In time for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Warner Bros. has released two Blu-ray collections of World War II themed films. Both come in nice, hard-cover slip cases, where the discs slide into a book. Best of all, in addition to the feature films, you get bonus features DVD with films straight from the vault of Warner Bros. famed First Motion Picture Unit, aka the Hollywood filmmakers that created the propaganda films that fueled the war effort. Though not all films are necessarily classics, the collections offer a nice range of movies and features for the casual to hardcore WWII film buff.
True Stories of WWII
Feature Films on Blu-ray:
Memphis Belle (1998) is the name of the famed B-17 Flying Fortress, and the film portrays her last bombing mission over Germany. Despite it’s pretty-boy young Hollywood cast, including Matthew Modine, Harry Connick, Jr., and Eric Stolz, the movie manages to still be a stirring and appealing introduction to the crew of the famous bomber.
Battle of the Bulge (1965), starring Henry Fonda and Robert Shaw, portrays both sides of the Belgian battle in the winter of 1944. It’s one of those movies with a memorable beginning, and memorable end, with a lot of slow stuff in the middle.
Best of this bunch is Defiance (2008) with Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber as Jewish resistance-fighter brothers taking it upon themselves to save hundreds and hundreds of their fellow Poles from the Nazi occupiers in the Belarussian forests. The film is a fascinating untold story that is well worth a watch.
Bonus DVD of Special Features:
The First Motion Picture Unit: When Hollywood Went to War (2014), a new documentary about the Warner Bros. Hollywood men behind the propaganda films that informed the public about the war and the cause.
Warner at War (2008), narrated by Steven Spielberg, tells of how Jack Warner “took the offensive” on the war with the film Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) and proceeded to use his studio to fight the war, using Hollywood propaganda films to fuel patriotism.
The rest of the extras are vintage films:
The First Motion Picture Unit, introducing the Hollywood directors, writers, and technicians that create the films behind the war effort, Resisting Enemy Interrogation (which is a bit more dull than it sounds), Photographic Intelligence for Bombardment Aviation (which explains the concepts over a beer), the animated Position Firing, and the rousing Winning Your Wings (starring “Lieutenant James Stewart” who gets out of his plane, does a double-take at the camera, and says, “Welllll hello!”)
Feature Films on Blu-ray:
The Big Red One (1980) stars a post-Star Wars, still kind of whiny Mark Hamill as a wet-behind the ears private who gets whipped into shape by manly-man Lee Marvin when he is assigned to the Big Red One, or The First Infantry Division. Though the film it often feels a bit dated, it still packs a punch of emotion with its script and has its fans.
The Dirty Dozen (1967) is a bonafide manly-man classic, starring Lee Marvin (again) who, to avoid a court martial, is assigned the task of training a dozen Army prisoners for a truly dangerous mission. Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, and Jim Brown are among the great cast.
In Where Eagles Dare (1968), a group of commadoes, including Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, parachute behind enemy lines to rescue an American general supposedly held in and Alpine castle. Though long it length, it is full thrilling action, and holds its own.
I’d like to thank Warner Bros. for including George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin on this collection, as I hope it gives this fascinating documentary a wider audience. Director George Stevens (Giant, A Place in the Sun) was one of the many Hollywood folks that joined the military to do their part in the war effort. While filming propaganda films, Stevens also filmed his own home movies of events like the D-Day invasion and the liberation of concentration camps… in full color. Directed by his son, George Stevens, Jr., who found his father’s footage, the documentary contains some truly astonishing color footage that you never would have thought existed. This movie is well worth a look, and is a fine companion to all the Hollywood depictions of the war.