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Posted on Jul 13, 2006 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Movieography – A select list of Pacific flicks

By Wild Bill Wilder

The name "Movieography" is my own invention to include a list of what I consider to be well worth viewing, if you have an interest in the Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II. Some may be very hard to find. Some video companies can locate them for you, and usually at a very reasonable price, say $20 or less. Am I going to rate them? No, I don’t think so. Each has his own favorite and that one should be number one.

My personal favorites and thus they rank high for me are Sands of Iwo Jima, The Gallant Hours, and Too Late the Hero.

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I have read of an upcoming film directed by Clint Eastwood on the Marines at Iwo Jima. I do hope that it will be better than “Heartbreak Ridge.”

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Feel free to add your own choices in the forum in case I missed them!

BATAAN (1943), A rear guard action by American troops as the rest of the allied forces move toward Corregidor. Stars include Robert Taylor, Desi Arnez (his first), Thomas Mitchell, and Lloyd Nolan.

WAKE ISLAND (1943), This is a not too historically accurate portrayal of the events on the island prior to its capture. The acting is great, with Brian Donlevy playing Major Devereux. Also appearing are William Bendix and Robert Preston as two Marine buddies.

ONCE BEFORE I DIE (1966), Not a lot of fighting, but accurately portrays the reaction of American and Filipino troops to the Japanese invasion of the Philippines at the beginning of World War II. Richard Jaeckel is superb as Lieutenant Custer. Others appearing include Ron Ely, Ursula Andress and other lesser-known stars.

GUADALCANAL DIARY (1944), A classic, with some classic stars. It is flavored with American propaganda, of course, since it was made during the war, but does give somewhat of an idea of the strained situation on the island for the First Marine Division.

GUNG HO (1943), The attack on Makin by Carlson’s Raiders made such an impact in the States that a movie was made of it. Randolph Scott, who gives you the impression that he and Carlson must have been a lot alike, plays Evans Carlson.

THE GALLANT HOURS (1960), is a cinematic biography of Admiral William "Bull" Halsey, in the critical hours on Guadalcanal. It is a superb movie, and spiced with accurate historical tidbits. James Cagney plays Bull Halsey, and you feel that you know the man personally after you have watched the movie.

TOO LATE THE HERO (1971), Cliff Robertson plays the reluctant Lieutenant sent as an interpreter to accompany disgruntled British soldiers on a mission. Michael Caine also stars, and the two help make it a movie worth watching.

HALLS OF MONTEZUMA (1950), A whole bevy of Hollywood greats enhance this story of Marines running out of time. From the situation described, it sounds like the Peleliu invasion. Stars include Richard Widmark, Richard Boone, Jack Palance, and a number of others. Action scenes are great and a lot of material and vehicles from the Second World War were used.

BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL (1956), Robert Wagner is an idealistic young lieutenant, who gets introduced to the harsh realities of war. This one looks at the darker side of the American endeavor, and underlines the fact that not all those who participated were of the heroic gender.

NONE BUT THE BRAVE (1965), After having crash landed on one of the lesser islands of the Pacific, a Marine platoon is confronted by the few remaining Japanese defenders. It is an interesting study of how each side views the other. One is first taken to the American camp, then to the Japanese. Stars include Frank Sinatra and Clint Walker. It is a good one.

MACARTHUR (1981), Gregory Peck always seems to fit well into combat films. He excels in this biography of Douglas MacArthur. The life is traced from the beginning of World War II to his final speech at West Point after being dismissed by President Truman. Its long, but very entertaining; a more realistic look at "The American Caesar."

SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949), now you knew I would not leave this one out. John Wayne wears cowboy boots or combat boots with equal ease. This saga of the invasion of Tarawa and Iwo Jima by United States Marines was my first real introduction to the war. I did not rent it. I saw it at the Paramount Theater (long since gone) in Atlanta, Georgia at the age of 11. I stayed and watched it two more times, before an usher ran me out. It still entertains me today. How many times have I watched it? I guess still not enough. An excellent movie.

THE THIN RED LINE (1999), a rather unique approach to a war movie. Nick Nolte plays an outstanding battalion commander with grandiose ideas for advancement at the cost of the blood of his men. Others in starring roles are John Cusack, Sean Penn and other well known stars.

I found it to be generally dull with some lively fight scenes. Those were worth the price of the movie. It did graphically portray the savagery of the fighting in the Pacific, where neither side gave quarter to the enemy.

Of course there numerous other films set during World War II in the Pacific, but these are among my personal favorites from the aspect of the ground fighting. Many others could be included on other aspects of the war. Examples are "Tora, Tora, Tora", "Midway", "Air Force" (an old classic), "Purple Heart", "30 Seconds over Tokyo" and "Pearl Harbor".

For documentaries, I would recommend the series, "CRUSADE IN THE PACIFIC," which would probably come on 6 videotapes. While definitely slanted the American way, and occasionally stretching the truth a bit to make the old USA look good, it is still a series worth watching.

Another one would be "GREAT BATTLES OF WWII: THE PACIFIC," prepared by Reader’s Digest in 1987. It is hard to find, nothing but combat footage and propaganda films made during WWII. If you want raw, hard, realistic war, here it is!

And what could I possibly say about the classic "VICTORY AT SEA?" The price on the entire set has recently become very affordable. While not detailed on the individual battles, it is without a doubt one of the best documentaries on the war on the seas of the world, with a strong emphasis on the Pacific.

Author Information

Wild Bill Wilder, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, was introduced to modern warfare as a tot in World War II when his father and uncle went off to war in the USAAF. It was an experience that influenced him greatly throughout his life. After graduating from Toccoa Falls College in 1962, he spent the next 10 years in public service in various countries in Central America. He then worked in public transportation until his retirement in 1999.

Wild Bill now has even more time to dedicate to his passion – wargaming. In 1997 he formed a group called "Wild Bill’s Raiders." From small beginnings the Raiders expanded into five separate web sites and gave top-notch coverage to a number of popular wargames.

Bill has also been a vital part of the production of 13 different games, including SPWAW, Combat Mission, The Operational Art of War, and John Tiller’s Squad Battles series. He has authored over 1300 scenarios and campaigns for these and other games over the last nine years. At age 68, Bill is also a prolific writer, with his primary focus on warfare of the 20th century. To quote him, "Wargaming is a passion that never dies with the passing of the years. Instead it only intensifies as new and better wargames are produced. It is in military history that one finds often written in blood the glory and the grief of mankind!"

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