War films that get the shiniest medals

"The Best Years of Our Lives"

Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright in "The Best Years of Our Lives"

Got home from work the other night in time to see the last few scenes of one of the best films ever made, The Best Years of Our Lives. There stood Dana Andrews as Fred, the World War II flier come home, in a graveyard of junked warbirds. He climbs into the nose of a B-17 and drifts back to battle. You don’t see or hear any fighting, but it’s there. Haunting.

Then the wedding scene. Homer (played by Harold Russell) has lost both hands in the war and now uses metal claws. As the guests look on anxiously, he deftly slips the ring on Wilma’s finger with his mechanical hands. I love that part.

It got me thinking about my favorite war films, so I came up with a list. Here goes:

1. The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946

2. All Quiet on the Western Front, 1930

3. Saving Private Ryan, 1998

4. Das Boot, 1981

5. Schindler’s List, 1993

6. The Deer Hunter, 1978

7. Casablanca, 1942

8. Full Metal Jacket, 1987

9. The Big Parade, 1925

10. Stalag 17, 1953

Honorable mention goes to these three others:

—  A Walk in the Sun. This drama came out at the end of 1945 and was directed by Lewis Milestone, the director of the 1930 version of All Quiet on the Western Front. (Huntz Hall, one of the goofy Bowery Boys, plays a private in an American platoon during the 1943 invasion of Italy.)

— Action in the North Atlantic, 1943.  Dane Clark is great as a crewman on a Liberty ship headed for Murmansk.

— Guadalcanal Diary, 1943. This has the best prayer uttered in a war film. It comes from Cpl. Taxi Potts (William Bendix), as he and other Marines, including a Catholic priest, are huddled in a bunker during a Japanese bombardment.

POTTS: “I’m no hero, I’m just a guy. I come out here because somebody had to come. I don’t want no medals, I just wanna get this thing over with and go back home. I’m just like everybody else, and I’m tellin’ you I don’t like it. Except maybe I guess there’s nothin’ I can do about it. I can’t tell them bums to head somewhere else. Like I said before, it’s up to somebody bigger than me, bigger than anybody.

“What I mean is I … I guess it’s up to God.

“But I’m not kidding when I say I sure hope he knows how I feel. I’m not gonna say I’m sorry for everything I’ve done, maybe I am and maybe I’m not. When you’re scared like this, the first thing you do is start tryin’ to square things. If I get out of this alive, I’ll probably go out and do the same things all over again, so what’s the use of kidding myself?

“The only thing I know is, I … I didn’t ask to get into this spot. If we get it – and it sure looks that way now – well I only hope he figures we done the best we could and lets it go at that. Maybe this is a funny kind of prayin’ to you guys, but … it’s what I’m thinkin’ and prayin’.

FATHER DONNELLY: Amen.

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