LOS ANGELES — With his own World War II flick, “Inglourious Basterds,” now in theaters, Quentin Tarantino applies his exhaustive knowledge of cinema to single out five favorite World War II flicks.
Not necessarily a Top 5, this off-the-cuff list includes a couple of the well-known and loved war stories along with more obscure dramas, among them two that Tarantino himself did not know about until he started research for “Inglourious Basterds”:
‘The Great Escape’
Is there any cooler World War II premise than John Sturges’ 1963 epic about a mass escape of Allied POWs from a Nazi prison camp, or a cooler cast than Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Donald Pleasence? “Probably my favorite war movie,” Tarantino said. “That’s one of the most entertaining movies ever made and was kind of the touchstone goal for (‘Inglourious Basterds’) to one degree or another. ... Make a World War II movie that’s just entertaining, that you just enjoy watching the movie.”
‘The Dirty Dozen’
Robert Aldrich’s 1967 saga is the ultimate example of the men-on-a-mission war subgenre that inspired Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Donald Sutherland and Telly Savalas are featured in the tale of imprisoned bottom-feeders who get a second chance as part of a hell-raising Allied commando unit. Tarantino said this film deserves to be on his list “for its iconic cast alone.” Tarantino went on: “I never follow the normal dance card that the genre or the subgenres I deal in usually play by. It usually is a situation where I sit down, OK, I’m going to do my ‘Dirty Dozen,’ and that’s what sits me down, but then I also know that hopefully, I will deliver the pleasure that is found in those genres, but I’m just going to deliver them very differently. It’s going to become something else. I want it to become something bigger and more expansive than that given subgenre.”
‘Five Graves to Cairo’
Ten years before he made “Stalag 17,” Billy Wilder directed this 1943 tale centered on an undercover British officer (Franchot Tone) and a woman (Anne Baxter) who helps run a desert hotel where Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (Erich von Stroheim) establishes his headquarters. “One of my favorite war stories, hands-down,” Tarantino said. “Billy Wilder and (co-writer) Charles Brackett wrote their own story for it. It doesn’t follow history. They came up with their own way. It’s not even a very credible version of Rommel, either, but it’s a fantastic version of Rommel.”
‘Tonight We Raid Calais’
John Brahm’s 1943 adventure casts John Sutton as a British intelligence officer plotting to destroy a Nazi munitions plant in France, where he takes shelter with the family of a French farmer (Lee J. Cobb), whose daughter blames the British for the fall of France. The screenplay is an early credit for Academy Award winner Waldo Salt (“Midnight Cowboy,” “Coming Home”). “One of the movies I discovered while I was doing research on this. A fantastic movie that I fell in love with,” Tarantino said. “It has a couple of sequences that really seem like modern storytelling. It doesn’t have a classical storytelling feel. Waldo Salt, they consider him the father of modern screenwriting. We can see it right in there. It feels like storytelling today.”
‘Action in Arabia’
Russian director Leonide Moguy made a few films in Hollywood during the war, including this 1944 thriller starring George Sanders as a reporter in the Middle East who’s caught up in the Allied-Nazi struggle for the sympathies of the Arab world. “Another movie I discovered and fell in love with,” Tarantino said. “I really love that movie, but you will notice, though, when I talk about these different films, it’s not the collection of tanks and big-battle things. Even though I like that stuff, I’m more into the more story-oriented versions of the war.”
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