Cook Library Cinema Club: World War I
This week marks the Centennial of the start of World War I (1914-1918). The Great War was triggered by the assassination in Sarajevo of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by a Yugoslav nationalist. The political objective of the assassination was to break off Austria-Hungary's southern Slavic provinces to combine them with the Kingdom of Serbia, forming a new Yugoslavia. The major powers were soon at war, with England, France, and Russia forming an alliance against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey). The United States entered the war in 1917, after Germany resumed submarine attacks on passenger and merchant ships in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The war proved to be one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with over 9 million killed.
Although WWI has not been the subject of as many movies as conflicts such as WWII, there are several outstanding films that are certainly worth re-visiting. A few of our favorites are highlighted below:
Completed just 12 years after the end of The Great War, the 1930 film All Quiet on the Western Front is still considered one of the best American movies ever made about WWI, and is known especially for its particularly realistic and harrowing account of the conflict. Based on German author Erich Maria Remarque's novel by the same name, the film recounts the tragedies of the war as seen through the eyes of a group of young German schoolboys recruited for service in the war by their ultra-nationalistic teacher. Directed by Lewis Milestone, and starring Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayres, and John Wray, the film was the first to be awarded Oscars for both Best Picture and Best Director. Deemed "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant," it was one of the first movies selected for preservation by the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Paths of Glory is a 1957 American anti-war film written and directed by Stanley Kubrick. Kirk Douglas stars as Colonel Dax, the commanding officer of a company of French soldiers who defy orders form above by refusing to continue a suicidal attack on a German stronghold. As an example to the rest of the rebellious troops, three of the soldiers from the company are officially accused of cowardice, a charge for which they will be executed if found guilty. Dax attempts to defend the trio during their court-martial. The film, considered an early Kubrick masterpiece, was based on a novel by Humphrey Cobb, which was itself inspired by real-life events.
Director David Lean's 1962 epic adventure Lawrence of Arabia is considered one of the greatest films of all time. The drama is based on the life of British Army officer T.E. Lawrence, who led the Allies' middle-eastern campaign during WWI, and aided the Arabs in their battle against the Turks. Boasting an iconic performance by the great Peter O'Toole, the film also stars Omar Sharif and Alec Guinness. Enhanced by its memorable score and stunning cinematography, the British film was nominated for 10 Oscars, ultimately winning seven of the awards, including those for Best Picture and Best Director.
Directed by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson, the 1981 Australian film Gallipoli is about several young men from rural Australia who enlist in the Australian Army during WWI. They are sent to the peninsula of Gallipoli in the Ottoman Empire, where they take part in the historic, failed Allied offensive known as the Gallipoli Campaign. The boys' loss of innocence amid the true horrors of war is a central theme of the film, which reaches a heartbreaking climax in the film's depiction of the futile attack at the Battle of the Nek in August, 1915.
Four great films that provide memorable views of an epic period in world history!