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ClassicsOnline Home » Classics at the Movies: War
APOCALYPSE NOW 1979
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Marlon Brando (Col. Kurtz), Robert Duvall (Lt. Col. Kilgore), Martin Sheen (Capt. Willard), Frederic Forrest (Chef), Albert Hall (Chief), Sam Bottoms (Lance), Harrison Ford (Colonel)
Apocalypse Now takes its inspiration from Joseph Conrads novel Heart of Darkness, transmuting the story into a black-humoured and surreal vision of the Vietnam War.
Colonel Kurtz, an "outstanding officer", is out of control and not following orders. He has disappeared across the border into Cambodia with an army of tribesmen who regard him as a god, killing and destroying indiscriminately. Captain Willard is sent to track him down and "terminate his command".
Wagners music is used brilliantly to accompany an attack on a Vietcong village by those present-day valkyries, a horde of army helicopters.
G.I. JANE 1997
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Demi Moore (Lt. Jordan ONeil), Viggo Mortensen (Master Chief John Urgayle), Anne Bancroft (Senator Lillian DeHaven), Jason Beghe (Royce)
Senator Lillian DeHaven is leading a campaign to allow women into the Navys elite combat unit, the SEALS and hand-picks ONeil as the first female trainee. ONeil encounters much hostility and is the butt of practical jokes played by both instructors and fellow-trainees. However, this merely hardens her resolve to succeed.
ONeil is then put in charge of the trainees first practice mission on which her orders are disobeyed with the result that her unit is captured and she is almost raped by Urgayle. ONeil then returns to the base where, after a celebration with her fellow trainees, she goes to a party with some women from the Navy. She is photographed in the arms of another woman and accusations of homosexuality are used to force her to quit the SEALS.....until her boyfriend, Royce, finds out that the person who has engineered this blackmail is none other than Senator DeHaven. Thus, ONeil is reinstated to the SEALS and, while on a Libyan mission, actually saves Urgayle finally earning recognition from her instructor.
Heard on the soundtrack are two works by Mozart, Eine kleine Nachtmusik and the Adagio and Fugue for string quartet, but also the lovely aria O mio babbino caro from Puccinis opera Gianni Schicchi, first made popular in A Room with a View.
Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Tom Berenger (Sgt. Barnes), Willem Dafoe (Sgt. Elias), Charlie Sheen (Chris), Forest Whitaker (Big Harold), Francesco Quinn (Rhah), John C. McGinley (Sgt. ONeill)
Director Oliver Stone, who also wrote the screenplay, is a Vietnam veteran himself and his story of Chris, a young volunteer trying desperately to cope with infantry life during the Vietnam war, certainly has autobiographical elements.
Platoon won Academy Awards for Best Film and Best Director and made effective use of Samuel Barbers Adagio, the innocent beauty of which stood out against the horrendous atrocities of war.
PARADISE ROAD 1997
Director: Bruce Beresford
Cast: Glenn Close (Adrienne Pargiter), Frances McDormand (Doctor Verstak), Pauline Collins (Margaret Drummond), Cate Blanchett (Susan Macarthy), Jennifer Ehle (Rosemary Leighton-Jones), Julianna Murgulies (Topsy Merritt)
The story starts on the eve of the Japanese invasion of Singapore when we see the affluent colonials (British, Dutch and American) at a dance. However, it is not long before all women and children are forced into ships one of which is sunk off the Sumatran coast. Some of the woman swim ashore only to meet Captain Tanaka who is actually a member of the Japanese secret police.
The women soon find themselves in a prison camp and during their internment various tensions between the prisoners erupt while the German Dr. Vetrak looks on. The different women in the camp find different ways of coping with their situation Drummond and Pargiter begin their own choir, while some of the women prostitute themselves in order to ameliorate their lot.
Although the Japanese are losing the war many of the women, including Drummond, die while in the camp. It is only when the camp commander, Hirota, announces that the war is over that the women can celebrate the end of their ordeal.
THE DEER HUNTER 1978
Director: Michael Cimino
Cast: Robert de Niro (Michael), John Cazale (Stan), John Savage (Steven), Christopher Walken (Nick), Meryl Streep (Linda), George Dzundza (John), Chuck Aspegren (Axel), Shirley Stoler (Stevens Mother)
Clairton, Pennsylvania, 1968. Three friends, Mike, Nick and Steven, are preparing to go to Vietnam where the war has escalated. The day before their departure they go on a deer hunt. In Vietnam they are taken prisoner and forced to play Russian roulette, with their guards betting on the outcome. Finally they manage to escape, but Steven is badly wounded. Mike returns to Clairton but is reluctant to meet his old friends and stays with Linda. He visits Steven, now a legless cripple in a Veterans Hospital, who tells him he is getting large sums of money from Saigon. Mike returns there to try and find Nick. Heavily drugged, Nick is now earning his living playing Russian roulette and when Mike asks him to come home with him, he plays and loses. After Nicks burial his friends gather in Johns bar and sing "God Bless America".
Few pieces are so closely associated with a film as Stanley Myers Cavatina with The Deer Hunter. It is heard over the opening credits, again when Mike comes home to Clayton and also over the end credits.
THE THIN RED LINE 1998
Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Sean Penn (First Sgt. Edward Welsh), Adrien Brody (Cpl. Fife), James Caviezel (Pte. Witt), Ben Chaplin (Pte. Jack Bell), George Clooney (Capt. Charles Bosche), John Cusack (Capt. John Gaff), Woody Harrelson (Sgt. Keck), Nick Nolte (Lt. Col. Gordon Tall), Elias Koteas (Capt. James 'Bugger' Staros)
In 1942 US troops land on the island of Guadalcanal in order to wrest it back from the Japanese invaders. They venture into the jungle and make an attempt on a hill which is heavily defended by the Japanese. Eventually the soldiers destroy the Japanese machine-gun post and the men are rewarded with a week away from the front. They return to the front where a military operation in the jungle goes wrong. Private Witt, an idealist, saves the company, but is killed in the process. The Americans leave the island.
There are a few pieces of classical music in this movie by Charles Ives and Arvo Pärt. However, most poignant of all is the In paradisum from Faure's Requiem which heightens the horror and hopelessness of war.
THE DEVILS OWN 1997
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Cast: Harrison Ford (Tom OMeara), Brad Pitt (Frankie McGuire), Margaret Colin (Sheila OMeara), Ruben Blades (Edwin Eddie Diaz), Treat Williams (Billie Burke), George Hearn (Peter Fitzsimmons), Mitchell Ryan (Chief Jim Kelly)
Northern Ireland in 1992. Frankie McGuire, who twenty years earlier had his father gunned down for his Republican sympathies, is a now a member of the IRA. Under an assumed name he goes to New York to buy Stinger missiles, staying with a police sergeant, Tom OMeara and his family. Here he hides the money for the missiles. OMeara finds them and confronts him with them. McGuire confesses his true mission and is arrested by OMeara but manages to escape. Refusing to assist the FBI and the British Secret Service, OMeara goes after him on his own. In a gunfight in the fishing boat intended for smuggling the missiles back to Northern Ireland, both are wounded, McGuire fatally.
The money for the missiles is handed over to McGuire at an open-air skating rink in a park, where people are skating to the strains of Frühlingsstimmen (Voices of Spring) by Johann Strauss Jr.
THE PEACEMAKER 1997
Director: Mimi Leder
Cast: George Clooney (Colonel Thomas Devoe), Nicole Kidman (Dr Julia Kelly), Marcel Iures (Dusan Gavrich), Armin Müller-Stahl (Dimitri Vertikoff), Alexander Baluev (Alexander Kodoroff), Rene Medvesek (Vlado Mirich)
In Russia two trains collide, producing a nuclear explosion, and all over the world nations go on the alert. The American response is to put nuclear scientist Dr. Julia Kelly on the case and she does not think it is an accident. She joins forces with military agent Colonel Thomas Devoe and they go to Europe on the trail of the missing warheads. Soon all are found in the possession of military Russian rogue Alexander Kodoroff. All but one, that is. The missing one has been delivered to Dusan Gavrich, a Bosnian politician about to attend a summit conference. His wife and child have been killed in Sarajevo and he wants to draw the worlds attention to the situation in Bosnia by threatening to explode the warhead in central Manhattan. He is chased through the streets and ends up, wounded, in a church.
Apart from his political activities Dusan Gavrich is a classical pianist and in a scene we see him teaching a girl to play the Chopin F minor Nocturne, Op. 55, No. 1 (Track 9) and later on we hear him play another of these, the C Sharp minor Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 1 to himself. In the church he stumbles into at the end of the chase, a boys choir is heard singing Mozarts Ave verum corpus (Track 10).
Director: Peter Weir
Cast: Mark Lee (Archy), Bill Kerr (Jack), Mel Gibson (Frank Dunne), Ronnie Graham (Wallace Hamilton), Harold Hopkins (Les McCann), Charles Yunupingu (Zac), Heath Harris (Stockman)
Together with All Quiet on the Western Front and Paths of Glory this is probably the most poignant antiwar film ever made. It introduces us to two young Australians, Archy and Frank, bitter competitors on the race-track, but the best of friends off it. Full of youthful exuberance and idealistic notions they enlist and take part in the catastrophic World War I invasion of Gallipoli.
The serene beauty of Albinonis Adagio makes a brilliant contrast to the madness of war.
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Classics at the Movies: War