When Hollywood Makes History


SERGEANT YORK (1941) Looking for patriotic themes on the eve of World War II, Hollywood lit on the story of Alvin C. York’s single-handed capture of 132 Germans in the Argonne in 1918. The movie starred Gary Cooper.


WINGS (1927) The first movie to win an Academy Award, William Wellman’s feature contained harrowing air and ground battle sequences and a tedious friendship between two Air Corps pals (Buddy Rogers, Richard Arten) who fall for the same girl (Clara Bow).


THE FIGHTING 69TH (1940) The story of New York’s famous Irish regiment was a vehicle for the redoubtable Warner Brothers stable: James Cagney is a punk who turns war hero at the eleventh hour; Pat O’Brien is the priest who helps him.


THE BIG PARADE (1925) King Vidor directed this silent drama about American soldiers in World War I. It featured vast battle scenes and the romance between a doughboy (John Gilbert) and a French girl (Renée Adorée). It was considered a triumph when it appeared.


WHAT PRICE GLORY? (1926) Sanitized from the famously profane, immensely successful play, the movie veered between the rivalry of the soldiers Flagg (Victor McLaglen) and Quirk (Edmund Lowe) for Charmaine (Dolores Del Rio) and the business of war.

BOOM AND BUST “Rich fellas come up, an’ they die, an’ their kids ain’t no good, an’ they die out. But we keep a-comin’…. And we’ll go forever, Pa, ‘cause we’re the people.” — Ma Joad, THE GRAPES OF WRATH


THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940) The director John Ford turned Steinbeck’s powerful novel about the plight of the Okies into an equally powerful movie.


THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939) Frank McHugh and James Cagney in a faded, mechanical attempt by Warner Brothers to recapture the success of their stinging gangster movies of the early 1930s.


CITIZEN KANE (1941) Many people consider this thinly veiled cinematic biography of William Randolph Hearst the greatest American film ever made, and it is certainly the most enjoyable of the great films. The very young Orson Weites co-wrote, produced, directed, and starred.


THE GREAT GATSBY (1974) F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novel, filmed previously in 1926 and 1949, was made into an opulent, empty feature about the romance between the gangster Jay Gatsby (Robert Redford) and the socialite Daisy Buchanan.


THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) A popular television series came to the big screen in director Brian De Raima’s lavish film about the government agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) bloodily coping with Al Capone (Robert De Niro).


BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) The glamorized exploits of the Depression-era killers Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) struck a chord with audiences of the 1960s. The film was at its best in recapturing the aura of the 1930s.

WORLD WAR II “Be seated. Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” — George Patton, PATTON


BATAAN (1943) America’s defeat in the Philippines provided the background for a stirring tribute to the doomed defenders of Bataan.


SWING SHIFT (1984) The role of women on the home front is studied in this well-mounted, atmospheric account of several housewives who become factory workers during World War II.


PATTON (1970) George C. Scott won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., in a highly popular tribute to the theatrical general. Scott again played the military man in the television movie The Last Days of Patton (1986).