5 classic movies set during World War I

5 classic movies set during World War I

  Every year, or so it seems, Hollywood produces yet another movie set during World War II. 

     World War I movies are less common, and that is unfortunate. This month marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of “the war to end all wars.” On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Bosnian Serb in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.  The Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war, was signed 95 years ago -- June 28, 1919.
     Yet if there isn’t necessarily quantity, there is quality when it comes to World War I movies. Here are five classics set during “The Great War.”

  • All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): Based on the classic novel by Erich Maria Remarque, the story follows young German soldiers during World War I. The central character (portrayed by Lew Ayres) grapples with hardship, disillusionment and loss. While the acting, special effects and scenery pale by modern standards, the movie won two Academy Awards (best picture, best director).

  • The African Queen (1951): The setting for this classic film, based on a novel by C.S. Forester, is Africa, 1914. Humphrey Bogart portrays Charlie Allnut, captain of The African Queen, a puttering little disaster of a boat that makes deliveries. Katharine Hepburn’s character, Rose Sayer, lives with her brother, a missionary, in a remote village. After the village is destroyed by Germans, Rose’s brother dies. At first, Allnut's job is simply to transport Rose out of the jungle. But eventually, Rose concocts an ambitious plan to sink a German gunboat. Hepburn’s crisp delivery and Bogart’s timing (he won an Academy Award for his performance) make the film a must-see.

  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962): This is essentially a biography of T.E. Lawrence, who became known as “Lawrence of Arabia.” An archeologist who had been working in the Middle East when the war began, Lawrence was recruited as a British Army intelligence officer. The film chronicles his involvement in the Arab rebels’ war against Ottoman Turkey. While academics describe Lawrence either as a hero or a charlatan whose role has been exaggerated, the film remains a classic. It was honored with the Academy Award for best picture and best director and was the breakout role for legendary actor Peter O’Toole. 

  • Gallipoli (1981):  It is said that the word Gallipoli is to Australians what the word Alamo is to Americans.  (Allies lost an estimated 44,000 men; there were some 250,000 casualties. As many as 90,000 Turks were killed, according to the book World War I: The Definitive Visual History, editorial consultant Richard Overy.) This movie follows two Australian buddies, Archy (Mark Lee) and Frank (Mel Gibson), both exceptional runners, as they join up, go through training and are ultimately sent to Gallipoli. While pulse-quickening and well-acted, historians take issue with events as depicted in the film. The movie was recognized with awards by the Australian Film Institute but overlooked by the Academy Awards.
  • War Horse (2011): The movie follows a horse as it goes from a farm, where it is cared for by a young man (Jeremy Irvine), to service in the military during World War I. As the horse encounters various characters, the viewer sees how war scars all who are caught up in it. Under the direction of Steven Spielberg, War Horse is not so much a moving picture but a moving painting – one lush sequence after the next. While nominated for multiple Academy Awards, it did not win any.

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