Thinking of going to see Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” soon? You’ll need to brush up on your Second World War knowledge, Hollywood-style.
Typically a bunch of mismatched guys, each with a unique martial skill are dispatched to blow the hell out of something very big and end the war by Christmas. Toss in a couple of beautiful female agents, a double-crossing bastard, and the obligatory all-star cast and you have the classic World War II adventure yarn as penned by Jack Higgins or Alistair MacLean. Here are the finest examples:
“The Dirty Dozen” – Robert Aldrich
The Mission: 12 US Army prisoners are given a final shot at redemption by exterminating a chateau full to the brim of German Officers.
Top Dog: Real life Marine Lee Marvin as the anti-authoritarian Major Reisman.
Best Scene: The musical plan to destroy the chateau. You’ll be humming it for hours.
Heroic Death: Former American Football star Jim Brown shot down after igniting the explosives.
Has it got Telly Savalas or Donald Sutherland in it? You lucked out! It has both of them! Savalas as the unhinged Maggot and Sutherland as the comic relief Pinkley.
“Where Eagles Dare” – Brian G Hutton
The Mission: British and American agents parachute into Bavaria to rescue an American General, but from there on in it gets complicated.
Top Dog: Richard Burton at his Shakespearean best as Major Smith.
Best Scene: The over-complicated but brilliantly realised “master list” sequence. Nothing short of genius.
Heroic Death: None. The double agents die a traitor’s death!
Has it got Telly Savalas or Donald Sutherland in it? Neither, unfortunately, but it has got an up-and-coming Clint Eastwood.
“Kelly’s Heroes” – Brian G Hutton
The Mission: A rag-tag platoon led by Clint Eastwood’s demoted officer plan to steal a fortune in gold deep behind enemy lines.
Top Dog: Eastwood’s coolly intelligent Kelly playing lightly with his Man With No Name archetype.
Best Scene: The platoon manoeuvring into position in an expertly crafted 20-minute set piece. A filmmaking master class.
Heroic Death: Corporal Job’s tragic demise in a minefield still pulls at the heartstrings.
Has it got Telly Savalas or Donald Sutherland in it? Bingo! Both pull off classic performances. Savalas is at his wisecracking best as Big Joe and Sutherland is the iconic proto-hippie Oddball.
“The Eagle Has Landed” – John Sturges
The Mission: Michael Caine’s disgraced German Colonel and his remaining paratroopers are sent to England disguised as Polish soldiers to assassinate Winston Churchill and bring about a negotiated peace for the Nazi’s.
Top Dog: Michael Caine, so good you almost want him to succeed.
Best Scene: J.R Ewing from “Dallas”… *cough* I mean, Larry Hagman’s inexperienced Colonel leading a disastrous attack on the Germans in the middle of an English country village. “Midsommer Murders” meets “Saving Private Ryan.”
Heroic Death: One of Caine’s men dying on a waterwheel whilst saving a little girl from drowning, revealing their true identity.
Has it got Telly Savalas or Donald Sutherland in it? Sutherland plays I.R.A. member Liam Devlin who has time to woo naive Jenny Agutter amongst his duties for the Nazis.
“The Bridge At Remagen” – John Guillermin
The Mission: Exhausted American Soldiers reluctantly try to take the last bridge across the Rhine intact.
Top Dog: George Segal’s world weary Lieutenant Hartman is as cynical as they come.
Best Scene: The German’s failure to destroy the bridge. An excellent metaphor for Hitler’s refusal to surrender and save further suffering.
Heroic Death: Robert Vaughn’s Major Kruger gallantly facing the firing squad for a trumped up charge of desertion. Watch him reach for his lost cigarette case.
Has it got Telly Savalas or Donald Sutherland in it? Not this time, but Ben Gazzara does a pretty good Savalas impression as the body looter Sgt Angelo. Gazzara was also a regular in John Cassavetes’ independent films, and Cassavetes was himself Oscar Nominated for his role in “The Dirty Dozen.”