War movies, I've talked about them before, mainly in the context of the tanks always being wrong. Over the past couple of weekends I've caught three of my favourite bad 1960s war movies on TV again, namely Tobruk
and The Devil's Brigade
. All three take enormous liberties with history and all three feature the usual anachronistic military equipment, but watching them again, it struck me that 1960s war movies have a unique 'flavour', and are distinctly different in style and content to either 1950s or 1970s war movies. Fifties war movies were, overall, far more serious, more concerned with factual fidelity and keen to portray the participants as honourable soldiers doing their duty. OK, there were exceptions - particularly movies set in the Pacific theatre, which consistently portrayed the Japanese as fanatical sadists - but overall, the fifties style of war movie liked to give an impression of gravitas. Fifties film makers also had a slightly easier time recreating the previous decade - the correct equipment was often still available, landscapes, streets, cars, even haircuts and fashions still looked much the same. But as the 1960s progressed, things seemed to change - war movies increasingly became big scale adventure stories, blurring the lines between friend and foe and eschewing the straightforward morality of the previous decade. Spectacle replaced historical accuracy as the main attraction, resulting in many films being shot in Spain to take advantage of the availability of the Spanish army to create large scale battle scenes.
Interestingly, with this emphasis on scale and action-adventure, the historical recreations featured in the films became less and less authentic, Increasingly, it looked as if World War Two had been fought in the 1960s, so poor was the attention to background details, (the post war maps in Devil's Brigade
, the sixties hair styles in In Harm's Way
or the sixties front door and garage door on Robert Shaw's house in Battle of Britain
- a film otherwise characterised by an incredible attention to detail - for give a few examples). But why the change? Well, I suspect it was down to a change in the target audience for these movies. I'm guessing that the lower-key 1950s war movies were both made by and aimed at people who had actually served in the war - to them it wasn't just recent history, it was personal experience. By the 1960s I'm assuming that the main audience were kids too young to have experienced the war itself and those who were too young to have actually served, but had grown up listening to older relatives war tales. The same sort of audience the the US men's magazines catered to with their lurid 'true' war stories. They had no personal memories or emotions invested in the war - they just wanted to be entertained.
By the end of the decade things were beginning to change again, with more serious war movies like Battle of Britain
either released or in production. It's notable that as the 1970s wore on, war movies tended to become slightly smaller scale, more serious and character-driven and far more historically accurate. Even a caper movie like Kelly's Heroes
features an array of genuine 1940s US military equipment - even the German's have tanks which are at least reasonable facsimiles of Tiger tanks, rather than the usual repainted US-built M47s and M48s. Again, I think the change was down to the target audience - by the 1970s you had cinema goers to whom World War Two was purely history. Not only had they been taught it in detail at school, but they'd seen the new breed of documentaries like The World at War
and built the Airfix plastic kits. They knew the facts and wanted to see them reflected on-screen. Again, there were exceptions, there always will be, but by and large, war movies have become more historically accurate - not to mention less frequent, as the war recedes further from living memory - just look at Saving Private Ryan
, a film almost obsessive in its attention to detail. I have to say, they've also become a lot less fun
. But then again, there are many who'd say that World War Two is no fit subject for fun...
Labels: Musings From the Mind of Doc Sleaze, Nostalgic Naughtiness