WWII MOVIES: THE BEST?

WWII movies, one of the most popular sustained genres of film, is the subject of a recent online article I happen to come across. Naturally, everybody’s opinion is different, but if the subject is “20 of the Best,” there’s bound to be conflict. Actually, I agree with a lot of the choices in the article, but of course, there are exceptions. 
   As the author of Lee Marvin Point Blank, I was heartened to see two of the actors best WWII films on the list. However, I of course think they should be ranked a little higher.
   The fact that the British author of the piece included some British films is to be expected, as well some underrated WWII movies worthy of rediscovery. But if he’s going to do that, he should have included the criminally underrated Attack!

The tag lines aside, the powerful artwork spoke volumes for the film WWII ATTACK!, one of the most criminally underrated WWII movies ever made.



(1956), which, like The Dirty Dozen (1967), was harrowingly directed by Robert Aldrich. By the way, the mention of the film Overlord (1975) also has a Dirty Dozen connection in that it was directed by Stuart Cooper who played Roscoe Lever. 
   Back to the list, itself. One problem I see in the choices is if you going to make the point about the prolific writing of Alistair MacLean why choose Where Eagles Dare over the much better Guns of Navarone (1961)? Weird!  
   Also, since WWII had so many varied aspects to it, why not break up the list by sub-genres? After all, if you put the legendary Casablanca on the list in terms of the effect the war had on civilians, there should be a place for The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), The Best Years of Our Lives (1948), The Tin Drum (1979), Hope & Glory (1987), The Men (1950, Since You Went Away, (1944), So Proudly We Hail (1943) and several others. In doing so, it would include another Lee Marvin classic: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). Just saying.

Henchmen Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin watch as Spencer Tracy gets off the train and prepare to confront him in John Sturges’ Bad Day at a Black Rock (1955).


   As far as sub-genres are concerned, there should be one for biopics and if so, it is absolutely appalling not to include the likes of Patton (1970). George C. Scott’s performance (turned down by Lee Marvin) is one of the greatest in movie history! 
  It can also be determined by branches of the service, which would include the likes of the navy in Mister Roberts (1955), They Were Expendable (1945), or the Marines via The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)…well, you get the idea. 
   Basically stated, if you’re going to write a list of “The Best…” anything, be prepared to be corrected, debated and possibly duck some brickbats as the cinema of WWII is a pretty big subject to ever narrow down to just 20. In the mean time, watch a Lee Marvin movie and then find out how they were made in Lee Marvin Point Blank.

– Dwayne Epstein



 

 

Share Button

KILLING GENERALS

Killing Generals: The Making of The Dirty Dozen, the Most Iconic WWII Movie of All Time (2023) will be my next book and will be available Father’s Day, 2023. It’s been too long since I tackled another worthy writing project but it’s not for lack of trying. Came VERY close several times on a variety of projects but I won’t bore the reader with those details. Suffice to say, I finally got  a new literary agent, Lee Sobel, who contacted me, which is always a good sign. After checking him out as thoroughly as possible, I signed with him and we proceeded to discuss possible subjects (I won’t bore you with those details, either). In a miraculously short time we came up with Killing Generals. He asked me to do a proposal in record time and he would make the pitch based on that. Amazingly, and much to my own surprise, I was able to do it in the time he requested and he tweaked it appropriately. I created a mock-up cover for added eye candy sizzle….

Proposal Cover for Killing Generals

Mock-up of the proposal cover I created for Killing Generals with my Mac and very little knowledge of how to do it (!).

 




























After the mock-up cover is the pitch Lee Sobel submitted to editor Gary Goldstein, at Kensington Books. It must have worked because it was not long after, we got an offer. Read below and tell me if you think it worthy. I have since amassed an amazing amount of exclusives and continue to do so!

Until the next time, all the best dear reader, and in the immortal words of Joseph Wladislaw: “Boy oh, boy. Killing Generals could get to be a habit with me.”   😉

The Dirty Dozen, released in the tumultuous year of 1967, is a recognized classic in the genre of ‘Men-on-a-mission’ that still exerts a powerful influence on films more than 50 years later. Author Dwayne Epstein is uniquely qualified to tell this story. Having researched and written the award-winning NY Times bestseller, Lee Marvin Point Blank, Epstein interviewed many of those involved in the production. Much of what was exclusively gathered on the film did not go into the final version but remains in the author’s possession. This includes unpublished interviews with cast and crew members resulting in this remarkable story.

The creation of the film includes such unlikely participants as sexploitation pioneer Russ Meyer, who gave the idea of the premise to author E.M. Nathanson for his bestselling novel, not knowing at the time that it was based on fact.

The production includes behind-the-scenes conflicts that rival any of the controversial violence seen in the film, such as director Robert Aldrich’s conflict with studio brass over content, leading man Lee Marvin’s grapple with the bottle on and off set, Jim Brown’s battle with the NFL and the entire ensemble cast fighting for screen time. The result subtly referenced the then current controversy of the Vietnam War as well as the Civil Rights Movement. The end result proved to be a subtle balancing act of pyrotechnics that proved to be equally adept at being anti-authoritative towards the military brass. In short, the dirty little secret was out.

It went on to become the year’s highest grossing film when released and remains one of the biggest hits in the history of MGM, establishing the major film careers of Marvin and costars Jim Brown, Charles Bronson and Donald Sutherland. Since its release its lasting impact has influenced several TV series, such as “The A-Team” (1980-1987), and such other diverse film productions from Kelly’s Heroes (1970) to Inglorious Basterds (2009) and Suicide Squad (2021). This fascinating tale of The Dirty Dozens’s creation, production and legacy has never been fully told, until now.” 

– Dwayne Epstein

Share Button

JERRY GOLDSMITH

Jerry Goldsmith, the legendary composer of great film music, never scored a Lee Marvin film, and as classic film fans, we are less enriched because of it. I say this as the author of Lee Marvin Point Blank and genuinely wish that he had, as it would have been a wonderful marriage of an actor’s persona and a musical entity’s talent.
I should explain in that I am a huge fan of Jerry Goldsmith’s music and given the theme or setting of a project, he excelled even beyond his very talented contemporaries. For example, if a film involved a train as part of the premise and Goldsmith composed the score, the result was breathtaking. Listen to his main themes to the likes of  Von Ryan’s Express (1965), Breakheart Pass (1975) or The Great Train Robbery (1978).  He evokes the the motion of the train, the period the stories takes place and creates a hummable main theme…all at the same time!
With that in mind, I find it very disappointing that director Robert Aldrich failed to hire Goldsmith to score Emperor of the North (1973), choosing instead to go with Frank DeVol. Mostly known for his lighter scores for TV and Doris Day movies, DeVol was also an actor, most notably playing the dour-faced conductor Happy Kyne on “Fernwood 2-Night.”

CD cover of the belated release of Frank DeVol’s score to Emperor of the North.

I doubt if a Jerry Goldsmith score might have saved Emperor from its box-office disappointment, but it would have, at the very least, made for a great opening credit and rousing theme for the fight scene.
Another example is yet another Robert Aldrich film scored by Frank DeVol. Granted, The Dirty Dozen (1967) really didn’t need any help in reaching its classic status and DeVol’s main theme is pretty good. However, his reliance on variations of “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” may have been period correct but lazy composition, in my opinion.

Original DIRTY DOZEN vinyl soundtrack cover featuring Trini Lopez.

Having scored many films with military themes, most notably his Oscar-nominated score for Patton (1970), I think Jerry Goldsmith would have done amazing things with The Dirty Dozen. However, composers, like actors, are often hired based on their working relationship with a a given director, or are typecast based on the film’s subject. In this case, Robert Aldrich almost always went with DeVol, while Goldsmith frequently worked for several other high-profile directors, such as Franklin Schaffner and Joe Dante.
As a huge admirer of Goldsmith’s rich melodic scores, I just think it’s a damn shame that he never composed a rousing score for one of Lee Marvin’s films. In those golden days of rich music film scores, it’s a true pity that we shall never see the likes of Jerry Goldsmith again, nor, for that matter Lee Marvin.

Rare CD cover of the great Jerry Goldsmith conducting some of his best scores. I treasure it!

  • Dwayne Epstein
Share Button