Five Movies to Honor Veterans Day and Commemorate the End of World War I
© Baehr 2018
Sunday, November 11, is not only Veterans Day, it’s also the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I in 1918, when the Allies and the Central Powers signed the Armistice to put an end to the “war to end all wars.” Nine million combatants (including 116,708 American soldiers) and seven million civilians died as a direct result of World War I.
Here is Movieguide®’s list of some of the best movies that beautifully honor our vets and that commemorate “the Great War.
1.SERGEANT YORK: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +4 – 1941: Based on the diary of Alvin York, the most decorated soldier in World War I, this moving story tells about a willful man, played by Oscar winner Gary Cooper, who comes to Jesus Christ and comes to terms with war. After his conversion, Alvin is deeply troubled about fighting in the war because he cannot reconcile the Bible’s teaching against killing with participating in a war to defend his country. Before making his final decision about filing for conscientious objector status, Alvin spends time reading the Bible and being alone with God on the mountain. There it becomes clear what God wants him to do. Sensitively directed by the quintessential masculine director, Howard Hawks, SERGEANT YORK is a great American movie; it’s also a great Christian movie.
2. WINGS: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +1 – 1927: WINGS was not only one of the biggest productions of all time; it was also one of the biggest box office hits of all time as well as the first Oscar winner. It did things no other movie had done, including aerial battles and developing cameras in order to film those battles. The movie starts in Small Town, U.S.A. Jack has dreams of flying and is tinkering with an old car. His neighbor, Mary, only has eyes for him. Jack, however, is attracted to a girl from the big city who’s in love with David from the wealthiest family in town. When World War I starts in Europe, Jack and David join the Air Corps. They fight during one of the training procedures but become fast friends. When they get to war in Europe, they find the Germans have better planes and are better, more experienced pilots. Americans go up in their planes and die. Meanwhile, Mary becomes an ambulance driver and searches for Jack. Paramount was known for hiring the biggest, most expensive directors, but they took a chance with young William Wellman, because he had been a decorated pilot in World War I. They made the right decision. The battle scenes are incredibly well made. Many of the techniques used in war movies today were developed for WINGS, including special cameras and other equipment to capture the most vivid portraits of war. WINGS, though a silent movie, is incredibly powerful. The battle scenes are incredibly well made. The movie has a strong romantic component and also shows drunkenness and carousing. This is balanced by prayers, crucifixes and heartfelt appeals to God. WINGS is overtly patriotic and filled with self-sacrifice.
3. THE AFRICAN QUEEN: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +2 1951: In this classic movie THE AFRICAN QUEEN, brother and sister Samuel and Rose run a mission in a village in East Africa. Steamboat captain Charlie Allnut delivers some mail and supplies and tells them that war has broken out between Germany and Britain. The missionaries decide to stay. However, the Germans burn down the village, and Samuel is killed. Rose and Charlie head down river in Charlie’s boat, “The African Queen.” Charlie mentions that a German gunboat down river is blocking British counter attacks. Rose convinces Charlie to turn his rickety boat into a torpedo to sink the much larger German ship. THE AFRICAN QUEEN contains some heavy drinking, which Rose forces Charlie to stop. There are also some disturbing scenes of the two pulling the ship through some reeds and getting covered in leeches. Other than this, THE AFRICAN QUEEN is a very inspiring movie with great performances by Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. The story extols endurance, sacrifice, patriotism, and true love. There’s even a wonderful point in AFRICAN QUEEN where human ability seems exhausted, but God provides the solution.
4. JOYEAUX NOEL: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1 2006: JOYEAUX NOEL, or MERRY CHRISTMAS, is an international production about the Christmas truce between the Allies and the Germans in World War I in 1914. It tells what happens when a group of French, Scottish and German soldiers decide on their own to call a truce on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and share some Christian brotherhood. Even a Jewish officer among the German soldiers is moved by the Catholic mass and singing that occurs during the Christmas celebrations. The war, however, eventually intrudes on the celebration. The Christmas scenes in this movie are among the most beautiful and most powerful ever put on film. A Dutch opera singer on the German side sings both “Silent Night” and “Come All Ye faithful,” and his Dutch wife sings “Ave Maria” during the Catholic mass. These scenes will bring most discerning viewers to joyful, sublime tears. MERRY CHRISTMAS is a thought-provoking, wonderful movie that overcomes its shortcomings. Only some brief foul language, a bedroom scene between the married opera singers and some pacifist, antinomian sentiments require caution.
5. SGT STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO Quality: * * * Acceptability: +1 2018: SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO is the remarkable true story of the most decorated war dog in United States history. It chronicles the adventures of a courageous Boston terrier and his new owner during World War I. At an army base, Stubby befriends a young private named Robert Conroy. Stubby proves his endurance and ability, and seems to be unafraid of gunfire. He sneaks onto the troop transport carrying Robert to France. There, Stubby distinguishes himself on the battlefield while accompanying Robert. SGT. STUBBY has a strong emotional heart, with lots of historical background and patriotic stories of bravery. Children will love Stubby in every way, from his adorable mannerisms, the way he salutes with his little paws, and, of course, his unshakable courage. Adults will find the historical context quite fascinating.
Editor’s Note: Of course, there are many other movies about World War I, World War II and about the sacrifices that soldiers make during wartime. Some of the best ones include the 1930 and 1938 versions of THE DAWN PATROL, the French movie GRAND ILLUSION, PATHS OF GLORY starring Kirk Douglas, UNBROKEN, WE WERE SOLDIERS, GETTYSBERG, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, GALLIPOLI, BATTLEGROUND, THE PURPLE HEART, SANDS OF IWO JIMO, HACKSAW RIDGE, ACT OF VALOR, THE BIG PARADE, FLYBOYS, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, FORT APACHE, AIR FORCE, THEY WERE EXPENDABLE, and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Some of the more recent movies listed here contain strong subject matter, so caution or extreme caution is warranted, but all of them offer something redemptive and worthwhile for moviegoers.