clients—the sadistic African dictator Andre Baptiste, Sr. (Eamonn Walker). Jared Leto costars as Uri s little brother Vitaly, whose conscience and a burgeoning cocaine problem get in the way of business. Ethan Hawke is good as a sanctimonious Interpol agent with a vendetta against Uri, but the film's biggest dose of onscreen gravitas comes from Walker, whose Baptiste seethes with a heavy, serpent-like malevolence. Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the film makes fine use of the brisk stream-of-consciousness narration style that Martin Scorcese brought to the true crime genre with Goodfellas (1992), and a near constant flow of action and classic rock songs that ensure a speedy, riveting ride through three decades of global carnage. Cage, who co-produced, lets his patented oddball magnetism slowly change polarity, until viewers realize they’ve been led into a moral quagmire by falling for his self-delusory spiels about supply and demand, making this one of the bravest and most jet-black comedies of its decade.
M*A*S*H (1970), Director: Robert Altman, Running time: 116 minutes.
It's set during the Korean War, in a mobile army surgical hospital. But no one seeing M*A*S*H in 1970 confused the film for anything but a caustic comment on the Vietnam War; this is one of the counterculture movies that exploded into the mainstream at the end of the '60s. Director Robert Altman had labored for years in television and sporadic feature work when this smash-hit comedy made his name (and allowed him to create an astonishing string of offbeat pictures, culminating in the masterpiece Nashville). Altman's style of cruel humor, overlapping dialogue, and densely textured visuals brought the material to life in an all-new kind of war movie (or, more precisely, anti-war movie). Audiences had never seen anything like it: vaudeville routines played against spurting blood, fueled with open ridicule of authority. The cast is led by Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland, as the outrageous surgeons Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre, with Robert Duvall as the uptight Major Burns and Sally Kellerman in an Oscar-nominated role as nurse "Hot Lips" Houlihan. The film's huge success spawned the long-running TV series, a considerably softer take on the material; of the film's cast, only Gary Burghoff repeated his role on the small screen, as the slightly clairvoyant Radar O'Reilly. (Robert Horton for Amazon.com)
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), Director: Nagisa Oshima, Running time: 124 minutes.
Director Nagisa Oshima and co-writer Paul Mayersburg's narrative is more fractured than in most films of the POW camp genre, in which the story inevitably leads to some kind of escape. They are interested in exploring the psychology of their characters and the geometry of the camp, in which the captors are both wardens and interrogators, and the prisoners both captors and resisters. A rarity among prisoner of war films, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence also addresses the subject of homosexuality, not in overt fashion, but as a fact of POW camp life. Using two androgynous performers, Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (who also wrote the film's score) and British musician David Bowie, to play the adversaries Yonoi and Celliers, Oshima suggests that Celliers' ability to withstand abuse from his captors elicits more than just admiration from the commandant. Tom Conti's John Lawrence is the supposed bridge between the two warring sides, thanks to his ability to speak Japanese, but he is powerless to stop the sadistic Sergeant Hara (Beat Takeshi Kitano, here billed as "Takeshi") from abusing Celliers. If the film isn't the crowd-pleaser that The Great Escape was or a more coherent mediation on the officers' code that Grand Illusion was, it is an honest attempt to examine the cultural differences that mark the POW setting.
Set in 1944 France, an American Intelligence Squad locates a German Platoon wishing to surrender rather than die in Germany's final war offensive. The two groups of men, isolated from the war at present, put aside their differences and spend Christmas together before the surrender plan turns bad and both sides are forced to fight the other. (Written by Anthony Hughes for IMDb)
Miss Rose White (1992), Director: Joseph Sargent, Running Time: 100 minutes.
She fled Poland with her father before Hitler's invasion...her mother and older sister weren't as lucky. Fifteen years later, Rayzel Weiss is Rose White — a career girl with her own apartment and a promising future at the largest department store in Manhattan. Beautiful, successful and happy, she keeps her family's tragic past in a scrapbook hidden in her closet... until news comes that her long-lost sister somehow survived the ravages of World War II and is on her way to America. But when Lusia arrives, the reunion is haunted by memories of her struggle to survive...and an unspoken, unforgivable secret she shares with her father. As Rose struggles to balance her obligation to her sister with her dreams for the future, she is forced to confront the truth about her life and her family... and the past that she's managed to forget. The production received five Emmy Awards as well as the Humanitas Prize.
The peril facing a lone American amid Third World political turmoil is elegantly communicated in this important film from Costa-Gavras, adapted by the director and Donald Stewart from Thomas Hauser's nonfiction book. The key to its power onscreen stems from the decision not to center the action merely on the disappearance of Charles Horman (John Shea), but also on the search for him by his father Ed (Jack Lemmon)—and on Ed's discovery of a son he never knew. The Oscar-winning script flows freely between that search and Charles's earlier experiences in the unnamed country (in the true account, Chile). Providing a link between those two stories is Charles's wife Beth (Sissy Spacek), who follows her father-in-law around a country in chaos, teeming with reckless authority and disinterested American diplomats (epitomized by ace character actor David Clennon). The film, which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and won the Cannes Film Festival's top prize, is certainly manipulative, but it works because of its finely detailed human elements. Usually emotionally extroverted, Lemmon gives one of his finest performances playing against that type—he's a controlled, intellectual man who learns more about his son, and his country, than he ever dreamed he would. (Doug Thomas for Amazon.com)
Mother Night (1996), Director: Keith Gordon, Running time: 113 minutes.
In 1961, the fictitious Howard W. Campbell Jr., an American by birth, shares the same deserted prison with Adolph Eichmann. As he prepares to stand trial for war crimes, the former playwright scribes his memoirs. Now this is the same Howard W. Campbell Jr. who was a notorious voice on German radio during the war, tearing into American policy and spreading Nazi propaganda. Was he a willful participant or an American spy? Campbell, who romanticizes at the drop of a hat, tells his story of indifference, morality, and love. His days of notoriety in Berlin give way to anonymity back in the States. He purrs about his true love (Sheryl Lee) and tells truths with his shrewd neighbor in New York (Alan Arkin).
The movie is based on Kurt Vonnegut's 1961 novel of the same name. Gordon and screenwriter Robert E. Weide have an uncommon insight into Vonnegut's material: the mesh of fact and fiction, the sweeping themes, the tragic goofiness. The movie is perfectly suited to Nolte's gruff style with a husky voice that pierces the night. The film is a cherished companion piece to Slaughterhouse Five. (Doug Thomas for Amazon.com)
My Name is Ivan (1962), Director: Andrei Tarkovsky, Running time: 95 minutes.
12-year old Ivan works as a spy at the eastern front. The small Ivan can cross the German lines unnoticed to collect information. Three Soviet officers try to take care of this boy-child. (Written by Mattias Thuresson for IMDb)