Great WWII Movies: aka Teamwork

As winter starts to make inroads in certain regions of the world I am reminded of a very pleasant interlude from a few winters past. So turning back the hands of time, I’ll take you there as it was  – It’s the dead of winter, and we’re just back indoors from one bone-numbingly cold day in Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Wisconsin. The low was -8 degrees and the high was +1. I think the place is misnamed. Maybe it should be called Ice County. I’ll need to warm up, so this will have to wait until a sunny and much warmer day.

It is now a week later and I find myself in a different place and a much warmer temperature. About Door County, oh, it wasn’t all bad. We occupied a huge corner room with a fireplace and a Jacuzzi bathtub, a 50-inch High Def plasma TV, and a deluxe king-size bed in an elegant and costly B & B. Yeah, could’ve been a lot worse.

Let’s see — ice skating, sleigh-riding and tobogganing, building snowmen and snowball tossing highlighted the outdoors activities. Ice-fishing was on the list of available activities but we gave it a pass.

Of course, indoors, there were romantic candlelight dinners, a snifter or two of Courvoisier VSOP, and the days ended and the nights began with snuggling under the bed-covers. Nice work if you can get it. But it takes two of you to make it work.

And that’s the subject of this month’s introduction — Teamwork. To provide you with the best of Teamwork, that is when lives depending on it, well have a look at some classsic war movies. Out of the gate first will be The Great Escape. This film, released in 1963, tells the story of how several hundred Allied prisoners of war attempt an escape from a German PoW Camp called Stalag Luft III.

 Featuring an international cast which includes Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Richard Attenborough, the film is considered a classic of hardship, courage, and teamwork.

Check out this conversation between McQueen’s Hilts, the Cooler King, and Attenborough’s Bartlett, the Big X.

Hilts: How many you taking out?
Bartlett: Two hundred and fifty.
Hilts: Two hundred and fifty?
Bartlett: Yeah.
Hilts: You’re crazy. You oughta be locked up. You, too? Two hundred and fifty guys just walkin’ down the road, just like that?

Continuing our tour of WWII films, next is The Guns of Navarone (1961). This isn’t about an escape or breaking out, this is about breaking in.

A British team is sent to make its way through occupied Greece to take out a heavily guarded, massive German gun emplacement that commands an important sea channel. Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, and David Niven head up the incursion team.

 What are they up against? Richard Harris as Squadron Leader Barnsby of the RAF describes the target:

First, you’ve got that bloody old fortress on top of that bloody cliff. Then you’ve got the bloody cliff overhang. You can’t even see the bloody cave, let alone the bloody guns.

And finally — we haven’t got a bloody bomb big enough to smash that bloody rock. And that’s the bloody truth, sir.

In 1965, Frank Sinatra played an American Air Force Captain who attempted to lead a band of British prisoners to a safe haven in Switzerland during WWII.

The film was called Von Ryan’s Express. Ryan and his band of British soldiers, from the 9th Fusiliers, have to overcome many obstacles, including hi-jacking the very train that they were originally riding as captives.

Major Eric Fincham, played by Trevor Howard, has a memorable line: I once told you, Ryan, if only one gets out, it’s a victory.

One of the best films that portrays teamwork is the 1957 classic, The Bridge On The River Kwai. This film walked away with seven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director (David Lean), and Best Actor.

 The cast was headed by William Holden, Sir Alec Guinness, and the Japanese actor, Sessue Hayakawa, who garnered the Oscar for Best Performance By a Supporting Actor.

The British PoWs, led by the uncompromising Colonel Nicholson (Guinness) are building a military bridge for the Japanese. Why? Simply, to show to the Japanese that, despite their captivity, the British troops and officers could still maintain their pride, ability, and superiority.

Maj Shears: You mean you intend to uphold the letter of the law, no matter what it costs?
Col Nicholson: Without law there is no civilization.
Maj Shears: That’s just my point. Here, there is no civilization.
Col Nicholson: Then we have the opportunity to introduce it.

14TWbridge17What the British don’t know is that a team of Allied commandoes, led by Major Shears (Holden), have other plans for the bridge. As the film concludes we realize the importance of teamwork, and that honor as well as sacrifice are always components of a team’s success.

Our last film from WWII is the classic Saving Private Ryan. This is the heroic story of a small team of infantry soldiers sent into the heart of Nazi occupied France to bring out the single soldier named Private Ryan, so his family might be spared the possibility that all of their sons had been killed in the war.

Most all of us who have seen this film were moved by it. There is no denying that a movie of this caliber will always be remembered.

Tom Hanks as Captain Miller was so memorable in his role. Despite enormous odds, he focused on the mission. When his small platoon found an orphaned child amidst the rubble of a war ravaged village, we get this famous quote:

Captain Miller: Caparzo, get that kid back up there!
Private Carpazo: Captain, the decent thing to do would be take her over to the next town.
Captain Miller: We’re not here to do the decent thing, we’re here to follow fucking orders!

We’ve just seen portrayals of men who were heroic, courageous, and brave, and despite their best efforts, in every case it still took masterful teamwork to get the job done. Here at The Arts,  we are working solo. However, there’s no denying that teamwork can only help,  so don’t hesitate to toss an idea my way. Ideas and suggestions are far better than a live grenade.  BTW – do elegant and costly ever come independent of each other? While you ponder that, I’ll say Thanks.

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