By Ann Silverthorn
Countless movies have been made about World War II since the war ended in 1945. As the years marched on, World War II history was examined from many different viewpoints with the benefit of time on their side. But what about movies made during the war or shortly after? Oftentimes, the movies were created as propaganda or just to lift morale. Here is a list of seven movies that were released in the 1940s.
Jimmy Cagney plays a hotshot pilot in this military drama that examines the war from a Canadian perspective. Cagney’s character is itching to get to Europe and see some action. He joins the Royal Canadian Airforce, but he has trouble with the military way, causes a death, and he’s swiftly booted out. Undeterred, he concocts a roundabout plan to get himself overseas. Captains of the Clouds was nominated for the Academy Award in both cinematography and art direction.
America needed something to cheer it up in 1942, and a comedy set in Nazi-occupied Poland seems like an unlikely remedy, but it seems to have worked. Jack Benny and Carole Lombard star in To Be or Not to Be, which dealt with the occupation of Poland in a humorous way. Benny and Lombard play actors who had planned to mount a stage play poking fun at Hitler. After German invades Poland and World War II begins, they must shelve their plans, and their attention shifts to spies and the Polish Resistance. To Be or Not to Be was nominated for a best-music Oscar.
In Which We Serve is technically fiction, but it is based on the sinking of the real British destroyer during World War II. The drama follows a ship from its construction to its sinking. The story is told through the personal accounts of three of the ship’s survivors, floating on a raft and awaiting rescue. Noël Coward and John Mills star in this film, which was nominated for four Oscars.
This film is one of the most realistic depictions of battle depicted through a war-action movie made during the 1940s. Dana Andrews stars as a platoon sergeant who leads his men through the Italian countryside with a goal to blow up a bridge. A Walk in the Sun is told through long dialogue and the tension is expressed through intense battle scenes.
Based on a true story, Gung Ho! opens seven weeks after the raid on Pearl Harbor. A United States Marine battalion, called Carlson’s Raiders, is ordered to attack Japanese held islands and finds itself engaged in the critical battle at Makin Island. This movie contained propaganda designed to boost the movie-goers’ morale during the war.
Set in Italy during the allied invasion of 1943 to 1944, Paisan features six different vignettes involving both Italian civilians and American soldiers. From heroes to chaplains to nurses, everyone is trying to survive during a critical turning point in World War II. Roberto Rossellini directed Paisan, which was nominated for several Academy Awards.
Long before the term, PTSD, came into our awareness, there was not much help for men like Sammy Rice (David Farrar) who were severely injured in battle and dulled the emotional and physical pain through drinking and drugs. Rice, a former bomb expert, is bitter and has no purpose in his life until he’s called back to help locate an unexploded booby trap. The Small Back Room is also known as Hour of Glory.